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Terms of Use

This Guitar Electronics book is Copyright © 2008. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a re trieval system, or transmitted by any means; electronic, mechanical, photo copying, recording or otherwise, without written permission from the copyright holders. You do not have any right to distribute an y part of this book in any way at all. T. Swike and Indy Ebooks are the sole distributors. Violators will be prosecuted.

Adjusting, changing, adding, or removing the electronics in any device can be dangerous and can cause injuries. This author assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage caused by the use of this guide, or products we sell, whether by accident, negligence, or otherwise. Please note that this book is for educational purposes only. Only qualified personnel should carry out any electrical work. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Please send questions or comments to: indyebooks@aol.com

  Several trademarks are used in this book for narrative purposes. Les Paul® and
Several trademarks are used in this book for narrative purposes. Les Paul®
and Gibson® are trademarks of Gibson USA. Fender®, Stratocaster®, Strat®,
Telecaster®, Tele®, are the trademarks of Fender Musical Instruments.
Guitarfetish, GFS, MODboards, and Xaviere Guitars are all trademarks of GF
Sales LLC. Other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS

WIRING A LES PAUL

5

UNDERSTANDING SWITCHES

83

UNDERSTANDING POTENTIOMETERS

117

UNDERSTANDING CAPACITORS

131

HOT ROD TECHNIQUES

146

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

181

HOW TO MODIFY A BOSS DS-1 PEDAL

216

ADDING ACTIVE PICKUPS TO YOUR GUITAR

224

DESIGNING YOUR OWN GUITAR WIRING

238

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Why are musicians all over the world tinkering with their Les Paul guitars? It’s because they own one of the most versatile instruments ever created. And with a little fine tunning, you can use your Les Paul style guitar to play blues, jazz, heavy metal, alternative, fusion, and even punk music. But for most of you reading this book, the Les Paul is the rock and roll king. Even though this guitar was actually designed for jazz musicians and really hasn’t changed much since the 50’s, the Les Paul is officially THE guitar for playing rock music. Nothing will get your blood boiling more than one of these guitars combined with a vintage Marshall amp, cranked up to 10, or maybe even 11. Either way you look at it, its a very loud and proud guitar.

Every component in this guitar helps create the perfect tone. The powerful humbucking pickups eliminate unwanted noise, and give the guitar a fat and crisp sound. The mahogany body combined with a maple top also help shape the sound of this amazing guitar by offering an almost unlimited amount of sustain and clarity. But let’s get to the main reason why you are here: to learn about the lifeblood of this guitar: the electronics.

Here are some basics. The electronics on the Les Paul are setup similar to a two pickup guitar, with the addition of a 3-way toggle switch and a separate potentiometer for each pickup. So the bridge and neck pickups get their own volume and tone controls. The Les Paul’s 3-way switching allows you to play through one or two pickups at the same time. And potentiometers, or pots, are increased to 500K to bring out more of the highs in the signal. In other words, they prevent part of the signal from leaking out of the electronics. 250K pots, which are used in Stratocasters, leak out more of the signal, and end up giving you a little muddier sound. The Les Paul is already setup to have a somewhat muddier sound with two humbucking pickups and a mahogany body, so the 500K pots are great for balancing out the tone, Now let’s examine the tools that you will need to work on your Les Paul style guitar.

TOOLS FOR THE JOB

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Here is a close-up of the 3-way switch, potentiometers, output jack, vintage style wire, and capacitors. You will only need two capacitors, but there are many types to choose from. Pictured below are ceramic, paper, polyester, and polypropylene caps. Check out the chapter on capacitors for more info on which caps sound the best.

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The picture below is a “gun” style soldering iron from

The picture below is a “gun” style soldering iron from Weller. When you pull the trigger, you will get up to 350 Watts of power (700 degrees). When you release the trigger, it quickly cools down. The gun soldering irons have a larger tip, so they work best when heating large amounts of solder.

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Below are some of the wire cutter and stripping tools that

Below are some of the wire cutter and stripping tools that you might want to use.

Below are some of the wire cutter and stripping tools that you might want to use.

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You will need 60/40 rosin core solder for your guitar wiring projects. Every hardware store or Radio Shack should have it in stock. Below is the.032” diameter solder sold in a plastic tube.

Below is the.032” diameter solder sold in a plastic tube. Below is the thicker .062” rosin

Below is the thicker .062” rosin core solder. This is the solder I use on all of my projects. The manufacturer is Bernzomatic out of Medina, NY. This stuff works great.

solder I use on all of my projects. The manufacturer is Bernzomatic out of Medina, NY.

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If you don’t have a set of socket wrenches, then I would recommend these guitar nutdrivers from stewmac.com. These come in real handy when installing potentiometers, output jacks, and switches. They cost around $7.50 per wrench.

jacks, and switches. They cost around $7.50 per wrench. You might also want to pick up

You might also want to pick up some heat shrink tubing from your local hardware store, or online. If you have to solder two wires together to lengthen a pickup wire, then the heat shrink tubing will cover up the bare connection. Just heat it up with a lighter for a few seconds, and it will shrink to form a tight fit around the solder joint.

heat it up with a lighter for a few seconds, and it will shrink to form

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On the next page, you can see the path that a Les Paul style pickup

On the next page, you can see the path that a Les Paul style pickup takes. This is a basic explanation of how the guitar’s signal travels, or appears to travel. The signal moves from the pickup to the audio taper volume potentiometer, and then goes out to the linear taper tone pot and 3-way toggle switch. The signal leaves the 3-way switch and exits through the output jack. Note: all of the (black) ground wires should be connected to one another. Also, don’t forget to connect the bridge ground wire, which comes from one of the tailpiece post holes. The bridge ground touches a metal post, and can reduce the risk of shock and unwanted noise. Both of which are pretty important.

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The middle lug on a potentiometer is often thought of as the potentiometer output.

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Notice how the 3-way toggle switch works on the next page. One side turns the

Notice how the 3-way toggle switch works on the next page. One side turns the treble pickup on, and the other side turns the rhythm pickup on. The middle selection turns both pickups on. Note: if you have a 4 lug switch, then the inner two lugs will need to be soldered together. Some Gibson style toggle switches will have only three lugs, one for the treble pickup, one for the output, and one the rhythm pickup. The far left and far right lugs will connect to the 2 volume potentiometers. Also, a ground wire will be attached to a lug on the back side of the toggle switch.

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There are four lugs on the front of a typical 3-way toggle switch.

There are four lugs on the front of a typical 3-way toggle switch.   

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The ground lug is often on the backside of the toggle switch. It is thicker than the other lugs.

The ground lug is often on the backside of the toggle switch. It is thicker than

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Here is a 3-way Switchcraft toggle switch from a 1956 Les Paul.

Here is a 3-way Switchcraft toggle switch from a 1956 Les Paul.   
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Here is an import style toggle switch. The ground lug is on the back side.

Here is an import style toggle switch. The ground lug is on the back side. 
Here is an import style toggle switch. The ground lug is on the back side. 

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The rest of the wiring is pretty simple. Add the .020 uf capacitors to the tone pots and make sure that every pot has a ground wire soldered to its case. Also, solder the ground wire from the bridge post to one of the potentiometer cases, where the other ground wires are connected. All ground wires will need to be connected to each other.

Now take a look at the output jack below. A hot wire from the toggle switch, and a ground wire will get soldered to the two lugs. The ground lug will always be on top. The hot lug is lower, but will touch the tip of your guitar cable.

The ground lug will always be on top. The hot lug is lower, but will touch

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Here is a close-up of an output jack.

Here is a close-up of an output jack.  

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Here is the finished wiring. This diagram and the one on the next page are often referred to as “modern Les Paul wirings”, or wirings from 1970 to the present. These modern wirings allow the capacitors to be connected to the volume pot ground, or tone pot ground. Also notice that the ground wire gets soldered to the lug on the back of the 3-way switch. Keep in mind that when the guitar is actually in a playing position, the volume and tone pots for the neck pickup (#1) will be the closer to your head. The bridge pots will be closer to your feet. So you are looking at the inside of the guitar cavity in the diagram below.

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Here is another way to wire a Les Paul. In the example below, the tone capacitor is wired to the volume potentiometer, just like in typical Fender Stratocaster wiring.

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Want an easy way to to blend the pickups together in the middle position? This is my favorite Les paul wiring. Just switch around the hot wires on the volume pots, and you will have an independent volume control for each pickup in the middle position. So you can have 10% of the neck pickup on and 40% of the bridge pickup on if you wanted to. (With stock wiring, each volume pot acts like a master volume control in the middle position.) Each tone potentiometer (T1 and T2) will still act like a master tone control when both pickups are switched on.

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Here is a 1950’s vintage style wiring from the 1959 Les Paul. In the vintage Les Paul wiring, the middle lug on each tone pot gets soldered to its own case, and each capacitor get soldered to middle volume pot lug. This wiring will also use 500K audio taper CTS pots, .02 microfarad Bumblebee caps, and a Switchcraft toggle switch. Also notice that the ground wire that gets soldered to the thick lug on the back of the 3-way switch.

Also notice that the ground wire that gets soldered to the thick lug on the back

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Why go with a vintage setup? Because the early Les Paul wiring bleeds out less treble to ground, and actually adds some brightness to the guitar. Plus, when you cut the volume, the tone control will leave more of the highs in place, mainly cutting the midrange and bass. This produces some unique sounds that many believe you can’t recreate with the modern Les Paul wiring.

Note: Gibson has always experimented with different wiring schemes over the years. So there are some early Les Pauls out there that do not have the caps soldered to the volume pot middle lugs. They also used 300K pots for volume and 100K pots for tone during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Even 700K pots were discovered in a few gui tars.

The caps are connected to the middle volume pot lug in this 1956 Les Paul.

discovered in a few gui tars. The caps are connected to the middle volume pot lug

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Instead of having a separate hot and ground wire coming out of your pickups, your Les Paul might have a hot wire hidden inside of a metallic braided ground wire. If this is the case, then the ground wire will get soldered to the volume potentiometer case, and the hot wire will go to its appropriate lug. Creating a charge around a hot wire will help send any unwanted noise to ground.

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On many of the older Les Pauls, one wire is used to ground all of the volume and tone pots. This saves time when doing wiring jobs. To recreate this, just take the cloth off of the vintage style wire, and solder it to the four potentiometer cases.

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Here are some straight and right angle Switchcraft toggle switches from the 1960’s. You can buy them here: http://stores.ebay.com/P-S-I-Love-You

Switchcraft toggle switches from the 1960’s. You can buy them here: http://stores.ebay.com/P-S-I-Love-You  
Switchcraft toggle switches from the 1960’s. You can buy them here: http://stores.ebay.com/P-S-I-Love-You  

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Here is the “Black Widow.” A beautiful 1971 Les Paul Custom owned by my friend, James Distler.

Here is the “Black Widow.” A beautiful 1971 Les Paul Custom owned by my friend, James

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Here is a closeup of the neck volume and tone pots.

Here is a closeup of the neck volume and tone pots.  

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Here is the 1971 “Black Widow” wiring. Each cap is connected to the left lug on the volume pot in this example. This guitar really sings when both pickups are on and the tone is at full tilt.

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This three pickup Les Paul has one volume control for each pickup and one master tone control. This setup is a little different, turns on pickup 1 and 3 in position one, all three pickups on in position two, and pickups 2 and 3 on in position three. Notice the tone control sends the hot signal to V2, which keeps that pickup on in all three positions. Also notice that the volume control for pickup 1 (V1) will be closer to your feet when you are actually playing this guitar.

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PAF HUMBUCKERS

If you are interested in the vintage Les Paul sound, then the wiring is only part of the equation. The pickups also play a large part in the Les Paul’s tone. The PAF pickups designed by Seth Lover in 1955 were originally labeled with a sticker that said “patent applied for’ in the 1957 models. By 1962 the labeling changed to “ PATENT NO

2,737,842.” However, this number is thought to be a mistake, or a clever way to prevent the competition from discovering the real PAF data, because the patent number actually refers to the Gibson tailpiece, and not the PAF pickup.

These Alnico (aluminum, nickel, cobalt) PAF pickups were wound by machine with 42 AWG wire, and had around 5000-6000 turns, but the number was not exact, they were wound “until they were done,” and each coil had a different number of windings. Some coils were off by more than 100 turns, adding some punch to the pickup’s sound. (Equal windings in each coil would smooth out the sound a bit.) Since each guitar varied a little, so did the tone. So in order to find the right tone for you, you had to find the right Les Paul. These pickups varied from 7K Ohms to 9K Ohms, and the magnets were described as being “long”. Later on, the 2.5” vintage magnets were shortened in length to 2.3”, which decreased their strength a bit. However, Gibson began using the stronger alnico V magnets in their pickups to increase their strength. Note: some early PAF pickups were actually scatter wound, causing a change in the winding capacitance and resonant peak, basically giving the pickups more top end.

causing a change in the winding capacitance and resonant peak, basically giving the pickups more top

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Here are some PAF pickups from 1959. Expect to pay a few thousand dollars for a set like this. You can find pickups and vintage guitar parts like this at:

http://stores.ebay.com/the-parts-drawer

this. You can find pickups and vintage guitar parts like this at: http://stores.ebay.com/the-parts-drawer  
this. You can find pickups and vintage guitar parts like this at: http://stores.ebay.com/the-parts-drawer  

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Since the original PAF’s are rare and quite expensive, you might have to look for a similar vintage tone with some aftermarket pickups by Seymour Duncan, Gibson, or Dimarzio. The SH-55 Seth Lover pickups by Seymour Duncan yield a well balanced sound and are not too muddy, especially when turning down the volume. The output is moderate to low, but they are not overly quiet. The neck pickup has a resistance of 7K Ohms, and the bridge measures at 8K Ohms. Plus, these pickups are not wax potted, and the magnets are not polished, just like the original PAF’s. Note: A pickup that is not wax potted can pickup signals caused by the vibrations of the copper wire, causing some serious high pitched feedback to occur.

Another popular choice for the vintage Les Paul sound is the Gibson Burst Bucker 1. This is a scatter wound Alnico II magnet pickup that is also not potted. The magnets are unpolished, too. This pickup has a medium output and a sweet, warm sound with plenty of sustain.

The P-90 Pickup

Before the PAF became popular, Gibson used a scatter wound single coil pickup in their guitars, called the P-90. It was wound with 10,000 turns of copper wire. Although this pickup was not noise canceling, it did have a pretty unique sound and look. This “soap bar” pickup was often described as bright sounding, but with more midrange and thickness than the early Fender single coil pickups. The DC resistance was measured at around 8K Ohms on the P-90’s. The early Fender single coils measured in around 6K Ohms.

was measured at around 8K Ohms on the P-90’s. The early Fender single coils measured in

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A very nice 1952 Les Paul from Elderly.com.

A very nice 1952 Les Paul from Elderly.com.  

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If you have a Les Paul Jr., the wiring is pretty simple. No switches are needed. A one pickup wiring diagram is all you need. The black wires go to ground, and the colored wires carry the hot signal.

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The wires can be quite colourful on some of the Les Paul style guitars from overseas. Notice how the solder joints tend to be a little rough looking.

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Here is another example of an import guitar’s electronics.

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CHANGING THE ELECTRONICS IN AN IMPORT GUITAR

If you can’t afford a real les Paul or Epiphone, then you might have to settle for a guitar that looks like a Gibson, but sounds quite different. You can, however, modify the pickups, potentiometers, capacitors, and 3-way switch, leaving you with a decent sounding guitar. And that’s exactly what we are going to do here. We are basically going to change out the electronics on this guitar.

1. The first step involves removing the strings. Also remove the tailpiece from its posts.

on this guitar. 1. The first step involves removing the strings. Also remove the tailpiece from

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If you pull out the post closest to the control knobs, you will see the hole that is used for the bridge ground. This allows the bridge ground wire to touch the metal post, which touches the tailpiece and the strings. If you look closely, you can see the smashed wire inside the post hole.

the tailpiece and the strings. If you look closely, you can see the smashed wire inside

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2. Next we are going to remove the plastic covers that protect the electronics and the 3-way toggle switch. You will need a small screwdriver for this.

toggle switch. You will need a small screwdriver for this. 

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Below is an example of two types of shielded wire. One has 3 wires, and the other has 2 wires. You can find shielded wire like this at stewmac.com.

wire. One has 3 wires, and the other has 2 wires. You can find shielded wire

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Here are the paths the 3-way switch, pickups, and ground wires will take. Notice the holes in the body all lead to the main electronics compartment on the right.

wires will take. Notice the holes in the body all lead to the main electronics compartment

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3. Next, you are going to unscrew the pickups, 3-way switch, and output jack.

3. Next, you are going to unscrew the pickups, 3-way switch, and output jack.  
3. Next, you are going to unscrew the pickups, 3-way switch, and output jack.  

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4. Cut the wires from the pots. Here is what you have left. You have 2 wires from the pickups (each with a hot and ground), a wire from the 3-way switch (with 2 wires, and a switch ground), a wire from the output jack that goes to the 3-way switch (with a hot and ground), and also a bridge ground wire. If you want to keep the existing wires and pickups in your guitar, then leave these in place. If you want to change them, then just pull them out of the body cavity.

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Here is how the output jack wire and switch wire connects to the 3-way switch. Notice that wire A has a hot and ground, and wire B has 2 hot wires and a ground. In this example, the output jack’s ground wire connects to the 3-way switch ground lug in wire A. There is also a ground wire located in the other wire (B) which connects the switch ground to a volume potentiometer case, allowing all the ground wires to connect together. Often, the output jack’s ground wire just connects to the closest volume potentiometer case. Either way works. The main thing to remember is that all the ground wires need to be connected to one another.

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The cover is ready to be put back on.

The cover is ready to be put back on.  

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4-WIRE CONDUCTOR PICKUPS

If you have a 4-wire humbucking pickup (four wires plus a ground wire), then you will need to connect the two finish, or series wires together, unless you plan on hot rodding your guitar. Once the finish wires are connected, they will form a series link, which will boost the output. This will leave you with a hot wire that goes to the volume pot, and 2 ground wires that go to the volume pot case. The diagram on the next page shows a humbucker that uses the same wire color codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup. Black is hot (+), green is ground (-), red and white for the series link, and the remaining bare wire always goes to ground.

green is ground (-), red and white for the series link, and the remaining bare wire

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Here is a pickup that uses the same color codes as Seymour Duncan pickups. On the top coil, black is the start wire, and white is the finish wire. On the bottom coil, green is the start wire, and red is the finish wire. The red and white wires form the series link. Often, these are described as A, B, C, and D.

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finish wire. The red and white wires form the series link. Often, these are described as

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Here is a wiring diagram with a 4-wire Gibson pickup. The red wire is the start, black is the finish, and the white and green wires are soldered together to form the series link. The bare grey wire goes to ground.

the white and green wires are soldered together to form the series link. The bare grey

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PICKUP COLOR CODES

Here are some of the common color codes for 4-wire conductor pickups.

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  
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  
  
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   
   
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Here is a beautiful custom paint job from John Gleneicki. If you plan on painting your Les Paul, be sure to check out www.paintyourownguitar.com to learn how to do it right.

on painting your Les Paul, be sure to check out www.paintyourownguitar.com to learn how to do

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

Almost every guitar has some type of switch on it. They are essential for turning electronics on and off. So if you are going to be doing any type of wiring on your guitar, then you are going to have to know your way around switching. Most switches on Les Paul guitars will be either straight up or right angle toggle switches. Below are examples of both. Each switch has 5 lugs, with one of them being a ground. Each switch also has six pieces of plastic that separate the lugs. Note: The right angle switch has its inner two lugs on the top part of the switch.

that separate the lugs. Note: The right angle switch has its inner two lugs on the

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Notice the ground lugs and how they can be located on different sides of the switch. The ground lug is the thickest metal lug on the toggle switch.

be located on different sides of the switch. The ground lug is the thickest metal lug

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As you can see, both types of switches are setup with the same four lugs and an additional ground lug.

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In the diagram below, A and B are the two pickups (B is usually the neck pickup), G is the ground wire, and O is the hot output wire. The middle two lugs have been soldered together, so that both pickups remain on when the selector switch is in the middle position.

been soldered together, so that both pickups remain on when the selector switch is in the

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Lets look at how these switches work. Gibson style 3-way toggle switches, for example, have 3 or 4 lugs and can turn on 2 separate devices at the same time (pickup 1 on, both on, pickup 2 on). Check out the Gibson style toggle switch on the next page. Wiring them is fairly simple. You have two inputs and two outputs. The ground wire gets soldered to the thickest lug on the front or back of the switch. You will need to solder the middle two output lugs together if you want to turn on both pickups when the switch is in the middle position.

two output lugs together if you want to turn on both pickups when the switch is

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In the middle position, all lugs are touching one another, sending the hot signal throughout the switch. Both pickups are on.

all lugs are touching one another, sending the hot signal throughout the switch. Both pickups are

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In this next example, the right two lugs are touching, completing the circuit. The pickup on the right is on, and the other is off.

The pickup on the right is on, and the other is off. This example shows what

This example shows what happens when the opposite side is turned on. The left pickup is now on.

is off. This example shows what happens when the opposite side is turned on. The left

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When the switch is flipped over to the left side, the left two lugs are touching and the right two lugs are separated from one another.

over to the left side, the left two lugs are touching and the right two lugs



If your switch has 5 lugs and a ground, you can wire a 3 pickup Les Paul like this. N goes to the neck pickup volume pot, M goes to the middle pickup volume pot, B goes to the bridge pickup volume pot, and G goes to ground. The O goes to the output jack hot lug. Also solder the inner two lugs together, just like in a normal 3-way Gibson style toggle switch.

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Some Gibson style toggle switches only have three lugs, but still work in the same manner as a four prong toggle switch. On the next page you can see that he ground lug is on the opposite side of the switch.

prong toggle switch. On the next page you can see that he ground lug is on

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Another switch that is very useful in guitar wiring is the mini toggle switch. The mini toggle switch below is an on/on DPDT (double pole, double throw) switch, and you can purchase one online for just a few bucks. The switch below is an on-on switch, meaning it turns one side on, or the other side on. So when one pickup is turned on, the other pickup is turned off. The on-on toggle has six lugs, 3 on the top (pole 1), and 3 on the bottom (pole 2). Each pole is not connected to one another, so a hot signal in one pole will not activate any of the lugs in the other pole. The lugs that are hot, or "on", are colored in black. The grey lugs are off. Remember, the poles are not connected to one another. That’s why you might need to use jumper wires in some applications, to connect one pole to another.

That’s why you might need to use jumper wires in some applications, to connect one pole

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There are a few other types of 3-way mini toggle switches that can be useful in your guitar wiring. Below is an on/off/on DPDT center-off switch. It is the same as the on- on mini toggle switch with an additional stop in between the left and right settings. The middle position cuts the power. So it is an on-off-on switch. Here is what it looks like.

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The next 3-way mini toggle switch is an on/on/on DPDT center-on switch. It is used for series/parallel switching, coil cutting, and phase reversal. It turns on the top left lugs and bottom right lugs while in the middle position.

It turns on the top left lugs and bottom right lugs while in the middle position.

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UNDERSTANDING VARITONE/ROTARY SWITCHES

The next switch we are going to discuss is the Varitone, or rotary switch with the chicken head knob. This switch allows you to dial in specific tones for each setting, and eliminates any guesswork associated with the subtlety of tone potentiometers. This type of switch has 6 settings for 6 different tones. The first tone is usually clean, so that leaves 5 other tones to chose from. These 5 tones will be determined by the size of the capacitor that gets soldered to each lug on the rotary switch. These switches are very easy to wire. Just solder capacitors to certain lugs on the Varitone switch, and then connect the open ends of the capacitors together. Send the signal out to the output jack and also connect a ground wire to the common lug in the middle of the switch.

out to the output jack and also connect a ground wire to the common lug in

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Below are some capacitor values that have be used on the Gibson 345 Lucille guitar. These values are measured in microfarads. The bigger capacitors will give you a muddier sound. You can experiment to find the tones you want by using different capacitor values.

LUG 6 - 0.22 µF LUG 5 - 0.03 µF LUG 4 - 0.01 µF LUG 3 - 0.003 µF LUG 2 - 0.001 µF LUG 1 - no capacitor (clean sound)

Here is how you install a Varitone. First, drill a hole in the guitar body. Then install the Varitone switch. Mark on the switch which lugs you will be using. When you look at the side of the switch, you can see which lug is in use. This particular switch has 12 lugs (6 per pole). We will only be soldering capacitors to 5 of these lugs, so turn the switch through all 6 positions, and notice which lug is completing the circuit in each setting. Then you will know which 5 lugs need to have capacitors soldered to them. One out of those 6 settings is left open, so it yields a clean, unaltered sound.

soldered to them. One out of those 6 settings is left open, so it yields a

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Here are the lugs that we will be using.

Here are the lugs that we will be using.  

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Here are the ceramic capacitors that I chose for this project. I wanted a muddier sound, so I used a 0.1 uF capacitor as the largest cap.

that I chose for this project. I wanted a muddier sound, so I used a 0.1

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Now solder one end of each capacitor to one of the lugs on the Varitone switch. Solder them in ascending order.

one end of each capacitor to one of the lugs on the Varitone switch. Solder them

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Now solder all of the open ends of the capacitors together. These will be soldered to a wire that connects to the hot lug on the output jack.

capacitors together. These will be soldered to a wire that connects to the hot lug on

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Solder the ground wire. It attaches to the common lug in the middle of the Varitone switch, closest to the lugs you just soldered. From there, it gets soldered to the bottom of one of the volume or tone pots. In other words, it gets connected to ground.

soldered to the bottom of one of the volume or tone pots. In other words, it

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Here is the output jack with two wires connected to the hot lug.

Here is the output jack with two wires connected to the hot lug.  

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Here is what the finished wiring looks like on a Les Paul. Connect the rotary switch to the hot output jack lug and also s end it to ground.

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Here is a 2 level rotary switch with 4 poles (2 poles per level). You can wire the most complicated schematics with this type of switch.

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Question: How do you wire a PRS style Les Paul?

The PRS wiring with two 4-wire

humbuckers and one 2-wire pickup will yield some useful series/parallel/coil cut sounds. The 6-way rotary switch has a top half (A) and a bottom half (B) that are shown in the diagram. There will also be a master volume and master tone control. Here is what you can expect with this setup:

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In the diagram on the next page, “A” is the top half of the
rotary switch when looking at it upside down, and “B” is the
bottom half. In “A”, the common lugs are inside of the main
lugs. In “B”, the common lugs stick out pretty far from the
main lugs. If you are going to try this wiring, make sure to print
out a color copy from the ebook version, or website.
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Type this address in your web browser for a larger color version of the diagram

Type this address in your web browser for a larger color version of the diagram above.

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Here is a beautiful sunburst guitar painted by John Gleneicki at paintyourownguitar.com.

Here is a beautiful sunburst guitar painted by John Gleneicki at paintyourownguitar.com.  

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A potentiometer, commonly referred to as a pot, is a variable resistor with a tap that slides. Basically, a potentiometer changes the signal that is going through it. Potentiometers have three lugs, a reference, signal and ground. Here is all you really need to know. As you turn the knob on your volume or tone pot, you increase or decrease the signal that gets sent to ground. So if you have your volume set at 0, then 100% of the signal will be sent to ground. Normally 250K Ohm pots are used with single coil pickups to add warmth to the sound, and 500K Ohm pots are used with humbucking pickups to add more treble to the sound. A 1 Meg pot will give you an even brighter sound.

Part of the signal will always leak out to ground in any potentiometer, even when the volume is turned all the way up. A 1 Meg pot will leak the least amount of signal to ground, and a 250K pot will leak the most amount of signal to ground. In the case of the tone potentiometer, a capacitor is added to the circuit, which only allows the highest frequencies to pass through to ground, leaving a muddier sound with more midrange and bass.

VOLUME AND TONE POTENTIOMETERS

The volume pot receives the signal from the pickup selector switch, or in the case of the Les Paul, the pickups themselves. The volume pot then sends the signal out to the output jack, or to the toggle switch, and also out to the tone pot. The tone pot then receives the signal from the volume pot, and sends the high frequencies out to ground via a capacitor.

Volume potentiometers are usually described a being “audio taper,” or log taper, and tone potentiometers are described as having a “linear taper,” or straight line taper. Taper describes how the resistance increases or decreases in a potentiometer. Audio tapers work just like you would expect a volume potentiometer to work. When the volume is at 10, its at its loudest setting. At 5, the volume is half as loud. And at 0, there is no volume at all. Now with a linear pot, things are a little different. At a volume of 10, the signal is at its loudest. However, at 5 it would still be at its loudest. And at 0, there would be no volume.

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In reality, when a linear taper pot is set at 5, it truly is sending 50% of the signal to the output jack and 50% to ground. So a signal at 10 is twice as strong as the signal at 5. This works well with tone controls. However, when an audio taper pot is set at 10, the signal is actually more than double the signal at 5. The signal at 5 maybe only 1/10th of the whole signal. This is because the human ear does not respond linearly to loudness. It responds to a logarithmic taper, which produces the illusion of a linear taper volume control. When the volume of an instrument actually sounds twice as loud to a human, it is really much louder than that. This is because the ear does not have as much sensitivity to volume changes at higher sound levels. The main thing to remember is this: don’t use linear taper pots as volume controls. You can, however, use audio taper pots for both volume and tone controls. Note: many import guitar companies are now using linear pots as the volume controls, and audio pots as the tone controls, so the quality of the potentiometer you are using also plays a large role in the guitar’s overall tone.

Below is an example of the control shaft, or control knob, in a potentiometer. If this is a 500K pot, then the resistance from the far left lug to the far right lug should be around 500K Ohms. The left lug is the signal input. The center lug is the signal out.put The right lug connects to ground. So when the knob is set at 0, far left position of the wiper arm, there is very little if any resistance, and the whole signal flows out of the center lug. When you turn the knob to the right and add resistance, then less of the signal flows out to the center lug, and more of the signal is sent to ground. If you turn the knob all the way to the right, maximum resistance is applied to the center lug, therefore, the signal will be at minimum level or zero.

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Here is a popular way to wire the volume and tone pots in a Les Paul. This type of wiring is very similar to the Fender Telecaster wiring, except in the Fender guitar, the volume pot receives the signal from the pickup selector switch, and the “OUT” signal goes to the output jack, and not the 3-way toggle switch. The right lug on the volume pot is soldered to its own case in order to send the signal to ground.

The right lug on the volume pot is soldered to its own case in order to

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BLEND POTENTIOMETERS

A blend pot

is a potentiometer that controls two pickups. Its actually a unique

substitute for a pickup selector switch. However, it doesn't just turn on a pickup like a switch does. It can turn on a percentage of a pickup's output. Basically, one direction increases the output of pickup A, while decreasing the output of pickup B. Turn the knob in the opposite direction, and it increases the output of pickup B, and decreases the output of pickup A. In the middle position, both pickups are at 100% output.

pickup B, and decreases the output of pickup A. In the middle position, both pickups are

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Notice that the blend pot below only has one shaft for one control knob. A stacked concentric pot it totally different, and has 2 shafts for two different knobs.

control knob. A stacked concentric pot it totally different, and has 2 shafts for two different

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Here is the side view of a blend pot. It has two inputs and two outputs.

Here is the side view of a blend pot. It has two inputs and two outputs.

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Here is a Les Paul with a blend pot acting as a pickup selector. Since there is a master volume and master tone, you won’t need a fourth potentiometer, or a 3- way toggle switch.

is a master volume and master tone, you won’t need a fourth potentiometer, or a 3-

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STACKED CONCENTRIC POTENTIOMETERS

Another type of potentiometer used in guitars and basses is a

stacked
stacked
of potentiometer used in guitars and basses is a stacked concentric pot. This is basically two

concentric pot. This is basically two potentiometers attached on top of one

another, and controlled by two separate shafts (a thick one and a thin one), so unlike a blend pot, each pot is totally independent of one another. This allows you to pack in two potentiometers in the space of only one potentiometer. A special type of knob is used for this setup, one that has two moving sections for each shaft. You can find stacked concentric pots and knobs online at the ALLPARTS website.

http://www.allparts.com

You can find stacked concentric pots and knobs online at the ALLPARTS website. http://www.allparts.com  

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PUSH PULL POTENTIOMETERS

A push pull potentiometer is basically a combination of a DPDT on-on mini toggle switch and a potentiometer. This type of pot is designed to conserve space inside your guitar. Otherwise, you would need to drill a hole in your body to add a mini toggle switch. Think of it like a separate potentiometer, and a separate DPDT ON/ON toggle switch stuck together. When the knob is in the up position, it turns on the top 4 lugs. Note: there are two poles, or channels in each push pull pot (left 3 lugs and right 3 lugs). So in the diagram below, the black lugs are on (top 4 lugs), but the left and right sides are not connected to each other. For more inf o on DPDT ON/ON switches, check out the section on switches.

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When the knob is in the down position, it turns on the bottom 4 lugs.

When the knob is in the down position, it turns on the bottom 4 lugs. 

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What are capacitors and what do they do?

A basic capacitors, or condenser,

are made up of two isolated conductors (separated by a non-conductive substance, or dielectric) that stores and release energy, similar to a battery in some ways. When there is a difference in the value of each conductor, then the capacitor charges up. When the value is equal on both conductors, it discharges and quickly releases electrons back into the circuit. So what does all of this mean to a musician? It means a capacitor can actually resonate the signal, or smooth out the fluctuations in the signal, making it appear like the signal came from a smooth and constant source. That’s important in all types of electronic devices, including amplifiers. But what about guitar caps?

In guitar wiring, capacitors are unique in that they release only the highest frequencies out to ground, and keep the lower tones in the circuit. Basically, capacitors make the tone of the guitar muddier, because the lower tones are not able to pass through the capacitor. Guitar caps nowadays are smaller, cheaper, and pretty accurate for their size. They are measured in units called farads. The guitar capacitor’s “cutoff frequency” is measured in microfarads represented by the symbol uF or MFD. The bigger the number, the more bass your guitar will have when the cap is connected to a tone control.

In the diagram below, the electrons fill up on the negative conductor. Once that conductor is full, the electrons discharge and flow to the positive conductor. The electrons then enter back into the circuit. The dielectric is the non-conductive material between the 2 conductor plates. In guitar electronics, the non-polarized capacitors used will have wires that can be either the positive or negative lead.

the non-polarized capacitors used will have wires that can be either the positive or negative lead.

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Let’s get back to the guitar’s tone. Probably one of the easiest mods used to change your guitar’s sound is to change the capacitor. I am not just talking about adding more or less bass to the sound, but actually changing your guitar’s character. For this task, you are not going to need just any capacitor, but a vintage style one. The vintage capacitors are considered to be less harsh sounding than the new caps on the market today, and are getting a lot of attention as of late. Luckily, there are companies that make replica capacitors, and they are pretty close to the ones from the 50’s and 60’s.

First a little history. The .047uF Bumble Bee capacitors, painted like a bee, are the holy grail of caps. They sound smooth and creamy, partly do to their oil content. These were used in guitars, TVs, and even stereos. You can also look for the Black Beauty Spragues, which work well in most guitars.

Fender used Cornell-Dubilier brand .05uF/150v and .10uF/150v wax coated caps in all of the premier instruments from 1950 to 1961 (Tele, Strat, Jazz, Precision and Jazzmaster {.02uF and .03uF}). The student models used the cheaper Astron Type AM capacitors in a 200v size from the amplifier assembly line. In 1961 they switched all lines to lower voltage ceramic caps from a variety of manufacturers.

Gibson used Cornell-Dubilier brand .02uF/400v Grey Tiger caps from the late ‘40s until 1956, when they switched over to the Sprague made .022/400v Bumblebee Telecaps. These were replaced in 1960 with the Sprague .02uF/50v ceramic discs. Although the Sprague .022/400v Black Beauty Telecaps do turn up in some high end models, they were used exclusively in the re-launched Les Paul guitars in ‘68 and ‘69.

Many people, especially Ebay sellers, will try to sell other kinds of capacitors as genuine, but often they are taking advantage of the gullible, or un-educated. The original equipment manufacturers of the day ordered parts in large quantities to save money, so the types of capacitors used are fairly easy to keep track of over the course of the years. Genuine vintage caps are very hard to find. But a few lucky sellers do get their hands on them every now and then.

Back to the Bumblebee caps. The Bumblebee sound comes from the minutely slower response caused by the combination of large plates and the oil-soaked dielectric paper. They are a dry cap, unlike the Vitamin Q type caps, which have a very warm and creamy sound due in part to the foil and dielectric floating in a bath of oil inside the metal canister.

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The holy grail of all capacitors, the Sprague Bumblebee .022 MFD 400V. These capacitors have “axial” leads, or metal wires that come out of each end of the cap. You can buy them online here:

http://stores.ebay.com/P-S-I-Love-You

buy them online here: http://stores.ebay.com/P-S-I-Love-You Here are some Sprague Black Beauties, also available from

Here are some Sprague Black Beauties, also available from the seller above.

Here are some Sprague Black Beauties, also available from the seller above.  

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Here are some rare .02 MFD 400V waxed capacitors used by Gibson in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

capacitors used by Gibson in the 1940’s and 1950’s. This is a nice 02 MFD 600V

This is a nice 02 MFD 600V Pyramid capacitor for the 1950’s.

by Gibson in the 1940’s and 1950’s. This is a nice 02 MFD 600V Pyramid capacitor

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Sprague oil in paper Vitamin Q caps from the 1950’s. These are .033 MFD and

300V.

Q caps from the 1950’s. These are .033 MFD and 300V. Sprague Tan Beauties from the

Sprague Tan Beauties from the 1960’s. These are .022 MFD 100V caps.

These are .033 MFD and 300V. Sprague Tan Beauties from the 1960’s. These are .022 MFD

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If you are looking for some good replica capacitors that are pretty much the same as the ones used on the guitars from the 1950’s and 1960’s, then you need to checkout Luxe Radio & Musical Instrument Co. They have the best selection of reproduction capacitors and resistors.

http://stores.ebay.com/Luxe-Guitars

have the best selection of reproduction capacitors and resistors. http://stores.ebay.com/Luxe-Guitars  

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Each of my reproduction wax capacitors is made with the same materials and methods as the original. The only difference is that instead of a foil and paper “slug” at the core, I use a NOS Vitamin Q type paper and oil capacitor. These were manufactured from the 1950s through the 1980s by various companies, like Sprague, for military and aerospace use. Unlike other types of capacitors, the dielectric and foil in these are sealed in a metal and glass tube, making them impervious to heat and moisture. They do not degrade with time and they do not drift in value. They have the added bonus of having an oil-soaked paper as the dielectric, which (and this is a popular topic for discussion) has a more “musical” quality than any other dielectric. I confess that I do not understand how this can be, it’s only electricity, and electricity doesn’t care, but just like a record sounds better than a cd, and a ’55 Champ sounds better than a Peavey. PIO caps just sound better.

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

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I do not use Dykanol or any other chemicals in my capacitors. Most capacitors made before 1956 were coated with a blend of pitch and petroleum jelly. This is the nasty sticky stuff that radio guys hate. I make this coating with pitch and beeswax. It looks the same, but it doesn’t get all over the place.

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

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What types of capacitors are used in most guitars today? Most guitars will either have

What types of capacitors are used in most guitars today?

Most guitars will either have ceramic disc caps, polyester caps, or polypropylene

caps measured in .020uF to .050uF (Microfarads, MFD). The bright orange drop capacitors with the hockey stick leads are good examples of polypropylene caps that have a nice, warm, rich tone. These caps also have a higher tolerance than the polyester caps, which are very inexpensive. You can see the polyester capacitors in a lot of import guitars. The ceramic disc caps work pretty well, and can be used for higher frequencies. They are known to be pretty dependable.

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What does a treble bleed kit do?

Capacitors only let the higher frequencies pass

through them. So the treble bleed kit is going to take the high tones out of the circuit at the volume pot, and then throw them back in the circuit as the signal leaves the volume pot. This prevents the treble from naturally bleeding out of the potentiometer as you turn down the volume. This is often seen in Fender Telecaster wiring. Some of the vintage treble bleeds also add a small resistor to the capacitor, as shown in the example on the next page. A common example of a treble bleed is a .001uF capacitor combines with a 100K carbon resistor.

 

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Does the capacitor voltage matter?

A guitar circuit only uses a few volts or less,

so a small capacitor is all that is required. Tthe voltage can make a tone difference though. The higher the voltage, the higher the “ceiling” of the tone cap. Gibson engineers preferred the 400 volt caps, never using the 200 volt versions, while Fender always used the lowest voltage available from their suppliers. A larger cap of 600 volts, or more, can also give the impression of increased capacitance, swallowing up more signal than you might want it to.

Do some capacitors have polarity?

Paper-in-oil, wax, mica, ceramic, film,

polyester and polypropylene capacitors have zero polarity. Only electrolytic caps have a specific polarity, and they should never be used in a guitar anyway. They have a positive side and a negative side. Electrolytic capacitors are marked with an outside foil band or (-) symbol which is meant to be wired to ground, and that is for noise reduction in most radios and amplifiers. Electrolytic caps are filled with a liquid, and they can actually explode if they are wired the wrong way. So if you ever use them, the negative side will be marked with a line, or a (-) sign, and will have a shorter lead than the positive side.

side will be marked with a line, or a (-) sign, and will have a shorter

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What do the colors on a Bumblebee capacitor mean?

Here is an old Sprague

chart. This chart is in micro-microfarads, so you have to move the decimal point 6 places to the left to get the regular mfd number. A classic Gibson style bumblebee is labelled: Red-Red-Orange-Gray-Yellow so it translates out to 22 times 1000 (22000 micro-microfarads {mmF or pF}) which is .022uF, and the grey band is actually black, standing for 20% tolerance, and the yellow marks a 400 volt rating. Check out the Sprague chart below.

standing for 20% tolerance, and the yellow marks a 400 volt rating. Check out the Sprague

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Do capacitors degrade over time?

Yes they do. Paper and ceramic capacitors

often age poorly and can be damaged by high heat, but other types like plastic film capacitors are pretty stable and age well.

What does the inside of a capacitor look like?

Below are some capacitors that

have been cut in half. It is easy to see the dielectric in the ceramic disk cap. Below the ceramic disk capacitor is a polypropylene cap.

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see the dielectric in the ceramic disk cap. Below the ceramic disk capacitor is a polypropylene

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

The pros rarely play stock guitars like you or me. They usually incorporate some type of modification to their guitars to get out more useable sounds. I am going to show you some of the hot rod techniques that are both inexpensive and easy to do.

MOMENTARY KILL SWITCH

A momentary, or non-latching switch, is a special type of on/off button that connects to your volume pot. When you push it in, the power is off. When you release, the power goes back to the on position. Although this switch is not very practical as an on/off switch, it is useful for achieving a special type of effect made popular by the guitarist, Buckethead. This effect is achieved by pressing the button rather quickly while playing around on the neck with your other hand. If you search around on youtube.com, you will find a bunch of Buckethead solos, demonstrating this interesting technique.

on youtube.com, you will find a bunch of Buckethead solos, demonstrating this interesting technique.  

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Just send the middle lug to the hot output jack lug . The lug next to it goes to ground on one of the potentiometer cases.

lug to the hot output jack lug . The lug next to it goes to ground

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PHASE REVERSAL SWITCHES

Another way to utilize mini toggle switches involves phase switching. When you change the phase of a pickup, you are changing the direction of the electrical current flowing through the copper wires. Most pickups are wired to be in-phase with each other, causing their signals to move in the same direction. If a pickup is out of phase with itself, or another pickup, the signal will be moving in different directions in each coil, or each pickup. So at least two coils or pickups are needed to get a thinner, out of phase sound. The out of phase sound also has a lower output. Keep in mind that out of phase single coil pickups can sometimes produce an unwanted noise, or hum, called 60 cycle hum. Note: if you have two pickups that are out of phase with each other, and one of them has a reverse polarity, then you basically have a humbucking pickup configuration with no hum.

of them has a reverse polarity, then you basically have a humbucking pickup configuration with no
of them has a reverse polarity, then you basically have a humbucking pickup configuration with no

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Here are two coils wired to be in phase. This is typical for most single coil guitars.

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Here are two single coils wound to be in phase and humbucking. The coils are actually out of phase with each other, but by having a reverse polarity on one of the coils, the signal gets put back in phase. This type of wiring is similar to a humbucking pickup wired in parallel.

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Type this address in your web browser to hear two pickups in phase and humbucking due to the reverse wound/reverse polarity of one of the pickups.

CLEAN TONE: HTTP://WWW.TINYURL.COM/3Y5LA3

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Here are two single coils wound to be out of phase.

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Type this address in your web browser to hear two coils out of phase with each other due to one of the coils being reverse wound, yet both having the same polarity. The sound is thin, lacking bass and midrange, and sounds similar to certain types of acoustic guitars.

CLEAN TONE: HTTP://WWW.TINYURL.COM/24NLCD

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Here are some pictures of the polarity being tested on a strat with reverse wound/reverse polarity pickups. The polarity tester can be purchased from stewmac.com for a few bucks. The white side up on the neck pickup means north polarity.

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The black side up on the middle pickup means south polarity.

on the neck pickup means north polarity.  The black side up on the middle pickup

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The next example shows how to change the phase of one pickup using a DPDT on-on mini toggle switch or a push pull potentiometer. Just send the signal to the mini toggle before it enters the pickup selector switch, and also throw in some diagonal jumper wires. You only need to change the phase of one pickup to throw it out of phase with another pickup. It would be useless to change the phase of both pickups, since it would just put them back in phase with each other.

useless to change the phase of both pickups, since it would just put them back in

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You can wire your Les Paul this way to send the bridge pickup in and out of phase with the neck pickup. To make this wiring work, the push pull pot receives the signal from pickup 2 before sending it out to the 3-way switch. Keep in mind, a push pot is just a potentiometer with a mini toggle switch stuck to it.

the 3-way switch. Keep in mind, a push pot is just a potentiometer with a mini

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Here is the in phase/out of phase wiring on a 4-wire, or 4 conductor humbucking pickup (4 colored wires plus a bare ground wire). Another pickup will need to be on at the same time in order to get an out of phase sound between two pickups. A simple on/on mini toggle switch or push pull pot is all you need. This diagram uses the same color codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup. Black is hot, green is ground, and red and white form the series link.

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If you have a 4-wire humbucker, and want each coil to go in and out of phase with itself, then the on/on switch wiring would look like this. The unshielded grey wire and the green (-) wire both go to ground. The hot wire leaving the mini toggle goes to the pickup selector switch, just like a normal 2-wire pickup. This diagram uses the same color codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup. Black is hot, green is ground, and red and white form the series link.

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



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

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SERIES/PARALLEL WIRING

If you are looking to get more volume and midrange out of your pickups, you might want to try adding a series/parallel switch to your setup. Parallel wiring between two pickups is probably what you are used to by now. It's used in most guitars to add clarity to the sound. Series wiring is a little different. It produces a longer path with more resistance. This additional resistance prevents the higher tones from getting through the circuit, and allows more low/midrange tones to get through. In series wiring, the output of one pickup goes into the input of another pickup. In parallel wiring, each pickup takes its own path to the output.

goes into the input of another pickup. In parallel wiring, each pickup takes its own path
goes into the input of another pickup. In parallel wiring, each pickup takes its own path

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Here is a Les Paul style guitar with the series/parallel wiring. When both pickups are on, just pull out the treble tone push pull pot, and it will switch both pickups to be in series with one another. Push it back down for parallel wiring. All potentiometer cases will have ground wires soldered to them, including the push pull pot.

wiring. All potentiometer cases will have ground wires soldered to them, including the push pull pot.

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



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If you have a 4-wire humbucker on your guitar, then you can add a series/parallel on/on mini toggle switch like this. Another pickup needs to be on in order to get the series wiring between the two pickups. The hot wire leaving the mini toggle goes to the pickup selector switch, just like a normal 2-wire pickup. This diagram uses the same color codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup. Black is hot, green is ground, and red and white form the series link.

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If you want each coil in each humbucker to switch f rom series to parallel wiring, then the connections would look like this. The unshielded grey wire goes to ground. This example also uses an on/on DPDT mini toggle switch. This diagram uses the same color codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup. Black is hot, green is ground, and red and white form the series link.

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COIL TAP/COIL CUTTING WITH A MINI TOGGLE

COIL TAP/COIL CUTTING WITH A MINI TOGGLE By far one of the most useful guitar hot

By far one of the most useful guitar hot rod techniques is coil cutting. It gives you

the benefits of both worlds. With a 4-wire pickup you can create a strat sound and a les paul sound at the flick of a switch. Note: coil cutting is often referred to as coil tapping. Coil tapping, however, involves single coil pickups that have 2 leads and a ground wire. Basically, the coil tapped pickup is wound halfway, and then a lead is added. Then it is wound the rest of the way and another lead is added. Below is a diagram of a coil tapped pickup hooked up to an on/on mini toggle switch. These pickups are hard to find, especially since most sellers use the term "coil tapped pickups" to actually describe "coil cut pickups."

most sellers use the term "coil tapped pickups" to actually describe "coil cut pickups."  

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COIL CUTTING is fairly easy to do with an on/on/on mini toggle switch or push pull pot and a 4-wire humbucker. This setup will yield three different tones: north coil on, both coils on, and south coil on. Only two wires exit the on/on/on switch, a hot lead,

and a ground lead.

So it can be wired just like any 2 wire pickup once the signal leaves

the switch.

The bare ground wire also goes to ground. This diagram uses the same

color codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup. Black is hot, green is ground, and red and white form the series link.

codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup. Black is hot, green is ground, and red and white

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Here is a two humbucker guitar wired with two on/on/on mini toggle switches. This setup has a ton of useful tone options. A hot wire and a ground wire exit out of each mini toggle switch. This diagram uses the same color codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup. Black is hot (+), green is ground (-), and red and white form the series link. A black ground wires also exits out of the mini toggle switch and goes to the volume pot case.

link. A black ground wires also exits out of the mini toggle switch and goes to

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



  

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If you want to throw a few mods together on a 4-wire humbucker, then try this. It’s an on/on/on toggle that switches between series wiring, coil cutting, and parallel wiring. The bare grey wire and the black wire go to ground. The hot wire leaving the toggle goes to the pickup selector switch, just like a normal 2-wire pickup. The color codes are the same as a Seymour Duncan humbucker pickup. The black wire from the pickup is hot, green is ground, and the red and white wires form the series link.

is ground, and the red and white wires form the series link. Type this address in
is ground, and the red and white wires form the series link. Type this address in

Type this address in your web browser to hear this coil cut humbucker pickup. The first tone is the humbucker in series, the second tone is the pickup with one coil on, and the third tone is the humbucker in parallel.

CLEAN TONE: HTTP://WWW.TINYURL.COM/385TTY

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Add a phase a reversal switch to the mix, and the wiring looks like this. The top mini toggle switch is an on/on/on series/coil cut/parallel switch. The bottom toggle switch is an on/on phase reversal switch. You need two pickups on in order for the bottom switch to change the phase. The bare grey wire goes to ground. The hot wire leaving the on/on switch goes to the pickup selector switch, just like any normal 2-wire pickup. This pickup uses the same color codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup.

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COIL CUTTING WITH A PUSH/PULL POTENTIOMETER

If you want to cut the coils on your humbucking pickup, but don’t want to alter the appearance of your guitar, you can use a push/pull pot instead of a mini toggle switch to change from a humbucking pickup to a single coil pickup. The push pull pot is basically an on/on switch (NOT an on/on/on switch) connected to a potentiometer, so you get only two selections with this setup (humbucking or single coil). The diagram below uses the same color codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup. Black is the hot wire, green is the ground wire, the red and white wires form the series link, and the bare grey wire goes to ground. You are left with one wire exiting the push pull potentiometer that also goes to ground. The top part of the push pull pot, or the actual potentiometer, can be connected just like any normal volume or tone potentiometer. Note: if you don’t know which coil is the north coil, then you can buy a polarity tester from stewmac.com to find out which coil is north, and which coil is south.

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The wiring is a little different if you want to go from both coils on, to the south coil on. The hot wire from the pickup (black in this case) goes to the middle lug on the switch section of the push pull pot. Another wire connects to that same location and goes out to the pickup selector switch, where that pickup would normally be connected to. The diagram below uses the same color codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup. Black is the hot wire, green is the ground wire, the red and white wires form the series link, and the bare grey wire also goes to ground.

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Next we are going to connect two 4-wire humbuckers to one push pull potentiometer. The on/on dpdt switch section of this potentiometer has two poles, one on the left, and one on the right, so it is easy to solder one pickup’s connections to one pole, and the other pickup’s connections to the other pole. In the example below, when the coil cut switch is turned on, the north coil will be on in the pickup on the left, and the south coil will be on in the pickup on the right. If you wanted the north coil to be on in both pickups in the coil cut position, then each pole would have the same connections, or mirror each other, but each side would be connected to a different pickup. By knowing which poles are north and south, you can arrange the coil cut switch to turn on any combination of coils (outside coils on, inside coils on, north coils on, or south coils on). You can easily mix pickups from different brands with this setup. Notice that the pickup on the left has a hot wire that exits out to the pickup selector switch, and the hot wire from the pickup on the right exits out of the middle lug on the toggle switch, and then connects to the pickup selector switch. The 4 ground wires will go to the volume pot case. The diagram below uses the same color codes as a Seymour Duncan pickup. Black is the hot wire, green is the ground wire, the red and white wires form the series link, and the bare grey wire goes to ground.

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 Type this address in your web browser to hear this coil cut humbucking pickup.

 Type this address in your web browser to hear this coil cut humbucking pickup. The

Type this address in your web browser to hear this coil cut humbucking pickup. The first tone is the north coil on, the second tone is both coils on, and the third tone is the south coil on. The north coil is closest to the neck in this pickup.

CLEAN TONE: HTTP://WWW.TINYURL.COM/2M82NZ

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KILL SWITCH

Here is a simple kill switch. It will allow you to turn off your guitar quickly without messing with the volume control. It uses an on/on mini toggle switch that connects the volume pot to the output jack.

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CUSTOM 2 POT GUITAR WITH MINI TOGGLES

On the next page is a custom wiring diagram for a 2 pickup guitar. Each pickup is coil cut with an on/on/on mini toggle switch, giving you three selections for each pickup (north coil on, both coils on, and south coil on). The tone control is also a phase reversal push-pull potentiometer, so when both pickups are on, you can also get an out of phase sound. This guitar has Seymour Duncan pickups, so the black wire is hot, green is negative, and red and white wires form the series link. The bare ground wires from the pickups will be sent to ground. The .001 uF treble bleed capacitor on the volume pot is optional. It functions as a high pass filter and prevents the highs from bleeding out. Check out this webpage for a large color picture of the diagram on the next page:

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the diagram on the next page:   

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Separate each of the pickup wires and connect them to the on/on/on mini toggle switches. The red and white wires on this pickup form the series link.

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JIMMY PAGE WIRING

Below is the famous Jimmy Page wiring. Keep in mind, this is just one example, if you check online, you will probably find 20 different ways to wire a Jimmy Page guitar. Basically, you have two push pull pots that allow you to coil cut each humbucker. Plus, when the switch is in the middle position, both pickups will be out of phase with each another. The color codes below are the same as a Seymour Duncan pickup.

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The black wires (+) from the pickups are hot, green (-) is ground, and the red and white wires form the series link. The grey bare wires also go to ground. Notice that the green

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ground wire (-) from pickup 2 gets soldered to the tone 2 (T2) push pull pot. Normally the hot black wire (+) would get soldered there. Switching them around on pickup 2 will give you an out of phase sound when both pickups are switched on. Also notice that all of the pots are connected to ground, even the push pull pot case.

Type this address in your web browser to see a larger diagram in color.

http://tinyurl.com/BVLV8Z

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Question: Which lug on the output jack is hot, and which lug is a ground?

There are two lugs on a mono output jack. One of them is attached to the prong. That one is hot. Sometimes the hot lug also has a different shape, and can be notched.

to the prong. That one is hot. Sometimes the hot lug also has a different shape,
to the prong. That one is hot. Sometimes the hot lug also has a different shape,

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If you are using active pickups, or a preamp inside your guitar, then you will probably need to use a stereo output jack. It has one additional lug that connects to the 9 volt battery. When the guitar is unplugged, the battery is turned off.

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Question: What do the colors on the wires mean?

 

You have probably noticed by now that most hot wires on a guitar are colored, like white, red, or yellow, and most ground wires are black. Although most pickup companies do not use the same color codes, most ground wires on a 2 wire pickup will be black. You should check with the manufacturer to see what color codes your pickups use, especially when using 4-wire conductor pickups.

 

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Question: Which pickups have more unwanted noise, single coil, or double

Question: Which pickups have more unwanted noise, single coil, or double

coil?

Question: Which pickups have more unwanted noise, single coil, or double coil?

This problem, called 60 cycle hum, is common among single coil pickups. It occurs when the pickup basically picks up interference from an alternating current that is nearby, like from a computer or TV. Proper grounding and proper wire shielding can reduce this unwanted noise. Humbucking pickups have less noise, due to the in phase, in series wiring, but also have less treble. Many guitarists prefer single coils for their vintage guitar sound, and humbuckers for their powerful rock sound.

Question: Do you have any soldering tips?

There are 2 common ways to solder. One way involves adding solder to all of the lugs and wires before doing the actual soldering. The other way works great if you have the stiffer vintage style wire covered in cloth. Just pull back on the cloth to expose the wire, then put the wire in the potentiometer lug hole or switch lug hole, and touch the soldering iron, wire, and solder to each other. Most switch and potentiometer lugs have holes in them that 22 gauge wires can fit into easily.

Question: What is one way to prevent electrical shock?

Getting shocked while playing guitar is the result of faulty wiring, not necessarily in your guitar, but in the outlets that your equipment is plugged into. Faulty wiring has been a problem at some clubs. It all depends on who does the wiring, and if they know what they are doing. One way to protect yourself is to get an AEMC Outlet Tester. It can detect faulty wiring in three-wire receptacles, open grounds & neutrals, and reversed hot/ground connections. You can get one at Amazon.com. You can also get a wireless system for your guitar to increase your protection.

Or you can add a .022 capacitor and a 220K Ohms resistor in between the bridge ground and volume pot case to reduce DC current. Check out the diagram on the next page.

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Question: What is the cheapest way to change the sound of my guitar?

Change the pickup height. The closer the pickups are to the strings, the stronger the signal. The farther away they are, the weaker the signal. If your pickups are too close to the strings, they can sound too thick and distorted. Or you can just change the strings on your guitar. The thicker the strings will give you a warmer sound. Or change the potentiometers. Higher value pots like a 500K or 1 Meg will give you a brighter sound. Most Les Pauls currently use 500K pots. Last but not least, change the capacitor on your tone control. A stronger capacitor will give you a muddier sound with more bass.

Question: What effect do magnets have on a pickup?

Basically, the stronger the magnet, the stronger the pull is on the strings. The stronger magnetic field will slow down the string vibrations and give your pickups a warmer sound. Weaker magnets will pull less, and give you a brighter sound. To test this out, raise your neck pickup so it almost touches the strings. Notice how the sound is muddier than usual?

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Question: What is impedance?

Impedance is the resistance in a circuit, and can affect the tone qualities of a guitar pickup. Adding more resistance in a circuit will cause a boost in volume, midrange, and bass levels. This is one reason why humbuckers, which are wired in series, have a fat, powerful sound.

Question: What is an active pickup?

It is a pickup that has its own preamp to boost the gain and volume, while reducing unwanted noise associated with passive pickups. EMG 81 or 85 pickups, which are played by many rock bands, are good examples of some popular active pickups. Active pickups also need their own power source, like a 9 volt battery.

Question: What type of wire is used in guitar electronics?

Most pickups are wound using a very thin wire, 42 or 43 gauge copper wire. Its about as thick as hair. The actual wiring harnesses use 22 gauge wire with a braided, or teflon shield. The picture below is a rather large spool of 42 gauge pickup wire.

wire with a braided, or teflon shield. The picture below is a rather large spool of

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Question: How do you wire guitar that has only one 2-wire pickup?

Below is a basic wiring diagram using one humbucker, or one single coil pickup. You can use this with either the bridge or neck pickup. The pickup will have a volume and tone control. You can actually get plenty of good sounds out of this setup. If you want to play around with the tone, you can use a stronger or weaker capacitor. Adding a stronger capacitor sends more treble to the ground, and gives you more bass tones.

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Question: How do you use a multimeter?

Multimeters can be used to check the resistance of pickups, potentiometers, leads, and speakers. If you need to know how "hot" a pickup is, then just connect each multimeter lead to the hot and ground pickup wire, and take a reading. Make sure the multimeter is set to the 20K Ohms setting (2K - 20K range). The pickup shown on the next page came in at around 5.76K Ohms. If you don't get a reading, then the pickup needs repair. Hot pickups are usually 10-15K Ohms. The hotter a pickup is, the more volume, bass, and midrange it will have. Lower impedance pickups (5K – 6K Ohms) will have a broader range, and more sparkle, but a lower volume.

Lower impedance pickups (5K – 6K Ohms) will have a broader range, and more sparkle, but

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Is your tone or volume pot working? Check it out by placing a multimeter lead

Is your tone or volume pot working? Check it out by placing a multimeter lead on the two end lugs. If you have a 250K pot, then you can expect a reading around 230K -

260K.

lead on the two end lugs. If you have a 250K pot, then you can expect

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







 

































































































  

  
  










 











































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 Type these addresses in your web browser to hear these pickup wiring options. SERIES IN

Type these addresses in your web browser to hear these pickup wiring options.

SERIES IN PHASE: 

SERIES OUT OF PHASE: 

PARALLEL IN PHASE: 

PARALLEL OUT OF PHASE: 

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Question: Where can I get good guitar parts and information?

Here are some

great places to find guitar bodies, necks, switches, pots, wires, pickups, and more.

http://www.smallbearelec.com/home.html Tons of parts, and cheap prices, too.

http://www.stewmac.com/ They have pretty much everything for the beginner to advanced luthier.

http://www.wdmusic.com/ Tons of stuff, even economy parts.

http://store.guitarfetish.com/ A great source for 4-wire humbuckers, mini humbuckers for strats and teles, preamps you can add inside your guitar, and pretty much everything else you can think of, even electric guitars.

http://www.guitarpartsusa.com/ The name says it all. They have everything, even screws and pickup winding parts.

http://www.allparts.com/ Plenty of Fender factory parts and even concentric pots.

http://www.internationalluthiers.com/electricparts.php They have some good prices on switches and pickups.

http://www.warmoth.com/ High quality bodies and necks.

http://stores.ebay.com/Luxe-Guitars Incredible vintage style capacitors. They sound amazing.

http://stores.ebay.com/Classic-Clones-Amplification They have the vintage style cloth wiring. I love this stuff.

http://stores.ebay.com/musicpartsplus111 Plenty of parts, potentiometers, switches, knobs, etc.

http://stores.ebay.com/MMTG-Enterprises MMTG has tons of parts.

http://stores.ebay.com/MetalShopMusic-Guitars-Parts-Amps Amazing necks and bodies, and they also have plenty of parts.

http://pickguardian.com/ Great source for custom pickguards to fit your favorite pickups. They also have plastic control plates for telecaster guitars.

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http://stores.ebay.com/Jamerson-Guitars A good source for necks and bodies.

http://www.noahjames.com/books.html Great book on building guitars and basses from scratch.

www.stanhinesleypickups.com Great sounding hand wound pickups for your tele.

http://www.langcaster.com Great sounding low impedance pickups by Joh Lang.

http://wamplerpedals.com/ Some great boutique pedals by gear geek, Brian Wampler.

http://buildyourownclone.com

by gear geek, Brian Wampler. http://buildyourownclone.com http://stores.ebay.com/P-S-I-Love-You Question: Where can I

http://stores.ebay.com/P-S-I-Love-You

Question: Where can I get hand scatter wound pickups?

There is nothing quite

like the tone of a hand scatter wound pickup. You just can’t reproduce that type of sound with a machine made pickup, no matter how much it cost to make. Stan Hinesley has been doing just this for years. All hand wound in the USA by Stan himself.  

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Question: What type of neck causes more string buzz?

Basically a shorter neck

scale, like a Gibson 24.75”, will have less tension and will buzz more than a longer neck, like a 25.5” Fender neck. The longer neck will also have more sustain and clarity. On the other hand, the decreased tension on a Gibson neck makes it a little easier to play, which is great if you want to use a heavier gauge of strings.

is great if you want to use a heavier gauge of strings. Want a low impedance

Want a low impedance humbucker?

Langcaster has come up with the answer, a

humbucking pickup called the Ultimate Lo (pictured above). The Ultimate Lo uses a much heavier gauge of wire with only a tenth of the number of turns. This makes the inductance 100th that of a conventional pickup. Self-resonance is as high as 56 KHz - way beyond the range of human hearing. The resistance is a mere 120 ohms because of fewer turns and thicker wire. Guitarists immediately react with favor upon hearing their first chord played on the Ultimate Lo®.

The preamp is designed with discrete transistors, so that an extremely low current is drawn from the battery. Long battery life is assured, so that the battery lasts almost as long as its shelf life. No compromise has been made in the output capability, either.

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The buffer stage has a capability of driving the volume pot to 2.5 Volts RMS, which is hardly ever likely to be required in normal playing. All Langcaster pickups are wax sealed and use a copper/chrome plated pickup cover. There is no loss of power caused by this cover, which happens often with high impedance pickups.

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Question: Can you explain the physics involved in pickup design and function?

INDUCTANCE: Inductance ‘L’ has an impedance which rises with increased frequency (Z = 2 f L). This Z is called reactance in electronic terms. Guitar pickups wound in the conventional way may have an inductance of anywhere between 2.5 and 10 Henrys. High output pickups generally have a higher inductance, higher self- capacitance, and therefore a lower self-resonance.

CAPACITANCE: A capacitor ‘C’ has a reactance in the opposite way than an

inductor; the impedance falls with increased frequency (Z = 1 ÷ 2 f C). The value of

C is in Farads. The coil windings have self-capacitance because the windings are very

close to each other. Inductors, being wound layer upon layer, have a winding capacitance which resonates with the inductance at a frequency determined by the formula: f res = 1 ÷ 2LC.

SELF-RESONANCE: This self-capacitance of the windings resonates with the coil’s inductance. This is known as the coil’s self-resonance. In the case of a guitar pickup coil, the self-capacitance can be anywhere between 50pF and 300pF (pF = picofarads

= Farads x 10 -15 ). Added to this capacitance will be the capacitance of the guitar lead, which may add another 250 to 1000pF. For example, a pickup with an inductance of 8 Henrys, used with a guitar cable at 800pF, and a winding capacitance of 150pf will have a combined resonance of only 1.8 KHz (1,800 Hz). This is sure to sound Ok for some guitarists, but most would feel robbed of tonal quality. Turning up the treble control on the amplifier will do little to help, except increase the hiss.

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Q FACTOR: High impedance pickups range in self-resonance between 2 KHz to 5 KHz with a loaded Q of 0.8 to 4.0 or more. Q is a quality factor which engineers use to express bandwidth and is calculated with the formula: Q = f 0 ÷ BW where BW is the bandwidth of resonance. It is the difference in frequency between the -3dB points of the resonant curve. The f 0 represents the resonant frequency. The Q factor is decreased by the resistance loading the coil (the volume and tone pots), and by the series resistance of the coil itself. A high Q factor gives a peak in the response, which may be quite prominent. The peak may even be as high as +12dB. High peaks can be annoying, as they emphasise only a narrow range of the frequency spectrum, but can add character to a pickup.

SUMMARY: All this means that the standard high impedance pickup frequency response will be limited by the self-resonant frequency, which can be as low as 1500 Hz or possibly as high as 5000 Hz, and is affected by the guitar lead capacitance. After peaking at resonance, the output drops rapidly at –12dB / Octave. This is a limit well within the audible range, and well within the range where the quality of sound can be degraded. It is also in the range where the human ear is most sensitive. The self- resonance characterises what a pickup will sound like. Of course, the position of the pickup on the body also determines which harmonics are most prevalent. Higher order harmonics come from the bridge pickup because of the way a string vibrates. Conventional pickup coils are a compromise between output level and tone. There is a need for a pickup that eliminates these compromises, and builds on quality and tone. One that will eliminate the effect of capacitance of guitar leads. It would be good, too, if the pickup sounds clear and precise. It should not sound too muddy or weak. It should make music.

Question: What is a ground loop?

This occurs when you create more than one path

to ground for a particular electronic device. Ground loops can cause unwanted AC hum.

Question: How hot are vintage sounding pickups?

If you want the vintage single coil sound, then you will probably want a pickup that is measured at 5K Ohms to 6K Ohms on your Multimeter. This is not really a measurement of impedance, but a measurement of DC resistance. But both measurements are related. A low DC resistance will yield a lower impedance pickup. And a pickup with low impedance will give you plenty of treble and sparkle in your tone. The lower resistance is due to less windings of copper wire around the magnets.

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Now, if you are looking for a hotter pickup with more punch, then you might be looking for a pickup rated at 8K Ohms to 9K Ohms. And if you want a very hot, loud pickup, go with one rated at 10K Ohms to15K Ohms.

Question: Where can you get vintage style 22 AWG wire?

Bookmark this site

http://stores.ebay.com/Classic-Clones-Amplification

This wire is from the same manufacturer that supplied wire to Fender. It has a double- cloth jacket, waxed cotton outer braid, and a celanese inner braid. I love this stuff. It is stiff and bendable; making it a dream to use. It comes in several different colors like red, vintage white, and black, so you can keep your grounds all black and your hots all white or red. No need to strip your wires anymore, just pull back on the cloth to expose the wire. And when you are done soldering, just push the cloth back over the wire.

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Question: Where can you get a custom made pickguard?

Pickguardian.com will

make you a custom acrylic, plexiglass, or tortoise pickguard or control plate for cheap. They offer a bunch of unusual colors, and can even make clear plastic pickguards and covers. Check out the example below. Now you can show off your hard work.

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Question: What is desolder braid?

A desolder braid, or wick, when heated absorbs

old solder left on your switches and potentiometers. So if you reuse electronics parts often like I do, this stuff will keep your work neat and clean. Once a portion of the braid has been used to absorb solder, then that part of the braid is used up, and should be cut off and thrown away when its cool. Desolder braid can be found everywhere online.

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Question: What is heat shrink tubing?

Heat shrink tubing is a protective sleeve that

is used to cover wire connections. So let’s say you need to extend the length of your bridge ground, or pickup wire. Put a piece of the tubing over one of the wires. Twist the two wires together and solder them. Then fold back the bare wires.

together and solder them. Then fold back the bare wires. Next, take that same piece of
together and solder them. Then fold back the bare wires. Next, take that same piece of

Next, take that same piece of heat shrink tubing, and move it over the open connection.

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Now heat up the heat shrink tubing with a lighter. You will see that the tubing starts shrinking rather quickly. Be careful. Don’t hold the lighter over the tubing too long, or you can start a fire.

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Question: Why do some people use shielding in their guitar bodies?

Because

they have a problem with unwanted noise. Conductive shielding paint applied inside of the control cavity will help reduce the 60 cycle hum and unwanted noise. If you have a plastic control cover, you can use the conductive tape to shield it. For the body, you can use the conductive paint. Then solder a ground wire to the dried conductive paint inside the body cavity. If that doesn’t work, you can always twist the ground wire around a wood screw, and then screw it into the body cavity. Make sure you paint a little bit above the body cavity hole, so that the control cover tape touches the conductive paint inside the body cavity. Stewmac.com sells the paint for $28 a can.

Question: What are scatter wound pickups?

True scatter wound pickups have

copper wire that is hand wound around the pickup bobbin in a random fashion, similar to the Fender and Gibson guitars from the 1950’s. This type of winding lowers the pickup’s capacitance, and produces a unique vintage sound that is bright and clear.

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Scatter winding will also change the pickup’s inductance, or energy stored in the pickup’s electromagnetic field. The more inductance, the more low end a pickup will have, even if it has a low DC resistance like 6K Ohms.

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Question: How do you solder a ground wire to a potentiometer case? If you want

 

to add a ground wire to a pot, start by heating up the case with your soldering iron for a few seconds. Then touch the solder to the iron and case at the same time. The solder should flow out onto the case and form a liquid ball. Now remove the iron and solder. In order to solder a wire to the case, just touch the soldering iron to the solder you just added, and heat it up until it becomes a liquid. When it does, touch the ground wire to it, and remove the iron. It should dry in a few seconds.

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Question: Where can you get real vintage Les Pauls?

Some of my favorite shops

for vintage guitars are Killervintage.com and Elderly.com. Below is a picture of the Killer Vintage shop out of St. Louis, Missouri. One of the guys running the show, Dave Hinson, was actually taught by Mel Bay, and has contributed to the   

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Question: What is current?

Current, which is measured in amps, or amperes, is the

amount of electric charge flowing from one point to another. Current moves from a high voltage source to a low voltage source. This idea is similar to a current that flows through a river, except that gravity is the cause of the motion in the river, and a power source, like a 9 volt battery, is the cause of the motion in an electrical current. So just like a river, which always moves out towards the sea, the electrical current always moves out towards ground, which is the lowest voltage point in a circuit.

Question: What is voltage?

Voltage, which is measured in volts, is the strength, or

force a signal has. It is often referred to as the “electric potential” or “potential difference”, and is actually the cause of an electrical current. Think of it like a garden hose with water flowing out at about 100 gallons per hour. That measurement is similar to the force that is measured as potential voltage in a current. Add a water sprinkler to the hose, and the water sprays out into your yard at a different pressure. The pressure in the hose, however, is still the same. The water is still flowing out at 100 gallons per hour. So the potential in a 9 volt battery, when the two terminals are connected in a circuit, is 9 volts. Even if you add a capacitor or resistor that slows down of the flow of electrons somewhere in the circuit, the voltage potential is still 9 volts.

The voltage in a guitar’s electronics will be very minimal, around 1 or 2 volts, or less. If you have a guitar with active pickups, then a 9 volt battery will be used to activate the pickups, which is still pretty low. Amplifiers, however, are a totally different story. They have a very strong voltage, which can be very dangerous if wired improperly.

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If you’ve been in a music store anytime since 1978, you’ve no doubt seen the ubiquitous orange Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal. Universally recognized as a good, inexpensive distortion pedal, you’ve probably even owned one or two in the past. Although it houses a simple circuit design, it produces a very good distortion sound, particularly for a mass produced pedal. Let’s look a little more closely at the circuit and check out some changes that are available to make this great pedal even better.

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The circuit is a buffered bypass circuit with electronic switching, as are all Boss pedals. The circuit comes in through R1, a 1K resistor, and then travels through C1, a .047 microfarad, or F, capacitor into the first buffer. This buffer goes out through C2 and then into a JFET ( junction gate f ield- effect t ransistor), which is part of the switching. If the pedal is off, the signal goes out to the switching circuit and through the output

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through Q7, which you can increase or decrease in value to adjust gain before the next stage. Increasing the value increases gain, while decreasing it will give you a little less gain overall but will tighten up the DS-1’s low-end response, ridding it of the flubbiness many people dislike. We can also decrease C3 to get this same effect by not allowing as much bass to come through. I like to change its value to either .022F or .033F if I’m looking for a less flubby tone. To clarify, to me, “flubby” means a deeply compressed tonality. C4, which has a value of 250 picofarads (pF) also filters out some highs. Changing this won’t do too much, although you may be able to coax a little more brightness by changing it to a 100 pF capacitor.

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The signal then goes out through C5 into the opamp. This opamp is used in a unique way to clip the signal. R11 controls the gain in combination with the distortion knob, R13 and C8. The gain control is set up this way to enable the clipping of higher frequencies as you turn the distortion up. When it’s turned down, it allows lower frequencies in – giving it a muddy sound since the signal is clipped beforehand through the transistor gain circuits, then clipped again when the distortion control is turned down. The first stage clipping is still occurring and as a result, the pedal doesn’t sound as clear and articulate as many would like. R13 and C8 are part of this “non-

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inverting” opamp circuit which provides negative feedback to ground. This is important for several reasons. The resistor value of R13 and the capacitor value of C8 basically provide a frequency range where the signal is made to clip. In this case all frequencies above 33hz is being clipped. To contrast, a Tubescreamer only lets frequencies above 728hz clip. This means that none of the lower bass frequencies are being boosted and/or clipped in the Tubescreamer.

The signal goes out through R14, which is a 2.2k resistor, through C9, which is a .47F capacitor running across two diodes – D4 and D5 – and then to ground. All the usual diode tricks can be done here to allow more asymmetric clipping or different clipping flavors. Here C10 JFET. These JFETs act as a switch, allowing the signal to either go through the distortion circuit or out through the buffers, producing a clean signal.

When the pedal is on, signal travels to Q6, through C3 and into a transistor gain stage. R7 controls the gain of this circuit by changing the voltage bias, consisting of a 470k resistor which is also in parallel with D4 and D5 and is used to filter out highs in conjunction with R14. R14 and C10 form a low pass f ilter, cutting out high frequencies.

Go to indyguitarist.com/filter.htm and scroll to the bottom. Plug these values into the corresponding fields to determine which frequencies are being filtered.

With the current values you will find it’s filtering everything above 7k, which helps to smooth things out a little bit. If it’s too bright, replace R14 with a resistor valued at 3.3k, allowing more highs to be filtered out, or try a 4.7k resistor to filter out everything above 3.3kHz.

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After traveling through the diodes and the capacitor, the signal goes through a Big Muff inspired tone control. There are many things we can do to manipulate the tone here, and a great resource is the Duncan Tone Stack calculator, available at duncanamps.com/tsc/. Experiment with different values to find the tone you’re looking for. In the stock version of the pedal, the tone is a bit “scooped” meaning that there is little mid frequencies allowed through making the tone a little “thin” sounding. We can change that quite easily however. Check out the suggested changes in the charts below to get a warmer tone, a scooped mid tone, or simply less highs.

After the tone control the signal travels through the level control and then out through R18, which is a 10k resistor, and then on to Q7, which is the other side of the JFET switching circuit. In its on state, it goes past Q7, through C13 – which is a .047F capacitor – through yet another output buffer and then a resistor, a capacitor and finally through the output.

Let’s look at some modifications that will have your DS-1 doing your bidding in no time.

Note: It’s a good idea to buy some desoldering braid to suck up the old solder when dealing with pedals. Then you can use fresh solder for the replacement capacitors and resistors, and will prevent tearing up the traces on the pedal.

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Classic JCM-type Marshall Tones:

Location

Change to

C3

.033 F

R17

15k

C2

1F

D4

1N4148 CONNECTED IN SERIES TO ANOTHER 1N4148

D5

1N4001 CONNECTED IN SERIES TO ANOTHER 1N4001

C5,C9

1UF

R13

OPTIONAL – CHANGE TO 1k FOR TONS OF GAIN, IF YOU DO THIS, ALSO CHANGE C8 TO A 1F

Modern distortion tones

Location

Change to

R16

1k

R14