Get A Better Guitar Sound By Eliminating Extra String Noise

Extra string noise plagues many electric guitarists, even the most accomplished ones. You’ve heard it before or maybe battle with it every day. Its that extra noise that occurs when you are playing and a bunch of notes or just weird sounds come from your guitar in addition to the ones you intend to play. It makes you playing sound really sloppy sometimes to the point where it is hard to discern the lick you are trying to play from the noise.

It occurs most commonly in these situations: bending strings, playing with a lot of gain (distortion), strumming power chords, and sweep picking. Here’s a few tips to remedy each situation.

1) Bending Strings: The problem here occurs when the string you are bending comes in contact with a neighboring string (which it must to do the bend) that is not intended to be heard. Usually it results in an open string ringing out.

There are a few remedies to this. Most commonly the index finger of the left hand can be extended to mute the neighboring strings with the 2nd or 3rd finger bends the intended string. Watch slash play for an example of that.

Next careful muting with the right hand can be used to keep the strings quiet. Be careful with that one though because it is possible to inadvertently mute the intended string too.

2) For power chord strumming (punk stuff such as sex pistols or green day style) use the point of your index finger to mute the lower string(s) when the root falls on the 5th or 4th strings and the lower part of your 3rd finger to mute the top strings. The idea here is to strum all of the strings, only muting the ones that are not part of the chord.

3) When playing with a lot of gain careful right hand palm muting is almost always necessary especially if fast scalar passages are attempted. Here you really utilize your whole palm to mute the strings that are not being played. A lot of times this will end up with the chosen notes sounding staccato but if you are using that much gain chances are your playing in a style that requires that sound anyway.

4) When sweep picking the right hand palm muting along with careful left hand articulation is necessary. In this case unwanted harmonics usually occur as the left hand “rolls” across the strings. Problem here is too much palm muting will make it sound to percussive, so much so at times that you can’t recognize the actual chord sound. So roll those fingers carefully and practice sparse muting.

5) So here’s the “secret” solution a lot of great players use but will never tell about. It is putting a mute underneath the strings usually by the nut of the guitar similar to that of the felt on a piano.

It deadens the open strings, eliminating the potential for them or harmonics to occur. When built effectively it is barely noticeable. It helps for extra string noise that may occur across strings when you are picking really fast scale passages too.

Be aware though that it also eliminates the possibility of playing open notes so you cant play any open chords or licks. But if you are using one you are probably playing a style that doesn’t require those anyway.

If you need to do it another way use a scrunchie (the thing for putting your hair in a pony tail) That’s a lot easier that finding the right thickness and length of wood and proper felts for the easily hidden mute, although it is not quite effective as the mute,

I like to call it the poor man’s noise gate. The scrunchy has a bit of an advantage in that it can be pushed out of the way to the nut so that you can still play open strings and then pushed back when you need to mute. You can’t do that with a permanent mute. Look out for extra harmonics though, a scrunchy has been know to work its way exactly over a fret and produce random harmonics rarely but it does happen.

Its a trade off, the flexibility and obvious “crutch” of the scrunchy vs the higher performance and stealth of the mute. Either way it deadens the strings like nothing you can do with your hands so you can be playing clean almost immediately with that trick.

Overall I recommend practicing the first 4 techniques and find out what combinations of the work best for you. Perfect them as far as you can. Then when you need to take it to another level throw the mute into the mix. Don’t rely on the mute for your sole way to conquer extra string noise. Consider it the “big gun” to pull out when nothing else is working perfectly.

Keep those extra strings quiet!

-Bob