All About Wireless Guitar Systems November 03 2014

Even though they've been out for a few years, it's safe to say that many of us don't know all that much about wireless guitar systems. And those that do may be a bit sceptical of them due to a lack of knowledge.

Since we've recently started stocking the Joyo JW-01 wireless system, we thought it was the perfect time to write a quick guide on the systems which hopefully tells you everything you wanted to know.

1. What are they?

Essentially they are an electronic device which replaces the role which your guitar cable plays. So instead of using a cable to connect your guitar to your amp, you'd just use a wireless guitar system. The system then transmits your guitar signal from your guitar, to your amp without the need for a physical connection. As with guitar pedals, there are loads of different brands and types of technology in use. So two system can be completely different.

A typical device is made up of two parts - a transmitter and a receiver. You'll also usually get some sort of charger or adaptor for powering the device. Some are rechargeable. 

2. The Types of Systems Out There.

There are quite a few different sorts of wireless systems out there covering different price ranges and brands. You have the usual low cost - low performance variety, all the way up to professional grade equipment. The systems will either be analogue or digital which we'll look at in more detail below.

Typically the more expensive systems will have better reliability, range, quality and other adjustable options.

Here are some of the best known manufacturers of wireless systems:

  • Line6
  • Sennheiser
  • Shure
  • AKG

We stock the Joyo system because of it's great value. It's perfect for those experimenting with a wireless system for the first time. It's also suitable for casual gigging - but test it first!

3. How do they Work?

The majority of wireless guitar systems work in quite a similar way. Essentially most systems will have a transmitter connected to your guitar and receiver connected to your amp. When the system is on, and you play your guitar, the transmitter sends out a signal. This signal will then be picked up by the transmitter and put into your amp / pedal chain. 

3.1 Analogue vs Digital Systems.

When the guitar signal is transmitted, it needs to be converted into an FM signal. On analogue systems this means the signal needs to be compressed (at the transmitter) then uncompressed (at the receiver). Consequently this means that some quality is lost. However on digital systems this doesn't happen. So the quality should be exactly the same as a standard guitar cable. 

Another reason why digital systems are a little better is because they handle the bass sounds better. FM wireless guitar systems (non digital) can operate in two groups, VHF and UHF. VHF stands for Very High Frequency and UHF stands for Ultra High Frequency; they are both types of radio wave. The main difference is the frequency that they operate. VHF is ranged 30 – 300MHZ and UHF is ranged 300MHZ – 3GHZ.  Bottom E can sometimes drop outside the range and therefore quality is lost. Digital technology doesn't have this problem. It has the full spectrum of sounds available.

One last benefit of digital systems is that they're much less likely to experience interference from other devices such as TV and radios.

4. Why Get One?

In some cases, especially if you use a really long guitar lead, wireless guitar systems can actually sound better. This is because of the tone loss associated with having a long cable. This obviously isn't an issue with wireless systems. 

However the main reason to get one should be the ability to be much more manoeuvrable. This is great both on stage or for practice. You can freely walk around without worrying about accidentally pulling out / tripping over your cable. It will also ensure that your setup stays a little bit neater. There's nothing worse than untangling a great big mess of cables! 

A lot of things are going wireless these days because of the convenience and extra mobility - so why not guitars too?

5. Do they Work with Pedals?

Wireless systems work fine with guitar pedals. All you need to do is plug the receiver into the start of your pedal chain as opposed to your amp. Remember, just think of system as an advanced guitar lead! It may actually be easier to play with pedals because then you can use the power supply from your effects chain.

There may be a small difference in sound when compared to using a standard guitar cable. So some of the setting on your pedal may need adjusting.

6. Are they Reliable?

Initially when wireless guitar systems first came out, there was a concern that they weren't that reliable. Like all new technology there were a few a teething problems. Some devices cut out quite a bit, others picked up radio transmissions. However the technology improved rapidly, and these problems are rare, even in the cheaper systems. Unfortunately wireless systems have got a bit of a bad reputation because of these early problems. A few guitarists really look down on them because of the initial problems.

Currently, on a digital system, interference is virtually impossible because it's looking for a specific frequency, not just any frequency. Also the systems rarely cut out (the more expensive ones practically never do it) compared to the older systems.

The fact that professional touring musicians use wireless systems should prove the point that they are reliable enough and worries about reliability, while valid several years ago, aren't really a problem any more.

7. Boosting Performance.

There are a few things you can do to ensure that you get great sound and reliability from your device. They're mostly common sense but are easily neglected, especially if you're new to going wireless.

  • Make sure there aren't too many objects in the line of site between your transmitter and receiver! Although an object won't stop the signal, they certainly won't help. So ensure that you don't put your pedal board behind your amp or other instrument like a keyboard.
  • With certain devices, the waves may bounce off other objects. This means that waves arriving at the receiver after a bounce can result in a low quality sound. To avoid this make sure the playing area is relatively neat and object free (as above). You should also walk around your area of play to see if there are any trouble spots you should avoid.
  • Don't stray too far. Wireless systems do have a range so make sure you stay well within it. If you go past the limit you may get cut outs. There is another problem with going too far away, even if you're easily still in range. The further away you go, the longer sound take to reach you. Consequently you may begin to play out of time in a band situation.
  • Keep your batteries charged. Performance may start to go once you battery begins to run low. Many devices have a display which tells you your current level. So try to replace batteries if you're around 20%. This is especially important during gigs.