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Dispelling some popular myths


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So, you make a change to your guitar by putting in Sprague orange drops and now it's the cats meow, right?

Or you got rid of those cheapo Asian import pots in your Epi and now you are the tone-master and volume king.

Your buddy spent $150 putting in some NOS Bumble Bee caps in his jazz box and now claims it has come alive.

You replaced an original blown PAF humbucker on your 59 175D with a brand new one from Gibson, but now it does not sound the same.


Well, those old bumble bees are magic, right? Those asian pots are crap, they kill the tone, and they don't make the new pick-ups the same way they used to....sounds framilliar? These are some of the biggest myths going on out there backed by subjective hype and impressions and have absolutely no measurable basis in fact. All this is due to a fundemental lack of understanding of electronics theory, which like music theory, is quite complicated and daunting to most, especially the uninitiated. The majority of players, and luthiers alike are bamboozled by the shroud of magic and mysticism surrounding the world of electronics, mainly because it's something that you cannot see or easily measure without some very sophisticated and specialized test equipment. So without actual qualified laboratory analysis, guitar techs, luthiers, and many shadetree do-it your selfers come up with all sorts of crazy explainations. Some are based on empirical results, hands on experience, some are educated guesses and most are pure conjecture.


What you are really experiencing is the degradation, and variation of electronic components over time. Like everything else, they can, and do wear out. Some components go bad due to use, but most go bad due to age, they drift and change as their internal composition and characteristics age over time. I repair vintage transitorized radios, and tube guitar amps, and aside from the tubes and transistors themselves, its the capacitors and pots that consistantly need replacement. Over the years, caps have gotten much better than the ones they made in the pre-war era through the 1950s, but they still go bad. Magnets still fade, so pick-ups age and their sound changes. Some custom pick-up manufacturers offer "aged" magnets, and some of them will re-wind your old pick-up so it will sound the same as you other matching pick-up. Pots do wear out with use, but quality ones will last longer.


Electric guitars are different because of the electronics aging, and this affects them far more than the wood aging when amplified. Pick up magnets fade with heat and time, so they will also become mellower. Lower grade tone caps, especially the earlier tubular ones from the 1950s will become leaky with age. A capacitor's oil filled and wax paper dielectric breaks down and this changes the capacitance and therefore the roll-off frequency of the tone circuit, changing the tone response. Todays newer film caps are far better constructed and sealed, so they tend to fair better and not change as much as the early capacitors did. Herein lies the myth about how much difference putting in bumble bees or orange drops caps made to a guitar. In reality, the guitar had leaky old caps, and that is why the new ones made such a difference. Alternatively, the replacement cap may have been a different value than the original, which makes a huge tone difference. Also caps can vary widely in value as they have tolerance ratings from +/- 10% to +/- 20%, and this tolerance variation makes a big tone difference that nobody ever talks about.


People put too much stock into the myth about tone and volume pots with regards to who made them. It is true that the taper (logarithmic, exponential, linear and audio taper) does affect the amount of response per degree of rotation, which can be the difference between a wide and easily adjustable range, or all the adjustment being within 10-20 degrees of rotation, but that is the only real difference. Pots all use carbon resistive elements, and until they wear out from use, the perform equally in that respect and do not affect tone. What will affect tone is the wrong value of pot (250K where 500K is stock) or the wrong taper (linear taper instead of audio taper, or a worn out pot. I think many people are fooled into thinking it was the brand of cap, or pot that made a big tone difference, when it really was a leaky cap, the wrong taper or value of pot, or a worn out pot that was the culprit.


So, if you replaced an import pot with say a CTS, or a Allen Bradley (USA) and noticed a difference, you had a worn out pot, or possibly the wrong taper, or value. This then is the source of many myths and miss-information, as most luthiers know very little about electronics other than how to solder and follow a wiring diagram. And to the luthier's credit, if they have the right parts to start with, this is all they really should need to know.


This is not meant to put down guitar techs, luthiers, and musicians, as their field of expertize generally does not cover being an electronics engineer.

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Like for religion, people needs to believe in things so it is why psychoacoustic is so all over the place.

Post purchase rationalization is also a common phenomenon, who would like to claim his 50$ Paper in Snake Oil NOS cap doesn't improve his tone over the stock 25 cents one?

Or why guitars are ALWAYS aging for the good like a good old wine (some wines actually can't age and have to be drunk now)...

Gear forum would be boring without the lore and myths.

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