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Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups Warmoth.com

Auditioning Tone caps...a MUST...

Discussion in 'Tele-Technical' started by bossaholic, Jan 19, 2010.

  1. bossaholic

    bossaholic Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    53
    Aug 4, 2008
    Maui
    I had to rewire my Springsteen clone and while I was at it, I made up a couple of alligator clip leads so I could try out a couple of tone caps without soldering.

    Man o man, what a difference tone caps make. I've got quite a few I've collected over the years and the older ones DO sound better regardless of what anyone says. The little orange drops Fender includes with their CTS pots are way to thin and tin sounding and definitely side on the treble end.

    The Jensen I bought from Angela does sound good for a new cap.

    The Cornell Dubliers from the 50's are the mack daddies. I can see why they define the sound on the earlier blackguards. Rich and warm. Unfortunately my stash of these old caps are cranky and noisy and basically unusable.

    I have several old tubular Solar Caps from the 40's that are in mint condition in the .05 rating and they sound incredible. Very warm with just a bit of a growl. Hard to explain.

    Next are the tubular Soviet military metal enclosed caps I've had for two decades. Another good possibility. Similar sound to the Solars. They sure look cool. Very high tech!

    The Jensen fits better as the Solar and Soviet caps are just shy of being the length and circumference of a AA battery, but I can wiggle them to fit.

    I recommend EVERYONE do this if you don't all ready. Aside from learning how different caps sound, you can also see how moving them around to different lugs affect other things in the electronics stream. It will help your next troubleshoot. Helped me TONS.

    Now to pick my Capacitor...Decisions decisions...
     

  2. jefrs

    jefrs Doctor of Teleocity

    Nov 20, 2007
    Newbury, England
    Please tell us what the capacitor values were of each type you tested.

    Also, did you test the capacitors to measure their current value.

    That would be useful information.
     

  3. bossaholic

    bossaholic Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    53
    Aug 4, 2008
    Maui
    The Solars are rated at .05 and unfortunately I didn't rate any of them (it's my next step once I get a new multimeter).

    The Soviet MilSpec are stamped/rated at .04788

    The Solar and Soviets are sealed, so I am assuming that their values are still close.


    The Angela is rated at .047

    My old Wax/Paper C-D's are .05, but as I stated, they are just too old to use.

    The Fenders are of course .047

    I know testing them will give me a true value, but it all boils down to what your ears hear and like/dislike.
     

  4. Curly

    Curly Tele-Meister

    I'm always interested to see what people find when they test caps.

    To be honest, I think in most cases, the $1 polyester Orange Drops are fine for me, but I'm willing to keep an open mind ... or open ear. :)

    The late Ken Fischer had some interesting comments regarding caps. He felt that although foil caps didn't have polarity, they did have "directionality", since one lead goes to the outside, and the other to the inside of the foil. He suggested testing caps both ways to see which sounded better.

    Sozo caps also discusses this a little.
     

  5. jefrs

    jefrs Doctor of Teleocity

    Nov 20, 2007
    Newbury, England
    Rolled foil caps should have the outer end to ground, there's no polarity but it provides some shielding.

    Tolerance can be all over the place on some, a 50nF 30% could be 35nF to 65nF from new. Most age worse, hence a capacitance meter measurement is nice.

    Waxed paper melts to useless. Ceramic tend to disintegrate by shedding lumps of clay. Some metal foil and can types could have inductance too. On some guitars, I've taken to using two tone pots at 22nF and 47nF to give high and high-mid roll-off, also with a 1.5mH simplified varitone, gives a huge range of tones.

    I've done this test myself but not with anything exotic, just new ceramic, mylar, polyester and orange. Couldn't hear any difference except on value.
    F = 1/(2piCR)

    Interesting. I shall have to rummage in my junk boxes and experiment.
     

  6. maryjane

    maryjane Tele-Afflicted

    this beginner is happy to see posts like these.
    alligator clips and a vaiety of caps are now an obvious "must have" while learning.
    thanks,
    mj
     

  7. barkley

    barkley Tele-Afflicted

    Aug 6, 2009
    Australia
    I will try this out.
    Why do you think the older ones sound better? Aging? better build quality back in the day? I dont quite get it.
    Also, where did you get stuff from the 40s?
    :)
     

  8. David Collins

    David Collins Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 28, 2009
    Ann Arbor, MI
    If you really want the most objective appraisal, get some assistance from a friend, and push-pull pot somewhere in your guitar. Have a friend connect the caps to the switch, and without your knowledge of which cap is linked to which position, play it for a while and see which you like better. If you want to be more thorough, have your friend remove and reinstall the caps a few times, with a flip of a coin as to which position gets each cap each time. Keep track of your results, and make your final choice based on those.

    I'm not in any way, shape, or form, suggesting this to be the case here, but so often in determining upgrades people can tend to hear with their wallets. The more expensive or rare the component, the more results are likely to be preferred. Sometimes the more prestigious component will indeed be better, but there's no substitute for a well controlled blind test (switching in real time) to be sure.

    While I have the ears of a few cap aficionados (sounds like a magazine, eh?), let me ask you this -

    Of all the commonly available caps out there, if only two were to be selected of the same test value, which do you feel would be the two most different? Ceramic against PIO? Maybe Audiocap, or a Black Beauty? Which do you feel would offer the absolute most distinguishable results from one another in a traditional tone circuit?
     

  9. LocustPlague

    LocustPlague Tele-Holic

    933
    Sep 17, 2008
    Texas
    Why do people hear such a difference in the old caps? The main reasons I think of are 1) they degrade more than modern caps, so you are more likely to get something WAY outside of the specified range. 2) Reverence for all things old -- if it is old, it MUST be better...which seems to apply for everything except for women and televisions. 3) They typically cost substantially more (or are just generally more rare) which most people equate with quality.

    I have yet to find a single scientific experiment that can produce measurements to back up any of the claims made about caps...
     

  10. David Collins

    David Collins Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 28, 2009
    Ann Arbor, MI
    I'm working on the preliminary stages of such a test right now.

    Here's a discussion from another forum - my testing procedures are only a subtopic of the thread, so I'll just link to the individual related posts.

    http://www.thegearpage.net/board/showpost.php?p=7500113&postcount=11
    http://www.thegearpage.net/board/showpost.php?p=7506247&postcount=22
    http://www.thegearpage.net/board/showpost.php?p=7528114&postcount=29

    If you feel like reading them, I certainly welcome any feedback. Not sure when I'll really proceed with this. This is purely a side project of personal and professional interest, of which I have no real stake in the results either way, so it hasn't been a huge priority. I hope to get started on it relatively soon however.

    Edit: Actually, this survey would not be intended to produce measurements to explain any differences. The intention is to qualify, and not to quantify any observable changes at this point. If results do indeed show distinct observable differences, then it would be interesting to proceed with more technical research (much already done, no doubt) to explain exactly how or why these changes occur. That is not the goal of this particular survey however.
     

  11. LocustPlague

    LocustPlague Tele-Holic

    933
    Sep 17, 2008
    Texas
    The setup sounds reasonable, but not ideal. Ideally, no-one involved with the project's results would know which is which until all data is collected and all trends analyzed. This would give a situation more similar to a double-blind study.

    The easiest way to accomplish this would be for you to have someone else solder the caps in place for you, then have them completely removed from the study until the end. No one under any circumstances opens the guitar until all results are collected.

    From what I understand, you plan to run 2 trials with the only difference between the two being the positions of the caps (you just swap the position of the "odd-man" with one of the non-"odd-man" caps). I would suggest also adding a third trial whereby you have all ceramic caps of the same value (no "odd-man").

    While these kinds of studies are interesting, I would still love to see some cold-hard numbers and physical measurements. If we can hear it, there MUST be a scientific explaination.
     

  12. cactusrob

    cactusrob Friend of Leo's

    Aug 26, 2009
    Georgia
    Here's a really good set of articles I read a while back in Premier Guitar Magazine (online)
    It deals with this very subject. As a result I scavenged an old radio for some caps and tried an old ceramic disc with a value of .1 in my Strat, which I've modded with an old Gibson mini-hb from an LP Deluxe. The difference really kicks in when you dial off the tone knob. That's the key in my opinion. These adjustments are probably only valuable to those who actually adjust their tone knobs. If you just play with the tone pot full up all the time, you probably won't see too much of a difference by changing caps.

    It's been my experience that the standard values you find in most guitars don't give you much range of control below about 7 or 8 all the way down to zero and like another poster said, usually sound thin or tinny.

    Anyway, changing to a crusty, old lower value ceramic disc worked for me on my particular guitar. But like the article said: "Good is what you like". So, to each his own.

    Here's the link to the article(s):

    http://www.premierguitar.com/Magazine/Issue/2008/Mar/Auditioning_Tone_Capacitors.aspx

    http://www.premierguitar.com/Magazine/Issue/2008/Apr/Auditioning_Tone_Capacitors_Part_II.aspx

    Enjoy !
     

  13. David Collins

    David Collins Tele-Afflicted

    Sep 28, 2009
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Agreed. I had thought about this, and if the results were analyzed in their entirety, there would be little room for me to influence them in analysis one way or another. I would like however, to keep the possibility of analyzing select groups differently. For example, I will likely include things like "years experience" on the survey card (<5, 5-10, 10-15, 15+), as well as lines for musical style, influences, etc.

    In analyzing results from these sub-groups, it would certainly be possible for me to cherry-pick (whether intentional or not) to find results favoring one side or another. I will probably have my apprentice install and remove the switch, and keep records or the positions secret from me until all analysis is complete.
     

  14. Curly

    Curly Tele-Meister

    At the risk of being quite stubborn ...

    you can give me all the "scientific" evidence you want, but if I think I hear a difference between different caps, then I'm darned well gonna use the one that I think sounds better.

    I usually have a problem with most people offering "scientific" evidence for a few different reasons ... usually, their ego or intellect gets in the way, and often, they have glaring omissions in the evidence they chose.

    regardless of that, tone is often subjective, not objective ... you may often get a majority of people to agree that one tone is better than another, but then there is usually someone who disagrees ... we hear things differently, so even if you had so-called "objective" test procedures, the way we hear is different, so how do you account for that?

    anyway, I mentioned Ken Fischer of Trainwreck Amps, because he both played and had the electronic background to have a fairly qualified opinion:

    "Not to get too technical, a capacitor creates a phase angle shift. In a circuit with a resistor (pot) in series with a capacitor, this angle lags or leads, depending on the order of hook up. A personal note, never use a disc type cap in a guitar. They do not resonate right in a guitar circuit. A proper tone control should also add resonant tone as it is used, not simply flatten the high end.

    Let's get to the important points of choosing a modern cap. First you want the correct value. Of course, feel free to try other values than traditional ones, if you are after something different. Most humbuckers use .022 (.020), and most single coils .05 (.047). You want separate film foil, not metallized types. Mylar and polyester film works better then polypropylene film.
    Since pickups put out very low voltage, the voltage rating should not matter, but it does seem to have an affect. Traditional voltage values are commonly, but not always, 200 or 400 volt ratings.
    The Black Beauty caps used in old guitars were typically the 400 volt type. Another interesting point is that, if you reverse the cap end to end, it will sound different in use. I jump mine in with test clips, run the tone control through its range, and use directions my ear choose. Also, if you have many of the same type, try a bunch of them. They will vary slightly from cap to cap. It's worth the time to choose one you really like with your gear.
    Lastly, some people put a bright cap from hot to slider on the volume control. This is so the highs do not roll off when turning the control down. This is very amplifier/speaker dependent.
    In any case, a silver mica type is my choice, if you use one. The value judged by ear, using your guitar with your amplifier. 30PF to 220PF is the most common range. Fender once did a Tele with a .001 (1000PF) --- OUCH!"
     

  15. bossaholic

    bossaholic Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    53
    Aug 4, 2008
    Maui
    I don't know why the old ones sound better. Different material? I just don't know, but I can hear the difference.

    I got the NOS Solar Caps from a guy in New Zealand. The old C-D and other wax/papers I've collected for the past 15 or so years.

    I also forgot to add that I ran my guitar through practice amp and I attached headphones so I can really hear what going on, not only with caps, but with the rest of the circuit. I can hear if I have a loose or weak solder joint just by moving it a little bit. I can hear if something isn't grounded right. Tonight I plan on soldering everything up, and I will be wearing my headphones as I do it.
     

  16. cactusrob

    cactusrob Friend of Leo's

    Aug 26, 2009
    Georgia
    I have to agree with Curly. In my book, guitars are more about mojo and vibe and tone. If there are some relatively easy steps I can take to change mine to my liking, I'm gonna leave the periodic table of the elements, the slide-rule and the Bunson burner out of it. No disrespect.

    Good topic btw !!

    Rob
     

  17. LocustPlague

    LocustPlague Tele-Holic

    933
    Sep 17, 2008
    Texas
    I have no problem with people subbing in and out things to meet their preferences. The end-user isn't my enemy here. I do, however, have an issue with people who wind up selling caps (and many other things) promising this or that effect, but without any measurable proof (and then charge an absurd amount for it). For something that is so subjective (something you might call open and warm, I might call cold and tight, for example) as well as something that provides such a HUGE difference (according to the sellers of these things) I find it incredibly hard to believe that there is no measurable way to prove the claims.

    No disrespect is meant, whatsoever, but the way I look at it is this: It's okay to fool yourself, but when you try to fool others and grab at their cash while doing it, you're kind of a dick.

    This is coming from someone who has a pretty decent ear for minor changes in setup, but can't for the life of me tell one cap from another, so long as the values are right.
     

  18. bossaholic

    bossaholic Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    53
    Aug 4, 2008
    Maui
    I agree LP.

    I am not going to measure my caps or figure what they are made of (though I am sure that plays a factor). I am going to install the one that sounds best to me and I am glad I did this test.
     

  19. Duende

    Duende TDPRI Member

    Age:
    50
    10
    Nov 14, 2009
    San Francisco
    Hey Boss. Which jensen cap did you like from Angelas?? They have one cap there that is $33. Is that it? Pricey

    Thx!
     

  20. bossaholic

    bossaholic Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    53
    Aug 4, 2008
    Maui
    I bought the .047 for $17.00. Was it worth it? To me yes, because the next step down was the Fender orange drops and I don't like them.
     

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