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OK... guitar tone controls...

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by charlie chitlin, Mar 3, 2021.

  1. charlie chitlin

    charlie chitlin Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    I think some people leave them dimed all the time because it sounds best that way...on THAT guitar.
    I recently put a gold foil pickup in an old archtop, and the tone control works so beautifully.
    On some other guitars, it seems like anything I do to the tone knob just adds successive layers of blanket over my amp, and it's actually a "DULL" control.
    On other guitars there are varying degrees, like, I can roll this one off 2 or 3 numbers before it becomes a DULL control.
    Has anybody noticed this and really worked with it?
    Is there a magic formula for components that give the sweetest sweep of the tone control?
    If the tone pot is a DULL control, what's the first thing you go for? Pot value? Cap?
    Audio pots make a positive difference for me; the cap makes some difference, as does the value of the pots.
    The one that works so great, BTW, has some 500k pots that I had, but, they both read about 300k and a .022mf cap.
    IMG_20210303_093217.jpg
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2021
  2. Peegoo

    Peegoo Poster Extraordinaire

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    I always get a little chuckle when I hear players gripe about how their pickup sounds "too bright."

    You can use a combination of cap/resistor on a tone control, as well as incorporate a treble bypass on the control--just like as used on a volume pot. This removes a wide swath of treble as you roll it back from 10, but preserves the top-end sparkle to help your tone retain definition.

    Yet another trick is to wire the tone control to the volume pot as in the "Gibson 50's tone control" scheme, which helps prevent the tone from going muddy as you roll back the vol and tone.
     
  3. marshman

    marshman Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I actually had my last Strat wired through just a volume pot, but that wasn't that useful. I've since had it wired with the neck/middle on one pot and the bridge on another, more practical.

    My tele has a very practical and useful tone circuit...it's not until you get it most of the way down that it goes full dull.

    With my Les Paul I virtually never mess with it...neck tone full on, bridge @8 and we're off.

    And I don't think I could play a bass (my primary instrument) without a tone circuit, I keep that at @ 3 almost all the time.
     
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  4. SixStringSlinger

    SixStringSlinger Friend of Leo's

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    I love a good tone control. There's no specific special sauce, but a series of things to keep in mind (assuming everything works as advertised).

    - Pot values. Higher values tend to contribute to a brighter sound, all other things being equal. Keep in mind most guitar pots you'll buy can have a 10% tolerance in either direction. So a 500k pot (by name) can actually measure between 450k and 550k. For most people that difference will be audible. 20% tolerance is also possible (though, in my experience, less common than 10% when buying from dedicated guitar parts dealers/manufacturers). So that nominal 500k can actually be anywhere from 400k to 600k; night and day there. The tightest tolerance I've seen advertised is 5%. I bought 4 of these for a Les Paul re-wire, and measuring them bore this out (they hovered about 515k, if I recall). There are other considerations like taper and specialty features like no-load pots, as well.

    - Cap values. A typical guitar tone control is basically a volume control that works on frequencies X and above, X being determined by the cap value. Lower-value caps effect higher frequencies, that range widening with higher-value caps. The practical effect of this is that tone controls with lower-value caps are more subtle in their effect, those with higher-value caps more dramatic (though this is also affected by the pot's taper). Keep in mind that cap values are also subject to tolerances. Also, buy whatever caps you want for whatever reason you want, but fancy caps really make no appreciable audible difference in guitar tone controls.

    - The guitar's inherent tonal characteristics, mostly determined (in my opinion) by the pickups. Single-coil guitars tend to sound brighter (again, all other things being equal), so perhaps you'll want lower-value pots (so less treble gets through) and higher-value caps (for more treble-cut across the pot's sweep). You may do the opposite with humbuckers; high-value pots to preserve treble and low-value caps to just shave a bit off the top and not get too woofy. Or maybe you like woofy so that's what you go for, which brings us to...

    - Your needs and ears. What you want your guitar to do is not what I want my guitar to do. And whether a certain set-up achieves what you want is down to your ears; I may or may not hear it.

    Personally, I like to set my amp and not have to touch it again across guitar changes. To that end, I prefer a master treble-cut control and a master bass-cut, like on my Reverend (stock) and Strat (modded). But it also depends on the guitar. My Jazzmaster is very bright, so I don't need a bass cut there (though I did mod it so that the rhythm circuit's lower-value pots work on both pickups). Trying a master bass cut on my Les Paul proved too complicated with poor results so I settled for really high-value pots (by LP standards) to preserve a lot of treble, with caps on the tone controls that give me a broad range of tones as I turn them down to near-woof. Of course, I also want a wide range on tones from my guitars; you may like a one-trick pony.

    In the end, I'd say that getting your tone controls "right" comes down to 1) choosing the right combination of pot 2) and cap values to 3) make yourself hear 4) your guitar (with its inherent qualities) do what you want it to do. If you're not digging it, your problem is somewhere in there.
     
  5. regularslinky

    regularslinky Tele-Afflicted

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    For my first 20 years of playing I played a Les Paul exclusively and never touched the tone controls. Always dimed. Then I got a Tele and learned what the tone control was for. Even more so with an Esquire. Then I got a G&L Comanche with MFD pickups and their PTB tone control system and REALLY learned what tone controls could do - that's an entirely different animal.

    To my knowledge the G&L system has higher value pots, and that gives a wider available tonal range. That doesn't necessarily mean that you will like any of the tones, just that you will have a lot to choose from. I have an Esquire with a P-90 and no tone control and I love the sound. I think every guitar is different.
     
  6. Willie Johnson

    Willie Johnson Tele-Holic

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    I went a little too light on cap values in my Am Std Strat last time I got in there, not enough woof for the neck pickup. But yeah, use the knobs; they're there for a reason.
     
  7. schmee

    schmee Doctor of Teleocity

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    No doubt that some controls work far better than others. Some (many?) seem to have a tone control that is basically either bright or warm/soft. Very little in between, almost like a switch. There's often a micro adjustment at about 3 or 4 in between but it's a mini spot on the dial!

    Strangely, what I don't like about HB guitars is they sound thin and bright to me on the high strings. While many people say the opposite ; that SC are bright. They can both do "bright" but the tone is different.... SC being a fuller sound to me. But the HB on the lows gets muddy. The problem is... you need a separate tone control for the high and low strings!

    Pickup makers continue to all make the same PAF copies of a HB with tiny differences. What they really need to make is something like this, really 3 pickups in one. :lol::
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2021
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  8. Boreas

    Boreas Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    That guitar reminds me of an old Silvertone Espanada. What is it?
     
  9. Fuelish

    Fuelish Tele-Holic

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    Depends on amp setting and ambient conditions as well .....have really gotten into using my tone controls a lot more on all of my guitars over the last bunch of years, used to just peg them and go. Now I set my amp up super bright and roll back the tone on each as needed. Best thing, and cheapest, that I ever did was run a jumper wire so my Squier Strat tone knob works the bridge HB ......I HATE shrill, seems silly to have a bridge pickup with no control of tone from the factory. Was OK, though, a piece of random scrap wire, a few minutes time, did it on initial string change......took longer to unstring/restring than to run the wire, works perfectly.
     
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  10. bottlenecker

    bottlenecker Friend of Leo's

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    I think people not using tone controls are why almost every pickup made today is overwound. Even so called replicas of vintage pickups always have "a few extra turns". Even though people crave the sound of the originals, you can't sell them pickups like that because rock guitarists just aren't smart enough to work the knobs.
    Maybe they stopped sorting the tone controls properly too, when people stopped using them?
     
  11. loopfinding

    loopfinding Friend of Leo's

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    there's only really two things i use the tone control for...

    1) making fuzzes more violin-y, or getting more of the octave from an octave fuzz
    2) when playing jazz stuff on a solidbody - to be clear, not in the traditional sense - i like a trebly jazz tone like the 50s and 60s. but i find on a solid body, with the difference in guitar vs amp cutoff frequency, it usually gives better results to take the top off of the picking attack/fretboard snap on the guitar side and then boost the treble on the tone stack.

    otherwise i just run full open and move my picking position around or do some light fretting hand muting.
     
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  12. eichaan

    eichaan Tele-Holic

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    I like to set my guitars so that tone on "10" is "too bright" playing by myself, because I know it will cut through the band when playing with people. Normally I back the tone controls to "4-5" for a neck pickup and "2-3" for a bridge pickup (depending on guitar and pickup type).
     
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  13. charlie chitlin

    charlie chitlin Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    Harmony Montclair.
    Like New Jersey.
     
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  14. nojazzhere

    nojazzhere Doctor of Teleocity

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    My first "good" guitar was my 1960 Les Paul Jr. (bought in 1969) It was my only electric for many years, and you don't gig with a single pickup guitar a lot without using your tone control a lot. Some players are amazed at how good a single p/up can actually be.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2021
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  15. Boreas

    Boreas Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    Makes sense - they made both. Pickguard looks identical.
     
  16. mad dog

    mad dog Friend of Leo's

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    I use the tone control a lot. There is no standard approach. Varies by guitar type, pickup type, even by individual examples of very similar guitars.

    Example: I have two old Guild archtops. One with a single Franz neck p/u, 16" at the lower bout, all maple laminate, no cutaway, mahogany neck. The other with two Franz p/us. This one 17" at the lower bout, spruce top, maple lam back and sides, single cutaway, mahogany neck.

    Plugged in, on the neck p/u: The one p/u Guild sounds best to me with tone rolled nearly off. Further than you might expect. And it's in no way a dull sound at that setting. The larger Guild neck only position sounds best with little if any tone knob roll off.

    This always intrigues me. Am I hearing a difference between two examples of the same p/u, caps/wiring, the effect of body size/wood/construction, or all of the above? No way to tell. File this in the "who knows" category. I almost always will experiment with the tone knob. What works best seems impossible to predict.
     
  17. Fendereedo

    Fendereedo Poster Extraordinaire

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    That's one beautiful guitar. Think I'm in love.
     
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  18. charlie chitlin

    charlie chitlin Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    It really is.
    It was a Craigslist find, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, ani I really fell for it.
    Makes me want to play Django licks.
     
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  19. Fendereedo

    Fendereedo Poster Extraordinaire

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    Yes, has a real inspirational vibe about it. Wish many happy years playing together Charlie.
     
  20. Peegoo

    Peegoo Poster Extraordinaire

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    I love the tone of the Franz units. They look like P90s, but they are more hi-fi sounding; less midrange honk. Here's a 1960 Guild M65 from my guitar library. A true archtop hollowbody (maple top with mahogany back/sides and neck), just a bit larger than a Les Paul. This guitar sings:

    [​IMG]
     
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