You heard right! You don’t always need to pay money for new gear in order to get a tighter guitar tone. No noise gates, no new amps, just some free (or cheap) and reversible mods to your guitar.

What Are We Changing?

When you mute your guitar strings, some parts of your guitar still vibrate and resonate afterward. These sympathetic vibrations can often be amplified by your pickups, especially if you’re using anything that gives natural compression such as distortion or overdrive (or a compressor, of course).

These ringing parts can result in weird, dissonant harmonic overtones, but more importantly, they will keep making a sound after you’ve stopped playing! If your music requires any amount of precision or noise gates this will negatively impact both of those things.

Depending on your setup these noises might be subtle, but on many setups, you’ll find them very clearly audible.

All we’re doing is preventing these parts from vibrating too much. The result means a tighter, cleaner guitar tone!

The Problem Areas

There are a few places to look out for, we’ll start with the most common and work our way down to the finer details.

The headstock is the most notorious culprit! The length of string behind the nut tends to resonate the loudest in a dissonant chord shape that’s not very pleasing to the ear.

The next most common is the opposite end with Tune-O-Matic style bridges. The length of string between the saddles and the tailpiece have precisely the same issue, although typically quieter.

Lastly, if you have a tremolo-equipped guitar this will be the number one place of issue… your tremolo springs! Try flicking those springs with your finger, you hear all that noise? That’s often being picked up by your pickups and being amplified by your guitar signal! Yuck!

The Solution

The good news is these are extremely easy to remedy, and there are even free household fixes.

The cheapest solution by far is to simply place a piece of tape across all the strings or springs. This will deaden all of these sympathetic vibrations with ease and not a penny spent.

The downside to this option is that if you’re changing tunings you can experience a bit of tugging and pulling of the strings that can mess with your tuning stability and tension. Not the ideal solution, but it works like a charm in a pinch.

Your next best bet is to stick a piece of foam underneath the strings or springs. A great resource for this is simply using the foam you find in the packaging when you buy pickups. It’s thick enough to stop the vibrations, but not too dense that it is pushing too hard on the strings.

Cut a small strip and place it right behind the nut of your guitar, underneath the strings. This works great for the headstock and tailpiece issues, as well as underneath your tremolo springs.

If you want a prettier solution to your tremolo springs, here’s a really good one… Go to a medical supply store and buy surgical tubing. It is the perfect thickness to fit in a tremolo spring. They’re clear and they fit snug inside your springs to give you all the benefits without even being able to tell they’re in there.

Lastly, if you want a solution for your headstock that kills two birds with one stone, try buying a string dampener. These can be bought from various companies and are essentially a strip of soft fabric and a velcro loop to hold it on your guitar neck.

While it solves our little problem with ease, it has the added bonus of… well, exactly what it was designed for. Bring it past the nut of the guitar onto the fretboard to help mute open strings during two-handed tapping, sweep picking, or any other technical passage that just needs that little extra cleaning up!

The Little Things Matter

This may seem like a minor detail and chances are you won’t notice it on stage with your amp on 10… but there’s a reason even top-level musicians and producers like Keith Merrow, Misha Mansoor, and Joey Sturgis rely on this trick heavily in the studio.

Even playing live you may notice that your noise gate has become more effective at the same settings and that your guitar is just that much more responsive.

It’s cheap, it’s easy, and it makes your tone just that much more polished – what’ve you got to lose?

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