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Irritating buzzing on DX5 pickups. What do I do?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Diezel420, Jan 23, 2001.

  1. I own a year-old Ibanez SR485SOL 5-string. When I bought it new, it didn't buzz at all; it was nearly silent whnever I wasn't playing. But recently, it has begun to buzz. It's not the battery for the electronics; I checked that out. And it seems I will get a different amount of buzzing depending on where I stand in a room. Buzzing is LESS at gigs I play. The pickups on my bass are passive (I read on the company site, ibanez.com), but the electronics are active. Maybe that has something to do with it.

    Anyway, I wanna know how to solve this problem, and anyone who could help me out here would be very nice. Thanks.
  2. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    Sorry - I know this is a... um... well, 11 year old thread. That said, I'm having the exact same issue with my Ibanez SGR with DX-5s. I don't remember it buzzing at all when I first got it, but now it seems very susceptible to various electromagnetic interference. Sometimes turning off lights with dimmer switches helps, but obviously if I'm gigging in an uncontrolled environment that's not always an option.

    Any advice? The insides of all the cavities already seem to be coated with black shielding paint...
  3. bassbenj


    Aug 11, 2009
    Quick diagnosis. First does the hum come and go when you touch the strings or "ground" (like the metal body of the jack)? OR does the hum level NOT change when you touch ground but does change when you change the orientation of the bass by rotating it around?

    If it is the first case, you have a shielding problem. In that case sometimes wires do come loose. Remember that the shield (black paint) MUST be grounded and that contact is usually just a screw into the paint that can develop contact problems.

    In the second case you've got "single coil hum". Now since DX-5s are humbuckers they should NOT be doing this. This means the problem is likely something shorted out like one of the coils in the pickups. Check each pickup individually to see if only one or both do this.

    Before doing these tests be sure to put in a brand new battery and try a couple of different cords (and even amps if you can). That is to eliminate the possibility that it's not house wiring hum or something not having anything at all to do with the bass itself.
  4. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY

    I did a bit more on the diagnostic end. I found that there appear to be two distinct causes of buzz that I am getting here.


    The first is a grounding issue of some kind, and is mostly prevalent in the neck pickup - although I can (barely) hear it to a much lesser degree with the bridge pickup. I noticed that when my hand is either touching the neck pickup or hovering above it, I get a *lot* of buzz. The greater the surface area of my hand involved, the stronger the buzz.

    This is alleviated when my other hand touches the bridge or strings - thus it seems to be a grounding issue.

    Experimenting, I opened the electronics cavity and found these electronics inside.

    There is actually only a single white cable that runs out of the pickup, that splits off into the ground and signal wires right before they are soldered to their posts. While these connections look solid on the electronics end, I found that touching a screwdriver I was holding to the ground post that the neck pickup was soldered to stopped the hum immediately.

    This leads me to believe that either the ground wire inside the white cable is degraded or it is degraded where it connects inside the pickup itself. Regardless, I'm not sure how to fix this issue as when I pull out the pickup it seems to be one solid block with the white cable embedded into it - there are no screws or anything to remove the cover... maybe there are under the foam that's glued to the back?

    I tried lining the cavity with aluminum foil to a degree and running a piece of aluminum foil under the pickups and under the bridge (in a way that looked aesthetically pleasing as it creates a stripe across the center of the bass) and while this seems to have helped minimally (and actually enhanced the tone of the neck pickup, strangely), it hasn't fully alleviated the issue.

    What *does* alleviate the issue fully is when I run my bass amp from battery as opposed to off the wall socket (it's a roland microcube, capable of either). Then there is no hum at all caused by my body touching or hovering near anything.


    The second issue seems to be different. Whenever I turn on the lights in my living room, I get a similar but much stronger buzz that is equal in both pickups (although its tone changes subtly when I roll from one to the other).

    The lights are on a dimmer switch, and turning them down makes the buzz much worse than when they are on full. The only thing that stops it completely is turning the lights off.

    This buzz cannot be alleviated by touching anything with my body, and cannot be alleviated by running off of battery. Changing the direction that the bass is facing helps, but does not fully alleviate it -- again, the only thing that can get rid of it is turning the lights off.


    So... any advice on how to proceed?
  5. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    It's worth noting that the electronics diagram is missing a few things: each pickup cavity and the bridge have a wire mounted to the wood that runs through the body and grounds to the post labeled "PCB Ground" in the image.
  6. Growly Lytes

    Growly Lytes

    Dec 4, 2009
    Downunder Oz
    Bass player
    Sounds like the wires are degrading as you said.I had the same problem a little while ago & thought it was my Poweramp causing this` lucky i would have been up a for a alot of cash when in fact it was just a few loose wires in the bass.
    Everything inside your bass should be checked by a pro then shielded properly to eliminate buzz from lights & stuff.
  7. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY

    While I don't mind getting it checked by a pro, I'm trying to do it myself for two reasons:

    1. Cost
    2. I work at Sam Ash, and when I brought it to the guy there and mentioned to him that I wanted to shield it his reply was, "It seems fine to me - I mean, the cavities are painted. You can go crazy with shielding and grounding and it never really changes anything much. Unless I'm wrong. Have you checked online for videos on that?"

    I had a similar experience when I brought it to Guitar Center too. If you have a recommendation on finding a place that will help me with this and won't charge me an arm and a leg, I'm all ears (that is, unless they charge ears too...)
  8. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
    This time it's only two years old. However, I wanted to revive this question because I never got this resolved.

    I fixed the grounding issue, but I'm still getting terrible, terrible buzz depending on where I play and what angle I'm facing. I really need to take care of this. Please help?
  9. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY

  10. JustForSport


    Nov 17, 2011
    Haven't had this problem, but since changing directions changes the buzzing, it's likely the strings are picking up elec interference, and it's not being grounded.
    I would check to be SURE the bridge is grounded correctly, and not just to a 'ground' that may not be good itself.
    If the coils were to go bad, you'd know it by the lack of signal from certain strings- the DX5's are split-coil, like a 'P' inside, so, if a coil is 'open', it will not sound.
    I've heard of solder joints going 'cold', so that could make a bad ground.
    It may be a good idea to re-solder all the grounds before going further...
  11. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY

    I'm confused. My understanding was that there were two types of possible noise sources:

    Ground noise, aka 60 Hz hum, caused by improper grounding. Characteristics would include changes depending on if I was touching or not touching the strings (usually quieting the noise if I touched them), and the noise being only present - or at least exaggerated - when plugged into the wall as opposed to battery power, but no changes based on direction of the instrument.

    Electromagnetic interference, caused by improper shielding. Characteristics would include changes based on the direction the bass was pointed, lights / dimmer switches, etc. - regardless of the power source in question. Touching the strings / pickups / electronics would have no effect.

    Am I wrong about this?

    The sound I am getting matches word-for-word the description I gave of the second: electromagnetic interference. It changes with the orientation of the bass in comparison to the walls, lights, etc. Dimmer switches exacerbate it. Touching the strings or other electronics does not affect it, one way or the other. The sound is the same regardless of whether I'm running of mains or battery, and is a very treble-y hum; turning the treble down gets rid of most of it.

    Initially I was also getting the first type of noise. However, I ran some tin foil in the pickup cavities, and then connected that to the bridge with more tin foil, and that took care of that part. The hum has quieted a tad, and touching the strings no longer affects it at all.

    Both pickups sound for all strings, so I'm guessing a coil hasn't failed then?

    Also what defines a good ground vs. a bad ground?

    I tried opening up the electronics and running wire (well, tin foil as I had no wire) between the strings, bridge, pickups, various pots, ground posts, jack, etc. None of that did anything, unless I accidentally connected it somewhere that caused a short, in which case a pickup would just cut out...
  12. JustForSport


    Nov 17, 2011
    Well, strings can be sort-of like antennae (which can be directional), and in that case need a good ground to bleed off what they pickup.
    Or it could be another interference source that's not well grounded.
    Sometimes soldered connections look good, but after time the lead degrades, if it's a minimal connection, due to current thru it, or combined with oxidation. In that case, it may appear ok, and still attached, but doesn't conduct electricity as it should. Re-soldering the ground connections will eliminate a hidden bad ground.
    Considering the other things you've done, and that the treble pot affects it IMO points more towards a grounding issue than an EQ component.
    I've not encountered or heard of this type pickup being a source of this kind of noise. Since the pickup wires are (I think) just a center signal wire surrounded by the grounding wrap (sort-of a coax), possibly the 'coax' is not to a 'known' good ground, or that ground is not connected to another 'known' good ground.
    Could be something else, but that's what I'd start with.
  13. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY

    How does one get inside a DX5 to check that out? I have it removed from the cavity and I'm noticing that it's one solid body, with no seams even that I can tell...
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2014
  14. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
  15. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    Your bass is experiencing 60hz hum, that is why it is directional. Try testing the bass out in a bunch of different environments, I would imagine the hum goes away in certain places. Is it a two-pickup bass, jazz bass style? Jazz bass single coil pickups turn into humbuckers when both are on full. The only way to remove 60hz hum is to use humbucking pickups.

    If your bass had a shielding issue the hum would go away any time you touched any strings/bridge/metal on the bass. If your bass had a grounding issue the hum would get louder when you touch strings/bridge/metal.

    I hope that helps.
  16. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY

    Huh... my understanding was the exact opposite. Namely, that if it was a grounding issue, touching the strings would ground the bass and get rid of the hum... and that a shielding issue would be directional as the pickups would have to be facing the source of the interference to pick it up?

    It is a two pickup bass. The hum does not cancel itself out when the pickups are balanced, althoug it does shift tonality slightly on the bridge vs. neck pickup.

    It does go away in certain environments. In others it's deafening unless I'm standing at the right angle.

    Of course, my local repair shop is one of those in which it's completely inaudible... *rolls eyes*

    Also, it wouldn't be a mega issue if it weren't for that I tend to play a lot of solo material, so I need to have the high end rolled up a lot, which is where the buzz lives (it's more of a high, saw-tooth buzz then a low hum)
  17. phnord


    Oct 26, 2010
    Brooklyn, NY
  18. JustForSport


    Nov 17, 2011
    The pickups are epoxy-potted and cannot really be taken apart w/o destroying them, not like wax potted pickups, but epoxy keeps them more stable, and uses no heat to pot.
    The DX (5, 6) and ADX (5,6) pickups are split-coil (2 coils) inside, like a split 'P' bass pickup which makes them narrow aperature (as opposed to dual-coils) 'humbucking'. They don't suffer the noise issue that straight single-coils do.
    Use a small screwdriver or piece of cut-off bass string across the tops of the pups to see where it is attracted, and you'll notice what I mean.
    Being already humbucking, they'll not benefit from and balancing, as far as noise cancellation goes. They should be very quiet alone or combined.
    Since the interference you're getting is probably 60hz, but if in the vicinity of flourescent or possibly even LED bulbs with their internal switching/timing boards (tho I've not run across an issue with those yet), something is acting as an antenna, and it's not being sent to ground.
    If it were a component on the EQ board, direction should have no affect.
    And being that some environs are problematic, while others are not, still points to an antenna/receiver and ground issue.
    Likely not the pickups themselves, but the leads may be a factor. Cutting them near the pickup and replacing with new shielded leads is a delicate job (only if req'd), requiring heat-sinks and a someone good with a soldering iron.
    Can you try those pickups in another bass (that doesn't buzz), for a trial, just to isolate the components?
  19. BlueTalon

    BlueTalon Happy Cynic

    Mar 20, 2011
    Spokane, Washington
    Endorsing Artist: Turnstyle Switch
    The first thing I would recommend doing is getting a multimeter so you can check things like continuity and resistance. You can get them at any hardware store for about $10-$25. The second thing I'd recommend is to ditch the aluminum foil and get some copper tape with conductive adhesive. It's cheap on ebay, and there are even some inexpensive American sources for it there.

    When I'm troubleshooting, I don't tolerate words like "probably" or "usually" or "anything much". I'm all about knowing with certainty. So in your situation, I'd address each problem separately. Determine if the pickups and leads are good. I would advise against doing anything to the leads unless they are causing a problem. To put it another way, don't do anything to the leads preventatively, as you risk causing more problems than you are likely to help. You don't need to replace pickup leads with shielded wires if everything else including the wire channel is properly shielded and grounded.
  20. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    If you strings were not grounded your body becomes a magnet for interference and the hum increases. If the strings were grounded your body completes the shielding when you touch metal and stops RF noise. Since your hum remains constant regardless of you touching any metal I would suspect it is 60hz hum. I would double check the bridge ground connection, I add a strip of copper tape under the bridge on my basses, but I would imagine that ground connection is good.

    RF noise is not directional in my experience, 60hz is. RF noise always goes when you touch metal anyways. Shielding only addresses RF interference, nothing else.

    What kind of amp did you test for noise with at the repair shop? If it was a cheap amp with no high-end it is possible you just didn't hear the buzz through the amp, but, I would imagine since the issue didn't persist at the shop it is probably 60hz and they just have a better environment at the shop.

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