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Why tone caps aren't that big of a deal

There's a lot of talk about tone capacitors. People have theories and ideas about them. A lot of this information is not founded in reality, but rather in marketing and "mojo."

Your tone capacitor does almost nothing until you turn your tone control down. While potentiometers do allow for a tiny, minuscule bit of bleed-through, they are essentially an open gate or a closed gate when turned all the way in one direction.

Think of it like this:

Sound comes out of the pickup. It meets with the volume control. The volume is a gate that limits how much sound can get through. When it's turned all the way up, the gate is wide open. The guitar is loud. You hear everything that pickup has to offer.

The tone control is like a side gate. When it's turned all the way up, it is closed. Everything goes out the main gate - through the volume control. As you turn down the tone, it opens the side gate. It allows sound to hit the tone capacitor.

The tone capacitor only allows high frequencies (treble) to pass through. The treble that gets through is then sent to ground. It's gone. You don't hear this sound. What you hear is what didn't go to ground.

People have an idea that their tone cap will have a huge effect on the overall tone of the guitar with everything turned up. That is just not true. If you don't turn your tone controls down while playing, you can't really hear what your tone cap is doing. That's because it's just sitting there doing nearly nothing. Now, as mentioned above, there is a tiny bit of bleed through. We say the difference between having the tone control there and not is like turning your tone up from 10 to 11. It's really more like turning it up from 10 to 10.2 or something. It's almost undetectable. The bulk of your tone, with the exception of a tiny bit of high frequencies, is all getting through. You're not "hearing the cap."

In this graphic above, I tried to make it pretty simple to understand. This is a simplified diagram rather than a schematic that scares people off. Take note of the blue line - and how it passes straight through. See how the tone cap is down off the side? The tone you hear does not pass through that cap at any time. Even when the tone is turned down, what goes through that cap is gone. It's not heard.

Now as far as type of capacitors:

My advice is use a good quality cap. Don't spent $50 on super ultra special NOS oil in paper bumble bee etc... mumbo jumbo. Scientific studies using spectrum analyzers and oscilloscopes have shown that the differences in audio frequencies passed by capacitors inside a guitar is almost negligible. As long as the quality of the cap is decent, and the value of the cap is accurate, the sound will be nearly indistinguishable from brand to brand, type to type. There is a lot of marketing and mystery that goes into selling tone caps. There's also a lot of boutique brands just stamping their name on other products that are cheaper elsewhere. You pay the markup and still can't hear the difference.

The human mind seems to have more effect on what tone you perceive than anything. You just spent $100 on two caps for your Les Paul. You fire it up, and you're convinced it sounds better. Why wouldn't it? You spent a bunch of money. You should get something for your money.

Next time, spend $5 or $10 on Orange Drops or similar caps. Get the same sound at a fraction of the price. Go buy a bunch of beer with the money you saved.

Also good to note: Some people will go through cap after cap and then swap pickups, etc... without ever investigating whether the pots are doing their job properly. Sometimes you'll find a 500K rated volume pot that actually reads 200 or 300K. This will have a massive impact all the time at any volume. If your pots are excessively scratchy when you turn them, clean them. If cleaning doesn't work, replace them. The scratchy sound is corrosion or debris, or other failure of the pot inside. Since all of your tone passes through the volume pot, it needs to be working well... or you're definitely losing something.

Fake Gibsons

fake-gibson-les-paul.jpg

While Gibsons of today may not be what they used to be, they're a far cry from the fake copies (AKA Chibson) that are coming out of China. The fakes owe more similarities to an Epiphone guitar, but don't even meet the quality of one.

I get asked all the time: "What do you think? Is it worth a couple hundred bucks." The answer is always "No."

The build quality is horrendous. The hardware is a joke. The fret work and necks are so bad that the best fret level many times cannot correct all the issues with it. Some would need a refret to get them right. The pickups are almost always Epiphone pickups. The rest of the wiring makes Epiphone stuff look like high quality work. A look inside at the cavities gives you a clue as to how poorly they are constructed.

The Grover tuners are completely fake. If you take a string off of them, they rattle like crazy. Epiphone level "Grovers" are much better, and they're still nowhere near the quality of high-end Grovers that would come on a USA Gibson.

Your money is much better spent on a lookalike guitar that was built to decent quality. The only positive point about these is the headstock shape and logo look pretty legit from a distance. Otherwise, no good at all.

People say "Well, what if I buy it and then upgrade everything on it?" Then you'll have something that is decent, but you just spent as much as you would on a good used Gibson that doesn't need any upgrades. We've seen this happen a few times, and the owners are usually not pleased in the end.

Identifying A Fake Gibson:

Gibson has an article on their website that is somewhat outdated. This is still a good place to start. Note that some fakers have moved to a two-screw truss rod cover because they've read the article, as well. Here is a photo of one I saw recently side by side with a real cover. The thing was obviously hand carved, and the logo is not only crooked - Gibson doesn't even write all that on there!

 Seems legit!

Seems legit!

The truss rod cover is very easy to swap, however. If someone is trying to sell it as real, they will likely upgrade that part.

An obvious giveaway on many of these is the nut and the binding at the nut. If I'm looking at a suspect guitar, I analyze that area.

 Photo Credit Gibson.com

Photo Credit Gibson.com

The nut on a fake usually looks more like an Epiphone nut. It's thicker than a Gibson. Gibsons are built with a head-cap that lays against the back of the nut. (the left side) Epiphones and the fakes have a thicker nut that lays on top, with nothing against the back of it. UPDATE: I recently had my hands on one of these that had a head-cap more like a real Gibson. Removing the truss rod cover revealed a couple of obvious details, however. The cover itself was hand made, very poorly. Under the cover you find an allen (hex) wrench truss rod in a messy hole. Gibsons should have a rod that protrudes outward so a nut driver can be slipped over it. If it's just a hole in there, that's wrong.

If you're buying a Gibson from someone online or on Craigslist, you need to look carefully at this part. They may have upgraded everything else on the guitar, but this part can't be hidden.

The bridge and tailpiece usually have sharp edges under the chrome plating. If you run your finger over the edge, it should feel smooth. If it has a harsh edge, it's not a Gibson part. The bridge usually has 6mm posts you would see on an import. Gibson doesn't use these. They use the skinny posts that don't have a slot in them for adjustment.

If you're buying an expensive guitar, the seller should take no issue with you opening the control cavity to look inside. You should see braided wires, large pots (that usually say Gibson or possibly CTS on older models). The routes should be clean and not left with burrs and sawdust inside. If you see a rat's nest of red and blue and green wires, then it's not real.

Finally, my advice to anyone buying their first Gibson: Go to an authorized dealer of Gibson guitars. Play a couple of them. Get a feel for what they're supposed to be. Then you'll have a little ammunition to keep you from making a terrible mistake. If buying from a private seller, meet at their home. If they want to meet at a 7/11 at night, don't do it. Have them meet you at my shop or bring someone else who knows for sure if it's real or not.

We've seen a handful of people who had no idea their Gibson was fake. Tracking down the seller later will be impossible. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it just might be.

My Stratocaster Hums Loudly

This is a very common question we get here at the shop. "Why does my Strat hum in some positions on the switch, but it's dead-silent in two places?" There is nothing wrong with your guitar. This is how it was built.

For a guitar to be silent, it typically requires more than one coil to cancel out the hum. Stratocasters were designed with 3 single coil pickups. Each of the pickups on it's own produces a loud humming noise. This noise comes from the electrical system, and any other electrical noise that may be around you. The most common noise you hear is the 60 Cycle Hum coming from the power system.

The modern style Stratocaster has a middle pickup which is used in reverse. This means that when you mix the middle pickup with either the bridge or the neck, you cancel out the hum. This is why your guitar is silent in two positions, and loud on the other three.

If your guitar has a double coil pickup, commonly known as a "humbucker," then it will cancel hum by itself in position 5. Often times this is wired to turn off one coil in position 4. This allows you to mix the middle with one coil of the bridge. This is known as a "Fat Strat" and is also a popular modification for Strats.

Switch position 1 uses the Neck only

Switch position 2 uses Neck and Middle

Switch position 3 uses the Middle only

Switch position 4 uses the Middle and Bridge

Switch position 5 uses the Bridge only

Positions 2&4 Are Hum Canceling

The volume control works on the entire guitar. The tone controls do not. The knob marked NT is the Neck Tone. The knob marked MT is the Middle Tone. The knobs will interact with the other pickups in positions 2&4.

Our favorite Stratocaster pickups cancel hum in every position. These are known as "Noiseless" Single Coils. They are actually humbuckers in diguise. There are many different types available. Many don't sound like traditional Strat pickups. We have our favorites and we'd be happy to advise you. Feel free to email or call us if you want more information.

Batteries are expensive

Batteries are expensive! Well, not really. A good quality battery isn't that expensive when you consider what we spend on our music gear. When you put a cheap battery in your instrument, you may not be seeing it's full potential.

For example, we had a Taylor acoustic guitar come in for work. It was being used nightly to perform with Cirque Du Soleil on tour. The sound guy was complaining of the Taylor ES system being noisy. He could hear it through his headphones and nobody could figure out what the problem was. When I opened it up to see what's going on, I found a rechargeable 9 volt battery. Upon closer inspection, the battery was actually rated well under the required 9 volts. I swapped in a Duracell alkaline 9V, and the problem was solved.

These pickup systems, pedals, wireless units, etc... that are built to operate on 9 volts are expecting to see a proper battery. If the battery is weak, the quality degrades. You get symptoms such as noise, distortion, or failure.

You can find studies that have been done to show which batteries hold up over the long term. The basic big name brands like Duracell and Energizer are excellent choices. Usually anything that says "Heavy Duty" or the like is not heavy duty at all. These batteries die quickly and sound quality dies with them. Anything from the dollar store or discount bricks of batteries are fine for toys... but not for professional instruments. Spend the extra couple of bucks.

If you have a multimeter, check your battery's DC Voltage output. A good one will read a little higher than the rated voltage. If it reads a little under, then it's on the way out. I consider anything less than 9V to be a throwaway.

 

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My Neck Is Broken. Can You Fix It?

Yes. We most likely can fix it. We fix these breaks all the time.

How much? $50 and up. Something like this will run you about $150, though:

 Example of a broken Ibanez Wizard Neck that we saved from the trash bin. Chances are your neck is broken cleaner than this.

Example of a broken Ibanez Wizard Neck that we saved from the trash bin. Chances are your neck is broken cleaner than this.

The most common neck breaks we see are on Gibson and Epiphone instruments. This has to do with the design of the headstock. It tilts back across the end-grain of the wood. Many of these necks are mahogany, and that is a soft wood. If you own a guitar with this type of headstock, please be extra careful not to drop it. Don't even drop it in the case! We can repair 98% of them, but it will kill the resale value of your instrument. It also leaves you with scars that can only be hidden by repainting. (an expensive and time consuming process)

Don't throw that broken guitar in the dumpster. Bring it in and we'll see what we can do to save it.

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