TONESHAPERS WIRING COMPONENT DESCRIPTIONS
Touchy subject, capacitors. Lots of opinions out there about how they affect a guitar's tone. We use Orange Drop caps, but not for tonal reasons (we feel that brand and capacitor-type have no effect on tone in a passive tone circuit). We use them because we can reliably get them at a reasonable price, and we can trust the quality. We order them to our specs direct from the manufacturer, Cornell Dubilier.
Most electric guitars use passive tone controls, which can be accurately described as treble-cut circuits. These circuits can remove some of the treble frequencies from a signal, making the guitar sound more bassy (by signal we mean the pure signal that is being produced by the pickups, before anything else influences it). You can usually determine whether a guitar uses passive or active tone circuits by determining whether or not the guitar has some sort of onboard power source, such as a 9V battery. Without an onboard power source, the tone control can only cut - or take away - certain frequencies. It cannot add anything. An active tone control, on the other hand, can actually boost signal in addition to cutting it. These controls will often have a center-detent; turning the control counter-clockwise cuts certain frequencies, while turning it clockwise boosts those frequencies.
One night in 2009 several of us were sitting at a restaurant near the Anaheim Convention Center after a NAMM show. Jason and Stephanie Lollar were there, along with Greg Timmons from Lollar, Vince Cunetto, Dudley Gimpel, and a couple of other people. Jason asked us what we thought about the various "boutique" capacitors that were out there, and we responded that we thought the type of capacitor in a passive guitar tone control didn't have any tonal consequence. He lit up in agreement, saying that they couldn't discern any differences either. He said that at Lollar they had hung a bunch of different caps off of a 12-position rotary switch so that they could instantly switch between many different types, and that they couldn't hear any difference between them, to which Stephanie added that there were about ten people listening, and that not one could hear any difference.
We're dropping names here, because we want to qualify the setting: These people are respected industry insiders, and none of them are trying to sell you expensive capacitors. And neither are we.
A capacitor is a simple device - it allows higher frequencies to pass through it, while blocking lower frequencies. Sort of like a doorman at a popular disco: Pretty girls get in, sweaty guys do not. In a guitar's tone control, the signal from the pickups is presented to the capacitor, which allows the higher frequencies to pass through, just like the pretty girls. But you know, the thrill for those treble frequencies is short-lived: They don't go into the club for the nightlife and the boogie (that is, into your signal so as to contribute to your tone), instead they are sent to the nothingness that is ground (that is, out of the signal path entirely). Sucks to be in the nothingness, dude. No pretty girls there at all.
Why does this happen, anyway? It's because one end of the capacitor is connected to ground. The signal that passes through it (your pickup's treble frequencies) is sent to ground. Rest assured, this part of the signal no longer contributes to your tone, it's gone.
So, whatever the capacitor's construction - paper-in-oil, polypropylene, polyester, ceramic, or any other type - the net result will be the same: certain frequencies will pass through the capacitor to ground, and be gone forever. But the amount of the treble that is lost will vary based on two factors: The value of the capacitor, and the amount of signal presented to it.
Factor One: Value
Higher-value capacitors will allow more treble frequencies to pass through than lower-value capacitors. In full-rolloff mode (when the tone knob is turned fully counter-clockwise), a tone control with a higher-value cap will make the guitar sound darker - or more bass-y - than a tone control with a lower-value cap. Popular capacitor values in electric guitars are mostly in the range of .01µF to .1µF (µF means microFarad). Gibson has traditionally used .022µF, whereas Fender has used primarily .022µF, .047µF (.05µF), and .1µF, though they have used other values as well.
Factor Two: Amount of Signal Presented
It's the job of the tone pot to present more or less of the signal to the capacitor (pot = potentiometer - that's the component you're manipulating as you turn the knob). Turn the knob fully clockwise, and the pot is basically in roadblock mode: None of the signal gets through the pot, so none is presented to the capacitor. With the pot in this position it doesn't matter what the value of the capacitor is - or even if there is a capacitor, for that matter. You read that right: When the tone control is fully clockwise, you could change capacitor values - or even remove the cap altogether - and you'd hear no change in the tone. So the capacitor only starts to affect the tone when you roll the tone control counterclockwise. And the further you roll it counterclockwise, the more signal is presented to the capacitor, and the more treble is sent to ground.
The jack is the part of the guitar that you plug your cable into. Some people call it a plug, but the plug is actually the part on the end of the cable that plugs into the jack. The best guitar jacks are made by Switchcraft, this is the brand that pretty much every American guitar company has used since the 1940s, and it's also widely used in industry and aerospace.
Open vs. Closed
There are two jack styles that are commonly used in guitars: Panel-mount and enclosed. Panel-mount is what Fender and Gibson have used in almost all of their guitars, while enclosed jacks have been reserved primarily for acoustic guitars with pickups, and - in some cases - amplifiers. This is true of the traditional American makers, anyway - some others (Ibanez comes to mind) use the enclosed jacks on their electric guitars too.
We stock the Switchcraft panel-mount jacks in two bushing lengths (the bushing is the threaded part). The short-bushing jack is the one that came on almost every Strat, Tele, and Les Paul ever made. However, while we find this to be the best choice for Strats and Les Pauls - or really for any application where the jack will be mounted to a thin plastic or metal substrate - like the jackplates used on Strats and Les Pauls - we feel that the long-bushing jack is often the better choice for Teles, except where an Electrosocket is being used.
The reason for this is that the Tele's traditional mounting requires that the jack pass through two pieces of metal that are separated by a gap, while still having sufficient threads available to install the nut. We would add that it's also best if you can install washers both inside (lock washer) and outside (flat washer), as these help the jack to stay tight. Of course, the washers also add thickness, so having a little extra thread length can make the difference between optimal mounting (with washers) and compromised mounting (without washers).
By "conventional mounting", we're referring to the images above (you can click them to enlarge). The blue and red things are the "two pieces of metal that are separated by a small gap". The blue thing is a metal clip that's permanently installed into the hole where the jack goes, using a special tool (it's difficult to install or remove it without the special tool; this is usually installed at Fender, it's not expected to be a user-serviceable part). The red thing is the jack cup, which is held in place by the jack, which is sort of the reverse of how things work on most other guitars. The jack sandwiches the clip and the cup together.
So again, the jack's bushing needs to be long enough to pass through the clip and the cup - plus any space between them - and still leave sufficient threads to install two washers and a nut. This is often impossible with the short-bushing jack as shown on the left, and consequently, Fender often leaves the external flat washer off (at least), which is a real no-no, as it almost guarantees that the jack will quickly come loose. This will often be followed by the owner trying to tighten the nut, accompanied by the jack spinning around and around inside the guitar - unbeknownst to the owner - which twists the black and white wires around and around until they eventually pull taut and one of them breaks, killing the guitar's output. This will often be followed - trust us - by a visit to the repair shop with the complaint that the pickups no longer work. None of them (this is very common with guitars of all types).
The image above shows a little more clearly the optimal hardware installation (hardware shown in yellow). By the way, we actually have some formal education with bolting (though you may have never thought about it, bolts, tension, and torque is actually quite a science), and really, you want the lock washer on the inside, and you want the hard flat washer on the outside, regardless of what you're mounting the jack to. Really. So if you have this style of mounting, you'll be pleased to know that our default behavior with our wiring kits and our ToneShaper products for Teles is to include the long jack. If you are using an Electrosocket, let us know and we'll substitute the short jack instead.
And of course we also supply the long jack in any cases where the jack is expected to mount through the body rather than to a jackplate (ES-335, SG, LP Special).
The thread size is the same for both jacks - 3/8-32 (3/8" diameter, 32 threads/inch) - so you'll need a 3/8" hole to mount either jack. This is a little larger than the metric-threaded jacks that come on most non-US guitars, so you might need to ream or drill the existing hole in your jackplate to 3/8".
We're The Bomb
Finally, know that Switchcraft ships their jacks without lockwashers, they include only the flat washers and nuts. Hey, didn't we just talk about this? But we have you covered, as we always include lockwashers with our jacks and pots. One more way we're always looking out for you.
we got yer details comin' soon
We've written fairly extensively about pickups in a series of columns that were originally published in Premier Guitar Magazine, and you can access those articles here. While the sections below provide lots of useful information about pickups, the Premier Guitar columns provide additional details and illustrations that you might find interesting.
Pickup output can vary widely, and is primarily affected by the number of turns of wire in the coil, and by the strength of the magnets. Increasing either increases the output of the pickup, and this is usually heard as an increase in gain (essentially, how hard the pickup drives your amp into distortion), and as an increase in midrange, or fullness.
Some people mistakenly assume that the guitar is getting power from the amplifier, but this is not the case. The pickups are constructed using a coil of wire that is stationary, and is wrapped around a magnet of some type. The resulting magnetic field that surrounds the coil is not stationary - it moves relatively freely. Since the strings are ferrous (contain iron), the magnetic field latches onto the strings to some degree, and as the strings vibrate, so does the magnetic field. The resulting movement of the magnetic field - relative to the stationary coil - is what induces an electrical signal. This signal is then sent to the amplifier.
In 1950, Fender started production of the Broadcaster, and its pickups used rod magnets for their core. These rods were all of the same length, so that their tops were flush with the tops of the pickups (this is hidden on the neck pickup by its cover). By 1952, Fender had moved to using different magnet lengths on the bridge pickup to compensate for the fact that the guitar strings varied in their distance from the top of the pickup. Some of the magnets were longer, and protruded from the top of the pickup. This "staggered" magnet scheme was use to make the string-to-string balance more consistent, so that one string wouldn't be substantially louder than its neighbors. Fender continued to use this methodology with the Strat pickups beginning in 1954.
Consequently, many Fender replacement pickups are available with either staggered magnets, or non-staggered (like the original Broadcaster pickups). Some makers, like Fralin, also offer additional, hybrid stagger patterns that are intended to provide the best of both. There are different schools of thought about when each should be used.
There are two conditions that existed with the early Fender guitars that don't usually exist today: All of those early Fenders had a 7.25" fretboard radius, and they shipped with a wound G string. Some of the Reissue guitars still ship with a 7.25" radius, although - by a wide margin - these do not constitute the majority of Fender guitars produced today. But a very small percentage of current players use a wound G string.
Some manufacturers state that when a player has neither of these conditions present, they should choose non-staggered pickups. Others suggest that guitars with a rounder fretboard radius would benefit from the staggered magnets, even when a plain G string is in use.
Most of the pickup makers give their sets names, which we think is unfortunate. Words like Blues, Rock, and Hot suggest that certain pickups may be better suited for certain styles of music than others, but that has not been our experience. We think output should be chosen based on tonality. Weaker pickups tend to be brighter, and may be better suited for players who are looking for this tonality, or who have a guitar that is inherently warm-sounding, and would like to brighten it up a little. For the player with an overly-bright guitar, on the other hand, additional output might be desirable. Not because it lends itself to a heavier style of music, but just because its output might help warm up the guitar (assuming this is desired). In the end, tone is all about opinion, and we think tonal choices should be made based on what a person finds pleasing, rather than on what style of music they're playing.
About Lindy Fralin Pickups
Lindy Fralin is a pickup maker in Richmond, VA. He and his crew make many styles of pickups, and we have installed many of them into guitars over the years. We bought our first set of Fralin pickups at Lindy's original shop in the rear of a dentist's office in Richmond in 1993. We've been a dealer for most of the time since then. We used to stock about 150 Fralin SKUs, but we've now whittled our stock down to the core pieces.
Fralin covers all of the traditional bases: Strat, Tele, humbucker, and P-90s. But he also has many unique designs. In fact, Fralin has been one of the more innovative of the aftermarket pickup makers. While much smaller than the "big 3" (Duncan, DiMarzio, EMG), Fralin is widely recognized as one of the finest pickup makers on the planet. He has the golden reputation.
We've written extensively about potentiometers in a series of columns that were originally published in Premier Guitar Magazine, and you can access those articles here. While the sections below provide lots of useful information about pots, the Premier Guitar columns provide additional details and illustrations that you might find interesting.
We sell CTS pots. CTS is a large component manufacturer; they have many divisions and manufacture a wide range of electronic components. Their 450 series of pots is the brand most widely-used by American guitar manufacturers, like Fender, Gibson, PRS, Hamer, Music Man, Carvin, and many more. These are the best pots out there as far as we're concerned.
CTS doesn't inventory parts. That is, they have no warehouse where they have bins full of pots that are ready to ship, all pots are made to order. They have a standard catalog where the buyer chooses options from a long list, specifying what value they want; what tolerance; taper; bushing length; shaft style; shaft length; and much else. This generates an initial part number, which is sent to engineering, where a set of drawings is made and pricing is established. Pricing is provided to the customer in tiers, up to 50,000 - the more you buy, the cheaper they are. The buyer then receives a PDF specification acknowledgement with drawings and specs - they approve the drawings, cut a PO for the quantity they want to purchase, and the order goes into the CTS production queue. The parts arrive 8-10 weeks later.
All of the pots we buy from CTS - their 450S series - are ordered this way. They are all built to our specification, and are optimized for specific guitar applications.
Several years ago CTS started making available a generic-spec pot series, with part numbers that begin with 450G. This program consists of several common constructions, and are available to smaller dealers in smaller quantities than the 450S pots that we buy. These are available via guitar retailers, as well as large electronics suppliers like Mouser and Digi-Key.
Bourns is another player in the US guitar pot market, and we've had them make pots for us. Bourns has gone after CTS with some limited success, but they're still way behind in terms of market share. But they're eager, and they attend the winter NAMM show in Anaheim each year in hopes of gaining ground. They've even come out with some generic-spec pots specifically for the guitar market, which are available from the large electronics suppliers like Mouser and Digi-Key, places where we would never have seen guitar pots in the past. They've made pots for Gibson, and Seymour Duncan has had pots made by them, like the YJM low-torque pots that Duncan offers. So while they're not nearly as large a player in guitar pots as CTS, they've established themselves as a respected manufacturer.
We had Bourns make push/pull pots for us in the past, because CTS didn't offer DPDT push/pull pots at that time. This has now changed, and all of the pots we have made for us now come from CTS.
There is an awful lot of bad information out there about pots. Some of it is perpetuated by people regurgitating what they've heard or read elsewhere, people who don't really know what they're talking about, but who also have no agenda or ulterior motive. But much of the misinformation has been intentionally created by people in the industry for the sole purpose of building a mystery, so that they can sell what they claim are special or unique products that only they know about. You know, superpots. These sellers would have you believe that they know a secret that the rest of the world isn't privy to, but don't you believe it.
You can see from the CTS ordering process outlined above how this works. There are no secrets - CTS offers the same list of options to everybody - the people selling what they claim are better products are just specifying different options when they order their pots. In our estimation this does consumers a disservice, because the audio specs that have become de facto standards were not arrived at arbitrarily by Leo Fender or Seth Lover or George Beauchamp or any of the other early electric guitar pioneers. Instead, they were arrived at because they make sense from an engineering and human-physiology standpoint. We won't go into this in detail here - if you want more depth, we've written a slew of articles that discuss pot operation in detail and you can find them here. And here is a page that specifically addresses the myths surrounding "superpots".
Pots come with an audio-taper or a linear-taper. Our pots are almost all audio-taper, we only stock linear-taper pots for certain Fender guitars (Jaguars and Jazzmasters).
Humans hear changes in volume in a non-linear way, and this is the purpose of audio-taper pots. Guitars almost always used audio-taper pots for volume controls, and most also use audio-taper for tone controls. Audio-taper volume pots allow for smoother, more-even increases and decreases in volume than a linear-taper pot would, and this sounds pleasing to human ears.
There are different types of audio curves, and you can find all sorts of oblique references to them on the Internet. For instance, you might read something like this:
back in the good old days it was - modern audio pots normally have a ratio of 80:20 which is not very useful, older pots from the 50 ́s and 60 ́s (eg. the famous CENTRALAB audio pots) had a ratio of 70:30 or even better 60:40 which is ideal for guitar use
...whatever that means. The truth is that where tapers for CTS potentiometers are concerned, there is only one value that is specified, and that's the midpoint value. And there's one midpoint value that has been the de facto standard for many decades, because it works, and that's 10%. If you're interested, you can read a lot more about this here, and here.
Generally, split-shaft pots are used where the knob that's attached will push on to the pot. Solid-shaft pots are used for knobs that are held on with a setscrew.
Split-shaft pots have a toothed pattern machined into their shaft, and this pattern comes in two varieties: 18 teeth or 24 teeth. Historically, American pot manufacturers used 24 teeth, and this is what CTS continues to use today. However, nearly every other manufacturer, Bourns included, uses 18 teeth as their default.
This is important, as many molded plastic knobs have corresponding teeth molded into their bores. Gibson knobs, for instance, are molded with 24 teeth, and the plastic is hard and fairly brittle. Trying to force one onto a pot with an 18-tooth shaft can cause the knob to fracture internally, or even to break into pieces. It's also fairly common, given the force with which people try to coerce them onto the shaft, for the knob to push the pot apart (the shaft forces the back of the pot off, and the whole shaft pushes right through the rear of the pot).
The reverse of this is also true. Most Epiphone guitars shipped from the factory with knobs that were molded with 18 teeth. Trying to force these onto the 24-tooth shafts of CTS pots can produce the same result. It's for this reason that we stock appropriate 24-tooth Gibson-style knobs, to complement our CTS pots.
Genuine Fender Strat knobs have no teeth molded in; they're made of softer plastic and have a smooth bore, and the teeth on the shaft (whether 18 or 24) impress their pattern into the plastic when the knob is pushed into place. On the other hand, most aftermarket Strat-style knobs do have teeth molded in. And since most of these come from China, they are usually 18-tooth, not 24.
Solid-shaft pots are designed for knobs with setscrews. There are many plastic knobs with setscrews (Jazz Bass/Jaguar/Mustang knobs, chicken-head knobs) and metal knobs with setscrews (Tele/P-Bass knobs). The setscrew tightens against the shaft, locking the knob to it. CTS pots have shafts that are nominally 1/4" in diameter, while most other makers use metric pot shafts and knobs, and these are smaller in diameter. Not by much, but by enough that if you use CTS pots, you'll want to make sure you have appropriate knobs. The knobs we sell are genuine Fender and are designed for 1/4" shafts. The only way to use most imported setscrew knobs on CTS pots is to drill out the inside of the knob's bore, which is easier said than done, even if you have a drill press (just try to hold that knob from spinning when the drill bit engages it there, Bwana).
One other caution with imported guitars is that many of them have metal knobs that are similar in appearance to Tele knobs, so you might assume that they're held in place with setscrews, like Fender knobs. But many of these have molded plastic inserts that have a toothed pattern, and it's inevitably the 18-tooth pattern, not the 24-tooth pattern. If you don't see setscrews around the perimeter of your metal knobs, then they just pull straight off. Pull them off, and you'll see that the guitar will have imported (18-tooth) split-shaft pots.
Bushing Thread Size
With the exception of the mini-pots that we buy from Fender for Jazzmasters and Jaguars, all of our pots have the same bushing diameter and thread, which is 3/8-32 (the bushing is the threaded portion of the pot). That's 3/8" diameter, 32 threads per inch.
This is larger than the metric threads used on most imported guitars (imported from our American perspective, that is), so holes in imported guitars usually have to be enlarged to admit the CTS pot bushings. The safest way for most users to do this is with a reamer, which allows you to enlarge in a slow and steady fashion until the desired hole size is reached, and without damaging the finish. Traditional twist drills should not be used, as it's nearly impossible to control the feed rate, and chipping of both the wood and the finish is the typical result.
Pots are offered with various bushing lengths to accommodate different mounting scenarios. The traditional length for Fender pots has always been 1/4" (.250"), as Fender pots nearly always mount to a thin material like a pickguard or a metal plate. 1/4" is long enough to allow the bushing to first pass through a thin lockwasher on the inside, then through the pickguard or plate, and finally allow a flat washer and nut to be installed on the outside. Fender often doesn't use washers on the outside, which is unfortunate. But more on that in a minute.
Pots that are going to mount to something thicker, like a rear-routed guitar - where they will pass through the body - need to have longer bushings. 3/8" (.375") is the length that was traditionally used by Gibson and some of the other U.S. makers, like Gretsch. However, even this length isn't long enough to comfortably pass through an internal lockwasher, then the wood, then a flat washer, and still allow you to install the nut. We typically use 1/2" (.500") lengths for this reason, which we've had made specifically for rear-rout guitars. All of our SG, 335, and Les Paul kits use this length, as do some of our ToneShaper products. We also offer some of our Fender kits in this length, for those people who are working with a rear-routed Strat body (from Warmoth, for instance) and who need the longer bushing lengths.
Long-Bushing Pots for Les Pauls
You will also find 3/4" (.750") lengths out there for use in Les Pauls. In the late 1970s, Gibson started pre-assembling the four pots onto a metal plate which served several purposes: It allowed some preliminary soldering of the pots to be done outside the guitar, easing production, and minimizing risk to guitar finishes; and the plate also served as the base for a shielding enclosure.
As you can see in the image above, the 3/4" pot bushings provided ample length to secure the pots to the plate, and then to slide that sub-assembly into the guitar and secure it with additional hardware.
In Gibson's early use of this method, once the pots/plate were installed into the guitar and the rest of the connections from the pickups and switch were soldered into place, a pressed metal box was inserted into the control cavity, which encapsulated the electronic components. This box was 5-sided (it had V-shaped notches cut out on two sides for the pickup/switch/jack wires to pass through), and once it was screwed to the flat plate that the pots were mounted to (which acted as the sixth side), the metal box was completed, and the pots and capacitors were then enclosed in this box. This shielded them from EMI/RFI (ElectroMagnetic Interference/Radio-Frequency Interference). When you removed the rear plastic cavity-cover from one of these guitars, you would see only the inverted 5-sided box, and the heads of the two screws that connected it to the baseplate. Removing the screws would allow you to slide the box out of the cavity, exposing the pots and caps.
Gibson stopped using the box at some point, though they continued to use the flat plate. ToneShapers wiring kits with 1/2" pots will not provide the length required to use this plate. If your guitar has the plate installed and you want to continue to use it, you'll need to buy a wiring kit with 3/4" pot bushings.
However, the plate is not required at all, and provides negligible benefit other than to make a convenient fixture with which to hold the pots, while pre-soldering the pots and caps outside of the guitar. With our 1/2" pot kits, it can still be used for this purpose, and then the sub-assembled pots/caps can simply be removed from the plate and installed directly into the guitar. As far as any shielding value is concerned, if EMI/RFI shielding is desired (it's a good thing, after all), then you're much better off to just shield the control cavity and the inside of the rear cover plate, as this provides much more comprehensive shielding than just having the plate in there.
Torque is the measure of how easy or difficult it is to turn the pot's shaft. CTS offers several torque ranges, but their pots can generally be lumped into two categories: High-torque and low-torque, and you can tell them apart in an instant visually. The high-torque design is the one Gibson has used for years - with the flat back. The low-torque design is what Fender has nearly always used, it has the dimpled back, with the tip of the shaft protruding through the dimpled cover.
We have spoken with many people over the years who have wanted to make sure that the pots used in our Strat and Tele kits wouldn't be hard to turn, saying that they had experienced this with other aftermarket parts. The reason they may have experienced this is that there have been many companies out there selling generic-spec CTS high-torque pots (with the flat backs) for Strats and Teles. But we know the difference, so we spec them right.
Actually, we even go one step further by ordering low-torque pots for our Gibson kits. In fact, nearly all of our pots are the low-torque design. We find that players tend to prefer them once they've tried them (this phenomenon has led to the development of several aftermarket pots from other manufacturers - such as the Bourns-sourced YJM pots from Seymour Duncan - that are also low-torque designs).
A pot is just a variable resistor, and the value indicates how much resistance (to current flow) will be measured from one outer leg of the pot to the other outer leg (measuring across the two outer legs yields the full value of the pot). The value is measured in ohms, though guitar circuits typically use pots that are measured in kilohms or megohms: 250k, 10k, 1M. We have some technical articles that explain pots more fully here.
What probably matters to you is how the value will affect the tone of your guitar. All other things being equal, the higher the value of the volume pot, the brighter the guitar will be, even when the guitar is turned fully up. Gibson guitars with humbuckers - which tend to be more midrange-heavy than some other guitars - have typically shipped with 500k pots (they can stand a little brightness), while Fender guitars - which tend to be inherently brighter to start with - have typically shipped with 250k pots.
So you can play with values, nothing is written in stone. If you have a Fender guitar that you feel is just a little too inherently dark-sounding, for example, and you wouldn't mind brightening it up a little, then you could try 500k pots instead of the 250k pots that probably came in the guitar, and see if you like that better. The tonal difference is subtle though, it's not anything like as noticeable as the tonal shift that a tone control is capable of (and we're talking about doubling the value; small changes like 250k vs. 270k - for instance - will be completely imperceptible to most people, at least in true double-blind testing). But hey, it's one more thing to play with.
By the way, some people mistakenly think that higher-output pickups need higher-value pots, as the pots need to be substantially badass to be able to shut down all that output. This isn't the case, as volume pots have one of their lugs connected to ground. Turning the pot all the way down shunts the pickup to ground, and you can trust that ground is sufficiently badass to shut down any pickup, no matter it's output.
This refers to pots that are ordered with a configuration that allows them to be used in many guitars, while not being optimized for any one specifically. Often, for instance, you'll see such pots with molded or stamped pins that would allow them to be mounted to a circuit board with specified "clocking". That is, the circuit board would have a small hole - precisely located - that would engage the pin on the pot, so that the pot would be pointed in a specific direction. If you're not using the pot in a circuit-board application, then the pin needs to be removed for the pot to mount properly. Who needs that hassle?
Or, a CTS pot might be offered that will have a longer bushing (3/8") and be of the high-torque (flat back) design, even though it's being marketed for Strat or Tele use.
We don't stock generic-spec pots. Everything we buy we either get directly from CTS so we can spec it for a specific application, or we buy from Fender (Jaguar/Jazzmaster pots, predominantly), where they've ordered them for specific applications. Our pots are the right stuff, always.
As outlined in the section on jacks, the use of correct hardware is important. Lockwashers on the inside, which bite into both the pot itself and the surface it's mounted to. This provides a mechanical benefit, as it helps to prevent the pot from rotating, allowing you to tighten the mounting nut securely. But it also provides a shielding benefit in many guitars by providing a solid mechanical connection between the pot and ground, assuming that the surface the pot is mounted to is shielded (like the foil or shielding plate on the back of a Strat's pickguard, or a Tele's control plate, or a control cavity that's been painted with shielding paint or lined with foil). Lockwashers - good stuff.
And don't forget the flat washer on the outside, under the nut. The washer's purpose is to provide a hard surface for the nut to bear against, allowing you to get it tighter than if the nut were instead digging into a Strat's pickguard (for instance). Mechanical fasteners need to stretch in order to provide clamping force - like a rubber band (yes really) - and so it's important that you be able to tighten them securely if you don't want them to keep coming loose.
Fender uses lugs like the one in the image above to connect shielding paint to ground. Here's the story:
Shielding is the act of lining an electrical enclosure (in our case, a guitar's control cavity) with material that is electrically conductive. This material is then connected to ground, making the enclosure act like a sort of cloaking device (hah!), which means that the electronic circuitry inside the enclosure is shielded from external sources of hum, including EMI (ElectroMagnetic Interference) and RFI (Radio-Frequency Interference). Shielding is generally a good thing.
The material that's used to line the cavity is usually either some sort of foil, or conductive paint. Fender uses the latter on much of its US and Mexican products. They spray the cavity with shielding paint before spraying the top coats, and then they connect the shielding paint to ground. The screw and lug above are the method they use to do this. Sometimes you'll find that a section of the top paint coats - that have been sprayed over the shielding paint - has been removed, exposing the shielding paint underneath. The lug above is then screwed down to this area, and a wire attaches the lug to ground, which connects the shielding paint to ground. Sometimes there is none of the top coat removed, but the screw pierces the outer layers, making contact with the shielding paint beneath. You can watch a short video we made about this here.
What is DPDT?
DPDT is short for Double Pole, Double Throw. The double pole part means that the switch has two poles, or is essentially two switches in one. A single actuator toggles both halves of the switch simultaneously between position 1 and position 2. Each half is actually a switch unto itself. Some wiring schemes would use only one half or the other (such as to split a single humbucker); some would use both halves, but where each performs a separate job (such as having the switch split two humbuckers simultaneously: Effectively, each half is performing an independent function, which is to split a single humbucker); and still others would need to use both halves of the switch - both poles - to perform a single function (such as reversing the phase of one pickup relative to another).
Double throw means that the switch is a 2-position switch.
Oak-Grigsby and CRL are both owned by parent company Electroswitch. Oak-Grigsby switches are made in Mexico, while CRL switches are made in the US.
Like CRL, Oak-Grigsby makes standard 3-way and 5-way lever switches, as well as several switch models that CRL doesn't offer, such as 4-way switches and superswitches. They can also make many of their switches with PCB lugs, for mounting to a circuit board, and we use these on our ToneShaper NextGen units. There are other companies that make superswitches (such as Schaller and Yamaha), but we find the Oak-Grigsby switches to be preferable.
Fender uses Oak-Grigsby switches in most current USA and Mexican guitar production. We use Oak-Grigsby switches in any of our kits that call for 4-way switches or superswitches, or where PCB mounting is required. Otherwise we use CRL.
Oak-Grigsby and CRL are both owned by parent company Electroswitch. Oak-Grigsby switches are made in Mexico, while CRL switches are made in the US. CRL makes 3-way and 5-way switches, and they command a premium over Oak-Grigsby switches. These are the best lever-style guitar switches on the market.
The very first Fender guitars used CRL (Centralab) switches, and this is the only brand of lever switch that Fender used for decades. At some point (1990s?) they found they could save a substantial amount of money each year by changing to Oak-Grigsby switches, and so they made the change. We don't have the same cost constraints: We want the best, and CRL is it. We use these in all kits that require standard 3-way and 5-way switches.
Switchcraft Slide Switches
Switchcraft slide switches have been used by Fender since the 1950s for both guitar and amp production. Jazzmasters, Jaguars, Mustangs, and others have all come with Switchcraft slide switches, and the American guitars still come with them.
We stock these in two-position and three-position versions, both available with black actuators. We also have the three-position switch with white actuators, for use in certain Mustangs.
Switchcraft Toggle Switch - Fender
Switchcraft has been the preferred vendor for toggle switches by both Fender and Gibson, and also by most of the other American guitar companies (PRS, Hamer, Ernie Ball, etc.). Gibson has used Switchcraft since at least the 1940s, and Fender has used Switchcraft since the 1950s for both guitars and amps.
The switch above is identical to the one below, but we buy it from Fender, so it comes equipped for use on a Jazzmaster, with a hex nut and cream switch cap.
Switchcraft Toggle Switches - Gibson
Switchcraft has been the preferred vendor for toggle switches by both Fender and Gibson, and also by most of the other American guitar companies (PRS, Hamer, Ernie Ball, etc.). Gibson has used Switchcraft since at least the 1940s, and Fender has used Switchcraft since the 1950s for both guitars and amps.
Gibson's version of this switch comes with a knurled nut rather than a hex nut, as used on every Les Paul since 1952.
Switchcraft Toggle Switches - Tinned Lugs
All Switchcraft toggles, whether right-angle (shown) or straight, come with pre-tinned leads. The tinning makes it convenient to solder to the lugs, but also gives some people the impression that the switches have been used. This is not the case at all, and in fact the tinning can be seen in images of the switches in Switchraft's own literature.
Switchcraft makes a deep nut for certain applications, where the threaded bushing of the switch is not sufficiently long to permit installation of the nut after the switch has been installed. In a Jazzmaster installation, for example - where the switch is being mounted to a thin substrate (a pickguard), this isn't a problem. But if the same switch is installed in an ES-335, where the threaded portion of the switch must pass through the face of the guitar, there are not enough threads visible after installation to install the nut. The deep nut alleviates this problem, it has threads that extend down into the hole to reach the switch's threads.
You may have noticed that when you turn down the volume control on some guitars (all vintage guitars), the tone changes too. The treble frequencies are attenuated, and the tone becomes somewhat dull. This is something that many people have never noticed - while it drives other people crazy - but if you check it out then you’ll find that the tonal change really is there, even though you may never have noticed. And like many things, once you hear it, it's hard to un-hear it.
The treble-bleed is a resistor/capacitor (RC) network that can be used to address this problem. These things are used in many modern guitars, so if your guitar doesn't seem to sound any different at lower volumes than at higher volumes, then it's likely your guitar has one of these in it. It's easy to see, it's connected across two of the volume pot's three solder lugs.
There are different ways to use these. Some people use just a capacitor, while others use a resistor and capacitor wired in series. But the way that most of the larger players do it (Fender, for instance), is to use a resistor and capacitor in parallel, as shown in the image above. Of course, there are different values that can be used, and there is much debate on forum sites about what's wrong and what's right. And there are people who state that these things "kill your tone", etc. But that's not our experience, and we've put them under the microscope. In electronics, nothing is free. If you get a little over here, you give a little over there, there are no inconsequential actions. But our experience is that these treble bleed circuits pretty handily address the treble roll off. You can give one a try and see what you think.