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How to troubleshoot guitar signal problems

How to troubleshoot guitar signal problems
(Image credit: Future)

We've all had the problem at one stage, where we switch everything on, plug in, hit a tentative opening chord to see what's what and... Silence. The heat flushes to your cheeks. The electric guitar is not supposed to be like this! Something's wrong. 

But this is no time to panic. Take a deep breath and work through the problem. More often than not it's something simple. Just start with your guitar and work down the signal chain and you'll be back in business in no time. Here's our step-by-step guide to troubleshooting signal problems.

1. Guitar

Is your volume turned up and – don’t laugh – is it still plugged in? Guitars rarely stop working altogether – a pulled cable is a common mishap.

2. Amp

Do the same for your amp and plug your guitar straight into it to confirm whether the problem is elsewhere in your signal.

Jack leads and patch cables

Now turn your attention to the pedalboard, as it’s most often the culprit. Plug your guitar straight into the amp to confirm whether it’s all in order, then check all the patch leads are fully connected and that the cable from your guitar and the one to the amp are working.

4. Power

Check that all the power leads to your pedals from your power supply are connected. Then work backwards through the board in a process of elimination, plugging the guitar straight into the last pedal in your chain until you can’t hear a signal to isolate the problem.

It’s wise to always have a spare guitar, mains lead, power supply and patch cables on-hand when you’re playing live.