Guitar Pots: What They Are and Knowing How They Work

Author: Allan Kumpulainen   Date Posted:April 06, '17 


Discussing potentiometers or better known as pots can be quite confusing to a lot of people even for long time musicians. What pots should I use for my volume and tone knob? Is a 500k pot better than a 250k pot? So many questions and a lot of different answers looming over the horizon. We do hope that this simple article will arm you with the basic knowledge of how guitar pots work and make you better informed with information that will help you in deciding which pot to use for your next guitar project.

So what exactly are pots?

Pots are electro-magnetic transducers. It is something 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. This is basically how the volume and tone control of the guitar works.

So What Value Pot Should I Get?

This topic is one which has been discussed a lot in forums and music communities. So what should I 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. 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 come through the pickups. On the other hand, Lower valued pots bleed out the higher frequencies to the ground and only allowing 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 give sound to the 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 double pickups. For Stratocasters, these are usually wired with 250k pots for their 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. 

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