BY GARY BRAWER
ARE YOU ONE OF THOSE PLAYERS WHO DOESN’T USE TONE
controls? Is it because your tone controls don’t really do anything interesting?
How would you like to turn that sad, unused knob into a practical and
very useable secret weapon to personalize your sound? Here’s a simple midrange-
cut mod you can buy as a prewired circuit from various online sites,
do yourself, or have your local tech help you out with.
A normal tone control only rolls off your high frequencies, which at best
gives the impression of warming up your sound but more typically makes mud
soup of your signal. This DIY mid-cut mod can give you a unique, fully adjustable
control you can customize to fit your style. You’ll be able to take your
fat humbucker or honky P-90 and clean it up by rolling back the midrange. It
will give you a throaty, hollow sound that overdrives with a little extra clarity.
Single-coil pickups sound even funkier with a sort of “inside out” tone.
You’ll need a soldering gun and some ability to solder, and we’ll assume
you know where to find the tone control and capacitor in your wiring harness
(see photo). The mystery part you need to acquire is called an “inductor,” with
a value from 500mH (millihenry) to 5 henry. Inductors can be purchased as
wah replacement parts. Most wah pedals use an inductor with a value of about
500mH, but I’ve gotten good results with values over 1.5 henry.
The electrical supply house Mouser sells transformers that can be used
as inductors. (Look for part # 42TL018-RC [2.6 henry], 42TL019-RC [3.75
henry], 42TL021-RC [1.5 henry].) You can increase the value by attaching
them to each other in series (end to end). They simply add up: two 500mH
in series will give you 1 henry; use three for 1.5 henry. The larger the inductance,
the more effect you’ll hear.
Put the inductor(s) in line with where the tone control pot leg goes to
ground or where the capacitor connects to ground (on the back of the pot).
You will disconnect the pot leg or capacitor from ground and put the inductor
in the space you just made from ground to the pot leg or capacitor. This
will put the guitar signal in series with the tone capacitor followed by the
inductor to ground. A popular wiring job we do here at the shop on any guitar
with separate tone controls for each pickup is wire one control as a master
tone and the other as a master midrange cut. The interaction of the controls
gives you a wide range of tonal possibilities.
Once you get it working
you can try different value
components to personalize
the sound. The addition of
a resistor in parallel across
the existing capacitor will fi ne
tune the mid cut and help you
retain more high end as you
roll the knob back. This mod
will give you so much sonic
flexibility you’ll wish you’d
done it a long time ago.
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