LET'S TALK PARTS
1.What makes a pot, a good pot?
Before we get into what makes a pot, a good pot. Let’s talk about some of the misinformation you will find in the market that can cloud your judgement, and take you down a weird path. Now, this is a complex topic to tackle as it tends to be divided into 2 camps of part myths. First, is “These rebranded pots are superior” camp. The other is “These cheap [insert foreign country] sound trash” group.
These rebranded pots are superior
So, if you were like me growing up in the old 2000’s forum days, (the wild west, before there was credible information) there were 2 myths that spread like wildfire. First, the pot manufacturers shifting their production overseas has killed their overall quality, and pots that are not within 10% tolerance sound bad. Because of this, both people who bought into the idea and those who wanted to make money off that group started companies selling rebranded pots at a large markup. What does rebranded mean? Anyone can contact a pot manufacturer and ask them to make a semi-custom pot. You can choose from 8 tapers, either 10% or 20% tolerance, and whether you want standard or low torque. Easy right? But, as the broader community shifted, with more credible information coming in. We realized that no, the quality of pots are the same if not better than before, and that tolerance does not affect the sound remotely, unless in an active circuit and within a few select cases. These resellers had to double down on their sales pitch to hit their $50k-$100k a year minimum order from the manufacturer. Now it's either not about lower quality, it’s “They just don’t make them like they use too” which is a contradiction since they get basically off the shelf pots, or it's “ours have a true vintage taper” which is snake oil as the things that affects a “pots taper” is your pickups eq, and how the overall circuit is designed.
These cheap [insert foreign country] made pot sound trash
This train of thought is either a dated tribalistic belief against foreign made things, or a misunderstanding about levels of part quality. Because electronics manufacturing has exploded in the last 20+ years, we can make amazing pots at prices we once thought was impossible. So, now you don’t base pot quality off of “sound” what it is based on is durability. Pots are basically a resistor made of things like, graphite, carbon, or a ceramic/metal mix called cermet, with a metal wiper that moves across it. But since these resistors are made of varying densities, and thicknesses, the metal wiper will slowly scrape the resistor away at varying amounts, meaning some pots last longer then others. So you can imagine a cheap pot, with a thin graphite resistor is not going to last as long as the higher quality pot, with it's thick cermet resistor.
Then what makes a good pot?
So realistically the real answer is how long it lasts. Beyond that you are talking about small personal preferences. Do you like a pot that has a low friction shaft, that you can adjust the controls lightning fast? Or, do you like using pots that have a linear taper as when you combine that with whatever circuit you like just feels like you. That's It.
2.What about Switches?
You are going to start to see a trend in these descriptions. The quality of switches has nothing to do with sound, it’s solely about durability. So, what misinformation does everyone’s favorite gatekeepers like to shout? Not as much, other than cheap switches are made from “Pot metal, which kills the sound”
Cheap vs expensive switches
You will find that most switches have a very similar design and vary in price. So then what makes a cheap switch, and an expensive switch? There are many factors that make one switch better than another, and all of them have to do with durability. The style of how the toggle switch works and how the metal is designed or if it is 2 thin copper sheets fused together or one. How thick is the plating? What metal is the plating? Instead of plated copper, is it a silver/nickel mix? All variables that will affect the longevity of the switch.
Does what metal they use effect the sound?
Nope. This one always makes me laugh when I see people insult others for what switches people use. In this usage all the common metals are going to sound the same. But where the metal is going to affect the sound at least long term is how it was designed, some metals are more resistant to corrosion or oxidation, then others, so it will prevent degradation in the connection.
3.What about Output jacks?
At this point we don’t need to stress the idea that quality sounds better is wrong as you see with the trend that quality is durability. Output jacks are the same.
Before we start lets talk about proper maintenance.
Output jacks are one of the most abused parts of your electronics and often the most neglected. Output jacks are one part that will make a difference when upgrading but also a part that without proper maintenance will fail no matter what quality you have. What do we mean? The number one complaint from everyone's favorite critics bashing “the old 1 squared-off point style of jack” is they will crack, pop, and just stop working. Having repaired my weight in jacks, 9 times out of 10, the fault was caused by people not keeping their jack secured. The wires start to break if the jack slowly spins either left to right constantly so no matter what quality you get the wire will break.
So what makes a high quality output jack?
First, it's not the number of connectors it has. You could debate that adding more may improve durability but it also causes more spots of potential weaknesses. The key factor that makes a jack high quality is how the arm was designed. How thick is it? Is it plated? What is it made from? Stuff that like switches makes a huge difference in it rated life
BUT WAIT WHAT ABOUT CAPACITORS?
Because of the shear volume of part myths about caps, we made a whole post dedicated
to what makes a cap a good one.