I want to replace my guitar's wiring, would it make a difference?
Replacing, or in some cases upgrading your guitar's wiring may be a matter of necessity if there are niggling faults perhaps, but you may also have considered replacing it as a way of improving the guitar. So, the big question of course is would it make a difference?

Home of Tone Pre-Wired Guitar Harness

That's what I'm hoping to address in this post along with clearing some misconceptions too. The guitar world and community is very big on the vintage thing, and that has filtered down to replacement parts of course too. It is very easy to get lost in the world of 'vintage' style parts making an improvement in tone, so let's cast those notions aside here and look at the facts of why in some cases that's both correct and incorrect. Tim McNelly of McNelly Pickups put it really well in a recent social media post '..New electronics won’t necessarily make your guitar sound any different than it does now. New pots won't NECESSARILY change the tone if you don't know the exact value of the pots coming out..'. I think this is a really great, straight forward way to put it and a great starting point for this post and discussion (feel free to comment too!).

Home of Tone Pre-Wired Harnesses

So, let's start with the pots. Quality pots, like the CTS 450 Series and TVT series pots I use in my wiring harnesses, I use because in my findings the tolerances, taper and reliability are the best available.

First of all build quality. CTS's sturdy casings, brass shafts and contact patch, solid connections are second to none, and importantly are precision made by a company who have been doing so for a long long time. Fitting a well made pot will mean you'll likely only need to do it once in that guitar, that's important I feel! There are however a lot of different variations of CTS pot, and that is why I now only swear by the 450 Series, and 'TVT' Series, both are constructed with the same components, I like consistency here! Which is why you'll only find these models of pot in my harnesses.

Next up, Tolerances. The tolerance refers to the accurate rating of the pots ohm, so if it's a 250k pot, then it will be accurately rated at a tight tolerance of around +/-5% to 250k, a true rating. Some low quality pots can creep wildly away from the ratings, you'd be surprised. Why does that matter? Well if for example we're referring to a single coil equipped guitar like a Stratocaster, they recommended a pot ohm value of 250k in both volume and tone positions. If a lower quality pot states 250k but actually reads much lower, perhaps 200k, or even substantially higher, it could result it a darker or brighter tone respectively, than what would bring out the best in the guitars pickups. Quality pots like the CTS 450 series or TVT I have come to trust, have super tight tolerances, +/- 9% and most cases even tighter +/-5%. This accuracy is worth it, a pickup manufacturer sets out to design a certain model of pickup that will sound it's 'best' (obviously this is subjective) for a certain pot rating. If you're fitting a harness with tight tolerance, accurately rated pots then chances are you're getting the best from your pickup set. That's how I feel from experience anyway.

Finally, their taper. Taper refers to the gradual increase or decrease of the pots ohm as you adjust it. There are two types of pot taper, Logarithmic (Audio) and Linear (Lin). The human ear hears in a logarithmic manner, so in a gradual increase or decrease, whereas linear, to our ear sounds almost more like an on/off. Which you use is up to you, many players prefer a linear volume pot for example, but I find that a quality logarithmic pot in both volume and tone positions offers more scope for adjustment, if using a quality pot that is! Low quality audio taper pots, in my experience, offer unreliable tapers, often not providing a even, gradual adjustment as you roll off or on. A guitar's volume and tone pot can bring out so many great sounds from your rig, it offers versatility to your sound, and I love pushing an amp hard and finding those sweet spots on the guitar's controls to really capture a great tone. So I feel that's why a quality logarithmic pot with a perfectly gradual taper is an incredibly important component in the electric guitar. 

Home of Tone Pre-Wired Guitar harnesses

The switches and jack sockets are important in a reliability sense first and foremost I feel. You want a firm feeling, accurate switch and one that lasts well with regular use. You want a jack socket that doesn't fall apart or get too crackly over the years of years, they take a lot of abuse! So here there's no 'magic vintage tone' secret, I would just recommend quality switches from the brands renowned for their years of producing reliable items. I trust and use those from Switchcraft, Oak Grigsby & CRL. All very solid, well made items that last really well. Maintaining them does help though, perhaps every year or so remove the cover plate or pickguard and clean out any dust building up on the switch and contacts, it'll make them last for years to come so it's worth the minimal effort. You'd perhaps clean the fretboard and frets, so it's worth thinking about the other functional parts too. 

Home of Tone Pre-Wired Guitar Harnesses

The Wire. You'll see a lot of vintage spec wordings bounced around here and that pretty much boils down to the aesthetics. Those early Fenders and Gibsons we all know were wired at the original factories with a cloth covered 'push back' wire, whereas as some modern factories, far east predominantly use standard plastic coated wire today. But the important detail is the 'AWG', or American Wire Gauge. Widely used in the guitar world for optimal results, is 22AWG wire. I would go into detail on this, but THIS site has some superb facts about AWG, which if you'd like to find out more I'd recommend a read of! So back to the cloth/plastic thing. Personally, the 'push back' cloth wire is much easier and tidier to work with and I fully hold my hands up to saying it looks much better too. I always use this for any guitar wiring, the results are always great and it's a pleasure to wire up with.

Home of Tone Pre-Wired Guitar harnesses

Lastly, Capacitors. Now this one is a vast subject matter to cover as there is so much debate about which is the 'best', which is the most 'vintage correct' etc. If you're a member of any guitar forum, I'm sure you've encountered many a thread about this too. There's an awful lot of cork sniffing about this subject, but I'm going to keep it as civilized as I can sticking to facts and my findings/experiences.

Many factory built guitars come with ceramic caps, these of course do their job but personally I find them to (pardon the general term) sound a little 'flat' so to speak. I adjust the tone pots quite a bit when playing, and I feel like a ceramic cap, despite the same rating, sounds more like a dead string. Perhaps is a good comparison there. A little lifeless and no dynamic to the tone, I.E balance of treble/mids and low end frequencies. I've experimented with this with premium pickups too, and switching from a ceramic cap to a PIO version was quite noticeable. Again, this is a personal thing. So I don't tend to make my harnesses with ceramic caps, I always consider my harnesses as an upgrade so have found caps I trust to use for this reason.

I like trying different ones, different types etc, but the first thing I ask anyone interested in replacing or upgrading their wiring harness who's unsure of which to choose, is, Do you alter the tone pot on your guitar when playing? 

Basically the capacitor doesn't come into effect until the tone pot is adjusted down from '10'. So if you tend to leave the guitar's tone pot on 10, I honestly wouldn't split hairs over choosing a super premium vintage bumblebee capacitor because that's what '59 Les Pauls had for example, it's an expense you won't hear the benefit of. It'll save you a few pennies too. So If the answer is no, then I would keep your costs down and opt for the superb, yet affordable Orange Drop 715P for example. Out of all lower budget capacitors I've used, I honestly think these are superb. These are a Polypropylene dielectric capacitor, very affordable but very effective. I'd consider it an industry staple really, great sound at a low cost. You'd find these over the years in old Fender amps and so many others too. Should you end up touching the tone pots, you'll be rewarded with a nice smooth tone, if you don't then you haven't spent extra hard earned pennies on a premium cap for the sake of it. Always worth keeping in mind!

If you do adjust the tone pots a lot, like myself, forever messing around and finding sweet spots between guitar and amp for various parts of a song, then it will be beneficial to think about what would suit you best. For guitars, a paper in oil capacitor is often seen as a premium upgrade option, and I would agree, within reason of course. Beautifully well balanced as you roll the tone down, retaining the right mix of treble, which is why a gradual taper pot is so important again. Take the Jensen PIO in particular, I think these are sublime in humbucker based guitars like a Les Paul, if you have PAF inspired humbuckers in there, these will be versatile as well as capturing the classic tones from that style of pickup that so many strive for. Whilst we're on that subject, there are SO many cap options choose from on the market, but try not to get too caught up in 'vintage correct' types, you'll see replica caps from the golden era of guitars (50s and 60s) which are more than likely they're standard caps in a different casing. But rather choose one from a reliable, quality brand who are doing their thing well. Again, ratings and tolerances are important here. A humbucker usually behaves best with a .022uF (Microfarad), if it's a cheap quality cap chances are when tested the rating isn't as accurate as a well made cap would be perhaps. That's why I've grown to love and trust using Jensen's Paper In Oil Capacitors. If you do wish to have a pair of bumblebee caps like those old '59 Les Pauls, then I would recommend seeking those made by Luxe. They do make them to the traditional methods, if that's your thing! But the Jensen's sound fantastic, a great paper in oil cap option made by a company who have been doing so for a long time, and doing so very well indeed. An important thing is the rating, some pickup manufacturers recommend a .047uF cap for their single coils, whilst others like McNelly for example feel that a .022uF cap brings out the best in theirs. So perhaps look at the make of your pickup, what they recommend, or perhaps what's already in the guitar and go from there. But we're here to help with that, so by all means drop me a message.

I've gone into a fair bit of detail here, which may be baffling to some, or may be old news to others, but I hope it cleared some of the common misconceptions about certain parts transforming tone! Truth is, upgrading your wiring is a really worthwhile modification to carry out. Replacing parts with quality components, of reliable build quality and accurate tolerances and ratings will simply be the best for your guitar. You may well see a tonal improvement afterwards which each customer of mine has reported back after fitting one of our harnesses, which is lovely to hear. But approach with the right facts, approach without the mystique of 'this vintage style pot will transform my tone' and you'll be pleasantly surprised I'm sure!

To see our range of hand wired harnesses, please visit our collection HERE!


Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.