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 any difference?

Home of Tone Pre-Wired Guitar Harness

That's what I'm hoping to address in this post along with clearing some common misconceptions too. Tone is a slippery slope, we find that we just can't help refining it, delving into forums, researching as much as possible and going deeper down into the rabbit hole of dialing in our perfect sound. I'd imagine that's one of the reasons you're here reading this article too! Notably, I've found it quite common and indeed, very easy to get lost in a world of vintage style parts for example making an improvement in tone, so for a moment let's cast those notions aside and look at the facts of why in some cases that's both correct and incorrect. 
Let's instead look at the quality of each component and relevant to certain items, their ratings/tolerances for example. Those are the important details that I personally always look for. 

Tim McNelly of McNelly Pickups put it really well in a 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 very relevant to some of the points I'll be touching on and a great starting point for this post and discussion (feel free to comment too!).

Home of Tone Pre-Wired Harnesses

Quality pots, like the TVT series pots I use in my wiring harnesses, I use because in my findings the tolerances, taper and build quality/reliability are up there as the best available. 

First of all build quality. CTS's sturdy casings, brass shafts, bakelite plate, graphite 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. The industry standard, but they make many, many variations and not all are as good as some. 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 'TVT' Series, and also the 450 Series (which I use as a back up if the TVT are on backorder), 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. I've seen some lower quality series' of CTS pots that have been wildly inconsistent, which I'll get to next..

Next up, Tolerances. Why does the tolerance matter? The tolerance refers to how accurate the rating of the pot's ohm will be. So if it's a 250k stamped pot used commonly with single coil equipped guitars, then a CTS 'TVT' pot featuring +/-5% tolerance will be accurately rated at above or below 5% of 250k. An accurately rated pot will be the best way of deciphering what effect on overall sound the pot will have.
Some low quality or lower tolerance pots can creep wildly away from the ratings stated on it, you'd be surprised, I still am by many of them! I've removed CTS pots from US and MIM Fender guitars for example, that were incredibly inaccurate. 250k stamped pots that were not even 200k, and also in other cases past 300k. So, 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. This is of course a generalization for the sake of example, but I have found even standard series CTS pots when tested read wildly different to what they should have been. 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), optimal is probably a better word, for a certain pot rating. If you're fitting a harness with tight tolerance, accurately rated pots then chances are you're going to be getting the best from your pickup set. That's the important bit for me.

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 the steep increments almost more like an on/off. Which you use is completely 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 of course! 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 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. In a play-ability sense, 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 needless to say, 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, Pure Tone, Oak Grigsby & CRL. All very solid, well made items that last really well. In particular, I've been predominantly using a multi contact jack socket made by a company called 'Pure Tone'. Please forgive their brand name, as this isn't some tone transforming jack socket I don't think, but it is a common sense improvement of an old design which is great. It features 4 points of contact for the jack connector, two for the hot, two for ground. 100% greater surface area, giving it a firmer seat on the jack connector and a sturdier, more reliable connection which is a no brainer upgrade in my opinion.
Maintaining these items 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, hidden, 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, I find 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. I personally use 22AWG copper, solid core wire, great to work with and consistent. 

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. Naturally there's going to be an awful lot of cork sniffing about this subject, if that's your thing then no harm in it at all, but I'm going to keep it as civilized as I can sticking to facts and my findings/experiences. Ultimately, the key detail to look at is the value rather than type I think, value will provide the differences most ears will notice the differences of.

I like trying different ones, different types etc, all as a means of researching the best value/quality for my harnesses. 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.
Perhaps the most popular choice is a paper in oil capacitor. I have tried so many brands and options, and truth be told, it realy is very hard to notice a substantial difference between them and you can, unnecessarily spend a lot of money on premium ones. I received so many requests for a PIO equipped harness, so in an effort to try and whittle my findings down to a good value, tight tolerance and good sounding paper in oil capacitor, I've settled with one made by WD Music USA which are superb. Compared to other PIO caps on the market, they're a reasonable price and importantly are tight tolerance meaning the key details about how it will react with a tone pot, is accurately presented. Again, no real right or wrong here, if your budget allows you to go crazy on capacitor choices, no one can tell you not too. I too have experimented with very high end capacitors, as well as offering them as custom upgrade options over the years, but I've decided now to keep it more simple as it can be overwhelming to choose between them all if cost alone doesn't make the decision for you. But truthfully, just pay attention to the tolerances, as that will tell you the most about how it will 'sound'. 

One detail is the rating, honestly there is no right or wrong here really, it's down to personal preferences. A .022uF capacitor will roll off less treble frequencies than a .047uF, so you'd perhaps notice a more prominent drop in treble when rolling a tone pot down which has a .047uF cap wired to it than you would if it was a .022uF. This to me is an important detail to consider when choosing the right cap for you, but if you're still not sure, the general rule is .022uF for humbuckers and perhaps P90s, and a .047uF is used primarily for single coils. This isn't set in stone though, so perhaps consult your pickup manufacturers recommendations first. If you want any help in choosing the right rating for your harness though, I'm very much here to help, 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 that I have discovered in my time doing this! Truth is, if components on your guitar have failed, are un-reliable or you simple fancy upgrading your wiring, it 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 and bring out the best in your pickups. 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 or 50 year old capacitor will transform my tone' and you'll be pleasantly surprised I'm sure! There's no magic to a responsive, great guitar tone. 

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



Alex Oliver

Alex Oliver said:

This makes more sense to me than those forums, manufacturers, vendors etc who seem to ignore HOW we play. I think I can make some informed decisions now on how to fix my V100 (Vintage brand Les Paul sort of form).

Despite being new the CT log pots crackle, squeal and hump in the middle – which spoils my violining.

Fitting Alnico IV magnets did the trick tone wise. Just for the record I ditched my COSM multi FX and went back to individual pedals with gratifying results (for a feedback using 30 watt digital amp user).

Leave a comment

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