'Reverse' Logarithmic pots - As a left handed player are they 'right' for me?
Since first making my wiring kits, as well as stocking individual parts for replacement, I knew I wanted to offer options for left handed instruments and customers too.
After speaking with a number of left handed players to get a feel for their requirements and preferences, it became quickly apparent that there really is no 'standard' spec when it comes to what manufacturers use in new left handed instruments, nor was there a preferred choice by players either when it comes to which pots to use aftermarket. It's easy for right handed players like myself to take it for granted, that if we head to a shop and pick up a guitar, we know how the pots will function in terms of their turn direction, there is an industry standard that seldom deviates. But something as simple as which way the pots work just isn't the same for left handed players, and I think these manufacturer inconsistencies are perhaps in part to blame for the vague nature of the information out there.
So I have wanted to share some of my findings, not for educating right handed players, although a bit of awareness never goes amiss, but mainly to help guide left handed players that are perhaps shopping for a new guitar, or looking to modify their existing guitars and weren't sure of what parts to choose.
One guitar brand will differ to another in what parts they use and how they wire them up, some with the correct parts and some with unsuitable parts wired incorrectly *facepalm*. After speaking with some players that owned let's say, a Gibson Les Paul and a Fender Strat for example, each guitar was wired differently with pots on each instrument turning in opposite directions making the transition between playing each guitar often frustrating.
This mixture of turn direction is one thing, but wiring the unsuitable parts incorrectly is the aspect of it that causes the most frustration for many it seems, resulting in un-usable controls for the player. In particular the use of regular RH audio taper pots wired in reverse, which will yield bad results. Ultimately this appears just plain lazy considering the correct parts are available. This can often make LH players simply 'put up' with how it is unjustly, or set about replacing their wiring to better suit their individual needs. Which is where hopefully this article will step in.
Which is the 'right' way for you and how you play?
This is the important first question worth asking yourself before venturing down the re-wire rabbit hole. The answer ultimately boils down to playing ergonomics and what suits you best personally.
I'll start with an example from a conversation I had with Mikey Demus of the band, Skindred. A well known guitarist & gearhead within the guitar community, and is also a left handed player who has his own signature guitar by Manson Guitars. With Manson offering both left handed and right handed versions of the single cut design. Mikey shared with me that for him, anything other than a regular RH audio taper pot, wired as per a right handed instrument simply feels weird. Favouring the turn direction to be clockwise to increase, declaring this as feeling more natural to him. I found this particularly interesting, ultimately if you turn a pot on your amp, clockwise rotation will increase that parameter, it may well be a natural approach regardless of someones hand-dominance. Look back at footage of Jimi Hendrix and you'll see him working the volume control clockwise to increase volume with the Woodstock '69 national anthem clip being a fantastic example of this. You'll see him alter his controls throughout the performance, but granted back then he likely had zero choice of how his guitar pots functioned! Eric Gales too being another example of a player ultilising clockwise increase controls and you'll likely see this demonstrated by watching any clip of him playing.
Whereas in contrary to that, via the feedback from many customers over the years, there is also a great deal of LH players that struggle with clockwise increase ergonomically and find a counter clockwise rotation to increase much more comfortable, resulting in different components and wiring methods required. So with the correct parts in mind, there is truly no right or wrong in the general sense, but there will be for you individually.
Start by thinking about what feels like the most intuitive way to turn your controls on your guitar. If you're lucky enough to have a few LH guitars, perhaps try each and see if and how they differ, see which, if any, feels right FOR YOU (the important bit!). Ignore the quality of the taper for a moment, just think about the turn direction and whether that feels comfortable to operate.
With your guitar in your hands, reaching for the volume pot, which turn direction feels natural to you?
Let's put it in a practical example. Perhaps a useful way to look at it would be in a normal playing position, with the volume at '0' so to speak, put your pinky around the volume control, would you find it easier/more intuitive to lower your palm to the floor and raise your pinky to turn the volume up? This would mean the pot needs to rotate clockwise to increase therefore a RH audio taper pot or standard wired linear taper pot is your choice. You will be somewhat spoiled for choice in brands and quality of pots available to you as a result of this preference.
If that doesn't sound useful to you, approaching it the same way in a normal playing position, volume at '0', with your pinky around the volume control, would you find it easier/more intuitive to raise your palm and lower your pinky to turn the volume up? This would mean the pot needs to rotate counter clockwise to increase therefore a reverse/LH audio taper pot or reverse wired linear taper pot is your choice.
Which pots to use
As touched on the previous paragraph, those of you who prefer the clockwise rotation to increase feel, will be able to choose from a plethora of quality right handed audio/log taper pots or linear taper pots to install in your guitar and wire the pot exactly how you would in a right handed instrument.
For those who prefer counter clockwise rotation to increase, things are slightly more restrictive in your component choices but you do have some options that will hopefully achieve the functionality you require.
As I touched on in the opening paragraphs, simply wiring a regular RH audio taper pot backwards will not provide the results perhaps expected. Audio taper pots have a direction of travel. For anyone out there that has bought a left handed guitar, only to find the controls feel more like an on/off than they do a gradual increase or decrease, chances are the manufacturer has wired up regular RH audio taper pots in reverse, essentially deeming the pot's functionality, well, useless. For best results from a RH audio taper pot, it needs to be wired as per regular RH wiring methods and therefor clockwise rotation to increase. So to achieve an counter clockwise increase, you will need a reverse audio taper pot for correct functionality. Now these aren't particularly easy to source in the guitar world, in my experience CTS (with a 250k and 500k spec short shaft option) and Alpha (with 250k, and 500k short and long shaft option) are making some reliable options, which I have been stocking for a few years now, but we're pretty restricted in spec. Unfortunately those requiring 1MEG or alternative values may struggle I'm afraid. 250k and 500k usually cover most single coil, P90 and humbucker applications though.
A linear taper pot on the other hand (no pun intended) does not have a direction of travel like it's logarithmic sibling, instead it can be wired in either direction, for both clockwise increase or counter clockwise increase. Even a right handed Jazzmaster will feature reverse wired linear taper pots in it's rhythm circuit section, due to the unique way in which they are mounted in the guitar. So it's a common function for linear taper pots and can certainly be done if you prefer using those. This is sometimes why you will find linear taper pots fitted in LH guitars, it's a simple solution but it will yield varying results depending on their position (volume or tone) and due to the nature of linear taper pots. Unlike with Audio/Logarithmic taper pots, there is no requirement for a 'LH' or 'Reverse' Linear taper, which is why you won't find those available anywhere. If you're a left handed player that wishes to have linear taper pots wired for counter clockwise increase, you just need regular linear taper pots, but wire them in reverse.
Which now leads to the question -
Which is best for me, Linear or Logarithmic?
So why will linear taper pots provide varying results you ask? This is because they can be a little more receptive to your signal path or in particular, how your ear responds. The human ear responds in a logarithmic pattern, meaning that even though a linear taper pot has an even impedance increase/decrease, it isn't how our ears interpret it. Which is why logarithmic/audio taper pots were developed, to better suit how we hear. Overall logarithmic pots are the taper of choice for guitarists, most manufacturers install them as standard & most players opt for them upon replacement or modification. Despite this though there are still players that prefer linear taper pots, so it can still be down to personal preference.
So if we can't really hear the taper, why would you go for linear? For example, If you play mostly clean and like super precise volume adjustments, then a linear taper pot may well be the best choice for you anyway. I find a good way to display this in action is with a crunchy, driven amplifier. Playing a guitar equipped with a linear volume pot through a crunchy amplifier will yield more drastic results (to our ear) through the pot's rotation than with an audio/logarithmic taper pot which will appear more of a gradual response. This has often been helpful for players in cleaning up the driven amp easier for example. Yet at very quiet, home volumes, some players find that logarithmic/audio taper pots don't sound gradual when adjusted. So there are some technical reasons as to why they respond differently, but I'm afraid choosing which is right for you, is completely down to how you use your controls and expect them to respond. If you're still not sure which is the right choice for you and it helps narrow down the choice for you, I would say that audio/logarithmic pots is the more common choice. As a result, as standard I use logarithmic pots in all of my wiring harness kits, RH and LH, as it is by far the most popular choice, and accommodate for linear if and when it is requested, which is incredibly rare.
How do I need to wire them up?
So we've chosen which turn direction we prefer, and we've chosen which pots we need to achieve that. So let's look at how to wire them up! Below is an illustration example of how you would wire up a RH and LH audio taper pot in the volume position, this same wiring style would apply to your regular linear taper pot also. (Please note, this is when viewing the pot from the underside, it's casing facing you, and the pot shaft facing away from you so to speak) -
As you can see, the difference is pretty self explanatory, but let's dive into some simple details just in case. A guitar pot has three 'lugs' normally numbered 1, 2 & 3. On a regular RH audio taper pot, we would refer to lug number 1 as the input, lug number 2 as the output and lug number 3 as the ground. Whereas the reverse/LH audio taper pot is as the name suggests, the reverse of this. What would be lug number 1 shown on the left in the above diagram, would be the equivalent to lug number 3 on the LH/reverse taper pot, and so on. I personally still prefer to it as lug 1 input, lug 2 output, lug 3 ground though, simply due to habit but always ensuring I clearly state it as a reverse taper pot.
The middle lug is connected to the 'sweeper' inside the pot that moves from one end of the path, to the other. So depending on which way you turn the pot, it either puts the input signal to ground, or puts all of the input signal to output. Nice and simple eh! And the same rule applies for each type of pot here.
If it helps further, there are a selection of wiring diagrams linked on my website HERE featuring some common guitar models and wiring styles for left handed instruments with both RH taper and LH taper pots. So perhaps some of those will help with your install too, just ensure you read through some of the important info there also if you do decide to follow a diagram and take care of yourself, and your guitar whilst carrying out any repair/modification work.
There we have it! We have looked at how different guitar manufacturers approach wiring left handed guitars, working out how to find your preference, ultimately how each pot works and how to install them to suit your preference! It has been a long article, granted. So thank you for sticking with it. But I wanted to share my experiences and findings from the past few years in one place as a single handy reference point. I hope it has helped in some way! Let's just hope one day that some of the worst offender guitar manufacturers stop wiring up lefty guitars incorrectly and listen to their customers' simple plea for functional instruments!
If you're in the UK or Europe, perhaps considering ordering the parts you need through my secure online store? I carry a selection of parts, including the ones mentioned in this article, as well as my own pre-wired harness/loom kits making for a great drop-in wiring solution with minimal work your end.
Thanks for reading, thanks for your support and a particular thanks to all of the left handed players that have helped me understand your instruments. Now time to pass on that information!