My Top Three Wiring Mods

Premier Guitar just posted my new article on three favorite electric guitar wiring mods. The concepts won’t be new to anyone who hangs out here — I’ve pretty much flogged them all to death! But the new article includes the step-by-step walkthroughs that I never got around to creating for this site, and PG art director Meghan Molumby created beautifully clear tech diagrams like this one:


Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.54.35 AM

The descriptions and instructions in the new story are clearer and more detailed than my original posts here, plus I’ve refined some details, so I suggest working from the new PG versions.

My three choices:

Yup, the ol’ PTB tone control, the coolest mod I know, at least for players who love distortion. The new version of the project uses the 500K pots you probably already have in your guitar rather than the more eccentric G&L values.

I also revisited the Strat version of the “Nashville-style” Tele wiring popularized by Brent Mason and other Music City cats. It performs brilliantly in a Strat, and IMHO its benefits (vastly more blended-pickup options plus a musical and intuitive control layout) for outweigh the costs (loss of the middle-pickup-alone setting, cost of a 3-way switch). Not to launch a protracted Strat-vs.-Tele battle, but I love the whole notion of “Tele-fying” a Strat via wiring, control layout, and pickup choice.

In the article’s comments thread, several savvy readers also mention Strat wiring systems that provide the sounds of the Nashville mod without sacrificing any others. They’re right — but the more I mess with this stuff, the more I value simplified operation. I’m less concerned with having all options than with having the coolest ones, ergonomically organized. Still, there are many ways you can go here.

Finally, I’m once more beating the dead Varitone horse exploring variations on Gibson’s Varitone concept, updated for modern players. I added a new twist in the PG story: deploying these ideas via toggle switches, rather than a big, clunky rotary switch.

It was fun when PG editor Shawn Hammond asked me to choose my favorite mods. It was easy to decide though — these are the three I keep coming back to, and all three deliver dramatic results, unlike many better-known mods.

So which electric guitar mods would be on your short list? Wiring, hardware, whatever. How do you make your guitars cooler?

25 comments to My Top Three Wiring Mods

  • Evil

    My typical guitar control layout has a PTB (especially useful on baritones), either stacked or separate, and for a 3 pickup guitar, I have it wired like a normal Strat and then a push-pull to add the neck pickup to whatever else is going on.

  • joe

    Whoa — how did that not occur to me? Of course PTB would be brilliant in a baritone! I am so going to try it one of mine! Thanks!

  • I have a Yamaha PAC311S (their version of a Tele) with a Q Tuner humbucker in the neck postion and a Seymour Duncan single coil STL-2 hot bridge pickup, a 5 way selector switch and a pull switch phase reverse for the bridge on the tone pot.
    The 5 way gives me the normal three Tele selections on positions 3 (neck) 4 (both in parallel) and 5 (bridge). Position 2 gives me the neck bucker with a fixed capacitor in parallel with it and position 1 gives me both pickups in series.

    Sounds good in all positions and the single coil hot bridge balances well with the Q Tuner humbucker (previously I had an SD little 59 for Tele in the bridge and the two buckers just sounded too similar. The guitar gets really interesting for the series and parallel combined sounds when the bridge phase is flipped.
    I absolutely agree with you Joe about not taking a switching scheme too far, there’s that company (can’t find their web site right now) that makes control plates with a whole row of mini toggle switches that give you every possible combination on a Strat but its just too much to keep track of. Good for experimentation to produce simpler schemes I guess.

  • It was Awesome – I was thinking of. They make a pick guard with 6 mini toggles on it that they say gives you 35 possible combinations of 3 single coil pickups.

  • el reclusa

    I dig the Strat I have with a global volume, global tone, and a blend pot for adding a little neck pickup to the bridge setting (or all 3 at once in position 2), though really the global volume and tone are more useful to me than the blend.

    I also enjoy the “cocked wah” mod on my Esquire.

    One of these days, I’d like to try Broadcaster wiring on a Tele, but I’ve been too busy/lazy thus far…

  • mbka

    Well I experimented with an Epiphone LP that I butchered, I mean, enhanced, extensively. I started with caps on a 12 pole rotary switch and also concluded it’s too many options and too defect prone. So I took 2 caps per pickup that gave good results and used a SPDT toggle switch to get 3 positions per pickup: cap1, cap2 and no cap (middle detent of the SPDT). Still I am not quite happy.
    The exact placement of the R-L-C resonance peak that you can achieve with these caps is really tricky and I’d have to experiment more to get meaningful (rather than just, audible) sound options. Example: the caps should shift the resonance peak lower. But in some cases this actually makes the pickup sound brighter because it puts the peak right in the “presence” zone (around 3kHz) instead of in a higher but less audible frequency (think equal loudness curves, plus, most guitar speaker drivers have little response above 3-4 kHz). Most of the time on this modded guitar I still prefer the sound as bright as possible.
    Maybe I should experiment to pinpoint 2 positions per pickup: one for “presence”, one for “dull” , err, “full”, I mean, “jazz”. And of course, “off”. Anyhow my experience is this: the parts are cheap, but to get good results it takes a lot of trials.

  • Sebastián Enríquez

    The wiring in my be-loved Strat is the PTB which I saw first in one of your posts. Also, a toggle switch which enables Bridge-Neck / All pickups, just like the G&L’s.

  • Mil

    A great mod for a “standard” Jazzmaster is to replace the top circuit with “both pickups in series”. One of the two top controls becomes an independent volume control (very handy as the series setting will be louder) while I recommend wiring the other as a bass cut (similar to ptb) if you intend to use these for solos. A standard tone control (treble cut) would be of course the other option (that’s what I have in my guitar right now).
    What is nice in this setup when compared to the Tele 4-way switch is that volume and tone controls for the two circuits are independent (this can be done in any other guitar with 4 pots). The “in series” setting can be achieved with the standard 2PDT switch that comes in the guitar but then you’d depend on the position of your 3-way pickup selector which sucks. With a 4PDT that I used, the top switch is independent of the 3 way switch – it cuts the standard wiring and tone & vol controls out of the circuit and engages the top ones.
    I used a 4PDT switch from Switchcraft (part number 50212LX); another option is their 50209LX 3PDT switch which is the same size, just one row of lugs is missing. I used the 4PDT because it was easier to solder to and the place I ordered from had them in stock. The switch was a drop in replacement in my Vintage Modified Squier – there’s not much room there but I believe that AVRIs should be fine too (no need to modify pickguard at all but you’ll need to make a trip to a hardware store to buy some tiny nuts and bolts as the mentioned switches have the same hole spacing as the original part but the holes are not threaded).
    The mod is really good, it lifted my JM to another level. The “in series” setting for JM pickups (I installed Fender’s AVRI pups in my Squier) are quite usable, especially with pedals.
    I can provide the schematic(s) if anybody is interested.

  • Mil

    My plan was to draw this nicer but can help as is.
    I shielded both the cavities and pickguard with a cheap tape from EYParts in the cavities and Al kitchen tape on the pickguard.

  • Mil

    Here’s the schematic showing what I’ve done.

  • Colm

    I’ve changed every guitar I own over to Tele-style one volume one tone wiring. I’ve tried more complicated set ups with out of phase options etc. but none if them worked for me. On a couple of guitars I have a push/pull pot to take the volume control out if the circuit thus reducing the resistance that the pick ups see; that works quite well to give things a little more juice.

    • joe

      I totally get your two-knob reasoning, Colm. But can you give an example of a case where taking the volume pot completely out of the circuit makes a difference? I don’t doubt you, and I know you have great ears. But I’ve never heard much difference in any of my instruments.

    • As far as I can see, in a typical Strat circuit including 470pf of guitar cable capacitance into a 1Meg amp input (for example) the only effect of disconnecting the volume control is that the resonant peak at around 4.3kHz goes from +4dB relative to the rest of the signal (volume in circuit and at max) to +8dB with the volume disconnected. You should just about hear this 4dB increase as slightly brighter, edgier note. Otherwise, levels remain pretty much the same. Disconnect the Tone control as well and the resonant peak jumps to +16dB !! (even when the tone pot is at max treble) Now that you should hear !

      Series switching the pickups and phase flipping pickups can give some very effective tones but results vary a lot depending on the pickups. Interesting things seem to happen when the pickups are markedly different.

  • Colm

    I originally bought the push/pull pots to do an all pots out of the circuit mod; I read an interview with Larry Cragg, Neil Young’s tech, and he talked about Neil Young liking it for adding a bit more hair to things. Well, I tried it and found it a bit too much hair, so I went for a happy medium. It gives a bit more brightness/slightly alters the voicing of the pickup. It’s not a night and day thing but there have been times in the studio where everyone in the room has expressed a preference for the volume control out of the circuit vs it in for certain sounds.

    • Colm – What you say about all the controls switched out seems to confirm what I said about the peak being boosted by 16dB in my previous post.

      I realised that just to round things out it would be good to see what happens when just the tone control is disconnected (no-load tone circuits being quite a common mod) and compared to the tone control in at max treble) that also results in an 8dB boost at the resonant peak (a 4dB difference in the resonant peak height) as you might expect, but the treble roll off frequency doesn’t shift up. So going for a no load tone and leaving the volume in circuit will give you the same effect as disconnecting the volume and would seem to be a more useful way to do it (you would have to turn the volume up to max to get exactly the same effect). The frequency of the peak will shift depending on the capacitance of your instrument cable and the audibility of the difference will depend on your amp drive and tone settings. The frequency and height of the peak will also vary depending on the actual pickups used and on the values of the tone and volume pots. For example keeping all the other components as previously stated and changing the volume to a 500K raises just the peak height by 2dB, which is less than I expected.

  • My favorite mod is somewhat opposite of most of those described here- I converted my tele into an esquire, and then I got rid of the 3 position switch, so it is more like a LP jr. For some reason, with fewer choices, I find myself digging into what the guitar has to offer and in the end finding more options. Getting rid of the neck pickup really had an effect upon the tone.

  • Roland

    Hello Joe,

    Very interested in your mods and website/blog. Thankyou.

    I the following technical question, please:
    can one employ a varitone style circuit in addition to dual PTB tone controls?


    • joe

      Thanks, Roland. I’m glad you fine it interesting.

      Yes — that should work fine! 🙂

      • Roland

        Great, thanks.

        I’m modifying my Squier Jagmaster with a ‘swimming pool’ style body routing. I fully intend to implement both your dual tone PTB mod and the middle pickup blend mod (I’m going for a H-S-H configuration with a hote Tele neck pickup in the middle). I’m also considering the varitone circuit!

        I’m not sure how I’d implement the varitone yet. I may opt for toggle switches. I may even produce it as a pedal so that I can use it with any guitar?

        I’m interested in varitone settings which would give that kinda nasally resonant (notched filter?) cocked wah type tones.
        A question, please: which capacitor values would you recommend for that? And are they treble or bass cut ones?

        Also, is an inductor in the varitone circuit not important to achieve these type of tones?

        thanks and regards.

        • Roland – the varitone circuit uses switched capacitors in series with an inductor to provide a variable notch filter. So in a sense it does the opposite of a Wah-Wah which is a variable peak filter. The inductor value is the important part of the varitone circuit. You will only get true varitone operation if you use both capacitors of the value that Gibson used in the original and an inductor of the same value. The winding resistance may also play a part in how sharp the notches are.

          However guitar pickups are also inductors so it is possible (in fact it happens all the time in any instrument with a magnetic pickup) to get resonance effects by placing capacitors directly across the pickups. Self capacitance of the pickups and, with the volume control all the way up, instrument cable capacitance, appear across the pickup coils of all instruments with passive magnetic pickups and cause resonant peaks in the output. With the tone control rolled off the tone cap appears in parallel with the pickups and you get a fairly low frequency resonance. How much resonance and at what frequency depends upon the values of inductance and capacitance in the guitar circuit.

          • Shizmab Abaye

            There are 4 different ways to connect an inductor and a capacitor and they give 4 different responses.

            Say your guitar signal comes in at the top:

            1) Inductor and capacitor in series from signal to ground creates a notch.

            2) Inductor and cap in parallel from signal to ground makes a band pass (fixed wah).

            3) Similar to 1, but the output signal comes from the junction of inductor and cap while cap goes to ground – resonant low pass. This is similar to the fixed wah without killing your low end

            4) Similar to 3 but swap the positions of the inductor and cap – resonant high pass.

        • Well Roland was asking about the varitone (I assume as in Gibson varitone) and as far as I know Gibson only used the one, notch configuration.

  • We did this mod both ways, G&L and yours… we have an issue with the pots acting more like an on/off, very little control till the end of the sweep. We used audio pots, should they be linear? Any suggestions?

    • joe

      It sounds like you have the incorrect pot taper. You need a C-type pot (reverse taper), which is far less common than A types (audio taper) and B types (linear taper). With the incorrect taper, you’ll still get the same range of values, but most of the action will be crammed into one side of the pot’s throw. An A-type would indeed produce something like an on-off effect. You can order C-taper pots from any of the big electronics suppliers.

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