Frustrated you’re amped up guitar sound is accompanied by an unwanted hissing, humming or buzzing sound? Maybe you’re a high gain player and the sounds you need to secure your heaviness come with a frustrating in-between buzz.
I hear ya. Unwelcome sounds coming through your amp are mostly a by-product of high gain signals, single coil pickups, or even caused by your mains supply.
As you can’t always test your pedals through the mains supply of a venue before a gig, it can end up as a nasty surprise when you unexpectedly start creating a huge buzz (not the good kind).
If you don’t want to sacrifice using your favourite guitar, pedals or whatever’s causing the unwelcome racket, we have some great new for you. Noise gate pedals remove any unwanted sounds from your set up, giving you control over what makes it to the amp.
Many people think gate pedals affect your tone in a bad way. As we’ll see in this article, the marginal loss in tone is more than made up for by the improvements. In this article we go deep into the pros and cons of using gate pedals, what you should look for when purchasing one and we throw up some of our favourite models that are worth considering.
If you’re in a rush, here’s our top picks…
At a Glance: Our Choice of the 5 Best Noise Gate Pedals on the Market
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ISP Technologies Decimator II G-String
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MXR M135 Smart Gate
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Electro-Harmonix Hum Debugger
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Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.
Still reading? Good one. Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide – feel free to jump to a section of interest, or read the whole thing if you want the ‘complete download’ on gate pedals. Let’s get to it.
What is a Noise Gate Pedal?
Noise gate pedals eliminate any sounds below a certain signal (keeping the gate closed for them) and let any sounds above the threshold through (by opening the gate).
You can set the threshold on the pedal to the level of your hum, hiss or buzz, and it will no longer come through. Usually, the level of your actual guitar playing will be significantly louder than any unwanted sounds, so using the gate will have no effect on the volume of your desired signal.
Key Benefits of Using a Noise Suppression Pedal
Reducing Pedal Noise
Noise from your pedals can really muddy your sound. Some pedals are meant to make your guitar sound noisy, but they end up making the whole signal sound distorted which can mean that your notes don’t cut through. These pedals can remove the low-signal noise from your pedals, whilst still letting your notes ring through as distorted as you like.
Reducing Single Coil Hum
Humbucker pickups exist these days due to the unpredictability that comes with single coils. Although they sound bright and cutting, they also can become affected by lighting, electricity and radio signals. Any of these things can cause them to hum and then feedback. A noise gate can eliminate that hum, no problem.
Getting Rid of Fret Noise
You might not want that sound that happens as you slide from fret to fret.
Some people love it, some hate it. If you hate it, it can be avoided. The sound of your fingers sliding across the fretboard is a lot quieter than the sound of the notes you play, so you can set your threshold to not allow sounds of that volume to come through.
Eliminating Sounds from Unpredictable Mains Supplies
When you’re gigging, you can plug into some dodgy and dirty mains supplies. Unfortunately, this can lead to a mighty buzz or humming through your amp.
A noise gate can stop this noise from ever reaching your amp, by simply not letting it through. You just have to set the threshold appropriately.
Giving Clarity to High Gain Sounds
If you’re a high gain player, you might find that sometimes your super-tight riffs sound, well, far from super-tight. The excess noise between your notes is stopping you from sounding like the sharp player you are.
A noise gate can fix this problem. Smart ones especially are able to recognise when the notes you play are short – which they reduce to silence quickly – and when your notes are sustained, requiring a longer decay.
Are There Any Downsides to Using a Noise Gate?
As brilliant as they are for reducing nasty hums, hisses and other sounds, noise gates can sometimes have their downsides.
Sometimes, noise gates alter the tone of your guitar, especially when they are set to eliminate hissing sounds. Pedals which have a ‘hiss’ function can cut out some of the high end of your guitar, meaning that you will then have to do additional EQ settings the other side of the noise gate, losing your original tone.
Noise gates can also chop off notes prematurely. When there’s a decay control, you can set the decay so it’s a little slower, however, in reality you might sometimes want it slow and sometimes want it to be fast. Some high end noise gate pedals have intuitive, automatic decay settings, which can tell the difference between playing which should be cut off quickly and notes which require sustain.
Which Artists Use Noise Gates?
Metal and grunge players often make use of noise gate pedals, due to their high gain, dirty style of playing.
One legendary guitarist who knows how to use a noise gate, to enable dirty sounds without getting sloppy, is Jerry Cantrell from Alice In Chains. Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares is also known for using a noise gate, although he has claimed that he spends more time controlling unwanted noises with his guitar’s volume control than with his foot pedal.
Here’s a quick demo of what a noise gate pedal does (comparing both the Boss NS-2 and ISP Technologies Decimator that we review below)
Buying Guide – Things to Consider When Purchasing a Noise Reduction Pedal
Is There an Adjustable Decay?
If you want ultimate controllability over your noise gate pedal, adjustable decay is a must.
This allows you to decide how quickly the noise gate kicks in after you’ve played a note, and can be the difference between sounding smooth and sounding robotic.
What Kind of Sounds is it Designed to Eliminate?
Most noise gate pedals are all-rounders, however, some are designed with specific sounds in mind.
It’s important to check that your pedal is capable of reducing the kind of sounds you need to avoid. If you’re looking for something to reduce hiss, it might be worth checking there is a ‘hiss’ option on the pedal. Similarly, if you’re looking to get rid of single coil hum, make sure the pedal says something about ‘hum’ on it.
Some pedals, which are true all-rounders, don’t explicitly say either, which is good if you are after something that fits all but these pedals do also generally take a bit more getting used to.
Types of Noise Gate Pedals
Single coil picks up such as P90s (especially vintage ones) are renowned for being noisy, as are humbuckers. Some noise gate pedals are specifically designed to reduce the hum of single coils. These tend to be very simplistic pedals with just one or two buttons. They’re perfect for those who like to keep things simple and know exactly what sound it is that they want to get rid of.
All-Rounder Noise Gates
Most noise gates attempt to reduce all kinds of sound. On these pedals, you set a threshold for the volume at which you don’t want noises to come through, then set the decay and any other options on the pedal.
Some people decide to use two of these pedals in their chain: one which has access to the hardly effected sound and one which receives the signal at the start of the pedal chain.
Smart Noise Gates
Some noise gates are able to recognise the length of your notes, and decay accordingly. This is super handy for high gain players who require gaps between notes in the appropriate places.
Features You’ll Find on Most Noise Gate Pedals
There are two main features on noise gate pedals.
The threshold is the level at which you start letting the sounds come through without any reduction.
Generally, the noisier your unwanted sounds are, the higher you’ll need to set this, but it’s important to be careful that you’re not cutting out anything you actually want to come through.
The decay determines how quickly the noise gate kicks in when the noise reaches the threshold. A fast decay will enable an extremely tight sound but it will also seem unnatural. If you want just a moment’s noise before it cuts out, to make it sound a bit smoother, you can set a slower decay. However, if you set your decay too slow, the noise gate will be ineffective.
Some pedals set the decay naturally, according to your playing style.
Extra Features You’ll Find on Some Gate Pedals That May Be Useful
Sometimes, you might want to mute your sound completely. Maybe you’re going to be chatting to the audience for a minute, and need complete silence from your guitar.
Some noise gate pedals also work to completely turn off your guitar, which can be an important part of some performances.
Send and Return Jacks
More technologically inclined people sometimes like to use the send and return options in noise gate pedals.
These allow you to create a loop from the pedal, through your effect(s), and back again. It allows the pedal to ‘hear’ both the clean sound and the effected sound, which can allow it to reduce pedal buzz more easily.
Where Should I Place the Noise Gate in My Chain?
Most people place their noise gates at the end of their chains. This enables it to effectively reduce noise from all of the other pedals and potentially the mains supplies they are plugged into. If you’re looking to reduce the hum from single coils, the position to put your gate is at the start of your chain. This will reduce the hum before it gets even louder after the other pedals, meaning your gate will have to work less hard to be effective.
Some people place the noise gate right next to the noisiest pedals. This positioning allows the gate to react to the noise from those pedals as they are pressed. Reverb and delay don’t always come through noise gates properly, so it’s advised to place them before these kinds of pedals in the chain. This is due to the quiet noises that reverb and delay pedals need to get out in order to be effective.
Tips for Using a Gate Pedal
High Threshold, Low Decay
Setting a high threshold and a low decay will give you an extremely clean sound between notes which is perfect if you’re not a fan of that sliding sound between frets, or if you want the ultimate staccato.
Reducing Pedal Buzz
If it’s just one pedal that you’re having noise problems with, only switch your noise gate on when it’s in use.
This will reduce the risk of accidentally cutting out wanted sounds.
Delicate Players, Set It Low
If you’re going to play harmonics, ghost notes, fading trills or anything else which is naturally quiet, make sure you set your threshold low.
If you set it too high, these kinds of notes won’t be allowed through.
So, now you know what you’re looking for in a noise gate pedal, and how to use it, it’s time to look at some of the best ones out there. We’ve rounded up some of the top noise gate pedals out there, and have listed their features and who they’re suitable for below, to help you decide which one’s right for you.
Product Round-up & Mini-Reviews
The Boss NS-2 is a reliable all-rounder, with every feature you need to get rid of unwanted sounds.
There’s a threshold dial, allowing you to set the level at which the gate opens and closes, and a decay dial to control how quickly this occurs.
There’s also an option to use this as a mute pedal, rather than a reducer, so you can completely stop all sound should you need to.
As well as your standard input and output jacks, this pedal has send and return jacks, which gives you the option to hook a pedal (or pedals) into a loop with the pedal, so that it can differentiate between what’s coming from the guitar and what’s pedal noise.
This pedal is perfect for versatile guitarists who require mixed functionality from a pedal, and its sturdiness means its perfect for gigging.
It will be less suited to those who want something simple, as the features on this pedal take some getting used to and getting it right can largely depend on trial and error.
- There are additional send and return jacks
- Has separate dials for threshold and decay which makes it ideal for tightly articulated playing
- Has a mute mode for when you need to completely silence your guitar
- 9V battery runs out very quickly
- It can flatten the tone of your guitar somewhat
- The threshold setting lacks precision, so it can be hard to get the exact amount of reduction needed
ISP Technologies Decimator II G-String
The Decimator II has less dials than the Boss pedal, but it’s a smart pedal which does an excellent job of eliminating unwanted noise.
The pedal has a threshold dial, so that you can decide the volume at which sounds are unwanted, and an on/off footswitch.
Without the decay control, it matches the speed of attack to the threshold, which gives you some control but it’s limited compared to pedals which have two separate knobs.
That said, it’s still a clear leader in the market and it also has a feature which detects when you shift from a clean to distorted sound, and automatically adjusts the threshold to match.
This pedal is perfect for those who play heavier genres, who need something to give their playing clarity and articulation.
It will be less suited to those who require control over their gate’s decay, and for those on a budget. This pedal is the most highly priced noise gate on here, but it’s also the one that’s popular with professionals including Jerry Cantrell.
- Extremely sturdy and simple to use
- The threshold knob is very sensitive, allowing extreme precision when setting your gate
- The decay is intuitively fast, which gives you extreme clarity and precision
- Without adjusting your gain, the Decimator II is liable to get carried away and lower your decay too much, making the guitar sound unnatural
- It’s one of the most expensive noise gate pedals
- There are no separate modes, unlike on some other pedals
MXR M135 Smart Gate
The Smart Gate really is smart, it’s also another one that Jerry Cantrell uses.
This pedal has three modes of noise reduction: hiss, mid and full, so you can set it to leave out the frequencies that are bothering you at the flick of a switch.
It also has an easy to use trigger level dial, which sets the threshold of your unwanted sounds, and even has a ‘hi trigger’ button that can be used in extremely noisy situations.
There’s more to the ‘smartness’ of this pedal, though. It also has the ability to differentiate between long, sustained notes and staccato playing, and adjusts the decay accordingly without you needing to change a thing.
If you need to switch it off at any point, this pedal also has true bypass, so you can rest in the knowledge that you’ll get no excess sound from the pedal itself.
This pedal is perfect for versatile guitarists who are looking for something small and simple and smart. If you gig a lot from venue to venue, the ‘hi-trigger’ option can be a lifesaver when dealing with unexpectedly noisy mains supplies. It’s also great for high gain players, as the automatic responsiveness can recognise when to reduce the sound quickly, and when to have a slow decay.
It might be less suited to those who like the ultimate control over their pedals, or who just want a simple hum reducer.
- Is able to differentiate between long, sustained notes and fast picking to kick in the decay you need automatically.
- Has three settings for reduction, making it easy to quickly eliminate any unwanted sounds
- There’s a ‘hi-trigger’ button which can be used to quickly adapt to extremely noisy situations
- It’s more expensive than some other noise gates
- The hiss, mid and full selector is very small and fiddly
- The automatic decay might not suit those who would like to experiment with different settings
The Behringer NR300 is like a budget friendly version of the Boss NS-2. It even looks very similar.
Like the Boss pedal, it’s an all-rounder noise gate and works as either a noise reducer or a muter,
There are also send and return jacks, which allow you to insert noisy pedals into a loop from the noise gate. This allows the pedal to hear what the guitar sounds like separately to what the pedal noise is, giving it a better chance of cutting both effectively.
There is a threshold dial and a decay dial, so you can have complete control over which levels are cut out and how quickly it occurs.
This pedal is perfect for guitarists on a tight budget, who want to try a noise gate out.
It will be less suited to those who gig regularly, due to its flimsiness, and it also has a lot less transparency than the other pedals.
- Everything you’d want from the Boss NS-2, but cheaper, making it ideal for budget musicians or if you just want to test what a noise gate pedal can do for you
- The separate threshold and decay controls give you complete control over your gate
- It also works as a muter for when you need to eliminate your sound completely.
- This pedal can be detrimental to your tone
- It’s extremely flimsy compared to the other pedals here
- Doesn’t have automatic detectors to determine the decay, unlike the Smart Gate
Electro-Harmonix Hum Debugger
The Hum Debugger is extremely easy to use hum reducing pedal. There is one toggle switch, which flicks between ‘strong’ and ‘normal’, and there’s an on/off footswitch.
It’s purpose-designed to deal with single coil hum, and dose so effectively at the flick of one of its two switches.
The strong/normal toggle allows you to increase the effectiveness of the gate when the going gets tough, and the pedal itself is sturdy and bulletproof.
It’s an ideal pedal for those who gig with single coil guitars in multiple venues where the electrics and/or lighting can unexpectedly make things go awry.
It’s less suited to those who are looking to eliminate the buzz of noisy pedals or hissing sounds, and it will be inappropriate to those who require any real level of control over their threshold.
- This is an extremely simple, no-fuss option for players of single coil guitar
- It’s sturdy and ready for the road
- It has true bypass, so if you do turn it off, you can guarantee it will no longer have any impact on your sound
- This isn’t really a full noise gate pedal, it’s only real capability is reducing the 60hz hum. If you need more than that, you’ll need to take a look at one of the other pedals
- On the strong setting, this pedal alters your guitar’s tone, and there’s a slight discolouring even on the normal setting
- It’s quite expensive, considering its limited functions.
So, Which Pedal Should I Go For?
If you’re still finding it difficult to decide which is the best noise gate pedal, don’t worry. When you’re comparing very similar bits of gear it can be challenging.
If you’re looking to reduce single coil hum and single coil hum only, the Hum Debugger might be right up your street, as it’s purpose built to do that without you needing to mess around with settings.
If you’re looking for a bit more from a noise gate, and will potentially be playing in a variety of styles, the Boss NS-2 might be more suited due to its superior controllability.
If you’re looking for something smart, which can detect the kind of notes you’re playing and decay accordingly, you’re likely to be impressed by the Smart Gate by MXR. This pedal allows you to set your noise threshold, but has extra features like a hiss/mid/full selector, so you can control which sounds are being eliminated, and it also has the ability to detect your playing style and decay accordingly. Smart indeed.
The heavier players amongst you will be extremely well suited to the ISP Technologies Decimator 2. This pedal has an extremely responsive threshold control, hardly affects your tone and has a fast decay which makes your playing sound tight and tidy, even when you use your noisiest pedals.
Finally, those on a tight budget or those who are interested in just seeing what a gate does have a great option in the Behringer NR300. Although it’s of a noticeably lower quality than the other pedals, it does the trick well enough and will barely dent your wallet.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.