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Turn Your Tone Control into a Passive Midrange Cut

April 22, 2011
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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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