How your guitar’s control pots affect its tone

Gibson Les Paul Classic
(Image credit: Future)

Most guitarists rarely give potentiometers a second thought, but they dramatically affect an instrument’s tone and feel, and changing them can be a very cost-effective upgrade. This issue, we’re telling you everything you need to know about pots, starting with an explanation of how potentiometers work in electric guitars.

Potentiometers have three solder tags and the outer ones are connected via a conductive strip that has a preset resistance. The centre tag (tag 2) connects to a ‘wiper’, which tracks along the conductive strip when you turn a control knob. For volume control, tag 1 is connected to the pickup positive or selector switch output, tag 2 goes to the output socket, and tag 3 is grounded.

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Huw Price

Huw started out in recording studios, working as a sound engineer and producer for David Bowie, Primal Scream, Ian Dury, Fad Gadget, My Bloody Valentine, Cardinal Black and many others. His book, Recording Guitar & Bass, was published in 2002 and a freelance career in journalism soon followed. He has written reviews, interviews, workshop and technical articles for Guitarist, Guitar Magazine, Guitar Player, Acoustic Magazine, Guitar Buyer and Music Tech. He has also contributed to several books, including The Tube Amp Book by Aspen Pittman. Huw builds and maintains guitars and amplifiers for clients, and specializes in vintage restoration. He provides consultancy services for equipment manufacturers and can, occasionally, be lured back into the studio.