It’s one of those types of things that if you’re not in a band or a musician then you probably never heard of it happening. Microphone shock has happened to lots of players on stage and most musicians in their lifetime of handling a mic. Even the great ones have been suddenly hit with some unexpected juice that might have been a minor event or something worse. Can You Get Electrocuted By A Microphone?
- If a Mic Is grounded to a different source than the Sound equipment to which it’s connected.
- Or there is a leaking AC current at the Amp
- Or a bad outlet
- If a singer touches his lips to the Mic while touching strings or any medal making a path for an AC circuit.
This could result in Shock or Electrocution
Keith Richards of the “Greatest Rock Band in the World” ended what he called “his most spectacular show” in an unconscious heap on the stage when his guitar made contact with a microphone stand. He recovered and was able to finish the show. This event is not uncommon as you might think.
What Is a Microphone Shock Mount
Most times on stage or even at practice when a shock happens it is largely due to a combination of things that occur that create it. It normally happens when a Guitar or Bass is sung on a mic and touches his lips while playing his or her amplified instrument.
Wireless instruments or wireless microphones don’t have that problem. So it’s only when a cable is used on a mic or amp or both. You don’t have to be a detective to figure it out. Normally it’s because of the Amplifier. Because of the electric design of many vintage guitar amps, it is not uncommon for a small amount of current (120 VAC) to “leak” onto the amp chassis. The player’s lips touch the Mic and create a path or a complete circuit from the amplifier to their lips. Ouch!
- The guitar amp chassis connects to the guitar cable.
- The metal guitar strings are grounded and connected to the guitar cable.
- When hands are on the metal guitar strings, the musician’s body is connected to the leaking AC current by the strings, the cable, and the guitar amp chassis.
- When lips touch the metal grill of the microphone that is connected to AC ground via its own cable the circuit is complete.
- The leaking AC current flows through the wet lips onto the mic grill and then to the ground via the mic cable and mixing console.
The same circuit can still happen if the top of the capsule on the microphone is covered by a windscreen. The player could complete the circuit by grabbing the Mic capsule with one hand and the guitar strings with the other hand.
When a Wireless Mic is used then there is no path to the chassis so the electrical shock won’t ever happen. I have seen this happen numerous times playing back in the ’70s when the musicians worked on their own equipment. Luckily I was a Drummer and never had the experience happen to me.
How to Fix Microphone Shock
Dynamic microphones don’t receive any power and the Condenser receives very little DC power but there could be a problem further down the line to create this fault connection. 48 DC voltage that the Mic carries by battery would be the same as the telephone current.
It’s not going to kill you but if the mic is touching your mouth it might startle you. Just think about hooking up a phone line to a box in your home and you strip the pairs and find which colors to use by touching them. It’s not my favorite feeling but it won’t do any damage.
Even when playing out in the rain and things get wet although the thought has crossed my band’s mind if everything is wired and grounded right you’ll be fine. The output of a microphone is, literally, millivolts. This in turn means effectively zero current, If you are getting shocked during a performance it will definitely have a negative effect on anything you play.
It will make you apprehensive no matter how small the shock is. Remember carpet shocks? They suck not so much because they hurt so much but because of the apprehension of getting one.
In America, buildings are wired with 120 volts of AC. It’s a whole lot different in Europe where buildings are wired with 240 volts. You definitely don’t want to be making a complete circuit in France or London.
The risk of danger arises because a microphone is connected to other parts of a sound system, like mixing boards and power amps that are connected to and drawing electrical power from the electrical mains of a building or venue, via the wall outlets that you plug stuff into.
If you are getting Shocked by a microphone you probably have a Ground Problem. The Medal capsule of the microphone shouldn’t have any current running through it. Either should the metal case of a mixer or power amplifier. If you touch the mic and another piece of metal on the sound equipment you are part of the circuit.
Eliminating the potential until you get a professional Tech to find the Ground problem is the best way to go. You know it’s not going to go away but some obvious things to do is to Call an Electrician or a dependable Technician until then try some laymen easy things like:
- Play in shoes-rubber soles
- Add a foam pop filter to your Mic for a couple of bucks
- Check that 3-prong is being used or adapters.
- Check the outlets for bad wiring
- Swap your Amplifier power chord
- Check effect pedals that are on the chain between the amp and your guitar
- Swap your XLR cables
- Use some newer equipment-Your problem could be in a vintage amp you bought that needs to be serviced.
Electric current is somewhat like water. It will follow the path of least resistance. You can unplug one item on the electrical chain at a time to check where the grounding problem is coming from. None of these easy fixes should be let go. An Electrician will seal the deal and fix what you need to fix. Don’t try and save money call a certified Electrician to be sure!
Solutions To Microphone Electrocution
One way microphone electrocution can happen is if the guitar amplifier is plugged into an electrical outlet that’s on the stage, but the main sound console, to which the mic is grounded, is plugged into a different outlet in another part of the building.
If these two sources of power are at vastly different ground voltages, a current can flow between the grounded mic’s housing and the grounded guitar strings. And if the guitar amp and the console are on different phases of the alternating current (AC) mains, things can get dangerous.
Microphone Shock Mount-Shock mounts for microphones can provide basic protection from damage, but their prime use is to isolate microphones from mechanically transmitted noise. This can originate as floor vibrations transmitted through a floor stand, or as “finger” and other handling noise on a boom pole. Their main job is to prevent vibration from coming up from the floor.
Keeping all the AC-powered equipment should be kept in the same outlet. Like an In-Line Audio 16 Channel Audio Snake – (50 Feet) (Black) Hot Wires 16 channel audio snake provides 16 channels (XLR) female with 4 (XLR) male returns. Features include well-protected and flexible cable bundling and a heavy-duty metal chassis box.
The audio snake includes locking connectors with quick disconnect buttons for a secure fit. Also, each XLR connector is hand-soldered and individually insulated to ensure that no electrical shorts ever happen. It comes with a built-in easy-carrying handle and a black nylon protector bag! Using a Power Snake like this will not only prevent Microphones and other types of Shock it will all reduce any Hum issues.
You can see these thick cables at outdoor festivals and concerts and inside Bars and venues with a stage running from the soundboards up to the stage area. Faulty wiring at some bars and music venues from the outlets can be another reason and you’ll never have any indication that it is. A 10-dollar circuit tester that just has the small light can give you a warning before plugging in.
Test the outlets in the stage area. Another way is to touch the neck of your electric guitar on the Mic stand. You need the strings to make contact with the medal on the stand and if you see a blue arc like a welders arc, don’t get near it!
If you suspect any kind of Ground problems especially playing at an outdoor concert when it starts to rain. put shoes on. Remember that people like Ace Frehley touched an ungrounded metal staircase railing at an outside concert in Lakeland Florida.
The surge knocked him to the ground, rendering him unconscious. He could finish in 30 minutes. Many others have experienced Microphone Shock, like George Harrison to Tom Petty. It’s considered a hazard to the business. When in doubt call an Electrician!