QWhy do we still put up with single-coil hum, asks one reader. Dave Burruck can’t help but wonder…
Dear Mod Squad, I have a question about hum. I’ve used my Strat for years with no problem. The single coils can pick up hum as we all know, but I did a gig in a local sports hall and I couldn’t get rid of it whatever I did. The only pickup selections I could use were the in-between sounds – the solo pickups all hummed excessively. What do you suggest and why on earth in this day and age do we still have this potential problem?
Brian, via email
AHi Brian, I had exactly the same experience and, in that case, it was down to those bloomin’ LED lights flashing on and off around the ‘stage’. For us weekend warriors, we’re not all playing proper venues, are we? I’d stupidly only taken a three-single-coil guitar and, like you, thanks to the RWRP (reverse wound, reverse polarity) middle pickup, those in-between sounds were the only ones I could use. Meanwhile, my fellow guitarist just looked at me smugly and said, “That’s why I fitted EMGs,” and carried on as normal.
“Having a spare hum-cancelling scratchplate is not as daft as it sounds”
I was recently discussing this age-old problem with Vox guitar designer Rich Lasner. He was showing me some new designs and I did offer the question, why are we still using single-coil guitars that can potentially hum? His reply was that he preferred the sound and that the vast majority of players did, too, and they just don’t have a problem.
Of course, you can up the screening on the guitar, but it’s difficult to completely screen everything, not least the pickups themselves. The best advice I can give, aside from always taking out a humbucking spare, is to go the hum-cancelling pickup route for your gigging guitar. And there’s no shortage of those, passive or active. Kinman’s pickups – which include the usual Strat and Tele plus P-90, Jazzmaster, Jaguar and even Gold Foil soapbar-style – will get you very close to true single-coil tone without the hum. There are plenty more from the likes of DiMarzio and Seymour Duncan, Lace and Fender’s Noiseless just for starters. Actually, having a spare humcancelling scratchplate is not as daft as it sounds, especially if you use one of those neat Radioshop Pickups volume controls with screw-in terminals (as discussed in Mod Squad issue 458), so you can swap pickguards without needing to heat up the soldering iron.
Active setups, such as Fishman’s Fluence single-coil-sized pickups, have impressed us, too, and they include USB powering so you don’t need to find the space for an onboard battery. EMG, of course, has long made its noiseless active single-coil-sized humbuckers; check out the relatively new Retro Active range that offers “all the benefits of active pickups with the dynamic response of vintage passives”, according to the company itself.
But these hum-cancelling alternatives don’t sound like single coils, the internet will tell you. Personally, I’d rather get through a gig with no problem than worry about that – and, anyway, you might be surprised. I’ve had a trio of DiMarzio Area single-coil-sized stacked ’buckers on a bitser Strat (put together by Sid Poole, of course) for some years. It might sound a little more rounded in the high-end than the real thing, but it’s a sound I find very useful, especially for gigs where the full-fat single-coil voice can be too much of a contrast, too bright and often unbalanced, especially when you’re swapping from your Les Paul between numbers.
Don’t forget that splitting a humbucker to single coil will potentially give you hum pick-up problems as well. So you might want to consider getting your single-coil fix from wiring that humbucker in parallel, like Mark Lettieri has on his signature PRS Fiore. Also, don’t forget that P-90s are single coils, too, and can create louder hum, typically being higher in output than a Fender single coil.
As to why so many guitars being made today are still equipped with single coils and virtually no additional screening (perhaps, at best, a RWRP middle pickup), it’s probably due to that original comment from Rich Lasner – most people don’t care and many, many of those guitars will never be gigged. Thing is, once bitten…
That should give you something to think about till our next issue.
In the meantime, if you have any modding questions, or suggestions, drop us a line – The Mod Squad.