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Do Wiring, Pots and Caps make THAT much difference in sound?

posted Apr 16, 2014 19:53:43 by stanton.kramer
I will stipulate that the cheap Chinese pots and wiring will not last the test of time. But considering how much the pickups, amp and the wood of the guitar contributes to the sound, how much difference in SOUND does the wiring make?

Asked another way, does it make sense to put new pickups in a Chinese guitar (or Ephiphone) without doing a rewire?
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20 replies
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ParéjJózsef said Apr 16, 2014 21:10:28
it absolutely makes sense in my opinion, the first guitar I ever owned had(and still has) the chinese mini pots, and they work- they started making weird noises after about 2 years, but, in fact, they still work after 8 years- from that point, it entirely depends on the way you use them- if you leave them on 10 all the time, they don't make too much difference, if you like to fiddle with them, they must go.
Just call me Joe ;)
Proud owner of my 7-string "Bear" LP.
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RhysPrice said Apr 16, 2014 23:12:26
If youre putting decent pick ups in you dont want to be using crappy pot's that are probably way off 500k ohm's all unbalanced with dodgy wiring and switch/jack plug and cap's, for what it cost's it's well worth replacing, you only have to do it once.
[Last edited Apr 16, 2014 23:21:16]
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MichaelWamback said Apr 17, 2014 06:35:35
Pots can make a difference for a couple of reasons. As stated above, 500k isn't necessarily 500k - and different values will result in differences in sound. Some pots also have a nicer taper than others, and then there's a huge difference in audio vs. linear taper if you do volume swells.

Wire doesn't necessarily make all that much difference. In theory it would, if there were a lot of it (such as in your long guitar cable.) But the lengths of wire in a guitar itself are generally too short to create all that much difference (assuming the gauge is the same.)

Caps do make a difference if the value is different. In terms of construction material (paper in oil, mylar etc.) some people do claim that they make a difference. The science, however, suggests strongly that they don't based on the way that they are used in a guitar tone circuit vs. an amp. In a guitar circuit, all the signal passing through the capacitor is going to ground, so essentially being removed from the signal that you amp is going to hear. The best scientific tests I've seen (while not prefect) have also suggested no difference if the values are the same. And my personal opinion is that they don't make any difference at all - and the differences we think we hear are entirely explainable in the selective way that human hearing works (again, backed by experts in the audio industry.) In essence, the ear will focus on different elements of the tone, which changes the way it sounds to us even though it is the same. So no, my humble opinion is that caps don't matter.

While that, I believe, is true - I still believe in using good quality capacitors. The reason for this is that poorly constructed capacitors may experience a change in their values with fluctuations in temperature, or their values may change (drift) over time. For this reason, I believe in using quality caps. But you can purchase excellent quality capacitors for under $5 each.

And all of these things are going to create minor changes in tone when compared to the impact you will have with pedals, amps and so forth. Changing from a Marshall to an Orange amp will do a lot more to change your tone than anything you could possibly do to your guitar.
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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MichaelWamback said Apr 17, 2014 14:29:37
Having slept on it, I wanted to elaborate a bit on wire.

The wire itself is not going to make a difference, but the way the guitar is wired certainly will. Vintage 50's style wire in a LP/SG functions differently from modern wiring. Not to mention that you can also use many wiring mods if you install push/pull pots (putting the pickups out of phase or coil splitting if you have 4 wire pups.) All of that will have an impact on your tone.
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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stanton.kramer said Apr 19, 2014 18:36:07
Thanks for your replies. I suppose the basis of my question is the question of cost vs sale ability. I knew going in my Chibson was going to be a keeper and so I didn't mind putting the money in, even letting professionals do a lot of the work at premium rate. However, having recently purchased an Epiphone LP, as it is my 2nd LP I'm more apt to sell it down the road. The wiring in it was on par with my original Chibson wiring. Perceive the Epi to have better pickups although they lack the clarity of my Porter pickups (but ought to be clearer at $200). Since the stock Epi pickups are only 2 wire, rewiring for a Jimmy Page or split coil is out of the question. It basically leaves modern wiring (which I assume it currently has) or 50's. Sure, I could rewire the thing myself for about $50, but then I start getting into the area of not being able to get my money out of it. With my other guitars, other than my Chibson, I can at least strip them of the upgrades, reinstall the original parts and sell off the stuff separately with minimal loss. I'm not in the mood to over improve my Epi.

So for now, I'm going to stick with the Chinese wiring (or whatever country it comes from) until something fails. FWIW I did have to replace a tone pot, but had an original left over from my Chibson, so it was only 20 minutes of time (wishing I had a better soldering iron :().

Thanks again for the responses.
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MichaelWamback said Apr 20, 2014 05:44:09
In terms of resale value, upgrading electronics will seldom increase the value of the instrument. You could possibly recover some of your expenses if you sell brand name pickups, but even then they would usually be for less than you payed for them. Nobody will by a used set of pups for full retail price for a new set.

There is a guy on Ebay who has been trying to sell an "original wiring harness" for a vintage EDS-1275 for the past couple years. He has been asking almost $1,000 for it, and not surprisingly has no interest. At the end of the day, it's an old piece of vintage braid wire and a couple of old Gibson pots that were probably taken out because they were crap to begin with. And having it in your EDS is not going to add any resale value to the guitar.

Original pups can have some value, and original hardware - but not electronics for the most part.
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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stanton.kramer said Apr 22, 2014 15:39:35
Over the weekend I came upon a sale of a digital multimeter; something I did not yet own. So I bought it and started measuring pots.

My Chinese post came in at around 461k. My Fender 500k pot measured 505k. The freakiest measurement came with my TBX controller. The 250k side maxed at 193k, but the center detent was neutral and the 1000k side measured almost exactly that.

I opened my Chibson and Epi but while installed, for whatever reason, I could not measure the resistance of the volume pots. They gave me an odd reading of .012 or such. I'm sure I should be able to read the resistance while installed. Either I'm doing something wrong or they were meant to be measured outside of the guitar. Thoughts?

So I am now thinking about rewiring my Epi with Gibson pots, modern wiring with treble bleed. Proabaly won't do it til I change strings. But I would think that 10% difference off of rated peak would provide a significant tonal change.
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SteveTebble said Apr 22, 2014 16:32:09
If you try to measure resistance of pots in situ, I believe some of the current leaks through the pickup giving a false reading.
God give me patience ... but I want it NOW!!
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stanton.kramer said Apr 22, 2014 17:22:58
At one time I had a more expensive meter from Radio Shack for a couple days, but thought twice about the expenditure as it was $45. This one was $20. It's supposed to do much of the same stuff. I *thought* I was able to measure resistance with the pots installed, but perhaps I am not remembering correctly. This meter is giving what I presume to be accurate readings on unistalled pots. I'm even getting a reading on the one capacitor that I have laying around.

Thanks.
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RhysPrice said Apr 23, 2014 02:00:06
You would have to unground the pot to take a reading otherwise you will be adding the resistance of everything connected to earth/ground.
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MichaelWamback said Apr 23, 2014 06:20:05
I personally wouldn't use Gibson pots. CTS are going to be the same price range as the Gibson pots and are the best on the market. You can even get them with the vintage "dimple" if you desire. And your Gibson knobs will fit the CTS pots with no problem (not your Chibson knobs though - those have the Asian/metric/coarse shafts.)
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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stanton.kramer said Apr 23, 2014 16:28:39
I think you're right. CTS pots are probably a decent choice. The Chibson knobs DID fit the CTS pots on my Chibson, but might have to get new ones for the Epi.

Still thinking about removing the p/u covers on the Epi. What will removing the covers do to the sound? FWIW the Epi pickups are hotter than my Porter pickups in the Chibson but not quite as clean. I'd love to have 4 wire pups but don't think I'd spend the money just for that. The pickups on the Epi are quite good out of the box. Just looking for a little more clarity and possibly a little more punch in the neck pickup. What do you think?
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GuitarNut said Apr 23, 2014 18:30:29
I think the biggest difference that pots make is that the high quality ones just last a bit longer. On some older guitars I have the cheap pots started to crackle and feel gritty after a few years, and so I upgraded them once this happened.

Similarly cheap guitars are often badly soldered, and over time the connections can break, and thus hiss and crackle.

If you are adding new pickups and caps, sometimes it is worthwhile to re solder the whole thing. It should not change the sound of your guitar, but can make it more reliable.
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MichaelWamback said Apr 23, 2014 20:30:39
I agree - it's not about tone but rather reliability. Use CTS for USA spec knobs and Bourns if you want to use Asian spec knobs, and you will have trouble free operation for years. In fact, I seem to recall that the Bourns pots are sealed, so that dust can't get into them. But so long as the pots measure about the same on a meter, you aren't going to notice any difference in your sound. (Not every 500k pot is 500k - some will measure around 490 and others as high as 530 or so - and differences of value will make a difference in sound.)

I'm thinking that covers off will make the pickups a bit louder perhaps, and maybe a bit more clear. Sometimes covers can make them a bit more microphonic as well.
The two most important things to remember in life: "The only time it's acceptable to work with amateurs is if you are making porn." "If you want to work with clowns, join a circus."
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TelepathicTrafic said Apr 24, 2014 14:07:02
Better POTs will control the tone/volume more effectively. Also the CAPs will roll differently depending on the values in conjunction with the PUPs. Also, the wiring can make a difference for example modern vs 50s wiring style. I suppose in theory if you play wide open all the time, the difference won't be much, but more reliable components will serve you well over time, and the satisfaction from doing your own rewire will be well worth the effort. Just my opinion.
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