by JD Williamson
I ran across this article recently from the Fender website and wanted to pass some of the highlights from it along to our readership. I can’t take credit for the subject matter, but I can’t stress enough the importance of it. Please take the time to read it and pass it along to every musician you know. Keep chooglin’ -JD
Want to know what one of the most important safety features of your amplifier is?
More specifically, the ground prong of a standard three-prong U.S. power plug. The three-prong plug of a guitar or bass amp that connects it to the household AC current is an unassuming but key safety feature. It is a simple but crucial part that stands between you and, at the very least, a brief but unpleasant shock and at the very worst, oblivion.
The three-prong plug on your amp provides a protective measure called an “earth ground” which is so important because it ensures that this harmful current is either safely interrupted (by blowing a fuse) or safely sent through something other than you (the earth, usually). Proper grounding is absolutely essential. It is something you MUST not ignore for convenience sake. Most musicians have been zapped at some point by improperly grounded gear and lived to tell the tale. But did you know there are approximately 500 deaths by accidental electrocution in the US each year. Read that part again. Stone the Crows guitarist Les Harvey, Shadows bassist John Rostill, Yardbirds singer Keith Relf, all victims of improperly grounded gear. For that reason alone you should never, under any circumstances, use an adapter to plug a three-prong into a two-prong wall outlet, or should you cut the ground pin off a plug to make it fit a two-prong outlet (sound familiar?). The protective earth ground system MUST be properly connected. If the gear is grounded, the current from the hot wire will flow straight to ground (and not through you) tripping the fuse or circuit breaker. The downside is that the device will then cease to work. The upside is that you won’t be dead. So just don’t do it. Ever. Never. Don’t do it even if it silences a noisy ground loop. There are other safer means of eliminating hums.
However, even if YOUR gear is grounded, you’re still not necessarily safe from dangers posed by improper grounding conditions elsewhere in the system. Many musicians have experienced “getting zapped” by a vocal mic for example. What’s going on there is that you’re touching a grounded metal part of your guitar and your mouth touches the mic that has leakage current somewhere else; your lips complete a circuit when your mouth touches the mic, and you get shocked. Leakage current in high voltage systems can be fatal. A simple precaution that can be taken is to buy a simple inexpensive circuit tester available at any home store. It’s a small device that looks like the plug end of a power cord, with a series of lights on it rather than a cord. You simply plug it into the outlet, and the lights tell you whether the outlets works right and whether it’s safe or not. Be safe out there.