Do Guitar Pots Affect Guitar Tone? (Full Guide)


Guitar pots are a small chunk of your guitar’s inner electronics. Interestingly, Such a small component can impact your tone more than you think. 

This post will delve into how different pots affect guitar tone. 

Furthermore, you will also learn when and why you might want to change these intricate components. Sound good? Let’s dive in…

So, do different posts affect guitar tone?   

Guitar pots influence the level of how bright and dark your guitar sounds not affecting core sound. Low-value Pots (250K) sound warmer due to less resistance in the signal. In contrast, high-value pots (500K) sound brighter as they include stronger resistors that retain higher frequencies. 

What Are Guitar Pots? – Overview 

A guitar potentiometer (or pot) is a component that is part of the electrical system in a guitar or bass. Any potentiometer designed works towards regulating a specific electronic function.

The primary function of a potentiometer in a guitar is to control its volume and tone. However, you can also find potentiometers that blend the tones in your pickups or attenuate/enhance their power.

The two most common types of pots are mini-pots and full-sized pots. In terms of quality, full-sized pots are better. Mini-pots are usually one of those changes lower-end guitars do to cut costs.

Humbucker Guitars – What Pots?

To put this into context, guitars with humbuckers such as Gibson, Epiphone, PRS, etc.. are typically fitted with 500K pots. The reason is double humbuckers naturally sound warm and thick.

Therefore, 500K pots have higher capacitors that retain high frequencies. Maintaining the high frequencies ensures that a humbucker guitar does not sound ‘muddy’ and ‘flat,’ providing clarity.

Hence why humbucker guitars are usually fitted with 500K pots.      

Single-Coil Guitars – What Pots? 

In contrast, single-coil guitars are typically fitted with 250K pots.

The reason is that because single-coils sound naturally bright and piercing anyway. 250K pots allow for high-frequencies to be lost in the signal.

This ensures that a guitar fitted with the single-coils is not excessively bright and overwhelmingly thin. After all, you want more low-ends providing the guitar with a solid balance of lows and highs.      

Why Do Guitar Pots Alter Guitar Tone? 

In essence, a guitar pot works like a resistor. A resistor allows you to control the way electricity flows through the instrument. By adding a capacitator to the pot, it will make it an equalizer.

The higher the resistance in a pot, the more high-frequencies it will let pass, making them brighter-toned. Ideal for darker-sounding pickups such as humbuckers, P90s, and Noiseless Pickups.

On the other hand, the lesser the pot/capacitator’s resistance, the less high frequencies it will potentiate, making them sound darker. This makes them ideal for single-coils, which tend to be brighter in nature.

However, this is not a rule of thumb, and there can be some interesting combinations of dark pickups and dark pots or vice-versa. It is all about what your ears are looking for in terms of tone.

250k vs. 500k Pots

As mentioned, the two main types of pots are 250k and 500k. 500k pots mean higher resistance and, therefore, a brighter tone. 250k pots are darker and allow fewer high frequencies to pass.

For example, Fender uses much more 250k pots on their guitars since they greatly favor single-coil settings. On the other hand,Gibson, Ibanez, and PRS guitars use 500k pots combining better with darker sounding humbuckers.

There is a middle point between these two pots. The 300k pot is slightly brighter than the 250k and is also a suitable choice for humbuckers or high output pickups. In fact, Gibson uses a lot of 300k pots for their guitars.

There are two other pot values to consider: the 1 Meg pot and the 25k pot. 1 Meg pots are really, really bright but have been used before in Gibson’s and Telecasters. In the end, it is a matter of taste.

Finally, the 25k pots favor active electronics, particularly electric guitars using active EMG pickups.

Linear vs. Logarithmic

Another component that you want to know about pots, its whether they are linear or logarithmic.

This specifically pertains to volume how much it increases/decreases in relation to turning the guitar’s tone knob.

As you can guess from its name, linear pots increase/decrease volume in a linear fashion. 

Even though you might expect that this would mean that a knob at 5 will mean output of 50% volume, this is not the case. 

Because our ears do not linearly perceive sounds, 90% of the perceived signal change will happen at 25% of the knob’s turn.

This makes it harder to control and not ideal for guitarists looking to use their volume knob for subtle changes (especially in live situations).

On the other hand, logarithmic pots deliver a smoother, compensated change to your volume according to your knob’s turn. This will give you a true 50% at mark 5 of your knob.

Once again, this is based on preference, and some guitarists like to have all of their control in a smaller portion of their knobs, rather than the whole turn.

Are Guitar Volume Pots and Tone Pots the Same?

There is not a specific pot made that is called volume pot, nor tone pot. The volume pot regulates the overall electrical output of your signal, while the tone pot alters the frequencies. But in it of themselves, they are basically the same thing.

They can be slightly in terms of wiring and construction. Their main differences create slight alterations to the way they work.

One of the most common differences is that tone pots are usually logarithmic, while volume pots are linear. Again, this is not the norm, but there is a tendency to have that setting.

Why Should You Change Guitar Pots? 

Some specific issues in a pot can affect your signal and “rob you of your tone.” If that is the case, you might consider changing them for better-made ones.

The first issue is if your pot has bad tolerance. For example, if your pot is supposed to be 500k, but when measured, it only goes as high as 410k, it means the pot’s tolerance is lacking.

The second issue would be if you have a linear taper. You wanted to have a more dynamic alteration of your volume/tone. In that case, you would want to change your pots to logarithmic ones.

Lastly, you might want to change your pots according to the tone you are searching for. As I mentioned before, the higher impedance, the more high- frequencies can come out. 

You might want a brighter or darker tone, according to your current pickups.

For example, if you want your single-coil Stratocaster to sound slightly warmer without installing humbuckers. 

In this instance, switching to 500k pots will offer a darker tone and take away some piercing highs typical of single-coil pickups.  

However, MANY factors affect your tone, such as pick, pickup selections, settings on your amp, pedals, etc… My first option to alter my tone would not be to change my pots.

What Pots Should You put in Your Guitar

As I mentioned before, your tone’s brightness/darkness will depend on how much resistance the pot has.

The more resistance, the brighter/crispier your tone will be. Conversely, the less resistance, the deeper/darker sound you’ll get.

The pot’s wrong choice to combine with your guitar can either give you a harsh, shrill tone or a dark, muddy, and lifeless one.

On a rule of thumb:

  • Single-coils use 250k
  • Humbuckers use 500k to retain brightness.
  • Jazzmasters use 1 Meg to get even more highs.

How to Upgrade Your Guitar Pots?

Upgrading your guitar pots is not a complicated process if you know how to solder.

I’d recommend that you go to a guitar tech to do it for you if you are not particularly comfortable soldering.

If you feel like you want to experiment with upgrading your pots, I’ll give you a quick 3-step procedure on how to do it.

Before that, let me share with you a more detailed video: 

  1. Remove old solder from lugs: this is only necessary if you are not installing all-new components.
  2. Tin the lug and wire: before you connect your wires to the lugs, you want to tin them to ensure proper connection and prevent heat damage from soldering.
  3. Solder the wire: Heating the wire and lug from one side while applying the solder to the other side can do the trick. Make sure to not over-solder, as you’ll have to remove excess.

Closing Thoughts 

My rule of thumb is this: if you like how your guitar sounds, don’t change anything. On the other hand, if you are not in love with your tone and wish to experiment with changing different aspects of your guitar, by all means, go for it! It never hurts to learn more about your guitar, that’s for sure.

Adam

Adam is the founder and author of Tone Topics and dedicated to providing the best guitar content for like-minded gear nerds. Please enjoy all the content on the site and support us by sharing these posts with other people. It would really help us out!

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