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I am considering buying a wireless guitar setup - transmitter connects to a guitar's output, receiver connects to an amp's input. This is, essentially, the system we see in modern times that allows a professional rock star to run and jump all over the stage without tripping on cables. Or us regular folk to sit on the couch without our children yanking cords out.

My acoustic-electric guitar has an active pickup. This means it has a 9V battery that powers its internal electronics (related questions here, here, and here).

The specific product I am looking at is here, but this question is not about this specific product - it is just an example (product recommendations are off-topic, so don't recommend. I am not asking). I am looking for an answer that covers the general case of all wireless guitar transmitters/receivers: the link is just so everyone knows the type of product I am talking about.

Looking at the product I linked above, it has some text in an image (sorry, cannot copy and paste but here is the paraphrasing): "this works with passive, not active, guitar pickups." One of the reviews states that the owner had tons of interference until he moved the transmitter away from the guitar. Searching the web I find similar reviews and statements, but nothing scientific, no clear explanation, just anecdotes. I am a software engineer: anecdotes are worthless. I want proof.

My question is: do wireless guitar systems in general work with active pickups? If not, why not, and what specific steps can I take to mitigate the risks? If they do work, why is it that I see people say they do not, and how can I avoid a situation where the two systems do not work together correctly?

The accepted answer will focus on the science or electrical engineering behind the reason, giving specific, objective reasons why the technology not a specific product, may or may not work.

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    I don't know what kind of proof you are looking for here. Maybe you should ask on the Electrical Engineering site. Why do engineers always say things like "anecdotes are worthless"? This is nonsense; your question is based on anecdote. Asking about the experiences of those who have actually spent time using wireless systems is valuable. Note that such wireless systems have been around and used by professionals since at least the early '80s. – David Bowling Jan 22 '18 at 5:25
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    @DavidBowling saying "it worked for me" is too vague. Saying "it worked for me because of XYZ which are verifiable facts" is useful. Aside from that, Stack Exchange in general prefers objective answers that rely on verifiable facts and not on opinion. Every single site in the network has "primarily opinion-based" as a close reason. – user12998 Jan 22 '18 at 5:32
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    Please note that anecdotes are not opinions. – David Bowling Jan 22 '18 at 5:41
  • @DavidBowling strictly speaking, true. They tend to be biased, however, which is just as good (not always true: just generally). Regarding asking on the EE site: I did think about that, and this question truly is in the gray area between the sites (as a 30k+ user on Software Engineering I know all about this). However, the end goal is how can an amateur musician do X than anything else, tipping the scale toward this site. – user12998 Jan 22 '18 at 5:44
  • The Xvive U2 wireless system specifically excludes active pick-ups. Failed with my AER amp and new Martin electro-acoustic. Unfortunately, they don't tell you that in most guitar shops, and Xvive only mention it in the last page of their quick-start guide that comes with the system. – Roger J Jun 23 '18 at 16:46
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This was posted on the a Line 6 forum regarding their wireless system:

In some rare cases, the guitar’s active electronics are wired with inverse polarity. In this scenario, the transmitter's electronics can go into a protection mode that keeps the system from being functional. This is evidenced by no output from the G10, even though the transmitter's light is on.

Later on, a user who had a problem with the wireless unit on their acoustic guitar posted this:

I rewired the output jack on the RGIR27FE [the guitar] (basically switched the audio ground and battery ground) and solved the issue.

As far as I can tell, that's a problem specific to the Line 6 product.

On TalkBass, the following was posted regarding wireless systems and active basses:

I have seen them distort the signal because the signal is to hot for the input stage of the unit. you dont have that as much as you use to

The obvious solution to that problem is to turn down the output volume of the bass or the input sensitivity of the wireless transmitter. Having used different wireless systems before, I would not purchase one that has no sensitivity controls. They are so often necessary.

Beyond that, I've found many posts from users of wireless systems with active pickups who say they have never had a problem. In general, there should be no problem.

One thing I have found is that you don't have to understand electronics or gain staging to be a musician, it just helps a lot if you do. Sometimes when reading statements made online about anything, you really have to question the source of the statements. Many musicians (who may be excellent at making music) don't have a good head for gear and need things to be a little more foolproof. So they may leave a bad review or relate a bad experience with a product when really all they needed was a little more knowledge (or technical support) on how to adjust things to make them work.

In the end, if you buy from a retailer who has a reasonable return policy, then you always have a way to back away from something that doesn't work in your specific situation.

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    In general, for anything from complex electronics to toilet paper, I try to keep in mind that products are designed for a specific purpose, have specific features, and people may or may not understand this. Any time I read a review that is either too good or too bad, I apply my critical reading skills and think "why did this work so well or so poorly?" You make a good point here regarding the relative volume levels. Perhaps the fact that active pickup systems have output volumes is part of the overall issue behind "it may not work according to our quality standards." – user12998 Jan 22 '18 at 5:39
  • " you don't have to understand electronics or gain staging to be a musician," Just reminding you that there are rather a lot of musicians who never use, need, or are involved with, anything electronic other than a recording mike :-) . – Carl Witthoft Jan 22 '18 at 12:56
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    @CarlWitthoft yes, but IMO everybody playing an electric instrument would do well to learn at least the simplest basics of electronics. They certainly should, before posting such statements online... but alas, that's far from the actual state. – leftaroundabout Jan 22 '18 at 16:18
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Wireless guitar rigs work just fine with active guitar pickups. Acoustic-electric and solid-body electrics alike.

Speaking strictly from my own corner, and with my own experience with Nady and Line 6 wireless guitar systems, all is well. I have never had an ounce of problems with either of them.

There is an understandable concern with electromagnetic interference when you consider that the pre-amp for active pickups is powered by an onboard 9v battery, but this concern is misplaced.

The frequency bands are miles apart, and it's all apples and oranges in the end.

  • While I appreciate personal experiences, I have seen many anecdotes that contradict each other. From my question: "The accepted answer will focus on the science or electrical engineering behind the reason, giving specific, objective reasons why the technology not a specific product, may or may not work." In other words, help me understand why what you say is true. – user12998 Jan 22 '18 at 4:32
  • I edited my original response to offer more specific information on EMI and relative frequencies that could lead to bothersome noise. – Sparquelito Jan 22 '18 at 4:38
  • This is a qualitative answer other than your anecdotal evidence, and provides no analysis to support your claim that nothing in the active pickup circuitry could interfere with the transmitter. – Carl Witthoft Jan 22 '18 at 12:57
  • "Wireless guitar rigs work just fine with active guitar pickups" I wonder why, as an example, the manufacturer of the transmitter/receiver I linked in the question say "not for active pickups" then. Seriously, that is part of the reason I asked this question. – user12998 Jan 22 '18 at 15:50
  • I can only offer my own experience. As a live performer, musician, and guitar addict and gear-enthusiast. I have never witnessed any actual live performer, myself included, who had a single bit of trouble, EMI, noise, interference, or grief because of active pickups. In forty years of playing and performing. I can only guess that the manufacturer of the rig you describe is looking to cover their rear-end, just in case of any random electromagnetic anomaly coming back to bite them in the same aforementioned hindquarters. Not looking to argue, I just endeavored to answer the question. – Sparquelito Jan 23 '18 at 2:27
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First time ever I've answered a question here but as I have 10 guitars (active/passive and acoustic) and 2 different wireless systems (Sony back-pack type and Line 6 g10 dongle) I thought I'd add my experience. Sony: No problems at all with any of the guitars. It has an attenuator - 0, 10 & 20 db and a mute switch. Line 6: No adjustments - turns itself on/off via a pin that depresses when you insert it. HOWEVER ... 2 problems:

1: Not sure why but some (expensive) guitar manufacturers use cheap jack sockets that don't have an isolated switch and rely on the fact that 1/4" guitar jacks are TS (not TRS) - for the non-technical that's Tip & Sleeve or Tip, Ring & Sleeve. The latter is where you have the barrel of the jack in 2 parts. They rely on the jack plug being TS so that when inserted, the internal leads going to the Ring & Sleeve are connected and this connects the battery to the on-board pre-amp. As the G10 is TRS (it uses this in it's dock for charging) it fails to connect the battery to the pre-amp and you get no output. I've heard reports that some are wired such that you do get some output but it's noisy and/or distorted. I've replaced the sockets on 2 of my guitars and it now works. The Line 6 solution is to plug in a right-angle TS adapter that you then plug the dongle into - this works but is not ideal.

2: I have 2 active guitars (Ibanez BTB and Furch Acoustic Bass) that the G10 works with but produces a LOT of background noise (high-ish pitched whistle). I've not found a solution to this problem yet - using the TS adapter reduces the noise but does not eliminate it completely.

The bottom line appears to be - Yes they do work with active systems but, as with all things in life, there are exceptions. If you want to go wireless, find someone who has or has tried your combination first or, if you can, take your guitar to a shop that sells wireless units and try it out.

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Because active pickups usually deliver a higher signal voltage range, you can notice a difference in the sound of the pickup depending on what devices you send the signal through before it goes into your amp.

In some cases, an effect pedal or wireless transmitter will reduce the output voltage range, creating a difference with the non effected tone of the instrument.

An example of this is when using a Wah pedal with an active pickup. Some Wah pedals are designed specifically to be "active friendly", where the higher output is taken into consideration in the design.

Some digital wireless converters may have headroom for the higher output of active pickups, some may not, it will depend on the manufacturer. The only way to be sure is to test the wireless product with your personal setup and see if sounds like there is a tone difference to you , and if it is acceptable or not.

Personally, I switched to "hot" passive pickups because I wanted to use cheap pedals and not loose my tone to a tuner pedal. That being said, I did not notice much difference when I used a digital wireless unit with my active pickups.

EDIT: It is also unlikely that the pre-amp in an active pickup would create interference with a wireless transmitter. The pre-amp is much too low in power to produce anything that could interfere with the level the wireless unit is transmitting at.

  • Also the preamp doesn't operate anywhere near radio frequencies. – Todd Wilcox Jan 22 '18 at 14:15
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You have to change perspective to understand the problem. It’s not the active electronics that causes the interference on the transmitter. It’s the transmitter that causes (poorly shielded) active electronics. A short cable which increases the distance of the transmitter will solve this problem in most cases.

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