Shielding a guitar

Today I performed one of my favorite tasks: shielding a guitar. I really enjoy doing this because it’s fun, easy, and provides a real benefit for just about every guitar. The trouble is that your electric guitar’s electronics function very well as an antennae to pick up all sorts of interference, which then gets sent to the amp and blaring out of the speakers right in the middle of your solo at the Enormodome. Radio stations, cel phone noise, static, hum, etc. – they’re everywhere, and are here to wreak havoc on your tone. What can you? Shield your guitar!

Shielding a guitar is almost a sure-fire way to prevent outside signals from intruding into your tone. It works like this: a conductive cage (essentially a Faraday Cage) is built around the guitar’s electronics, intercepting stray signals and shunting them to ground. It’s such a simple concept, yet most manufacturer’s only pay lip service to the protections it offers. The electronics need to be completely surrounded, and just a single piece of aluminum foil ain’t going to cut it. Check it out – here’s a Strat pickguard with a minimal amount of shielding, which might as well not be shielding at all:

inadequate shielding

I cover the entire pickguard with copper tape, with each piece overlapping slightly to ensure conductivity all the way across:

shielded pickguard

Here’s the unshielded body. I’ve cut strips of copper tape and placed them around the electronics cavities covering the pickguard screw holes, so that when the pickguard is screwed down it will connect the guard’s shield with the shielding in the cavity:

unshielded body

The next step is perhaps the most fun: painting the electronics cavities with conductive shielding paint. I usually do two to three coats of this stuff, and paint over every square millimeter of the cavity, including painting over the aforementioned copper strips, to ensure conductivity throughout. I don’t bother with trying to cover the cavities with foil – it’s incredibly time consuming, frustrating, and worst of all, the chances of some of it coming loose and killing your signal are too great. The shielding paint works great, looks clean, and it’s done in a flash.

shielding paint

Once the paint dries, I screw a ground wire down into the shielding paint, and connect the entire cage to ground. Done!

This is a really simple, inexpensive, non-invasive way to improve your guitar dramatically. While there’s never going to be an electric guitar that’s 100% noise free, this will keep the most offensive noises out of your signal. I, as a matter of course, do this on all of my own instruments, and I’ve never picked up any talk radio or mariachi music through my rig. It works!

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