Difficult Decisions

Difficult QuestionsNearly every day, I receive a question like “I have a Custom Slender Flatoblaster with Fleemore Dunkin pickups.  What brand and values of pots and capacitors should I buy to get a killer sound for Jazz Country Electro Fusion Metal Ambient Rockabilly?”

I’ve tried to be clear in my posts and videos evaluating guitar electronics, that these things are really subjective and a matter of personal preference.  I could tell you that I like CTS brand EP0086 500k audio taper pots for both volume and tone, and Orange Drop 715P .01uF tone capacitors, and these work really well for me.  But, you may buy these same components and hate them. 

Field of PotentiometersWith potentiometers, there are many very subjective factors: torque (how hard/easy they are to turn); the taper (audio or log versus linear), since human perception of loudness is extremely dependent on the particular ear and brain of the listener;  and the resistance value (typically 250k, 500k or 1Meg for passive pickups)- you’ll get different brightness and a different feeling taper out of each.



Lots of caps

For tone caps, some players like a really big capacitance (e.g. .047uF) so it doesn’t take much movement of the tone knob to get a big rolloff in the highs, and it gets really dark when you turn it all the way down.  Others prefer a smaller capacitance (e.g. .01uF) so that larger movements of the knob are needed to change the tone, and it never gets too dark even when turned all the way down.  Some ears like the sound of pricey paper-in-oil capacitors, while others actually prefer the sound of ultra cheap ceramics.  And some people can’t hear a difference at all.  Just take a look at the comments on some of my capacitor material type comparison videos and you’ll see what I mean.

Another thing that should be clear from my posts and videos, is that the potentiometer and capacitor choices you make will not make a miraculous difference in the sound of your guitar, unless you’re starting with complete crap, or defective components.  Your pickups, your amp settings, and your pedals will have much more of an impact on your sound then your pots and caps.   Not to mention your playing technique!  So, try not to get too worked up about it!

If you really feel you need to replace these things, or you just want to have some fun tinkering with your guitar (like me), I suggest you start by playing some friends’ guitars (or at a store) and if you find something you like- try to find out what’s inside and buy the same stuff (ask if they’ll let you open up the guitar to see what’s inside, or search online for schematics, etc).  Alternatively, buy a small selection of potentiometer values and tapers, from a couple different brands (Alpha, CTS, Bourns are common), and a few different capacitors of different material types and capacitances.  These things are not that expensive if you shop around.  Experiment with the components on your guitar using alligator clip leads, and pick the ones you like.

Decisions like this are a challenge, to say the least.  You think you should change something to make your sound better, but there’s so many unknowns- and you’re totally confused what to do.  You start searching the Internet, and you’re confronted with way too much information.  There can be great stuff out there, but also tons of mistakes, misinformation, extreme opinions, boutique elitism, and trolling.   Some people are fundamentally convinced that only their way of hearing it can be “correct”.   When I suggested in my taper comparison video that I like audio-taper for both volume and tone controls, I got some very bizarre and threatening responses accusing me of conspiracy and collusion.  (I’m not kidding).

In short, take what you read with a grain of salt.  There is no “correct” answer (although there are certainly some choices which simply won’t work).   Don’t expect someone else to be able to choose for you- only you can decide what’s going to make your ears happy.

Good luck!