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Moved to a new house and amps are buzzing like crazy; power lines?
Old 9th December 2020
  #1
Gear Nut
 
Moved to a new house and amps are buzzing like crazy; power lines?

What is happening:

I recently moved to a new house that was built in the 50s and is also close to some high voltage power lines. I plugged into my amps for the first time today, and they are definitely noisier compared to my previous apartment. In addition to the standard amp buzz, there is a sort of higher pitched overtone that I don't remember hearing before.

The noise occurs with all my guitars (although it is worse with guitars with single coils), and is worse the louder I turn up my amp, and much worse as I increase the gain. I am plugged in to a Furman SS-6B in the room I play guitar, but this noise occurs no matter where I plug in in the house. All my pedalboards have isolated power supplies. If I rotate my body while holding the guitar I can find spots where the high pitched overtone goes away, but the amp buzz remains. A noise gate (Fortin Zuul) sort kills the noise, but definitely works better with humbuckers.

If I turn the amp on without anything plugged in, it is generally very quiet, but the noise begins as soon as I plug a cable into the input.

Here is an example of the buzzing with single coils on a clean tone, and on a higher gain lead tone. That higher pitched overtone is somewhere between a b and c#, and that's what is bugging me the most because it clashes with my playing.

What I have done:

-Tried playing amps in different rooms around the house; the noise is everywhere.
-Used a outlet checker to check the grounding on the outlets being used; as far as I can tell, the outlets are grounded.
-Tried using a power conditioner to see if that helps (Furman AC-215A); it did absolutely nothing and I will be returning it.

What I have yet to do:

-Turn the circuits in the house off at the board to see if there is any specific source of the noise coming from inside the house. I have LED lighting throughout the house, and I have been told those can cause noise issues.
-Hired an electrician; perhaps they could check the overall state of the electrical wiring in the house?

Any ideas as to what might be going on? Is this "dirty power", or is it noise coming from the power lines? More importantly, is there anything I can do to make my amps buzz less? After chatting with the folks at ISP, my main lead right now is their new Hum Extractor Decimator G pedal (the hum extractor part was basically designed for my exact situation).

Any input would be appreciated!

Last edited by _starbelly; 9th December 2020 at 02:30 AM.. Reason: needed more specific title
Old 9th December 2020
  #2
Gear Nut
 
c1010's Avatar
 
If you mean those high-tower lines (rather than the 7 KV neighborhood grid), then it's time to buy a handheld EMF meter. Get a good one, with not too many negative reviews. (Sometimes it's the negative reviews of a product that tell the real story.) And see if you can find one that has a directional capability.
Old 9th December 2020 | Show parent
  #3
Gear Nut
 
They look like this: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...sion_Lines.png

I'll look into getting a handheld EMF meter, but am still trying to think of solutions.
Old 9th December 2020
  #4
Gear Nut
 
c1010's Avatar
 
Might be time to get an electrician in there and check how well the main panel is grounded. By that I mean earth grounded. A house put up in the 1950s may have had a dodgy ground rod installed to start with, and who knows what shape it's in now after 70 years. Could be solid rust with zero conductivity.

He can also check the wire connecting the main panel to the rod. That thing could be all corroded as well.

He can check for water ingress into the panel, too. I saw a panel once that looked in decent shape from the outside, and even with the cover swung open, but with the cover unscrewed and removed, it was a disaster.

The problem in your case (because you live so close to those lines) is that you need the AC outlets to perform not only a safety ground function but also an RF drain function. That's called "pushing it." So, the home's grounding scheme must be pristine, i.e. very low resistance from any outlet's ground to earth.

Anyway, one hour of an electrician's time would be well spent, imo. Shouldn't take longer than that.

But yeah, definitely get that meter, if for no other reason than you'll know for sure what's going on electromagnetically. You can even take the meter to other places (far from the towers) and compare readings. Maybe even create a map that shows field strength vs distance!

Last edited by c1010; 9th December 2020 at 08:15 PM.. Reason: fix spelling, sorry...
Old 9th December 2020 | Show parent
  #5
Gear Nut
 
This is excellent advice, thanks so much! I have an electrician I've worked with before, so I'll reach out to them.
Old 9th December 2020
  #6
Gear Nut
 
Given the input that @ John Eppstein provided in a similar thread, I wonder if he'd have any guidance with my specific situation.
Old 10th December 2020
  #7
Gear Nut
 
I just noticed that the higher pitched overtone mostly goes away when I touch the tip of the cable and the metal below the sleeve at the same time. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Any ideas?
Old 10th December 2020
  #8
Gear Guru
 
John Eppstein's Avatar
 
58 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
MOVE, if it's not too late. Otherwise you're facing a HUGE electrical problem.

We've had a nearly infinite number of these complaints here. Most tend to be fairly intractable unless you have considerable time and money to spend.

Worst case, your house needs a complete rewire. Even worse case, you need to have the transformer on your line replaced.

Much, if not most new construction has VERY bad wiring. Since you did not experience the problem before moving, I would suspect that is the case.

Most newer house wiring uses ROMEX type cable, installed without conduit. Conduit provides an electrical shield. If you just have (cheap-ass) Romex you're probably screwed, since it has no electrical shield.

To replace the wiring with proper conduit will be very expensive, as it will require breaking into you walls to replace the wiring.

Unfortunately, code in most parts of the USA allows Romex and does not require conduit. That's because the people who make the ordinances governing this don't give a a sh!t about audio and are lobbied to allow the cheapest possible wiring that (probably) won't burn your house down.

EDIT: Try it with ALL the lights in your house turned off. Many LED light systems (not necessarily cheap ones) have substandard (built-in) power supplies for the (DC powered) LED lights, which spew horrible RFI noise, transmitted through the air. Replacing all the LED lighting with LED lighting of better quality would be much cheaper than tearing out all the wiring in the walls.
Old 10th December 2020
  #9
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
It doesn’t sound like it’s your amps buzzing predominantly, it’s interference your *guitars* are picking up.

I wouldn’t spend any money yet on noise gates, “power conditioners”, etc...if it’s bad, noise gates suck, and consumer power conditioners don’t really do anything.

What you can do is walk around your house, inside and out, carrying a guitar and a battery powered amp (I have used those little headphone plugs)...point that guitar in every direction, at lights, appliances, pipes, outlets...notice where the noise is better or worse.

That will give you a solid head start.
Old 10th December 2020 | Show parent
  #10
Gear Nut
 
@ John Eppstein Hot damn. I’m a first time homeowner been here for less than two weeks, I’m not sure I can just move out, haha.

I will generate some questions based on your comment and bring it to the attention of the electrician I know.

Unless I am mistaken, it seems as though your comment implies that the problem is internal/part of the house itself; could it be the case that the house is fine and this is all due to interference from the high voltage power lines?
Old 10th December 2020 | Show parent
  #11
Gear Nut
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by kslight ➡️
It doesn’t sound like it’s your amps buzzing predominantly, it’s interference your *guitars* are picking up.

I wouldn’t spend any money yet on noise gates, “power conditioners”, etc...if it’s bad, noise gates suck, and consumer power conditioners don’t really do anything.

What you can do is walk around your house, inside and out, carrying a guitar and a battery powered amp (I have used those little headphone plugs)...point that guitar in every direction, at lights, appliances, pipes, outlets...notice where the noise is better or worse.

That will give you a solid head start.
As a metal player, I rely on noise gates much of the time, haha.

I like your approach! Any tips on a battery powered amp to use for this application?
Old 10th December 2020
  #12
Gear Nut
 
c1010's Avatar
 
May I suggest going to the local "Cheap Chinese ****" superstore and buying a tiny portable AM radio, the kind that runs on a 9 volt battery and will fit into a coat pocket. If there's something in the air, you'll know it quick. It'll sound roughly the same as Erno Vuorinen's tone. (But I guess that's a subjective call.)
Old 10th December 2020 | Show parent
  #13
Lives for gear
 
nosebleedaudio's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by _starbelly ➡️
If they look like that those are the REALLY high voltage 220K volts, and are not allowed to be really close to anything...at least several hundred feet..
Does your car have a AM radio?
Old 10th December 2020
  #14
Gear Nut
 
c1010's Avatar
 
Crap... Something just occurred to me and I'm sorry I didn't think of it sooner. That house was built back in the days of 2-wire! You said your outlet tester told you everything was ok. But it may not tell you if neutral and ground are tied together, and the walls still contain 2-wire. It's fudge-able. A proper 2-wire to 3-wire upgrade for any site requires pulling new 3-wire cable.

So, shut off the breaker that supplies power to your practice room. Test the outlet with anything BUT the tester to make sure the outlet's dead. Pop the plate and set it aside, unscrew the outlet from the box, and pull it out just far enough to see how many wires are attached to the outlet, and how they're connected. And check how many wires the cable itself contains. You may find a Nice Big Surprise.

This is something your electrician would do anyway, but you can do it yourself while you're waiting for him to show up.
Old 10th December 2020 | Show parent
  #15
Gear Nut
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by c1010 ➡️
May I suggest going to the local "Cheap Chinese ****" superstore and buying a tiny portable AM radio, the kind that runs on a 9 volt battery and will fit into a coat pocket. If there's something in the air, you'll know it quick. It'll sound roughly the same as Erno Vuorinen's tone. (But I guess that's a subjective call.)
I ordered a cheap portable AM/FM radio that runs on AA batteries which will hopefully arrive today. Also, the comparison to Erno Vuorinen is hilarious, hahaha. In any case, I'm looking forward to seeing if I can track down the noise.
Old 10th December 2020 | Show parent
  #16
Gear Nut
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by nosebleedaudio ➡️
If they look like that those are the REALLY high voltage 220K volts, and are not allowed to be really close to anything...at least several hundred feet..
Does your car have a AM radio?
Are you referring to the distance of the structures, or the power lines themselves. My car has an aftermarket stereo that has a radio, but I'm not sure if it has AM radio. I can check though!
Old 10th December 2020 | Show parent
  #17
Gear Nut
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by c1010 ➡️
Crap... Something just occurred to me and I'm sorry I didn't think of it sooner. That house was built back in the days of 2-wire! You said your outlet tester told you everything was ok. But it may not tell you if neutral and ground are tied together, and the walls still contain 2-wire. It's fudge-able. A proper 2-wire to 3-wire upgrade for any site requires pulling new 3-wire cable.

So, shut off the breaker that supplies power to your practice room. Test the outlet with anything BUT the tester to make sure the outlet's dead. Pop the plate and set it aside, unscrew the outlet from the box, and pull it out just far enough to see how many wires are attached to the outlet, and how they're connected. And check how many wires the cable itself contains. You may find a Nice Big Surprise.

This is something your electrician would do anyway, but you can do it yourself while you're waiting for him to show up.
This is great insight! I'm arranging with my electrician for an appointment this coming Monday or Tuesday and will update here afterwards. In the meantime, I'm going to try some of the suggestions here. I wonder if it's interference coming from inside the house, and if the power lines are a red herring.
Old 10th December 2020
  #18
Gear Nut
 
c1010's Avatar
 
The AM radio will tell you. Shut off the main (220) breaker and see if the noise goes away. If it does, shut off every branch breaker, then turn the main breaker back on. Noise should still be gone. Then flip one breaker on, do a walkaround with the radio, repeat until all breakers are exhausted. While you're at it, you can make notes re. which breakers serve which parts of the home, in case that info isn't already written on the back of the panel access door.
Old 10th December 2020 | Show parent
  #19
Gear Nut
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by c1010 ➡️
The AM radio will tell you. Shut off the main (220) breaker and see if the noise goes away. If it does, shut off every branch breaker, then turn the main breaker back on. Noise should still be gone. Then flip one breaker on, do a walkaround with the radio, repeat until all breakers are exhausted. While you're at it, you can make notes re. which breakers serve which parts of the home, in case that info isn't already written on the back of the panel access door.
Do I just have to scan AM frequencies to see if I find the noise? Is there a possibility that the handheld radio can filter out noise? In any case, I'm looking forward to trying this!
Old 10th December 2020 | Show parent
  #20
Gear Nut
 
c1010's Avatar
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by _starbelly ➡️
Do I just have to scan AM frequencies to see if I find the noise? Is there a possibility that the handheld radio can filter out noise?
No to both questions. You can change frequencies if you wish, but it shouldn't make much difference. The noise you're experiencing is probably wideband, encompassing the entire AM broadcast spectrum and beyond, in both directions.

However, the noise will be more-apparent when you are NOT tuned into a station. So pick a frequency that's unused, if the radio will permit. If it won't, i.e. if its tuning is some non-analog scheme that only scans and stops at frequencies in use, then pick the station with the weakest signal. Ideally the radio would have manual/analog tuning so you can tune it to "nothing," to get the highest possible noise level out of the speaker.

The AM portion of your radio not only won't filter out noise, it can't filter out noise. If it did, it wouldn't be able to receive AM signals.

Now, the radio's FM portion will "filter out" amplitude-modulated RF because its demodulation scheme "pays attention" only to variations in the frequency of the carrier, not to its amplitude variations. Since man-made noise is almost always amplitude-modulated (vs frequency-modulated), using the FM band to test for noise will probably be of zero value.
Old 10th December 2020
  #21
Lives for gear
 
nosebleedaudio's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Years ago I used a cheap neon lamp tester for checking live circuits, If I touched one lead and put the other on a live wire the lamp would fire..
So, if you had an older VOM you may be able to do the same thing..with the amp on touch one lead to chassis the other in your finger..Or something thats grounded like a water pipe ect..If its NOT grounded you should have voltage standing on the chassis..

Last edited by nosebleedaudio; 11th December 2020 at 11:06 AM..
Old 10th December 2020 | Show parent
  #22
Gear Nut
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by nosebleedaudio ➡️
Years ago I used a cheap neon lamp tester for checking live circuits, If I touched one lead and put the other on a live wire the lamp would fire..
So, if you had an older VOM you may be able to do the same thing..with the amp on touch one lead to chassis the other in your finger..Or something thats grounded lke a water pipe ect..If its NOT grounded you should have voltage standing on the chassis..
Kind of like this? https://www.dropbox.com/s/sse0pvsthr...noise.MOV?dl=0
Old 11th December 2020 | Show parent
  #23
Gear Guru
 
John Eppstein's Avatar
 
58 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by _starbelly ➡️
@ John Eppstein Hot damn. I’m a first time homeowner been here for less than two weeks, I’m not sure I can just move out, haha.

I will generate some questions based on your comment and bring it to the attention of the electrician I know.

Unless I am mistaken, it seems as though your comment implies that the problem is internal/part of the house itself; could it be the case that the house is fine and this is all due to interference from the high voltage power lines?
Well, the problem is that regulations for residential code wiring in many, if not most areas now do not require either shielding or twisted pairs for power wiring. It makes building costs cheaper. It also makes the house noisier, electronically speaking.

If you're the homeowner it might not be a bad idea to convert part of the house for audio use.

And yes, it is possible that a failing line transformer on a pole could be failing in a way that causes it to spew electrical noise. In all my years of dealing with audio and environmental noise I have encountered a verified case of this exactly ONE time, which means that it does happen but also that it's pretty rare.
Old 11th December 2020
  #24
Lives for gear
 
nosebleedaudio's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Maybe mentioned already is that what could have been done is when replacing the outlets someone simply connected the Neutral to the ground wire also, have seen this a few times...
IF this has been done those cheap testers will probably show OK..
Old 11th December 2020
  #25
Gear Addict
 
1 Review written
🎧 5 years
I had a pro with good EMI meter come out to house and we tested all over the property, along the interior circuit runs , studio equipment, with breakers on and off etc and determined the interference source is the trunk power lines that run down our street. The problem here is overcome with: direction of guitar or low output mic, gate, waves z-noise. I have found the guitar problem goes away when using a 50 foot cable from amp head to cab in next room. I am not a high gain guitarist generally.
Old 11th December 2020 | Show parent
  #26
Gear Nut
 
c1010's Avatar
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DiodeBridge ➡️
I had a pro with good EMI meter come out to house and we tested all over the property, along the interior circuit runs , studio equipment, with breakers on and off etc and determined the interference source is the trunk power lines that run down our street. The problem here is overcome with: direction of guitar or low output mic, gate, waves z-noise. I have found the guitar problem goes away when using a 50 foot cable from amp head to cab in next room. I am not a high gain guitarist generally.
By any chance did you guys pinpoint the exact source on the line, or wasn't there time for that? Sometimes one dodgy splice on the grid can do it, and its effects can show up hundreds of feet away.
Old 11th December 2020 | Show parent
  #27
Gear Addict
 
1 Review written
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by c1010 ➡️
By any chance did you guys pinpoint the exact source on the line, or wasn't there time for that? Sometimes one dodgy splice on the grid can do it, and its effects can show up hundreds of feet away.
We didn't find or look for a point on the line, but that would very interesting to know. The lines are 20 feet in the air so it might be tough to do.

But man, getting a poor splice repaired is much easier to contemplate than the alternatives of building a Faraday cage around the entire studio or paying to have the lines buried, if either are even possible.
Old 11th December 2020
  #28
Gear Nut
 
c1010's Avatar
 
Funny you should mention Faraday cage, because one of my clients had to build one inside a facility to house an MRI unit. Needless to say, it wasn't cheap to do. I had the opportunity to watch the process and talk to the guys who were putting it up. It was incredibly labor-intensive because of all the soldering needed to join all the copper rectangles into one continuous... well... cage. You walk into the room now and look around and it's so spooky. Feels like some nefarious SF lab.
Old 12th December 2020 | Show parent
  #29
Gear Nut
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by c1010 ➡️
Funny you should mention Faraday cage, because one of my clients had to build one inside a facility to house an MRI unit. Needless to say, it wasn't cheap to do. I had the opportunity to watch the process and talk to the guys who were putting it up. It was incredibly labor-intensive because of all the soldering needed to join all the copper rectangles into one continuous... well... cage. You walk into the room now and look around and it's so spooky. Feels like some nefarious SF lab.
I worked with both EEG and MRI quite a bit during my PhD. Those were some serious Faraday cages for those facilities. It would be hilarious to see my rig set up in one of the EEG booths I used, haha.
Old 12th December 2020
  #30
Gear Nut
 
I got my handheld AM/FM radio in! For my first round of testing, I found two frequencies that were basically unused (towards the top and bottom of the AM range) and walked around the house. Here are some initial observations (some of these may be obvious to people with more knowledge on this topic).
  • In the room with my gear, the lower frequency produces a sound similar to the standard amp buzz, whereas the higher frequency produced a more sustained "note-like" sound that only seemed to appear in that room.
  • Getting close to the breaker box greatly increased the noise coming from the radio, and cutting off the breaker for the room my gear is in made no change in the level of noise.
  • In some cases, the orientation of my body holding the radio affected how prevalent the noise was.
  • Running the radio directly in front of LED light fixtures in the ceiling produced noise, even when they are off.
  • Surprisingly going outside, in view of the high voltage power lines, did not seem to increase noise. It actually seemed quieter outside.
  • No such noise was present in the FM frequencies.

This weekend I will be more systematic about exploring around the house with the radio, and will even go closer to the power lines. One of the next steps will be to turn the main breaker off to see if this makes a change in the noise the radio picks up.

Any feedback you may have to improve how I may go about this using the radio would be appreciated!
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