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Why you are thinking about Pot Value wrong

By Sean Arbow

I remember when I first started learning wiring, I always got confused by the common of the rule of thumb that “humbuckers need 500K, and single coils need 250K”, or my favorite recent wiring hipster trend that “you are a pleb if you don’t use 1meg pots with Wide ranges!” Basically, I took it like most novices do and believed that "pickup types need certain values". But as I expanded my education, I realized just how wrong that was and how bad that way of thinking is for you, the player. Looking back, part of me thinks we need to get away from reciting this rule but mainly to get away from this idea of there is only “one true way” of doing things in wiring, which is more of a subjective truth than objective. But that’s easier said than done.

Two things before we start.

 1.Pot value is basically a simple audio compressor: Just in case you don’t understand what that means, I‘ll educate you. Audio compression is taking the raw audio signal and setting a limit to what frequencies can come through. In recording, this is often used to help balance multiple signals to a set standardized volume, or in the case of a single track so that the highs and lows have a more balanced variation in peaks, resulting in more low-end range being heard instead of an over powered high range. Simple right? So in your instrument change out the term “Signal” or “Track” for “pickup”.


2.Don’t think about the Pickup as a type: For this to be effective, let’s play a game. When you are pairing the value with the pickup(s) we are going to strip the music industry’s name from it. i.e Humbucker, P90, Single coil, you get the point, This is in the hope that you disassociate it in your head. Let’s call it by a semi fancy name so either a Single transformer, or a hum free transformer. Cool right?

 Our new and better thought Model for Pairing Pot values with Transformers called G.U.N

Gauge the Sound: This is all about the sound you want to hear. So, think about the EQ your transformer(s) has and compare that with what you want to hear! When that is in your head lets move to the next stage.


Utilize Compression: Now knowing your transformer(s) EQ and where you want it to be, let’s think about the compression we need to apply to the Transformer. The very loose Pot value compression range for our application is 50k-1000k. And by loose I mean you can go above or below that even more. But the higher the value [1000k aka 1meg] the less compressed the signal sounds, Lower the value [50k] the more compression is added. Easy enough, right? Now the tedious bit. Take the Eq of the transformer, and the Eq you want to hear and balance it. It might not be on first try but keep going.


Neutral Responses: Sometimes with compression we can get very close to what you want it to be, but as you add things like the filter circuit you can lose the EQ you want. So in this section you can create pot value combos that change how the instrument reacts. This is like having a 1meg in the volume, and a 500k in the tone. At max volume the transformer will still have less compression then having both at 500k, but as you engage the volume, compression will be added back quicker then if you had 2 of the same value. this was a common trick in the old days in guitars like Jazzmaster's that used a 1meg volume and a 50k tone on the rhythm circuit, and Les Paul Junior's that used a 500k for the volume and a 250k for the tone.

 Here are some scenarios:

Transformer with Low end Range that i want to get highs out of: This is super common with overwound Hum free transformers. In the scenario you want to gauge the amount of compression to match your ear.

First try. knowing that the first thing that goes with compression is high end. I would start with 1meg. If i didn't like that then i would try 500k. If that is too much compression i would try the in-between with a 1meg Volume and a 500k Tone.


Transformer with High end Range that i want to tame a little: This Is common with transformers that are underwound. Just like before understanding compression we want to start with 250k to cut more high end range out. How does it sound? If you dont like it, go down a step, now we have 100k pots, is that too much? lets do a mismatch combo, 250k in the volume and 100k in the tone.

 To summarize. If you are someone who believes that pickups needs certain values, You are limiting yourself and your sound. Compression and the values you choose create a sound uniquely yourself. so just try things.

About the Author: Sean Arbow

Sean has been obsessed with circuit designing for 17+ years, He is our custom shop builder and has made tens of thousands of kits for people, including some very high-profile musicians. He's the style of nerd your favorite local tech fanboys about

Want to learn more? check out this page!

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