Help! My computer has gone to POT!

8 05 2014

Okay, recently we’ve been talking a lot about those guys over at The Secret Strat Project.  These guys build incredible  guitars and amps… and then they give them away to Soldiers.

They build stuff like this:

NIghtcrawler gets a GF

And this:

Swampcaster - web

And this;

Green Dragon - web


We were talking with them the other day and we mentioned that we wanted to start talking more about the actual art of building guitars on the blog.  So, we asked them, as a group, what the most common question was.

Almost unanimously, they started going on a rant  about pots. Potentiometers. Those things your knobs are attached to on your pickguard.  Apparently, the most common question about guitars isn’t about “Fender or Gibson?”, or the best pickups or which strings to buy…

… it’s  in regards to what pot you should use in your wiring  harness.

So, those guys are  gonna inspire another “luthier” post. And guess what it’s gonna be about?

Guitar potsQ. What’s the best tone pots to use with my Gibson Les Paul? What tone pots do YOU use in yours?

A. I use  500K tone pots almost exclusively in my Les Paul projects.

I know a lot of people swear by 300k pots, or even the 100k pots that some early Gibson Les Pauls came with. But I just don’t get it. A tone pot can be turned  DOWN to lower it’s value, but it cannot be turned UP past it’s maximum. A 500k pot can be turned down to 250k. You can’t turn UP a 250k pot to 500k.

Do your pickups sound “muddy”?

If so, start by changing your pots out. You’re probably going to find that you have faulty 500k pots, 250k pots or even (gasp!) 100k pots in your  harness.

First, what IS a potentiometer? A potentiometer (a POT) is basically just a variable resistor. It’s a rheostat. There’s no real magic in that little quarter sized case.

You start your wiring harness build by using a voltmeter to determine both the value and the tolerances of your pots. You want to establish the value and the tolerance s of your pots. You want to find pots that are within 5-10% of each other throughout your harness.

Some of those 500k pots will measure 480k or so. Don’t worry about it. You can’t HEAR the difference between 500k and 480k.What you’re looking for are pots that are within the same value range to create a uniform wiring harness. Choose your pots so that they’re all within the same “range” – tolerance. We shoot for 5% here in the shop.

Once you’ve established a uniform value, your main concern is in the “taper” of the pot. The taper defines how much control you have of your tone. You want pots that have smooth distributions from 1-10. Some pots will have noticeable taper between certain numbers, like 1-3 or 8-10. You’re not going to like these pots because your sweep is going to get screwed up – i.e. dead until you hit that  sweet spot on the pot.

This is “No Bueno.” You want a nice, smooth, even sweep from 1-10.

A 500k tone pot will allow more treble than a 300k pot and a 300k pot will allow more than a 100k pot does, Makes sense, right?

If you don’t like the 500k treble (too much, for instance) then simply turn it down between 7 or 8 and you’ll basically have a 300k pot. Turn your pot down between 5-7 and  you’re operating in the range of a 250k pot. P90’s love this range, in fact.

I just don’t get why people cripple their guitar pickups by cutting tone out with “little pots”. It doesn’t make any sense. Its like buying a microwave oven that will only operate for 2 minutes so you can make popcorn without burning it.

What if you decide you need to warm a frozen burrito for five minutes? If that oven won’t stay on long enough (or hot enough), you’re screwed.

Do ya even LIKE burritos? Well, do ya,  punk? 🙂

We love burritos. Especially when they look like this:

Best Burrito Ever

Personally, when I’m not eating burritos,  I like CTS pots. Like a “black bean and shredded elk special”, they’re well-built, consistent and hard working. The quality control is top notch. They’re a few bucks a piece and you can’t beat them.