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joeduf

Environmental Noise - Seeking Help, Ideas, things to try, etc.

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Hello to all,

 

Rather than tack on to an existing thread I would like to start something new.

 

First off I would like to say I love my Helix. I've been a huge Line 6 fan since the original red kidney bean POD.

 

Now, so we are all on the same page here, I'm using the latest available Helix Rack firmware v2.12 and the Factory 1 Set List patch 02C Brit 2204. I can hear considerable noise, at least compared to other, lower gain / cleaner type sounds, just by plugging in a guitar. Explainable to a degree because that factory patch has no noise gate of any kind.

 

However, when the guitar is plugged in and volume on guitar, and helix, and helix patch volume are all up, the noise volume gets worse depending on which direction I'm am facing while holding the guitar (touching strings / metal). As if there is some environmental and highly directional interference...coming from a wall (!).

 

It is not relative to my position or orientation with the Helix itself. No other computers / electronics, or florescent lights of any kind powered on nearby. I can relocate my Helix rack, power amp, cabinet, etc. But if, for example I point true north the noise gets unbearably loud. If I rotate in position the noise level varies and sometimes disappears altogether.

 

I've tried all new cables: guitar patch cables, XLR cables from Helix to power amp, speaker cables from power amp to 4x12. I've tried multiple guitars with all types of pick-ups, Multiple power amps. Tried the ground lift switch on the back of the Helix. I've tried separating the power cables to different circuits (Helix and power amp), tried all to the same circuit with, and without my Furman power conditioner in line. Tried lifting the ground on the power amp with a three to two prong converter.

 

Nothing helps reduce the noise or change the behavior. Again only for certain higher gain sounds.

 

I understand higher gain raises the noise floor. However I have real 2205, close to the amp modeled in that patch, and the noise on the real amp is no where near the level heard on the Helix.

 

So my question is, what exactly is the source of this problem and how do I keep my higher gain Helix patches from bleeding too much noise without clamping the noise gate down to the point where notes are cutoff prematurely?

 

NOTE: The phenomenon happens to me in multiple venues / locations but not everywhere, hence why I believe it to be environmental.

 

Looking for electronic gurus or people who've most likely dealt with and solved this type of problem this in past. Please help if you can. looking for a solution or at least some ideas, things to try, etc.

 

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Dear joeduff,

first of all: These noises are a result of your highgain patches using analog signal input (e.g., pickups). Guess you would have same results with other high (distortion) pedal(s). Depends sometimes on level and phase...

The reason for your 'problem' (which we all have up to a certain degree) is 'simply'

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetism

Almost any wired and wireless transfer can cause that kind of trouble you have - including power supply lines in a wall, WLAN, mobiles and lamps.

Therefore people are using Humbuckers, parallel circuits and noise gates (Helix offers them)...

I would concentrate on shielding your guitar...

Good luck!

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Therefore people are using Humbuckers, parallel circuits and noise gates (Helix offers them)...

 

I'm using Humbuckers, almost exclusively, 498R, Burstbucker2, Classic 57s, Duncan JB4, etc. Doesn't matter.

 

I understand the basics of how pickups and amplifiers work. I will never pretend to understand any description of an electric field vector of a wave of circularly polarized electromagnetic radiation...no matter how many times I read it. That's why I'm asking the experts on here...specifically Line 6 engineers that might have advice. I fully understand this is not isolated to the Helix...just very prevalent because the Helix is my go to tool.

 

I'm not sure what you mean by parallel circuits so please elaborate. if you are referring to the parallel path A and B on the helix this has nothing to do with the issue.

 

As I mentioned in my post, i would like the notes to trail off sufficiently before having the noise gate clamp down which obviously stops the noise. However the noise heard before the gate clamps down as the notes fade can be intolerable on some stages. After all, it is kind of rude to not face your audience while you're playing regardless of where the interference is coming from.

 

I've had my USA Jackson Soloist shielded, at least, what I thought was pretty well, but it too exhibits the directional noise. Maybe not as bad as my one SG which is not shielded at all. If you have any tips, sites, advice of how to properly shield passive pickups I'll read whatever link you can throw at me.

 

Is there a difference in shielding materials? methods? Are there electronic devices which can block or limit the interference?

 

I need more than luck at this point.

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Yes it SOUNDS like e.m interference, kind of like before lcd flat panel monitors... old crt monitors would predictably produce what you describe to a T.

 Seems you've done the basic trouble shooting.... could be the luck of the draw with the power sources that you've tried.

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Pickup choice/shielding will help with EMI, but it won't be completely eliminated. I changed almost all my single coils out to Seymour Duncan "vintage stacks", single stacked humbuckers. It helped tremendously, but it does not eliminate it. 

 

For dirty power, you might try powering your gear from a UPS. They have voltage regulation and filtering built in. If you are running just out of a Helix FOH and not powering an amp, you can play from a fully charged UPS for quite a while with the UPS power unplugged (isolating you from dirty power in the room). Then you are just running of the battery to inverted AC power. 

 

Either way, I found myself turning the noise gate on all my presets. Noise is a big peeve of mine, but I just live with it while I am playing (with noise minimized by the things mentioned above), then the gate takes care of it when I am not playing. 

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Thanks for the replies everyone. I think I'm going to try some of the Stew Mac shield paint and aluminum tape for the pick guards (where applicable) and see if that helps at all. That is one path I have not completely followed. Any improvement at this point is welcome.

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Yes it SOUNDS like e.m interference, kind of like before lcd flat panel monitors... old crt monitors would predictably produce what you describe to a T.

 Seems you've done the basic trouble shooting.... could be the luck of the draw with the power sources that you've tried.

Yes, that is exactly what it sounds like! Almost like I'm standing with my pickups next to an old CRT monitor. Expect I'm nowhere near anything. Hoping some shielding improvements help!

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I have one room in apartment that I get this type of noise from consistently unless I face my guitar straight at the ceiling. It's an old building and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the electrical work isn't exactly to current standards.

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I'm not going to pretend that I'm an electrician or know the first thing about all this stuff but I can share what I think I know from my own experience and from what people have told me.

 

I've had issues like you've described for years and I've heard that it's pretty normal to have buzz and noise when not touching the strings or any metal parts of your guitar. Only when your skin comes in contact with the electronics does the ground loop close and the hum cease (or almost ceases).

 

Anything carrying electronic current can interfere and cause some level of noise noticeable or not. I know that my house in particular has some funky wiring. I've had a few handy friends and relatives of mine completely stumped on what is going on inside my walls.

 

Something my cousin said, who happens to be an electrician, is that a lot of homes (in my area) built in the 1950s-60s aren't fully grounded, except maybe a few important circuits for major appliances like washers and driers. I've thought of plugging into those circuits to see if there was a difference but I'm honestly not overly bothered by it, as I've been dealing with it for a long time now

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I had some terrible noise in a certain venue once with my Ibanez RG with two humbuckers and a single coil in the middle.

The noise was considerably less with the humbuckers but still way too loud.

The I got a tip from some guy there to place a wire from the ground plate of the pickups to the ground of the volume pot (if I remember correctly). So, an hour before the first set I took it apart and attached some wires the best I could without soldering.

It really helped a lot. It wasn't quiet afterwards but it was OK for the night.

Afterwards I redid it neatly with soldering and also covered the whole cavity with copper tape (the pick guard was already covered with aluminum and the cavity was covered with shielding paint).

Now it's much better in that venue. be it still not completely silent.

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EMI/RFI is just a bear to deal with. In some places it's less... some it's more. My Frankenstrat has a full setup of copper foil in the cavity... it still buzzes from time to time. In my office where my Helix/DAW setup is, if I stand in the right place, facing the right direction... it's less noise, but not all gone.

 

As a kid... my room had a small hole in-between two tall windows - for an old phone I can only guess. The house had ZERO grounded outlets at the time (it was built in 1953) So I replaced one of the outlets I had in the room with a grounded one, and used old, broken extension cord with the ends cut off to run the ground tab out the hole between the two windows and out to the water supply pipe outside. Instant grounded outlet ;)

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I'm a HAM Radio Guy! I've been involved with Amateur Radio (and CB Radio before that) for decades. I have a licensed station that transmits worldwide.

 

Essentially, the interaction of strings and pickups on an electic guitar are acting as an antenna. Depending on the Effective Radiated Power (ERP) of the ambient Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) field strength, pickup design and wiring, orientation of guitar, and the polarization of the ambient electromagnetic interference (EMI) things can get noisy. All this in addition to any interference that may be entering elsewhere via the AC Mains or cabling.

 

If humbucker style pickups, phase cancellation, power source filtration (conditioners, RF Chokes, etc.) and proper grounding are unable to resolve the problems, sometimes, the only solution can be increasing the distance from the interfering source(s). Doubling the distance will cut the interference by a factor of 4 (Coulomb's Law the Inverse Square Law).

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Hey Joe, 

 

I'm no electrician, but I am a physics dropout and I'm pretty handy with a soldering iron.  

 

About 15 years ago I was in a rental house and had a VERY similar problem to what you're describing.  I was in a 1940s build house that still had cloth wiring on half of the electrics and a lot of two prong outlets.  Eventually, I discovered that if I pointed my guitar's pickups straight at the cold-water pipe, I would get huge EMF noise, kind of like what you describe.  I bought a gausse meter, which also showed there was noise coming from the pipe, and several electrical engineer buddies of mine suggested I talk to an electrician, so I did.  Two electricians said there was nothing wrong, and then so did the local power company.   Finally, when my lovely lady noticed that the aluminum grounding braid coming off the pole to the house was completely severed.  It had been shredded up by rubbing against a tree.  When I called the power company, they came out to fix it IMMEDIATELY, at 10pm on a Sunday night in the rain.   

 

Basically, what was happening was that because the main ground wasn't conducting back to the pole, it wasn't cancelling out the AC line voltage.  The cold-water pipe acted as a single, unbalanced antenna, from all the electricity coming into the house from the pole, as it wasn't returning back to the pole.  Once they fixed the ground to the pole, all the noise was gone. 

 

One very important point about this is that can actually pretty dangerous as well!  In my case, I also discovered that some three-way light switches had been miswired, and they were actually running 240 volts through some lightbulbs.   As for resolving it, it was pretty challengingg because  all the "pros", including the power company said that everything was "within specs" when they metered every outlet and ground in my house.  I just got lucky, really.   

 

So, I'm pretty sure your problem is not with your gear but with your house... After what I've been through, I'd call an electrician!

 

Hope this helps!

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Thanks for all the replies! Sure enough my house and the local club I play at regularly, two places I have repeated problems, were both built in the 40's - 50's.

 

I got a nice zap the other night from getting too close to a mic while my rig was plugged into an un-grounded outlet. I've fixed that problem at the club and I re-did most of the wiring in my house so at least there are plenty of safe, grounded outlets, everywhere.

 

I'm plugged into a great power conditioner with meters so I know I'm getting clean 118 - 119 volts...as close as I get in my house to actual 120v. Club is OK, but there are TONS of LED TVs, LED PARs, and heaven only knows what else for wiring in the walls.

 

The phenomenon about the water pipe is interesting. Think I may have to track down a Gausse meter and map out my surroundings!

 

I'm only doing new tests with "known good" humbucker equipped guitars. I shielded the entire jack / control cavity of one of my problem SGs last night and it didn't help a single bit. I made sure the shield was connected to ground.

 

When I have some spare cash (next payday) I plan to get a newer bigger rack (with wheels YAY finally) and space a few units further apart to see if that helps. Unfortunately I can't just yank it all out of the rack because I have two shows coming up this week after my pesky day job so I need to be ready to move.

 

I'm also going to try finishing the shielding on my SG, under the pickgaurd and pickup area to see if, once complete, it helps at all. Not holding my breath because the humbuckers in the SG are pretty solid.

 

it's not unbearable when playing full bore LOUD, just sounds a little crappy as a note decays...almost like someone is taking a fader labeled noise and raising it as your note volume drops. Might need to re-visit the compression settings too. I have found the BIAS setting on the amp emulation DOES less the effect the further away from 5.0 you get, in either direction...strange....so now, I'm biasing things a little hot.

 

The journey and learning continues...

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Copper shielding in the guitar helps with the electrostatic component of the EM field, but doesn't do anything for the magnetic field component. When there are big earth loops in the venue and high currents running (or worse, switched high currents like dimmers and neon signs), you can end up with a pretty strong field around you.

 

If the wiring and earthing is correct, the current returns down a parallel adjacent cable (i.e. active and neutral wires). When this happens, the fields are in opposite directions and cancel each other out. So correct wiring and earthing significantly reduces EM radiation.

 

If however there is a broken neutral, and the current returns through an alternative earth path, the forward and return currents won't be parallel/adjacent, so there won't be any forward/return field cancellation. This can also happen if the active/neutral/earths are swapped around in a wall socket, or at the board. And as mentioned in an earlier post by TheDaveDaveDave, if the main neutral return wire is not connected, the current returns through the physical earth/ground back to wherever they are connected together (either at the service entry point to your house), or in the case of TheDaveDaveDave's broken service neutral, probably through the ground/neutral connection at his neighbour's house (which is highly dangerous and why the electricity company came out immediately). There can also be issues if the wiring is not a parallel pair (eg. separate cables for neutral, earth and ground, or someone has wired the pairs incorrectly). Many of these wiring faults can actually be hazardous beyond just a lot of extra EM radiation.

 

The other thing that doesn't help is that vintage PAF style hum buckers don't necessarily have balanced coils (even the hot higher wound ones). In fact, when winding a side by side hum bucker coil, there is an 'improvement in tone' by having an intentional imbalance - something that pickup builders almost always exploit when they're aiming for iconic tone over pure hum-cancelling capability. The bigger the im-balance there is, the less external magnetic field gets rejected.

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Are there dimmers in the house?

Not on the same circuit as the rack. Not turned on either.

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The Ultimate Solution > > > > > > > > > A Faraday Cage! ;)

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...Many of these wiring faults can actually be hazardous beyond just a lot of extra EM radiation.

 

The other thing that doesn't help is that vintage PAF style hum buckers don't necessarily have balanced coils (even the hot higher wound ones). In fact, when winding a side by side hum bucker coil, there is an 'improvement in tone' by having an intentional imbalance - something that pickup builders almost always exploit when they're aiming for iconic tone over pure hum-cancelling capability. The bigger the im-balance there is, the less external magnetic field gets rejected.

 

My house is wired correctly. Passes all tests, testers, and the local inspector. The local club I cannot speak for. The purposely imbalanced humbuckers are something I never even considered, I'll have to do closer listening tests on a few other guitars to compare. Thanks for the idea!

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My house is wired correctly. Passes all tests, testers, and the local inspector. The local club I cannot speak for. The purposely imbalanced humbuckers are something I never even considered, I'll have to do closer listening tests on a few other guitars to compare. Thanks for the idea!

 

 

Even when the electrical tests pass it is still possible have incorrect wiring in the walls. The tests and inspectors are supposed to make sure that you have a functional and correctly installed earth system. They should check the power points to make sure active/neutral/earth are correctly wired relative to each other. However, those testers can't always tell if neutral and earth have been reversed depending on how the earth has been connected at the service entry. Also, if the wiring in an inaccessible location includes a bunch of 'patches' that create big earth loops, then bad wiring may go undetected.

 

Old style single pole remote switches (for lights) that only switch the active can also be a problem because the forward and return paths are along completely different cable runs. It's worth trying your noise test with the lights off if you suspect this might be an issue in your home. You can also trying turning off various (or all) appliances to track down the offending circuit - radiated noise picked up by your guitar isn't necessarily anything to do with the circuit that your amp is plugged into.

 

Usually the only side effect of wiring that is badly done - but passes electric continuity tests - is significant EM radiation. It may be unsafe if a double fault occurs somewhere, but usually the really dangerous stuff like open neutral or crossed lines is detected during electrical continuity tests. However, it's worth noting that TheDaveDaveDave had various professional entities come to his home and all declared that there was no fault. Then he himself noticed the actual fault, which in addition to being the cause of all the radiated hum/buzz, turned out to be something that could also be potentially fatal.

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Not on the same circuit as the rack. Not turned on either.

 

 

In my experience, even turned off and on a different circuit they are often a real problem. I'll never have one again.

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My house is wired correctly. Passes all tests, testers, and the local inspector. The local club I cannot speak for. The purposely imbalanced humbuckers are something I never even considered, I'll have to do closer listening tests on a few other guitars to compare. Thanks for the idea!

 

Regarding the humbuckers, I'm yet to find a traditional type humbucker targeted for that iconic tonally warm 'character' that is fully balanced. Some are better than others, but all seem to suffer to a degree.

 

The ones that are best at hum-cancelling are pickups that are often considered 'sterile'. For example, EMG active pickups are balanced well. Q-Tuner has a range of pickups that were near perfectly balanced, but they are also very much like a perfect microphone with an extremely wide and accurate frequency response.

 

Also, ZVEX pickups are very well balanced and quiet. Although those seem to be aimed at the single coil market with pickups of varying 'character' that fit into a single coil 'hole'. The ZVEX pickups offer a very high degree of hum cancellation due to the 6 in-a-row matched coils. Of course, ZVEX is all about hum-cancelling, so hum-cancellation would have been a priority in his pickup design.

 

These days humbuckers are about the tone, with hum-cancellation being a nice side effect. That pushes builders to priorities tone over hum-cancelling perfection.

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In my experience, even turned off and on a different circuit they are often a real problem. I'll never have one again.

That I did not know! That's very interesting. I have a single dimmer in the house from a recent home improvement project (hail damage) Almost tempted to pull it temporarily to see if that helps! Maybe my weekend project! Thanks!

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Yup, dimmer switches and their idiot cousins, ceiling fans, are the two worst offenders for extra guitar noise...eclipsed only by the neon "Miller Lite" signs that every bar insists on hanging 8 feet from the stage. ;)

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Not on the same circuit as the rack. Not turned on either.

Everything in your house shares the same ground, so transient noise on a circuit with dimmers can affect any circuit in your house. You also get EMI from a device on one circuit creating noise on another circuit. It's just something you cannot totally get rid of even with a house wired correctly. 

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Let's not forget fluorescent lights! YUK! But you can normally just turn those off.

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Ive got dimming fluorescent lights in two of my ceiling fans. I'm fucked!

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Ive got dimming fluorescent lights in two of my ceiling fans. I'm lollipoped!

Yeah, your pickups and amp may actually catch on fire with that combination. 

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Yeah, your pickups and amp may actually catch on fire with that combination.

Only when I do fast lead runs :p

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Dimming bulbs usually aren't the problem though.  Right?

Its dimming switches that are. 

 

For instance you could put a dimming bulb in a regular light socket (no dimming, and there should be no issue) Its treated as a regular bulb. I just got a dimming bulb for a non dimming socket, (cause I liked the bulb) its LED 2.5 watts. I don't think it has any issues with my audio, except I haven't tried with guitar yet.  My Floyd Rose gets here either today, or tomorrow, and I have a little work to do on the guitar before I can test this for myself. 

 

LED bulb is your best bet for the least amount of audio being affected. Incandescent, CFL, Neon, and Fluorescent are worse choices.

 

When I get around to testing this, I will post back if I find my results are not what I expect, and it does affect it being in a non-dimming socket, with no dimming switch.

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I got some cheap LED bulbs that were on sale and they created quite a bit of noise. It all depends on their circuits driving the LEDs. I don't think any standards are put on manufacturing LEDs in terms of EMI and transient electrical noise. Beware of some of the bulk packs of 6 LED bulbs for $9.99. They could be more noisy than a neon sign. 

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I got some cheap LED bulbs that were on sale and they created quite a bit of noise. It all depends on their circuits driving the LEDs. I don't think any standards are put on manufacturing LEDs in terms of EMI and transient electrical noise. Beware of some of the bulk packs of 6 LED bulbs for $9.99. They could be more noisy than a neon sign.

Lol...yup. I had some that were so bad, they actually "rang", for lack of a better term. When you can pick out the fundamental frequency of your light bulbs from across the room, it's time to upgrade. ;)

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When you can pick out the fundamental frequency of your light bulbs from across the room, it's time to upgrade. ;)

Lol

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Probably zero chance this is the problem but since this occurs in multiple venues and locations one thing some people have been surprised to find out is that the cell phone or some other electronic device they carry in their pocket or on their belt that is the culprit, hence the mystery of why the issue occurs everywhere they go and only when oriented in certain directions.  :)

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Did you try changing the input impedance setting? The factory default is "Auto" but I had to change mine to a specific number because it was running too hot on the  default "Auto" setting for high gain amp models.

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Here's a good one....

 

One evening last autumn, after returning from a mountain bike workout, I immediately wanted to grab my Les Paul to start working out a live track lick I had been listening to while riding. When I stopped playing for a moment, I heard the sound of loud cricket that had apparently crawled into the back of my Amp! As I took off my LP, to swing the amp around to find the cricket, of course it went quiet. When I couldn't find it, I picked up my guitar again and resumed playing, so did the cricket! Turned out I was still wearing my HeartRate Monitor Sensor Chest Strap, and the guitar's pickups were picking up the transmitter's chirping 5Khz analog signal!

 

The pickups are doing what they're designed to do. If there's a strong enough EMF in range they may pick it up and you may hear it.

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Almost guaranteed to be common mode interference, i.e conducted along the ground plane. Try a line isolator, to swap unbalanced for balanced, like this: http://www.fullcompass.com/prod/124129-Ebtech-HE2XLR (There are many).

Or, if you have a DI Box you could borrow from someone (does the same thing, churches and other regular music venues have LOTS of them, otherwise they are $$$).

Just realize that you will always face this issue--especially live with lights...

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