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ILITCH BPNCS (Backplate Noise Canceling System) Review...

Discussion in 'Pickup Forum' started by AxemanVR, Dec 2, 2019 at 1:11 PM.

  1. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR I appreciate, therefore I am... Strat-Talk Supporter

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    ILITCH BPNCS (Backplate Noise Canceling System) Review...

    A couple things first:

    This review is for SSS Stratocaster style guitars only.

    This review is also for the backplate system only, not the pickguard version or the other systems they provide.

    My understanding is that this system was mainly designed to work best with Strat pickup sets where all the pickups are single coils and are basically all of the same design (no RWRP "reverse wound reverse polarity" middle pickup and all of the pickup outputs measuring about the same as well). There are some wiring solutions that apparently work around these issues, but not without some compromise it seems - like having to buy a different selector switch with more complicated wiring, or every setting is noise canceling except the middle pickup, for instance.

    Anyway, in my case I'm using a set of vintage spec'd Strat pickups: Fender’s 2014 "Pure Vintage 60th Anniversary Limited Edition '54" (only 1,954 sets made) Stratocaster AlNiCo III pickups to be more exact.

    01 PV PU Box F&B.JPG

    These pickups are essentially all the same, with their outputs measuring approximately 5.90 kohms each and no RWRP middle pickup, so I opted for the ILITCH "VNT for Alnico Rod Pole pickups, 5.5-6.5 kohms" strength.

    I also chose the "Regular" model and a single layer "Parchment" color.

    One other positive sidenote is the fact that the price is the price (no added sales tax or shipping fees in my case). But starting at $250 it still ain't cheap, costing nearly $100 more than what my entire pickup set went for at the time! But I digress...

    The ILITCH BPNCS shipped out the same day I placed my order and arrived lickety split. It was sent in a plain USPS box with foam padding to protect the clear plastic box contained within:

    02 USPS.jpg

    As soon as I got it I inspected the parts then went about getting the thing installed. I was admittedly quite excited but still took the time to read through the somewhat convoluted instructions. Not especially difficult but a "necessary evil" none the less (after all, you want to get it right the first time, right?).

    Before doing anything I got some "heat shrink" tubing cut and ready, to cover the soldered joints when done. I immediately slid them onto the three wires I was going to solder first so I wouldn't forget - something that's easy to do, believe me!

    03 Shrink Wrap.JPG

    The next step is to access to the pickguard's underside. On projects like these, instead of actually removing the strings I prefer using the "Capo String Retaining Method" for removing the neck, that way I can just loosen the strings instead (while keeping them attached). Then all I have to do is re-tighten and tune the strings after bolting the neck back up - saving a huge amount of time (as well as not wasting a perfectly good set of strings):

    04 Capo Neck.jpg

    Once inside I detached all three pickup ground wires from the back of the volume pot. After stripping these wires I tinned them with solder - along with the wires attached to the Trimpot assembly. Then, following the detailed instructions, I soldered each pickup ground wire to the correct ILITCH Trimpot wires as follows:

    Neck Ground to White wire
    Middle Ground to ORANGE wire
    Bridge Ground to BLUE wire

    Afterwards, using a heat gun, I secured the heat shrink tubing over the solder joints...

    I also soldered the Trimpot's GREEN wire to the back of the guitar's volume Pot

    I then ran the Trimpot's RED and YELLOW wires to the back of the guitar via the spring claw ground hole.

    Next I slid the heat shrink tubing onto those wires before soldering the red and yellow wires from the Trimpot to the ones on the backplate - BUT - I did not secure the heat shrink tubing over the solder joints yet... just in case I needed to reverse them (as per the instructions) since the pickup windings might not correctly match the backplate and may need to be switched the other way around (In my case it was correct so I did secure the heat shrink tubing over the solder joints after confirming this).

    05 Backplate solder.JPG

    The next step involves adjusting the Trimpots, thus is the reason they tell you to keep the Trimpot assembly sticking out:

    06 Trim Pot.JPG

    Following the instructions I adjusted the Bridge Trimpot first (VR1 B) until I found the cleanest sound, then adjusted the Neck+Middle position (VR2 N/M) the same way.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    SIDE NOTE:
    In a room directly below my Music Studio there is a dimmer switch which causes a lot of excessive noise when on, so I turned it all the way up for maximum electrical interference when making my adjustments.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    After being satisfied that I found the cleanest settings, I tucked the Trimpot carefully into the control cavity of my Strat and secured the remaining screws for the pickguard and backplate. Visually speaking, besides the almost cartoonishly large backplate (which no one will normally see) nothing really gives away the stealthy hum cancelling abilities of the BPNCS setup.

    07 Back View.JPG

    So, was it a success? Well, first I'll answer a couple basic questions I'm sure most people are concerned about:

    Is it 100% quiet? "No".

    Is it quiet enough to make it worth the cost? "That depends" *(to be further explained).

    Does it change the character or tone of the pickups? In my case I'd have to say "No", or at least not in a way that I can honestly say makes a profound difference.

    With the dimmer switch cranked up (from the room below me) I can still make out some obvious buzz and a little hum when facing my amp (guitar parallel with the front of the amp), but it's considerably less than before. Plus, when I turn my guitar at a right angle to my amp the noise drops a lot further. I've found that this "right angle" doesn't necessarily have to be at 90°, but rather, can be more like 45°, which means you can at least face the audience better in a live performance.

    Although there's still some noise (again with the dimmer set at its most extreme level), I'd say that the ILITCH backplate reduces the noise enough to make it usable for recording when standing at a right angle and probably still very usable for live performances even when parallel to the amp - especially considering all the external sounds from the room and other instruments in a band situation. Of course close micing would no doubt emphasize the noise more.

    BUT! When I turned the dimmer switch off, the noise reduction was massive!

    There's still a hint of noise when facing the amp, which is really only noticeable when you're not playing or for more subtle playing, but when turned at a right angle (45°+-) it's as quiet as any humbucking pickup can be. So in this "best case scenario" situation the BPNCS works excellent! In fact, I'd go as far as to say it is astonishing how quiet it is. Definitely great for both recording and live performance at this point.

    I've read several times where people estimate the ILITCH BPNCS as being about 80%-90% effective at eliminating noise, which I think is a fairly accurate range. I found this video, which pretty much shows how dramatic the noise drop is (I'm assuming he's in a more desirable environment). I'm sure most people would at least agree that it's significant:



    Final Words:

    Giving absolute advice about whether or not anyone should try the ILITCH BPNCS isn't exactly as straightforward as one might hope - not only because people's expectations can vary widely, but also because the system is admittedly quite expensive. On top of that, there's the fact that this system is mainly designed for pickups that are all the same (although there are those workaround compromise wiring schemes for other pickup sets). Then again, trying sets of noiseless pickups until you find ones you like can cost a small fortune as well! (something I can certainly attest to).

    All I can say is this: If you really love the pickups that are already in your Strat then I would say the ILITCH BPNCS is definitely worth considering. I'd like to also add that I have humbucker guitars that aren't 100% quiet either.

    So, as far as doing what it's suppose to do, I personally think they hit the mark. Being able to enjoy hearing the pickups I love without that insanely irritating noise makes the ILITCH BPNCS totally worth it to me and I can highly recommend it to anyone who finds themself in a similar predicament - but you'd have to be a person who can set aside unrealistically high expectations of having both "completely noiseless" and "completely authentic single coil tone" in the same guitar...

    Good Luck!

    08 RW Full.JPG
    09 Back.JPG

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    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019 at 10:41 AM
  2. Golem

    Golem Strat-Talker

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    That’s a very detailed review.

    Have you tried other solutions like an EHX Hum Debugger or a noise gate? How does it compare?


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
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  3. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR I appreciate, therefore I am... Strat-Talk Supporter

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    I have not.

    I've only tried "stacked noiseless" pickups for my Telecaster. Seymour Duncan Vintage Stacks, Fender Vintage Noiseless, Fender Samarium Cobalt Noiseless (SCN), Fender N3 Noiseless and Bill Lawrence L-202TN (neck only) Noiseless pickups.

    I currently have a Fender SCN bridge pickup and the Bill Lawrence L-202TN neck pickup in my 1996 Fender Standard Telecaster and, while they don't quite nail the single coil thing exactly, I still think they sound great (besides being super quiet)...

    IMG_0546.JPG
    IMG_0547.JPG


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    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 7:15 PM
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  4. vid1900

    vid1900 Most Honored Senior Member

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    Have you ever tried replacing the dimmer switch with a high-wattage unit?

    Those create way less electrical noise.

    Or if you want **recording studio** quiet, use a Variac dimmer
     
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  5. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR I appreciate, therefore I am... Strat-Talk Supporter

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    Thanks, I'll definitely look into that!

    I suppose the greater point to this thread is the fact that you can't always control the noisy electrical setups everywhere you go, so having some sort of "noiseless" system is prudent (even if that means bringing a noiseless backup guitar).

    Having the best of both worlds would be nice though... ;)


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  6. Golem

    Golem Strat-Talker

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    It's definitely a nice option. I hate noise. I'm quite fond of Kinmans. I like Lawrence pickups too but they definitely have their own sound which is a bit hi-fi at times. I was just curious about how far your quest for reducing noise went.

    I think the Illitch can work with RWRP and pickups of different outputs but you have to order different variations of the system depending on what set you choose.
     
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  7. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR I appreciate, therefore I am... Strat-Talk Supporter

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    As far as I can tell there are four common methods for reducing noise. One is the traditional PAF style humbucker design, but if you’re going for a single coil sound then you can pretty much count those out.

    As far as “stacked noiseless” pickups go, I admit I haven’t tried them all, but the ones I have didn’t quite do “it” for me either. I'm not saying that they necessarily sounded bad - they just didn't sound like single coils to me. BUT, like I also said; I haven't tried all of them either (and I probably won't be making further attempts any time soon).

    My biggest beef with any humbucking pickup (that are trying to emulate a single coil) is not with their "tone" per se, but with their "picking attack". The picking attack is what gives a single coil that sparkly, chimey, glassy edge when playing. Sure, humbuckers have a picking attack as well, but a more rounder flatter one to me.

    That said, the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates I have in the bridge position on one of my Strats has a surprising "hot single coil" vibe going for it, which sort of proves that it's certainly possible to get that kind of sound out of a humbucker - but keep this in mind: The Pearly Gates isn't the quietest humbucker either, so there may very well be something about noise that's symbiotic to the single coil sound...

    I have tried copper shielding as well, which is effective to a point, but it does not eliminate enough noise in my experience - especially if you find yourself in an extremely bad noise situation (don't ask me how I know!). In addition I’ve also noticed some dulling of the higher frequencies (added capacitance?) albeit subtle, yet still noticeable to me.

    Noise gates tend to only work when you stop playing, but most do very little to eliminate the noise while you’re playing.

    The EHX Hum Debugger certainly sounds intriguing - and I may give it a go, just to see - but, like a noise gate, you’re required to have an additional piece of equipment to lug around and set up. Not a big deal I suppose, but you will need an extra outlet and cables at the very least.

    Dummy coil designs like the ILITCH system aren’t perfect either, but the ILITCH BPNCS I reviewed does have two very enticing benefits as far as I’m concerned:

    1) Once installed it’s already built in, so no extra steps are required.
    2) Your single coil pickups continue to sound like single coil pickups!

    So there are the pros and cons I’ve discovered in my quest for awesome "noise reduced" single coil tone...



     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019 at 3:17 PM
  8. SeaHorse36

    SeaHorse36 Strat-Talk Member

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    That company used to sell that to Suhr. Same thing but only Suhr branded. ;)
    If anyone needs more info, you can google with Suhr name, same thing.



    Trust me, it's the same product, just Suhr gave up on licence. ;)
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2019 at 12:56 PM
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  9. sgarnett

    sgarnett Strat-O-Master

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    I am kind of surprised by the oversized backplate. I get it; the large loop is important. I’m just surprised they didn’t compromise a bit more to keep it stock-looking. Still, the larger loop is key to minimizing the impact on tone.
     
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  10. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR I appreciate, therefore I am... Strat-Talk Supporter

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    At first I thought it would bother me, but after putting it on I almost immediately grew use to it, so it's pretty much a non-factor. Either way, the ability to play my favorite Strat with minimal-to-no-noise is definitely worth this aesthetic anomaly...


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