Did you know that you don’t need a guitar cable to play your electric guitar through an amp? That’s right! Wireless guitar systems allow you to plug in with wireless receivers and transmit sound digitally or through radio waves to an amplifier. These handy tools have become very popular for gigging musicians, especially those who move around on stage and want minimal tripping hazards.
But how exactly do wireless guitar systems work? In this article, I will dissect wireless guitar systems and how they work.
What is a wireless guitar system?
A wireless guitar system is a piece of equipment that replaces a guitar cable. Instead of a guitar cable, you plug a wireless transmitter into your amp or pedalboard and a receiver into your guitar. The transmitter then transfers the sound signal to your amp, and it is played as sound. The entire process happens instantly, so there is rarely any sound delay. Since wireless systems eliminate the need for a physical cable, they are excellent tools for players that use a lot of theatrics during performances and want to play farther from their amps. Wireless guitar systems typically have a range of 50-70 feet, but high-end models can even range up to 120 feet! But it is recommended to stay well within the maximum range of the wireless system to get the best sound.
How do wireless guitar systems work?
There are a few different types of wireless guitar systems that work slightly differently, but they all do the same basic thing. They send a signal from your guitar wirelessly through a transmitter that is picked up by the receiver in your amp or pedalboard and translated into sound.
Like with effects pedals, wireless systems can be analog or digital. Analog systems were the first wireless guitar systems that were used when they came into circulation in the 1970s. However, nowadays, they are not nearly as popular.
Analog systems use FM radio waves to transmit the signal. When an analog wireless system sends a signal to your amp, the sound is compressed in the transmitter, then the sound travels as a radio wave and is uncompressed at the receiver.
While high-quality analog systems do a decent job of uncompressing the sound, you will never get the true tone of your guitar as the sound is uncompressed. Analog systems also frequently have interference issues as they pick up radio waves from other frequencies nearby. The interference may sound like buzzing or white noise.
UHF vs VHF
There are 2 types of analog wireless guitar systems that are commonly used: UHF (ultra-high frequency) and VHF (very high frequency). Essentially, UHF has shorter frequency wavelengths, and VHF has longer wavelengths. While UHF signals typically experience less interference, they also have a shorter range than VHF because they have shorter wavelengths. VHF also has a better ability to avoid obstacles on stage, while UHF signals cut out more quickly if something is obstructing the line of sight between the transmitter and receiver.
Digital systems are the best in terms of quality when it comes to wireless guitar systems. Digital systems use an AD converter (analog to digital) and a DA converter (digital to analog) to transfer the sound from your guitar to the amp. This works by changing the analog sound of your instrument to a digital sequence of 1s and 0s. The digital signal is then transmitted, and when the signal is received by the receiving end of your wireless system, it is converted to an analog system and sent to the amp or pedalboard.
Digital systems have the most authentic guitar sound, as the tone is unaffected by the process. However, digital wireless guitar systems may experience more delay than analog systems, so I recommend investing in a high-quality system.
Benefits of using a wireless guitar system
Wireless systems are a worthwhile investment and offer guitarists a lot of flexibility. Here are some of the benefits of using wireless guitar systems.
No untangling cables
No guitarist enjoys the dreaded task of untangling a messy guitar cable. And even if you roll up the cable the right way, it may get tangled up again in your case. You obviously won’t deal with this issue with wireless guitar systems since there is no cable to get tangled.
Fewer restrictions on stage
With a wireless guitar system, you enjoy more freedom onstage. You won’t have to worry about stepping on your cable, pulling it out, or tripping on loose guitar cables on the stage. Your rig setup will also be a lot neater and organized without as many cables to deal with.
Last longer than standard cables
Wireless guitar systems have fewer issues than standard guitar cables and typically last longer. Normal guitar cables can go bad from constant stepping on the cable, wrapping them up incorrectly, or the internal wires may short out. But you won’t experience these issues with wireless systems. While wireless systems still eventually need to be replaced, they generally last much longer than your standard guitar cables.
Do wireless guitar systems work with pedals?
Wireless guitar systems work seamlessly with pedals. You simply plug the receiver into your pedal chain, and it will function exactly like a standard guitar cable.
Do wireless guitar systems sound worse than guitar cables?
Wireless guitar systems can sound very good, and high-quality models have minimal tone change and delay. In fact, newer digital models may even sound better than longer guitar cables. However, cheap analog systems will not sound as good and may experience some feedback from other radio signals. So, it is crucial to do some research on the wireless system before purchasing.