Guitar Pots: What They Are and Knowing How They Work

Date Posted:6 April 2017 


control cavity of an electric guitarDiscussing potentiometers or better known as pots can be quite confusing to a lot of people, including experienced musicians. What pots should I use for my volume and tone knob? Is a 500k pot better than a 250k pot? There are so many questions and a lot of different answers to be found on the internet!. We hope that this simple article will arm you with the basic knowledge of how guitar pots work and help you in deciding which pot to use for your next guitar project.

So what exactly are pots?

Pots are electromagnetic transducers, meaning it is an electrical component that controls the resistance or flow of electricity. Their purpose is to change or stop the flow of electricity when the dial or knob is turned. The inside of a guitar pot has a wiper and a resistor plate. As you turn the knob, the wiper slides back and forth across the resistor plate. The wiper is also wired on one end of the plate. Resistance increases as the wiper moves farther away from the wired end of the plate. This happens because of the increased distance that electricity has to travel. As the wiper gets closer to the wired end, resistance decreases, increasing the electrical flow. This is basically how the volume and tone control of the guitar works.

So, What Value Pot Should I Get?

This topic is one that has been discussed a lot in forums and music communities. So which should you use, 250k or 500k? The real difference between these would be their resistance levels which is what the K stands for. Either of the pots can be used with all passive pickups and should not present any compatibility issues with your guitar. They will produce slightly different results, but there is no wrong answer here. Now, what about active pickups? There are lower value pots like 25k and 50k which are used for active pickups.

Normally, higher value pots can create brighter tones with your guitar since they do not allow higher frequencies to be diverted to the ground wires as easily as lower value pots do. This allows the higher frequencies to come through the pickups. On the other hand, Lower valued pots bleed out the higher frequencies to the ground and only allow lower frequencies to pass through the pickups. This is a reason why 250k pots tend to give guitars a warmer sound and emphasized mid-range.

Pots and Pickups

It is best to remember that the pots work hand in hand with pickups to provide the character of your guitar. Humbucker pickups usually sound warmer than single-coil pickups. This is generally why Les Paul guitars are usually wired with 500k pots to help retain some of the high frequencies lost by the humbucking pickups. For Stratocasters, these are usually wired with 250k pots to suit their treble-heavy single-coil pickups. Capacitors can also be wired into the pot configuration to modify the standard sound. With the proper capacitor, a 500k pot can be turned into a 250k pot. Although it would also be best to remember that there are exceptions to the rules. You will find that some Les Pauls can be wired with 250k pots and Stratocasters with 500k pots, this will produce different results and you may find that experimenting with different pot resistance values helps you find your sound.



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