Learn Your Metal Detector – Bill Ladd

Copyright Bill Ladd 2007

Contents not to reproduced without written permission of Bill Ladd


“Learn Your Metal Detector”


By Bill Ladd

One important thing I’ve picked up along the way in this great hobby of ours is to never scoff at, or doubt the unit a fellow detectorist is swinging. This is especially true when a fellow hobbiest is carrying a detector some would consider “cheaper” or “outdated” technology. I’ve seen far too many times these wily old vets do just as well, if not better, than all the competition in the same field that day. Why? Well, as we all know, sometimes it’s just the luck of walking over the right spot. But more so, I believe it’s because the detectorist with the older unit has years of experience with his particular machine than the others. Even though his detector may not be digital, multi-frequency, or full of all the latest “bells and whistles” as some of the more expensive modern units, the user knows it. He or she knows it like the back of their hand; just knows the “sounds”. This hobbiest has trained his ears….it talks to he or she so to speak. Perhaps the other treasure hunters were trying out a new brand of detector that day in hope of attaining some kind of edge. But, new detector users often have to struggle though a tough learning curve of several hours with all of the advanced tones, notching, and digital readouts and programming common on today’s top units. Many of us feel new users need a minimum of 30 hours in the field to really grasp all that a new metal detector is trying to “tell” you. A “newbie” to the hobby may need more than twice that.

I remember one local digger who showed up at a field with 4 or 5 different detectors from various popular detector companies and lined them all up along a stonewall. He spent the day switching off, and fiddling around with all the different brands. Meanwhile, I, searching with a one-tone “beep-dig” Fisher 1266x detector was busy recovering several targets while he was “playing”. Now, the hobby is supposed to be taken up for fun, and perhaps experimenting with new units was this users way of enjoying himself. I go to “pounded” sites occasionally with 2-3 detectors and little flags to mark targets and “play” myself. But, if you really want to find more treasures, and increase productivity, hopping from brand to brand can often pose further difficulty I feel. Your finds will always be less than he or she who lives and dies with that one “old faithful” detector. I recently read a magazine article about a gentleman who’s a very successful coinshooter…..using a 1970’s BFO! So, it’s not all about showing up to the field with the newest and best looking equipment. I often use the golf analogy. That buying a $500. titanium, wiz-bang, super duper driver does not instantly translate into better scores. There is some skill involved. Same with metal detecting. One of the best Civil War relic hunters I ever met still uses a beat up old non-metered unit from the 80’s that he even ran over with his car once! (You can’t make this stuff up:) Though duct taped, bent, and really very ugly looking…..well, put it this way, I wouldn’t want to hunt alongside him with any of my flashier “modern” units! He plain knows what to listen for. “If it anit broke, don’t fix it” is probably his motto.

Having a bunch of different units can also get confusing remembering all the ideal settings to succeed. I often need to go back to a certain manual as a refresher on how that unit is ground balanced. All seem to be different. Now, how about trying to remember how to ground balance a whole stable of different metal detectors? Ground balancing may be the most important set up procedure of all. So, it is something that diggers need to be proficient at.

I also observe a lot of folks try a Fisher unit for the first time, and the very first thing they do is turn the sensitivity up to 10 to see how deep it will go. This is a huge mistake, as long-time Fisher users have learned that a setting between 4-5 on a CZ, for example, achieves maximum depth. Overdriving sensitivity just adds chatter, and some will complain about “interference”. But, very sensitive Fisher units like CZ’s, Coinstrike, and the new F75 go as deep as I want to dig with mid-range sensitivity settings.

Though I basically stick to one brand, they all function quite differently. Every detector company has it’s own style of building; it’s own quirks and sound quality. “Tones” may sound far different from detector to detector. After spending countless hours listening to various noises though a pair of headphones, you begin to notice important differences. Again, often it takes years of practice. All detectors behave differently, and unfortunately some sophisticated units are never given a fair shake nowadays. In the old days of detecting, you didn’t have so much buying, selling, and trading as we now have. The internet makes it easy….so trying ‘em all is simple & some even can make a few bucks! Back in the old days, you picked out a detector from a magazine or catalog, saved up, and you really learned it. Basically you were forced to in a way because there were not so many choices right at your fingertips. There were no internet “classifieds” to list it right away to get your money back.

My first decent unit came from the Sears catalog (the 70’s version of the internet?). I owned those first “T/R” (transmitter receiver) detectors until the day they died. There was no one else to trade with, no local dealer, no clubs. In fact, I was the oddball doing a strange hobby most had never witnessed before. Not that I’ll ever complain as all my hunting territory was 100% virgin! Plus, I have to say I did exceptionally well with my “Sears machines”. At the ripe age of 12, I began working with a bit of threshold hum, and thus became quite good at picking out faint signal changes or “whispers”. These often resulted in a deep coin, and I vividly remember the faint threshold change of an 1835 Bust Half dime find. It’s still a coin that I’m proud of to this day. I’m certain I could still walk right to the very tree it was next to, probably right to the exact spot it was dug. It’s that vivid. I grew to know just what that detector was telling me, and just what it was capable of.

Too often nowadays some folks dig one piece of iron or one screw cap their first time out, and all of a sudden their new purchase is for sale online one hour after assembly. Does this mean it’s a “bad machine”? I always wonder, did they read the manual a few times if at all? Were their settings completely wrong? Did they bother to ground balance? Did they just try it on a “pre-set” mode? Did he or she ever own that brand detector before? Maybe it was their first ever target ID machine. Or are they just the folks who love to experiment? Some people just have to sample everything that’s new sometimes. The curiosity factor is often just too great I guess. Plus, sometimes the online, or magazine advertising “hype” can be hard to ignore. This can be especially true if it seems that every forum “big shot” is trading their old units in for the new one as is now happening with the F75 for example. But, I also wonder, are “try ‘em all” detectorists hoping for a “miracle machine”? Are they always holding out some hope that there might be a holy grail of metal detectors hidden out there somewhere? Truth is, there has been no major leaps in metal detector technology since the VLF. All the major brands are all about the same depth-wise and nothing has come out lately that goes say a foot deeper than all the other brands. The major improvement I have seen with modern detectors lately is in regards to trash/iron separation. Though technology has not attained tons more depth, it has made “unmasking” targets in heavy iron a force to be reckoned with….a vehicle to make “hunted out” sites productive again.

This is a hobby that demands much patience…much like fishing it’s not for every one as you don’t always get “a bite”. Sometimes I think folks sell new detectors quickly because they are hopeful to get most all of their money back before they scratch the detector up. In other words, they can sell it fast while “it’s hot” often without a monetary loss. But, is an hour in their test garden, or even a week in the field enough time to have really absorbed what a totally new piece of technology is telling you? Some will swear it is, and one has to give the benefit of the doubt to the person saying, just “not my cup of tea”. But, I’ve had arguments with fellow diggers who say things like, “I’ve been detecting for 30 years; I know how to run a detector!” Well, once again, metal detectors are all very different, especially the modern ones of today are quite complex as compared to the BFO and TR units of the past that didn’t even have meters. The reason I always stress you have to really “learn” a detector is getting to know sounds…not just what the LCD screen or tone said on say your first sweep. For example, though some large pieces of iron may occasionally read 20-30’s on my TID Fisher’s, with my Coin$trike I can tell right away by the sound it’s iron now. It’s hard to put into words, but it just sounds more hollow or echo-like. This is unlike the crisp, sharp, unmistakable coin tone. Learning this “iron sound” took me hundreds of hours in the field training my ears. Now, you may be able to get an idea early on if a detectors not for you, but you can’t train your ears in an hour. So, maybe sticking with one detector and learning it to the best of your ability is half the battle for good consistent treasure hunting?

I remember one time I entered a seeded “competition hunt” that was to be held on a beach. I arrived with my trusty Fisher 1266x, the only machine I owned at that time. This is a one-tone unit recognized as one of the best relic machines ever. This Dave Johnson designed Fisher is a true classic, and is considered by some as still the best for relics. I made loads of good finds with it and loved it, even though some folks in the local clubs had begun calling it, “outdated technology”. Well, in the beach parking lot a couple guys even asked, “was I really gonna use that?” Supposedly the 1266x was not considered a “beach machine” per-say, and one guy actually offered me one of his back-up units for the hunt! I calmly said that I “lived and died” with this machine and I’d be fine. Well, guess what? The so called “relic unit” without a meter found the most coins and tokens that day! I know I wouldn’t have found much of anything with a borrowed machine I would have had to try to decipher on the fly. Did I dig the most because I was simply faster recovery-wise than the competition? Perhaps. Or did really knowing my machine like the back of my hand give me a keen advantage? I lean towards the latter.

Good diggin’
Bill Ladd

  • March 4, 2009

Leave a Reply 1 comment