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Tone and Volume Controls


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This is not my work. It is on the MLP forum, Splattle101 is the author. However I thought it important enough that it should be included on this forum.


LES PAUL Controls


"First, your volume controls do not just control your loudness, but also your level of distortion ('gain' or 'overdrive'). If your guitar has modern wiring, lowering the volume will also reduce the available treble, as if you'd turned the tone down too. If you have 1950s wiring this effect is far less prominent.


Secondly, your tone control not only cuts your treble, it also reduces the amount of 'space' your guitar seems to take up in the mix. Turning your tone down can effectively pull you 'back' into the mix.


Enough basics. Here's some pointers.


EQ Your Amp for the Neck

Most of the time you've probably set up your amp for a good tone from the bridge. Try this instead and see what happens.


1. Turn all your volumes and tones up to 10.

2. Select the neck pick up.

3. Adjust your amp so you get a good soloing tone for that pickup.

4. Switch to bridge. This will be too bright. Ice-pick through ear territory.

5. Tame bridge with tone control, until you've got a good soloing tone.


You now have your 'boost' sounds. Now turn the bridge vol down (about 75-80%), until you've got a good crunching rhythm sound. If you have modern wiring you may need to turn up the tone a little at this stage. You could now play the rhythm on the bridge, and switch to the neck for the solo.


Solo on Bridge, cleans on Neck

Turn up your bridge tone and vol. That's your solo sound (ice pick and all). Turn your neck vol down to about 50%. If your amp is any good, that should be nearly clean. If you've got 1950s wiring, it won't be muddy either. You may now play the intro to Since I've Been Lovin' You on the neck pick up. Switch to bridge for the signature lick. Back to neck, or turn down bridge to 50-60%. For a more sensible bridge pick up sound, just turn the tone down a fraction to clip some of the hairs off it.


If your amp is good, it should be sensitive enough to clean up when you turn down, and also to clean up if you back off with your right hand an pick gently. Use both these effects to control your tone.


Middle positions


Leave your bridge in its rhythm setting, then switch to middle. Now turn down the neck to nearly nothing, then slowly turn it back up (to about 50%). Somewhere across this range you'll hear three fairly distinct tones. It'll start out sounding like the bridge on its own. Next, it will fill out (i.e. get some extra bass), and it might do this quite suddenly. This is a really useful sound for soloing, because it basically sounds like the bridge pickup, but it's fuller and meatier without being in any way muddy. As you keep turning up the neck vol it will start to sound more like both pick ups. This can be sort of nasal, but quite good.


Once you get both pick ups to the same vol (~ 75%) you've got the classic middle sound. Many people find this a bit muddy, but if you EQd the amp for your neck pick up, you should be OK.


Before I forget again, there's one thing about the middle setting that I forgot to mention. It's a lot easier to use than it sounds to describe it!


If you set your neck so it's basically clean (~ 50%), and then set the bridge to about 75%, that will give you the sounds-like-the-bridge-pickup-but-fuller tone. As I said before, that's a good rhythm or lead sound.


From that basic position, if you want to get a boost, all you have to do is adjust ONE volume control up to 100%. Either will work. If the bridge, you get the biting sound, if the neck you get the fuller sound. When you've finished, simply turn that volume back to where it was.


Simple. In other words, once you've worked out your pre-sets, using the Les Paul this way is as simple as playing a Telecaster.





What I meant by 'good soloing tone' is that it has enough treble and high mids to be heard through the mix. Like the sound Gary Moore uses for Still Got the Blues. The beginning and a fair bit of the solo are neck pickup sounds. So what I am getting at is that your neck pup is darker than the bridge. The sound you get with the bridge vol and tone at 10 is the brightest sound you can extract from your guitar. If you EQ your amp so the brightest possible sound you can get sounds balanced, the neck pup will be muddy. This is problem a lot of people complain about, which is why I wrote this.


With the tone control you can cut the treble. But you can't add it if it's not already there. So...


EQ your amp so it's as bright as you need it to be on the neck pup. Then your bridge will seem too bright and harsh, but you can tame that with the tone control for the bridge. That's what I meant when I said you can cut the treble, but you can't add it if it's not there.


So in its simplest terms, EQ your amp bright enough for your neck to sound good, then turn down the tone on your bridge. The rest will follow from there.





A couple of things here. Firstly, a lot of the good rock players (like Page, the Young Brothers, etc) played with a lot less distortion than it might sound like at first listen. Since I've Been Lovin' You is a case in point. The intro is a lot less distorted than the first, trebly signature lick. That tells me that the neck pickup - on which he played the intro - must've had the volume backed off to clean it up a bit. But if turning your vol down makes the sound muddy, you have a problem. It was this phenomenon that caused me to re-EQ my amp for the neck pickup in the first place.


Which brings me to the second thing. If your sound goes muddy when you turn down, you do need to look at your electronics. There are a number of vendors in this place that can set you up. However, the biggest single change that I heard (your MMV), was changing from modern to 50s wiring. Don't get me wrong: I like what the PIO caps did to the voice of the instrument, and good pots are better than stock, etc, etc, etc. But changing to 50s harness meant that the vol no longer turned the tone down. No mud effect. This made a huge difference to the playability of the instrument, without changing its voice at all."

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There's other approaches too, especially for someone like me that prefers a warm crunch. I use 250K pots on my bridge PU's volume and tone pots (both HB's and P-90's) and often put in warmer-toned magnets too (UOA5, A8, A4, and A2). I don't see any point in having all the extra treble; I'll never use it. This way I bring the bridge and neck PU's much closer together in EQ. With the guitar's volume and tone pots on '10', I set my amp EQ to the bridge PU, dial in a rich, warm, full tone, and the neck automatically sounds very good and clear.


I also wire my guitars for independent volume controls so I can blend each PU's volume in the middle toggle position, and get many more sounds, and also adjust my EQ that way. If I want too add some brightness to the neck, I'll put the neck on 10 and the bridge on 5 or 6. Or if I want to warm teh bridge tone, i'll add in a little of the neck.

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