This Article May Save Your LIfe

This short article gives a few simple and practical tips to avoid you being one of the musicians killed by electric shocks on stage. Without being too dramatic, you need to read it.

Ultimate Guitar
We have all died on stage, told a bad joke, played to an audience that just doesn't get our music and so on but what you really don't want is an actual death on stage. Every year musicians end up in coffins because of electric shocks from their stage equipment and this need never happen. I want to tell you how to avoid electric shocks, why they happen and what to do about it. Reading this article could just save your life. The most common experience is to get a shock when you touch a microphone, often it happens when you are also touching the strings of a guitar but it can come from any metal object on stage. The important thing is to recognise that this is not normal, it is not ok, it is very dangerous and something you have to deal with straight away. That's right; straight away. Even if you are in the middle of a song you should stop until the problem is sorted. Don't touch the mike or whatever, switch off the offending item and, if you can, let the audience know that there is a problem and it will be sorted in a few minutes. I'll tell you how to do this below. If some roadie or bar manager tells you it is ok, it has happened before or that it is just static then you absolutely have to ignore them. They are wrong. You have to have it checked and fixed. The only way to get an electric shock on stage is if there is an earthing fault. There may be other problems but if all the equipment is properly earthed you won't get a shock because all of the equipments metal casing will be at the same earth potential. You might have hum loops and you may be blowing fuses but you won't be shocked. How Earthing Works In the main fuse box where the electrical supply enters the building there is an earth point. This is connected to an earth point outside the building either a conducting rod banged deep into the ground or to a connection provided by the electricity supplier. This earth point is then connected to all the cables that run through the building and to all the sockets and lighting points in the building. The idea is that if any metal object that is connected to an earth wire becomes live then the electricity is carried harmlessly away down the earth wire until a fuse goes and cuts off the electricity. The problems come when there is a break in this earth circuit. If you have had a shock then there is an earth problem. It could be in an equipment lead or it could be in the house wiring. Leads to your equipment often get damaged in the general confusion on stage or when we mistreat them. A wire may simply have come loose inside a plug or a wire may be damaged inside a cable. It could be a mains extension lead which is at fault but you should also suspect the house wiring. You would be stunned by how often the innocent looking mains socket on the wall hides a dangerous fault. Fortunately this is easy to check so check it first. As the cables run through the building there may be hundreds of joins in the junction boxes and sockets throughout the building and if any of these connections have been wired incorrectly or have worked loose it will create problems as can rodent damage or water. In any large building with many hundreds of connections it is almost certain that someone has made mistakes in the wiring. You can check all this with a simple socket tester which you get from most hardware shops for 10-20 (UK price) You just plug them in and led's light up and tell you if there are any faults. Fixing The Problem Check the sockets with a socket tester. Don't use a faulty socket and report it to the management. move your equipment to another socket which has been checked. Check your leads, both mains leads and instrument and mike leads. If you can use a meter then check earth continuity. Only switch back on when you have found the fault. Always carry spare leads. If the problem is the mike/guitar one we started with suspect both guitar amp and PA. We often use separate mains sockets for backline and PA. You should run these out of the same mains socket which guarantees you a single earth. Sometimes earths can be at different potentials within a building and working from a single socket will avoid this problem. Always use an RCD (GFCI) mains protector at the point where you plug into the house wiring and run all of your mains wiring from this. If there is a problem they will cut the mains quicker than a heartbeat. 7-15 in the UK. Above all don't accept electric shocks as a normal part of being a performer. The next shock might be the one that happens at just the right place and time to stop your heart. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey may have hoped they died before they got old but you need to make it through to the encore. I really hope this article is clear, helpful and accurate. If anyone spots anything that will improve the article don't hesitate to let me know.

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Interesting article, very different from the usual kinda thing on UG. Your desire to save lives does you credit
    this is really something every performer should read and learn. Thank you. Great job.
    Rain Lancer
    Very helpful article, thank you for that. I'll be sure to keep that in mind next time I'm playing a gig. I've never been shocked before, but I don't intend to have it happen at all.
    I've been shocked before while playing and it was nothing serious, but definitely not pleasant. I wish I could've read this before that happened.
    Phil Starr
    Sorry, I can't find reliable world wide fugures, the musicians every year comment is from a magazine article I read about four years ago. It was an American publication and I am not clear if the reference was to the States only or a world figure. The point is that once you get shocked you are entering a lottery which depends on things like how sweaty you are and what else you are touching and the state of your health. Why take the chance when four simple precautions can protect you and your mates.
    I've heard about that throwing people back a few yards or into the audience but never killing someone. Thanks man.
    I thought this was gonna be a joke lol Hopefully the Jonas Bothers don't read this article
    tom1thomas1 wrote: I thought this was gonna be a joke lol Hopefully the Jonas Bothers don't read this article
    Great article, I believe everyone should read this.
    tom1thomas1 wrote: I thought this was gonna be a joke lol Hopefully the Jonas Bothers don't read this article
    i don't think the Jonas Bitches even browse this, i mean, they probably think they're too good
    I'm just curious, and please note im not being a smartass, im just not as smart as you; If you put your backline and PA into the same socket, wont their being a chance of blowing a fuse or something? I had a scenario like that except with Spotlights (where i put 2 in the same outlet) and it blew out the lights/electricity in a portion of my middle schools auditorium.
    Phil Starr
    Good question. In Europe assuming you have 2000W of gear you will be drawing 8amps of current and there should be no problem. I'm not familiar with wiring in the States or indeed anywhere outside western Europe but with a lower voltage mains you'll be drawing 16amps. Basically if you can run a kettle off a socket you should be able to run a backline + a PA. If you use lights you may need a second circuit. Provided you have RCD's on each circuit you will still be safe especially if the lights are out of reach of the stage.
    You know this article isn't actually any new news. this happened to Ace Frehley back in the 70's.
    DeadxEndxEmpty wrote: You know this article isn't actually any new news. this happened to Ace Frehley back in the 70's.
    Yeah, but many musicians these days don't even think about this as a stage risk, so it's still helpful to have.
    Phil Starr
    OK that is bad, I'll re read it and see if I can make it clearer thanks for the comment