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I currently use an sound hole single-coil magnetic pickup on my acoustic guitar so that I can get both a good "acoustic" guitar sound and so that I can drive electric guitar effects pedals.

In some venues, however, either radio frequency interference (RFI) or noisy AC power sources (light faders in the circuit, for example) cause a lot of noise to be generated either in the pickup cable or the cable itself.

I have a noise-gate pedal that I can use but it can be difficult to tune it so that it doesn't squelch soft passages, particularly when there's a lot of signal noise.

What are some other ways of reducing noise with single coil magnetic pickups?

  • The only proper solution is to stop the heck using single coils, but for some reason the PU industry is persistently resisting technological progress in general. (Well, I suppose the funny thing is not so much that the pickup manufacturers are being jerks by still selling passive pickups / single coils, but that musicians let them get away with it.) – leftaroundabout Jul 26 '16 at 11:10
  • Note that especially for acoustic guitar there are very good active humbuckers available, which completely eliminate the problem. – leftaroundabout Jul 26 '16 at 11:16
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This is not always feasible in terms of performance, but the strength of the noise often depends on which way you are facing. If you turn left or right you might find a dip in the volume of the noise (the coils are loop antenna, which are directional).

Electro Harmonix, and maybe others, make a special pedal, the Hum Debugger, that is supposed to identify the hum frequency and cancel it, without adversely affecting other parts of the frequency spectrum. I haven't used it, and from what I hear, different people have different opinions on whether it adversely affects the overall sound or not.

For electric guitars, addressing the shielding of the pickup cavity can help; this involves placing (or fixing) a thin film of metal, that is connected to ground, along the inside of the pickup cavity in order to shield it from external signals. Though I don't know of the feasibility of adding additional shielding to an existing acoustic pickup, I mention this because the design of the pickup, and how (or whether) it incorporates any kind of shielding will affect its sensitivity to noise.

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I've got several acoustics with old De'Armond soundhole pickups, which I just love for the vintage tone that they impart to my sound. They produce a hum which varies depending on the environment but I've found an easy way to eliminate the hum is to ground the circuit when needed (which is usually only during recording sessions for me). I just run a wire with an alligator clip from the input jack (strap button) to under the waistband of my jeans. I've also used electrostatic discharge wristbands, the type used during electronics repair but don't like those as much because they get in the way while strumming.

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I've been plagued with noisy singe-coil pickups myself, albeit on a Telecaster. What I ended up doing was to purchase "noiseless" replacement pickups. I'm quite happy with them, though I don't know if you can get them as hole pickups.

I also have a western guitar, but instead of using a hole-pickup, I use a piezo bridge pickup. Those are really cheap and virtually noiseless. You do however, have to do some soldering and drill a hole into the body of your guitar to mount a 1/4 inch female connector.

Unlike using a magnetic pickup, your guitar will still sound like an acoustic guitar when played over the piezo. This may be welcome or undesired, depending on the sound you're trying to achieve.

  • Problem with piezos is that they cause howling feedback when the signal is run through electric guitar distortion and overdrive effects. – pro Jul 27 '16 at 16:43
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    True, however most of that is due to the resonance body of the acoustic guitar which allows ambient noise to excite the strings. If you want to avoid feedback, you need a solid-body guitar. The bridge piezos are not THAT sensitive to ambient noise. If you knock on the body, you can hear it, but not very much. This is different with piezos, you glue to the body. Those essentially turn the guitar into a microphone with heavy feedback problems. – Martin Drautzburg Jul 27 '16 at 16:58

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