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Gear review for SL musicians - WL50 wireless guitar system.


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Ok, so here goes with my second review of gear from the perspective of performing in SL.

I'm one of those guitar players that is pretty much a devotee of the Boss line when it comes to pedals and FX. As an instrumentalist I started on keys like most of us do, and like most of us fell in love with the Roland line of keyboards. This sorta predisposed me to looking at the Boss brand from the same company when it came to buying stompboxes and other gear for my guitars. With that admission of potential bias out of the way, here goes....

 

Performing in SL has its issues. Our home studio spaces share some of the problems that plague live venues and that we've all dealt with, dirty power lines, overloaded outlets, sources of interference.. But one of those really tends to be worse in a home setting. Dirty power. That 50hz earth hum that no matter what you do somehow creeps in from somewhere that you can't back off the gain enough without making a channel unusable. It has to be admitted that guitar pickups are usually the culprit. They resonate with it as enthusiastically as a whore with a billionaire, if they have any hardwired connection to the main system. Guitarists through the years have wrestled with this, they've risked their safety by installing ground lift switches on their gear, manufacturers have built those things in where the local electrical codes permitted but just lifting the ground is sometimes not enough.

 

You will see folks marketing wireless guitar systems as "freeing you from the tangled cable" but for  us, in this environment, there is an even stronger argument. Your guitar won't hum no more. A wired DI box, giving you a balanced path into the mix, is great. It will often flatten the hum completely but it brings with it its own issues. Is it battery powered? If so then you're still buying or recharging batteries between sets. It's an expense. If it is powered off mains juice, then its a fresh "way in" for the hum. Almost certainly lower than from the guitar using a high-Z unbalanced cable but it can be there, and if it can you know that it will exactly when you dont want it to. And you're still wiring the guitar to the DI box with a standard cable - otherwise known as an "antenna". Once the hum is in the sound you can connect it to the desk as cleanly as you like and it won't go away.

 

A few months ago I had the opportunity to add a WL-50 to my pedalboard. I have to say, I love this thing. The transmitter contains a built-in switch that mutes it when disconnected from the guitar. You can switch guitars in the middle of a stream without either having to dedicate separate input channels to the two guitars or subjecting your audience to the unplug/replug pops and clicks. The receiver is the same size as most Boss stompboxes and just sits on the end of your pedalboard like another effect. Slot the transmitter into the receiver and it charges it up. All of the usual stuff that you want with a wireless instrument system.

And it is SILENT.

No hum at all, in what I must admit is a horrible power/interference environment, even when I crank the input gain on that channel to insane levels.

 

Now, the downside to systems like this is, as the manufacturers admit, that it can't be guaranteed to work with guitars that have active electronics. If your guitar needs a battery then the odds are you will have problems with this system - either no sound at all or a persistent clicking and popping. BUT THIS IS AVOIDABLE. the reason for the problems is that guitars that have active electronics actually use a TRS(tip/ring/sleeve) socket - what you may think of as a "stereo socket"  - while expecting a TS(tip/sleeve) plug - "mono" or standard instrument cable. The guitar uses the ring connector to switch on and off the electronics so it doesn't run down your battery when not plugged in. Wireless systems like the WL-50 use a TRS plug on the transmitter to make it detect when its plugged into the receiver rather than a guitar. Two devices using this connector in different ways has unpredictable results. So stick a like-to-like quarter-inch TS adapter between your guitar and the WL-50 (or indeed any other wireless system with this issue) transmitter. The most commonly available ones are right-angle adapters, for obvious reasons, but there are others. It just has to connect a mono TS socket to to a mono TS plug.The guitar sees a TS plug. Ring and sleeve connectors in its socket are grounded together. The guitars electronics operate as intended. The wireless transmitter sees a TS socket which doesn't have a "ring" connector, so that voltage "floats" as expected and it "knows" it's plugged into an instrument. Stick an adapter like this on every guitar you'll use in a set and move the transmitter between them with the lack of pops and clicks from plugging and unplugging. Just remember to remove the adapters from your guitars between sets/rehearsals or you'll run down the battery powering your guitars electronics.

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