Why Do I Get An Electrical Shock When I Touch My Microphone?

Why Do I Get An Electrical Shock When I Touch My Microphone?

Electrical shocks happen when a sufficient current at a high enough voltage travels through our bodies. So let’s think of a situation where an external electrical current would flow through our bodies when we touch a microphone.

This electrical shock happens when your body becomes the “shortest path” for the electrical current to get to ground. If all the electrical equipment is grounded properly, there shouldn’t be a situation where you’re the shortest path to ground.

However, sometimes audio equipment can be faulty. Other times it’s the AC power outlets that may have grounding issues.

If either of these cases is true, your gear may be carrying stray voltage (electrical potential) that will flow toward a lower potential if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, that path may, at some point, be you.

Note that the issue is very rarely, if ever, the microphone itself. Typically it comes from the difference in ground potentials or the lack of proper grounding in other parts of the system.

Let’s look at the 3 most common scenarios that present a shock hazard when touching a microphone:

  1. Ungrounded mixing console
  2. Ungrounded guitar amp
  3. Faulty AC outlets

Ungrounded Mixing Console

An ungrounded mixing console chassis could potentially have stray voltage on it, which proves to be dangerous.

The outer case/chassis of a microphone typically connects to its input on a console via the ground pin of the XLR cable.

When a microphone is connected to an ungrounded mixing console, there is always a risk of that stray voltage reaching the microphone. The voltage may very well travel through you as you touch the microphone if you’re the shortest path to ground.

When using any mixing consoles, please ensure they are grounded properly.

Ungrounded Guitar Amp

If you play guitar and are connected to the amp via a cable, the strings are connected via the cable to the metal chassis of the guitar amp. If the guitar amp chassis is ungrounded, it could have stray AC voltage/current on it.

Unfortunately, many guitar amps are ungrounded to rid of the dreaded “ground hum,” which is sometimes brought about by a grounded connection and causes unwanted noise in the amp’s output.

If this happens to be the case, there usually isn’t a huge issue with just playing the guitar. Although touching the strings would make you part of the circuit, your body, shoes, and the floor will likely not allow electricity to flow through you.

The issue, then, is when you touch a microphone and the strings (or any other conductive part of the guitar) at the same time. In this scenario, the stray voltage from the ungrounded guitar amp would flow through you into the microphone and then to the mixing console, AC mains, and ultimately a ground somewhere.

Essentially you’re closing a circuit and allowing stray voltage to pass through you, resulting in a shock. To make things worse, your lips are typically the first point of contact with the microphone.

So when playing guitar, please ensure your amp is grounded properly.

Faulty AC Outlets

Often we believe all our equipment is properly grounded, but the power mains have different ground potentials. If any of the AC power outlets are wired with different ground potentials, there is a likelihood that there will be shock hazards with the audio equipment.

In these situations, electricity will flow from higher potential to lower potential. Therefore, if socket grounds have a difference in potential, electricity will flow to whichever ground is lower.

Let’s say we have a microphone plugged into a grounded mixing console connected to one wall plug and a grounded guitar amp plugged into another wall plug with a different ground potential. In this case, if we were to touch the guitar strings and microphone simultaneously, we would create the electrical connection and the voltage would flow to the lower ground potential. This may very well result in a shock, particularly if there is a significant difference between the socket ground potentials.

The same goes for any wall socket that is not grounded properly.

I would always suggest that you test the power outlets of any new room you plug into. I’d even suggest testing your regular jam spot from time to time. We can easily test our outlets with an inexpensive receptacle tester. I recommend the Sperry Instruments GFI6302 (link to check the price on Amazon).

If you have a discrepancy between power outlet ground potentials, a common strategy is to plug all equipment into one socket to ensure a common ground. This isn’t always possible, but it’s worth a shot for smaller setups. Use a power bar if need be.

If you’re getting shocked, please do not ignore the problem. This dangerous situation requires fixing. Get your audio equipment inspected by a qualified technician and get a qualified electrician to fix the AC outlets.

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How do you get rid of static electricity?

  1. Install a Humidifier. The most effective way to minimize static electricity in the home is to install a humidifier. …
  2. Treat Your Rugs and Carpeting. A static charge in your rugs and carpeting can cause a shock when you walk across them. …
  3. Use Products on Clothing.

What happens to electrons when you touch something?

Over time, the excess electrons in the now-negatively charged object (AKA your body) will dissipate into the air. But when conditions are particularly cold and dry, or if you touch something else too soon, the electrons are going to fly off you, creating – you guessed it – a shock. So how do you stop that happening?

How many volts is a police taser?

The electrical output of the TASER is 50,000 Volts. The voltage may seem high, but the amperage on both systems is well below safe limits.

What Is Ground?

Electrical ground is commonly described as a source capable of absorbing so much charge that it remains unchanged compared to the rest of the system.

It is the reference point in a circuit from which voltages are measured. It’s also a common return path for electrical current.

Current flowing to ground can be visualized similarly to other physical occurrences where matter or energy from a higher potential goes toward a lower potential. These occurrences include:

  • Objects falling (think of an apple falling from a tree to the earth)
  • Fluid moving from higher pressure to lower pressure (think of a vacuum cleaner)
  • Heat moving from hotter to colder (convection, conduction, and radiation)

So basically, electricity always wants to get to ground and will do so even if it has to travel through you to get there, shocking you in the process.

What causes static electricity?

It can happen when you pick up too many ultra tiny things called electrons – sometimes from certain fabrics – which are negatively charged.

But when they come into contact with a positively charged surface – often metal – the negatively charged neutrons what to jump on to it.

The sheer speed of their quick movement causes the tiny shock you feel.

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Why do electrons jump around when you touch a door knob?

In warmer weather, the moisture in the air helps electrons move off of you more quickly so you don’t get such a big static charge. So, the next time you get a little shock from touching a doorknob, you’ll know that it’s just electrons jumping around.

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