A noise pedal is a very useful tool to have on a lot of pedalboards. In this article, I’ll explain exactly what a noise pedal is and how to use one, plus some advice to help you decide if you really need a noise gate, and the best ones on the market if the answer is yes!
What is a Noise Gate Pedal?
Noise gate pedals reduce the amount of hissing and humming that is primarily caused by noisy pickups and using high gain. When the signal falls below a pre-set “threshold” the pedal cuts out the signal. This prevents humming in between playing and blocks the signal until you start playing again.
Here is a video from intheblues on YouTube to demonstrate.
Are There Any Disadvantages?
The only problem with noise gate pedals, is that they can decrease the sustain. This is because the signal is cut when it falls below the threshold, so when the note tails off, it may be cut prematurely. To combat this, you can adjust the threshold level to get the balance right.
There are two main controls on most noise gate pedals: threshold and decay.
This control allows you set the level at which the pedal cuts off the signal. You need to find the balance of reducing the humming enough but without cutting your notes too short (decreasing the sustain).
You’ll need to play about with this control until you reach the desired threshold, and it’ll change if you switch up any other part of your rig so make a note of where the sweet spot is with each setup to make life easier in the future!
Some noise gate pedals also have a decay control, which determines how quickly the pedal is activated when you reach the threshold.
- A slow (low) decay will mean the noise gate will take a few seconds to kick in when you reach the threshold so you will hear the background humming for longer.
- A fast (high) decay will cause the pedal to cut the signal quickly after you reach the threshold.
Again, you need to get a balance here. Having the decay too fast will sound choppy and having it too slow can render the noise gate useless, as you may already be playing the next note before the pedal cuts the signal.
On some more basic pedals, there may not be a dial to control the decay, but instead a mode switch which allows you to switch between high and low decay settings but without any adjustability in the middle.
Other names for the “decay” control include: release and time.
Noise Gate Pedal Placement
Noise gate pedals can be placed anywhere in the signal chain before time-based effects such as reverb and delay. They are used to target specific problems in the signal chain. For example, if your fuzz pedal is creating a lot of background humming, then you can place the noise gate pedal after it. Equally, if your pickups are the problem, then you can place it towards the start of the chain.
The most common placement for a noise gate pedal is after an overdrive, distortion or fuzz pedal, since they generally create the most background noise.
If there isn’t a particular pedal that’s causing the humming and it’s more of a gradual build-up, then place the noise gat pedal at the end of the signal chain, but before your reverb and delay pedals. Since these ambient effects create a low-level echo effect, placing your noise gate pedal afterwards is likely to just cut this effect entirely because it is likely to fall very close to the threshold.
Do I Need a Noise Gate Pedal?
So now you know what a noise gate pedal actually does, it’s time to decide if you need one on your pedalboard.
Noise gate pedals are useful if you are noticing high levels of hissing and humming in between playing. This is a common issue when using high gain which is why a lot of heavy rock and metal players need noise gate pedals. If your guitar has single coil pickups which are particularly noisy, then using a noise gate pedal will be very useful.
If you’ve come to this article because background hissing and humming are getting on your nerves, then the chances are that you’ll be glad you bought a noise gate. They are also one of the cheaper pedal types, making them a worthwhile investment for a lot of players.
Best Noise Gate Pedals
Here are some of the top noise gate pedal picks.
Best Budget Option
Donner Noise Gate
This pedal is really simple to operate and very good value for money. You can choose two modes (hard and soft) which allow you to adjust how quickly the noise gate kicks in. It also has a basic threshold control so you can adjust the level at which the signal is cut.
Check out the Donner Noise Gate Pedal on Amazon
Best Premium Option
Boss NS-2 Noise Supressor
This pedal gives you a lot of control over the way your noise gate works, with an independent decay dial to adjust it to the desired level as well as the threshold control. It also has a mute/ reduction switch which provides even more functionality. Boss pedals are always built-to-last and are reliable as well.
Check out the Boss NS-2 on Amazon
Noise Gate vs Suppressor Pedals
Noise gate pedals cut the signal when it falls below a certain threshold whereas suppressor pedals are designed to cut certain frequencies. Hence, noise pedals are only active when you are not playing the guitar, and suppressor pedals are active both when playing and not playing.
Not sure what effects pedals you need? Check out my complete guide to the different types of effects pedals which prioritises each effect so you know which to buy next.