Electric guitar shocks are caused by static electricity. They can happen when the guitar strings rub against the fretboard, pickguard, or other parts of the guitar.
The friction between these materials creates static electricity, which is then discharged through your body when you touch something else that is grounded (earthed).
It is important to avoid touching anything not grounded before touching your instrument to prevent electric guitar shocks. If you need to touch something while playing, ensure that you discharge any static electricity by touching a grounded object before touching your instrument again. The spark can lead to damage to the pickup or pickup’s circuitry, as well as damage to nearby equipment.
I used to get shocks from my electric guitar from time to time and that was not pleasant. Today, I want to help you determine the most critical factors involved in preventatively protecting your electric guitar from these shocks.
I will discuss in this article the most common points that you’ll need to remember for keeping yourself safe from electric guitar shocks.
- Can electric guitar shock you?
- 5 common reasons for electric guitar shock
- Can guitar strings shock you?
- Can an unplugged guitar amp shock you?
- 5 Preventions: How do you stop electric guitar shocks?
- 5 Grounding Tips: Does a guitar amp need to be grounded?
Can electric guitar shock you?
Electric guitars can shock you, and it can be quite harmful. These shocks are caused by the spark from the strings hitting metal parts of the guitar, such as pickups or chassis.
The most considerable risk is that these sparks can set off electrical circuits in other nearby equipment, causing either short-term or long-term damage.
Some areas of your electric guitar, such as the neck or fretboard, are typically more susceptible to shocks than others for this reason.
I remembered a few months ago; my first big electric guitar shock came from the faulty wiring in a cheap bass connected to my amp.
I had powered this unit through a 5k-ohm and 10k-ohms gain control (bass tone control). As I switched the sound of my bass, electrical sparks were emitting from inside this expensive piece of gear. This is why it could cause harm.
5 Common Reasons For Electric Guitar Shocks
There could be a few reasons why your electric guitar is shocking you. The primary possibility is that the wires inside the guitar are not insulated well enough, which can cause them to generate a spark when in contact with metal.
Here are 5 reasons why your electric guitar might be shocking you:
1. Shocks from effects pedals
Effect pedals can generate electric guitar shocks, such as distortion or boost pedals. When the pedal is turned on, it creates a high level of voltage that can travel through electronic circuitry and into the instrument itself. So, while it’s normal to feel some shock from your affected electric guitar, make sure to unscrew the volume knob or turn down the effect pedals when you’re not playing.
2. Faulty fuses
A fuse or circuit breaker can go faulty inside your electric guitar – which means the electricity during a failure won’t be contained and it will shock you or cause damage to other parts of your guitar.
3. Faulty Amps, switching, and tone controls
Amp switching and tone controls can produce electric shocks if they go haywire. The same is true for faulty relays, terminals, switches, transformers, and contact points within the amp.
Switching or faulty tone controls on an amplifier are also a risk to the technician checking out your equipment: they may receive electric shocks while in use, which could be dangerous.
Mains wiring is always at risk of becoming damaged as it comes into contact with moving fan belts, machinery noise, hot components, and more – but you might think that your guitar is immune from a faulty power socket.
Our voltage-induced buzzing or crackling effect could result from overloading an electrical point nearby by picking up stray signals from faulty ground lines (especially if these are new connections)!
5. Faulty Pickups
When pickup wiring contacts metal surfaces – such as a pickguard or tailpiece. You can receive small amounts of electricity through the wiring into your instrument. This is dangerous if the pickup has a faulty ground wire, as this could cause it to short out and create an electric shock.
I would suggest that if you are picking up buzz or crackling sounds around your amp wiring, consider this potential fault as an opportunity to look at its grounding points first.
There may be places where you have a poor connection, an earth leakage somewhere in your system.
Can guitar strings shock you?
Some guitar strings can shock you when you play them. This is especially true if the string is made of metal or plastic and is probably the most common cause of buzz in your amp.
If this happens to you, then I would suggest (as a precaution) that you check and double-check all the wiring on your guitar or bass before performing any gigs!
Moreover, if you ever feel a shock while playing, immediately stop and take the guitar off your neck. If it’s not apparent where the shock came from, get someone to help you take it apart so that they can check all of its wirings.
I have already seen cases of people who have suffered concussions and head injuries when they fell (a process that can occur even if the string remains un-buzzing!) after tripping over their jack cords.
The metallic, scratchy sound that comes from a guitar’s strings as it is plucked creates an indicator – in this case, a buzzer or tone generated by electrical current flowing through its associated cable jacket.
Can an unplugged guitar amp shock you?
An Unplugged guitar amp can also cause a shock if it’s not grounded correctly. If the amp has interchangeable power cords (e.g., two independent 9-volt batteries), plugging one in while the other is still unplugged can create an arc and short circuit, potentially shocking you.
There may be a stray electrical current running through the wiring near your amplifier when it’s not in use, and a loose grounding connection can easily pick up this excess voltage. If you’re touching any of these wires – especially around where they go into the cabinet – you could be at risk of electrocution.
It’s bad form to touch any of the equipment and wires around your amp, even if you’re just about to move it. You don’t want any unintended electrical jolts getting through – especially not when unplugging or rerouting cables like this type that may have their built-in grounds.
I would suggest checking the amp’s ground connection by plugging in a voltmeter between the input and output sockets, making sure there is no voltage present on either of those grounds. Also, check all wires leading into or out of your amplifier – they should have a good solid joint with solder connecting them to chassis or speaker binding posts.
Finally, make sure there are no other metal objects nearby that could create an electrical spark (like porcelain tiles near an outlet, for example).
5 Preventions: How do you stop electric guitar shocks?
The improper grounding of the amp causes most electric guitar shocks, either when unplugging or rerouting cables.
Make sure all wires leading into and out of your amplifier have a good solid joint with solder connecting them to chassis or speaker binding posts.
Here are 5 tips to reduce your risk of experiencing electric guitar shock.
1. Tidy up your electrical connections
Keep all your electrical cables tidy and organized. Disconnect unused cables, especially those heavily bundled together or near other objects that could cause current flow (bendy wires near a speaker).
Keep everything transparent, so there is no place for electric guitar shocks to hide!
2. Ensure correct cable connections
Make sure your cables are connected to the correct connector – mini-jack, XLR, or TRS (triple round connector) – on your guitar.
Improperly inserted cables can cause shorts and dangerous electrical currents. Be especially careful with vintage guitars where incorrect plugs might not have been updated over time!
3. Use isolation devices
Isolating parts of your guitar that you don’t want to keep on the cutting edge of electricity can reduce surrounding components’ overall dampening and flow.
For example, any pickups attached to their mounting lugs or nearby metal control knobs would greatly influence electrical transfer along with a guitar’s frame – use foam picks instead (stay away from tape!) to provide cushioned insulation where necessary!
4. Use a quality chordal cable
Very high-end electric guitars might come with proprietary chordal cables, typical of exceptional build quality and performance. Using a quality generic cable for budget-conscious players will still provide great sound without unnecessary bells and whistles.
If you have some extra budget, always try to get high quality guitar cables to avoid problems like shocks or guitar sound cutting out (these are very common issues).
5. Avoid prolonged contact:
Finally, avoid prolonged contact with the guitar and strings when a shock or reverb is activated. Even touching your fingers around a momentary button can cause electric guitar shocks if you’re careful not to release that vibration into parts of your body far away from where it’s coming from!
I have experienced a buzzer effect of my electric guitar and had a lengthy discussion with the store clerk on reducing this as much as possible.
Besides what has been mentioned above, the best way to prevent wire shocks is simply following your electrician’s directions for removing them from their initial locations.
“Pay any price!” I was told by one quick-witted sales guy at Guitar Center seven last year. He made up for it with the humbucking guitar I bought last year.
5 Grounding Tips: Does a guitar amp need to be grounded?
Guitars do not typically need to be grounded, but there are exceptions. Suppose the guitar has a piezoelectric pickup, an element that can generate an acoustic sound when an electric current stimulates it.
In that case, the amp must be grounded to prevent interference with other electrical equipment nearby. Here are some grounding tips;
1. Use the guitar’s ground terminal
Most amps have a grounding terminal near the power input, usually marked with a green grounding symbol (usually around the back or bottom). Use this terminal if you do need to ground your amp.
2. Only add resistance when necessary
Grounding is more complicated than electrical work. Resistors can make the amp overheat, so err on the side of caution and only add resistance if necessary.
3. Don’t connect the ground wire to the chassis
Your amp’s chassis contains sensitive components (transformers, capacitors, etc.), and connecting the ground wire can damage them. Instead, it would be best if you use a cord or jumper cable to connect the ground terminal with your guitar or amp to an unpainted metal surface inside or outside your building.
4. Ground loops
Ground loops are common when two or more pieces of equipment are connected with a jumper cable, allowing one piece to influence another. In the case of an electric guitar and amplifier, this connection can cause a bad hum. Usually, you can solve this problem by adding a ground loop isolation switch between your amp and your guitar.
5. Use 8 AWG or heavier wires
Many wiring in homes and businesses is made with thinner gauge wires, like 6 AWG. This can lead to problems because even small amounts of electrical noise can cause excessive current flow through the thin wire, sparking and breaking it. To avoid these problems, use 8 AWG or heavier wires for your amp’s grounding cord.
I suggest you tie your power cord to a light switch in the room you’re installing earthing and then connect that wire back to the underfloor. Because the earthing module is fixed, you won’t need to worry about it being pulled out from under the floor by a moving object.
Electric guitar shocks are a real problem – especially with self-builds. Warning signs include hearing loss or ringing in the ears caused by ground loops (especially when you’re not playing an electric guitar!), un-strung/broken strings, and buzzy winders, as well as peevishness from amps that are being overdriven.
They can cause annoyance and damage; damaged amps are relatively expensive to replace, even if it’s only been once. Furthermore, they can lead to many health problems: headaches, tinnitus, and even brain damage.
The best way to prevent electric guitar shocks is by using an earthing kit and ensuring your workshop is appropriately constructed.