Do potentiometers really make a difference in tone?

Discussion in 'Tech-Talk' started by squierTony, Nov 15, 2019.

  1. Dr Improbable

    Dr Improbable Squier-holic

    Apr 4, 2015
    I know what I like, and if I like it I'm not changing anything!
    so1om likes this.
  2. SoundDesign

    SoundDesign Squier-holic

    Between the ears, it definitely makes a difference, just like 75% of all the rest of the stuff we fiddle with.
    DrBeGood and Kenneth Mountain like this.
  3. VMamp

    VMamp Squier-Meister

    Jan 28, 2019
    United Kingdom
    The word 'placebo' comes to mind. The physical properties that affect relative tone and volume are capacitance and resistance. Since we are discussing tone then we are really interested in the effects of capacitance since it is this property that affects the high frequency content of the signal generated from the pick up. Capacitance will exist between our wiring but is extremely low but you may notice its effect in guitar leads that are long and heavily shielded with a noticeable drop in high frequencies.

    Regards potentiometers, the capacitive effect is extremely low, so low it would be unlikely to have any audible effect. Cheaper potentiometers can be poor regards actual resistance value compared to stated value which, if significant, could affect perceived output volume but heard as a difference in tone.

    I use dime size pots in my guitars and the amps I build - they are as good as any other available.
  4. Kenneth Mountain

    Kenneth Mountain Squier-Axpert

    Do you use a name brand pots ?
  5. TimTheViking

    TimTheViking Squier-holic

    As you turn the volume down, the signal strength at the output jack drops. Of course it's going to affect tone as a lower voltage signal is now being processed. What once may have been a signal high enough to push the pre-amp tubes or transistors to the point of saturation no longer does so the tone changes. As the signal goes through the tone stack, the output can be different as well. And since every device in the signal path is different, by the time the signal hits the speakers, the original amplitude of the signal can have a marked affect on the final tone.
  6. Kenneth Mountain

    Kenneth Mountain Squier-Axpert

    so treble bleeds do not do what I think ?
  7. Triple Jim

    Triple Jim Squier-holic

    Treble bleeds work very well to counteract the high-cut effect of cable capacitance. As the volume control is turned down, the overall impedance of the guitar goes up a lot. As it does, the capacitance of the cable finds it easier to cut high frequencies. The treble bleed capacitor sneaks some highs around the resistance of the volume potentiometer to counteract this loss.
    so1om, MrYeats and Kenneth Mountain like this.
  8. Kenneth Mountain

    Kenneth Mountain Squier-Axpert

    I can tell the difference between my guitars that have it and ones that don't ! Do you use name brand pots ? small or large ? I apologize if you already stated .
    MrYeats likes this.
  9. Triple Jim

    Triple Jim Squier-holic

    I try to use high quality pots. There really is a difference in quality between brands and models. I don't have a favorite brand, but I certainly avoid no-name very cheap ones. Size is not a very big factor in determining quality though. You can look at the product lines of Bourns, CTS, etc., check the cycle-life specs, and see that it's not very closely linked to size.

    Some Honeywell high-reliability conductive plastic pots (not a carbon resistance track) are rated at 10 million cycles. The trouble is you can't always find pots like that in 250kohm or 500kohm audio taper like we need in guitars. Here are some 3/4" diameter pots with plastic housings that are high-accuracy for use in servo controls. They have a 10 million cycle rating. Unfortunately they're available only in the range of 500 ohms to 50 kohms.
    so1om, Angry Possum, Afrika61 and 2 others like this.
  10. Ace38

    Ace38 Squier-holic

    Jul 19, 2016
    Tulsa, OK.
    I look at it like this..and I know you true believers will believe whatever you want to and thats fine, its your money not mine. But....the wisdom is "well, the full size pots are better because thats what they originally used". Well, back then a computer filled an entire room. So are the computers now worse than the ones then because they're smaller? Technology has allowed us to make things better, more powerful and smaller sized for less money.
  11. pflug

    pflug Squier-Nut

    Oct 11, 2013

    The materials making up the pickup base plate, slugs, screws, etc that can affect the actual signal being generated where the pots, unless defective are just carrying the signal and not really changing it, just bleeding off parts of the signal

    Better quality parts are normally more consistent as far as values and should be more durable

    The biggest appeal of larger pots is the "vintage" aspect- they were used in the past because that's what was available as a standard part then. Smaller pots would normally be considered a modern improvement anywhere else. Nobody ever talks about cloth insulation being superior to modern materials when wiring their house lol.
    Paper in oil capacitors are an outdated design offering no performance advantage that generate lots and lots of dollars from the serious tone seekers

    Larger pots are more difficult to kill by do-it-yourselfers with poor soldering skills :)
  12. mrriggs

    mrriggs Squier-Meister

    Apr 27, 2018
    Vancouver, WA
    From a truly scientific signal processing perspective, the size/construction of a pot will have zero effect on tone if the resistances are the same. The differences are all in the 'feel'.

    The physical feel when turning it; too loose, too tight, shaft wobbles in the hole, sometimes they can even feel gritty like they never blew the chips off after machining the bushing. A higher quality pot is better made and has a better feel. If the dime-size pots you have don't posses any of these physical feel issues, or if you simply don't care about such things, then you won't gain anything by switching to higher quality pots. Size really isn't the issue here, it's build quality. There are good dime-size pots and crappy full-size pots.

    Related to the physical feel would be knob selection. You may want to replace the pots to get shafts that will accept higher quality knobs. Again, it has no effect on the tone but the guitar 'feels' more substantial and is more enjoyable to pick up and play (if that sort of thing matters to you).

    The biggest 'feel' issue [to me anyway] is the pot taper. When a pot has an abrupt taper, works more like an on-off switch than a variable control, then I replace them. This can have some effect on tone. If the pot turns off at 1 and is full-on at 3 then you are going to have a hard time finding the sweet spot. This is especially annoying when plugged into my little Champ-clone which has no tone or volume controls. On the other hand, players that turn all the guitar knobs to 10 then dial in their tone with pedals and amp EQ won't have any issues with the taper.

    What it all comes down to is personal preference. If the pots in your guitar posses some trait that is annoying to you then there is certainly a benefit to replacing them. Don't let internet-wisdom tell you that you have to replace them because bigger pots are better. Likewise, don't keep annoying pots because the other-internet-wisdom says that it doesn't matter.
  13. LutherBurger

    LutherBurger Squier-holic

    Sep 2, 2015
    I like Alpha pots -- yep, even the small ones -- better than any of the CTS pots I own.

    CTS shafts always wobble a little, and the rotators in mine slam into their stops when I turn them all the way up -- and, as those of you who play Telecaster bridge pickups with any respectable amount of gain know, these noises can be heard through the amp. The Alpha pots I have are nice and quiet.
  14. Ace38

    Ace38 Squier-holic

    Jul 19, 2016
    Tulsa, OK.
    But they do when it comes to pickup wiring! Crazy!
    Kenneth Mountain likes this.
  15. littlebadboy

    littlebadboy Squier-Meister

    Jul 13, 2018
    I'm not sure about if branded quality electronics produce better tone. But I can say it feels so nice switching or turning them. For example, I was given a Schaller switch for my guitar project. Gosh, I could feel how robust and nice to switch. It gives me confidence that everything works. Same as when I replaced import mini pots with nice Bourns. It feels orgasmic!
    Kenneth Mountain likes this.
  16. Angry Possum

    Angry Possum Squier-holic

    Oct 30, 2019
    Squier Town NY
    I believe its all hype. Rolloff on pots are different as I suppose caps too. Again, I'm not sold on all the hype. 250k 500k. A or B pots. Its all distractions to me. Focus more on playing than the ingredients I say....

  17. TheQuietOne

    TheQuietOne Squier Talker

    Aug 11, 2019
    oshkosh, wi
    Same value compared to same value it shouldn't make any difference as long as the quality is decent. Any time I've had problems with pots, a good cleaning usually sets them right and seeing as I'm very mediocre at soldering it's saved me a lot of aggravation too.
    NearlyBigAngus likes this.
  18. tuner sandwich

    tuner sandwich Squier Talker

    Jul 27, 2019
    SC, US
    A pot is a pot as long as it works without scratches or deadspots. But now a quality switch is worth every penny. A confident snap is very satisfying.
  19. fattboyzz

    fattboyzz Squier-holic

    Nov 29, 2017
    Newnan ,Ga.
  20. Best1989

    Best1989 Squier-holic

    Apr 25, 2019
    I saw that video last night and was going to post it.

    I think that the pots matter, but for different reasons than what most vendors try to make us believe.
    Mr Bones likes this.