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Guitar Potentiometers

Guitar Potentiometers are essential Guitar parts to consider when designing an electric guitar and how it translates through an Amplifier...  

What's are Guitar Potentiometers?

Guitar Potentiometers are also known as Pots   

Guitar Potentiometers (Pots) are essentially variable resistors.   They are the key to guiding the electrical impulses from the pickups through the circuit and out to the amplifier in hopes of recreating the guitar's natural sound.  They control the output of Volume and Tone.

To achieve this, choosing the correct guitar potentiometers can be a daunting proposition. Quality of components, how they are arranged in the circuit, interaction with other components and the Pot's electronic specification's will determine the success of the sound coming out of the guitar and ultimately, the amplifier.

NOTE: Connecting the components of a guitar circuit is basically current path construction.  But, things can go very wrong with one simple bad connection.  Finding the issue can sometimes be hard to detect.  Other than faulty soldering connections or an incorrect current path, the two parts famous for causing nerve ending damage and hair loss are the Potentiometer and / or the output Jack.

Regarding potentiometers, we like to check the operation and accuracy of pots before soldering them into a circuit.  By doing this we eliminate one of the causes of circuit failure in advance. 

Guitar Potentiometers come in different shapes and sizes. MVG offers both high end special designed pots and improved industry standard spec pots.  But how are pots made?

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Parts of the Pot

All of the Pieces are vitally important for great sound

Guitar potentiometers are made up of few key components.  The "can" is a shell(usually metal) with the resistor plates inside, connecting lugs mounted on the outside and a bushing that guides the Shaft into the pot for controlling the resistor plates.  The construction, materials, and tolerances used in each component will determine the effectiveness of the pot as a whole.

"Cans" or the case of the pot is usually made of metal.  Case metals seem the same until you look close or try to solder a ground to it and it won't stick as easily.  

The builders ability to solder well will enable a quality or average pot to operate at it's fullest potential.

NOTE:  Practice makes perfect when it comes to soldering.  It is suggested to practice on inexpensive parts before using high end components.

Common physical sizes of guitar potentiometer pot cans are usually either 16mm or 24mm.  24mm were commonly used on vintage guitars.  16mm pots are used for installations into tight control cavities.  Output quality can be equal if construction material is equal.  Highest quality pots are most often the 24mm.  

The metals used in all other pot components can range from aluminum and pot metal all the way up to Brass for the Bushing and / or shaft.  Well machined brass bushings and / or shafts provide very smooth operation. While the cheaper non-brass versions can feel gritty when turned.  

Insulator plates holding the solder or connecting lugs can vary.  The thicker the better for both. a well insulated, solid connection is paramount for superior volume and tone control.

Picking the Right Pots

It's All in the Spec's

When optimum sound is paramount, choosing the best guitar replacement parts is essential.  The key to the electronics of the guitar are in the spec's. 

The best Guitar Potentiometer Spec's lie in the resistance of pots and are measured in ohms.  Early Tele pots were 250k ohms(single coil pickups), Gibson (humbuckers and big single coils) pickups and other non-Fender styles used 500k ohm and sometimes 1m ohm pots.   The 500k ohm pots have evolved into use with Fender style single coils because of hotter output modern pickups. 

When using 250k, 500k or 1Mk(usually for super powered pickups) the next consideration is Audio Taper or Linear.  

Audio Taper

Audio Taper pots increase volume in varying degrees based on a curve designed to match up with how humans hear or perceive the change in volume. 

At the same time Audio Taper can be produced to change the volume rate, making it either slower or quicker.  The design can adjust the ability to achieve 50% of volume at a quarter, half or three quarters of a turn of the Control knob.  

 Audio taper pots were originally used on Vintage guitar Volume controls.  Modern guitars use them as both Volume and Tone controls.   A letter "A" preceding the ohm number designates an Audio Taper pot


Linear pots perform exactly as the name implies, Increases are in a straight "line". Graduating the increase at a steady rate with the turn of the knob.  Linear pots were used on vintage guitars as Tone pots. 

 Today there is a trend experimenting with using Linear pots as both volume and tone controls.  The letter  "B" preceding the ohm number designates the guitar potentiometer is a Linear pot.

 Example Designations:

 A500k ohm - is an audio taper pot
 B500k ohm - is a linear pot

Mounting the Pot

When choosing a pot to fit under your guitar control knobs, don't get the shaft (wrong). In this case both how Long and Big around are very important  when considering a pot upgrade.  The width of the Bushing (Threaded base) is usually designed to fit either a 5/16" Small hole or 3/8" Large hole control plate.  Shaft tops come either solid for a screw on knob or split / spline shaft for a press on or screw mount knob.   Screw mounts can be used on splined shafts as well.  Also, there are different bushing/shaft heights that are very important to know for varying mounting surface thicknesses.

The Biggest miscalculation concerning Guitar Potentiometers and knobs is matching the Shaft(of the Pot) to the Hole (in the bottom of the Knob).  MVG Knobs predominately have a 6mm hole while most solid and some spline shafted pots require a 1/4" hole. The difference is minimal ( .250" vs. .236" or about 1/3 of a mm), but enough that the knobs won't fit on the pot shafts.  So, be careful when planning this part of the build.

MVG / CTS Potentiometers

Our Custom CTS Pots are great for replacing broken or scratchy pots, building new guitar circuits or just to give your guitar a solid upgrade.

Special built to Modern Vintage Guitar specs with easy solder cases for grounding.  The combination of the Custom Vintage Volume Curve, Low Torque (resistance to touch) movement and Tight +/- 10 % Tolerance spec's makes these Pots "Swell Masters".  Smooth volume control that's smooth to the touch.

The same Volume curve works like magic as a Tone Control.  Combined with quality pickups and upgraded Guitar circuits these pots will light up your playing experience. 

CTS Guitar Potentiometers Cost a Little More, But are Well Worth the Investment