Electric guitars are, in their simplest sense, just steel strings and wood. But the electronics inside play a huge part in shaping the sound, doing so through multiple components that are worth understanding (at least at a basic level) if you play an electric guitar. In this article we'll dive into the world of guitar electronics, focusing on pots (potentiometers), switches, and wiring.
Read more: Best electric guitars overall
Adjusting Guitar Tone: Potentiometers (Pots)
Potentiometers, commonly known as pots, are used to control volume and tone. They are found in almost every electric guitar. The resistance level of a pot determines how much signal is sent from the pickups to the amplifier. High-resistance pots (like 500k) are often used with humbucker pickups for a brighter sound. Lower-resistance pots (like 250k) are chosen for single-coil pickups to tame harsher tones.
Switches or Pickup Selectors
Switches in guitars are used to select different pickups or combine them in various ways. The most common types are toggle switches and blade switches. In Stratocasters, and other Strat-style guitars, the blade switch is often used and allows for five different positions, selecting different coils or combining them. For guitars with two humbuckers - a dual humbucker configuration - the toggle switch will usually give you three positions to select either the neck, bridge, or both humbuckers. Coil-tapping is when the tone and/or volume knobs can be pulled out, which separates the two coils making up the humbucker, giving you additional sounds to work with.
Interior Electric Guitar Wiring
Wiring in a guitar connects the pickups, pots, and switches and is responsible for the path the guitar's signal takes. Perhaps more importantly, different wiring setups can change how the guitar sounds. There are common wiring standards for both single coil and humbucker pickup configurations, but some players prefer custom wiring for unique tones. Other wiring configurations might be required for more unique combinations of pickups, like a single humbucker paired with a single coil, or two single coils and a humbucker.
Wiring is also different for an active pickup compared with a passive pickup.
Read more: Active VS passive pickups
Here is an example of a very common wiring configuration in a diagram for three single coil pickups:
And for dual humbuckers:
Questions about guitar electronics?
If you have questions about humbuckers, potentiometers, switches, or wiring in electric guitars, feel free to reach out via the comments section below. It might seem a bit complex at first, but guitars are actually very simple instruments, even electric guitars with more functionality. Thanks for hanging out and for trusting our content.
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