Playing and recording electric guitars, especially distorted tones is nothing but a noise management; at least that’s how I can’t help but feel more often than I would like to. In the days of the past when I got to play live and I used my antique(!) fuzz pedal, I was completely care-free. Drums were loud, I was loud, everyone seemed to be having fun.
I remember the first time that I tried recording some metallic rhythms on my brand new Fostex 4-track, playing my guitar through BOSS Metalizer MZ-2 effect pedal. The result sounded nothing like what I had heard while I I was playing. I didn’t have a noise gate or anything like that; I didn’t even know it existed or what it was for. Then I found out about it but I just didn’t want to pay for one. Because with the same money, I could, and did, buy more exciting tools like a drum machine or a fancy delay/reverb unit that only danced around my sloppy noise pourage. Those toys were great but they couldn’t quite cover my noisy signals. I have to admit though, they made my demos sound somewhat sophisticated. Especially in early 90s, they gave me a grunge-like, contemporary tone. The only problem was that…uh… I wasn’t trying to play grunge or sound like I was from Seattle, regardless of my guitar tone.
Don’t get me wrong I loved Nirvana, Alice in Chains and whomever but what I wanted play was mainly plain rock music; lots of melodic lines and all that. I was into jazz, as well, but it was way out of my reach at the time.
My struggle with noise lasted for years. Even in the digital era. My guitar’s pick ups seemed to be picking up some kind of magnetic wave and sending it straight into my tracks. I managed it to a point by trying to stay as far away from my monitor and whatnot. It helped a bit, so, I thought that was the reason for all the problems, plus, I didn’t have the best quality when it came to gear and it is always a factor, unfortunately.
Then one day, out of the blue, I asked myself, “Wait a minute, wait a damn minute! What if… it was not the guitar, the raggedy switch, the PC monitor or the local FM radio? What if it was my damn cable?” I had a few cables lying around. But they were all the same brand, hence they all sounded the same. I went to a music store and asked for the least noisy cable. I got what I could afford from the bundle that they offered. After the replacement, my first reaction was “S***********ttt!!! Why didn’t I think of this before? Why didn’t anybody tell me?” Suddenly I had less, much less noise in my signal, with or without the computer monitor in front of me. Okay, the noise wasn’t completely gone but now it was in more digestible proportions.
Years went by and I took a long, long break from recording. I forgot about many details. When I made my “big comeback”, I was still using my, supposedly, noise-proof cables, but lo and behold, that old, annoying magnetic noise was determined to join me in my comeback plans.
It feels weird, even while I am writing these lines but for some reason, I had forgotten all about my earlier cable experiences. So, just like I had done years ago, I started looking for the problem elsewhere; besides, even if I COULD’VE remembered what had happened almost a decade ago, about the cables, these were my exact good old cables that I had used forever and had no trouble with. I’d still would’ve skipped the possibility. Look, I am no expert on the subject, but I think it is safe to assume that some deterioration had taken place and those cables weren’t any good anymore.
After a few more months of oblivion, misery and frustration, I suddenly figured what had been staring me in the eye:
The problem could be the cable… again! Yes, it was; the butler WAS the killer. I went through my boxes and found a spare cable that apparently, I hadn’t use before. Tested it and voila! Minimum noise. I didn’t even remember buying it or why I hadn’t used it before. It worked fine, I was happy.
Why do I have such a lousy memory? I don’t know.
What I do know, however, is that one should always check the gear, the strings, the cables, in other words, the usual suspects first. Better yet, just replace them periodically and lose no sleep. I know it is costly and I am one of the laziest people on Earth when it comes to do fixing stuff when it ain’t broke, but in the long run, it all seems to pay off.
Mix on, friends.