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Tone controls;who uses them?
#3050220 06/21/20 06:57 PM
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I have been thinking again(I know I shouldn't, it never ends well), looking at one of my strats, I wondered "Why two tones and one volume?" What was in Leo's mind when he set it up that way? And why didn't he put one on the bridge pickup, which needs one much more than the middle? I know the wiring can be switched that way easily, but what was Leo, usually a very practical designer, thinking with all that?

Who knows? But tone controls remain a bit of a mystery to me. Beyond knocking a bit of the edge off of a tele bridge pickup, all I've ever done with them is whip them all the way up and ignore them.

Does anybody here or elsewhere use them in any way beyond that? Especially on a strat; is there some combination of settings that involves that middle pickup tone knob in some noticeable and practical way that I've never found?

Discuss...


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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050235 06/21/20 07:53 PM
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As for Strat tone controls, I usually remove the control for the middle pup and I hook all the pups to the remaining tone control at the bottom. I move the volume pot to between where the missing tone control and the missing volume control were originally. I do this because the volume pot is too close to the strings and my hand hits it while picking. So I eliminated that problem by moving the volume pot an inch or so away from the strings

See the photo below. Plus I put dimes on the empty holes where the missing pots were.

Attached Files IMG_1739.JPG

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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050256 06/21/20 09:50 PM
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I use it on a tele and a Kiesel with Lithium pickups. Both can get very bright and need to be dialed back with certain amp tones. I like having that range though. By the same token, the cut through muddy setups.


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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050259 06/21/20 10:05 PM
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Mud knobs? I never use them.
I dial my amp on to sound great on the neck pickup and sometimes I use both neck and bridge for a little extra brightness. Volume is almost always all the way up too.

As for Leo and the Strat - part of the genius of Leo Fender was that he associated with working musicians playing in Los Angeles. He would give them a prototype and ask them how to improve it.
That is how the Strat evolved from the Tele, players asking for this and that feature and Leo building and loaning a new axe with that set of features.

Very Kaizen = "Fail Early" or "Don't Fall In Love With All of Your Babies." Start with something and allow it to be refined into something else.
Back then some guitarists were doubling on bass by turning their tone control all the way down on the neck pickup, just for one scenario.

Older speakers were not quite as bright as the JBLs that came later either.
Either way, if a wide open bridge pickup did not make sense to the LA musicians at that time, they would have told Leo to change it.


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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050278 06/22/20 12:33 AM
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Strats or all Tone knobs in general? Have to have tone knobs on Teles, Esquires and Juniors. Especially Juniors.

Most my Strats run 3-way switch Memphis wiring. The middle knob is the fade knob for the middle pickup. I have a 70s Strat with a bullet truss rod loaded with EMGs that are standard layout. ( when I went through my Gilmour phase). I don’t use much tone knobbage on any Strats. My Strats sound best tones wide open. On my Teles the sweet spot in tone rolled off about 20%. My white guard Esquire is absolutely brutal wide open. On Juniors the guitar is very versatile but you need to know how to work attack, pick position and the volume and tone knob. The whole less is more mystique and the simplicity is why I like the Junior.

Last edited by CEB; 06/22/20 12:37 AM.

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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050322 06/22/20 05:35 AM
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I fiddle with the knobs on some guitars more than others. My Reverends probably get the most twiddling, in part because they have a bass contour knob which is essentially a tone knob for the lower end- even Revs with HBs voiced for metal can get damn twangy.


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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050354 06/22/20 02:58 PM
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On most of my electrics I run the tones all the way up and really don't need the tone pots all that much. I do leave the volumes down a little so I can boost the volume for leads. But I can leave them up all the way and adjust the amp and use my Compressor pedal using it as a clean boost more than compression, to boost the volume up and back down for lead and rhythm work. I find the tone controls useful on my acoustic/electric guitars and the Comp boost pedal very useful for lead/rhythm volume control as well.

On the Leo question, I read that Leo was so proud of his sparkling treble on the slanted bridge pickup on the Strat, that he could see no reason why anyone would want to cut it back and thus omitted the tone control on that pickup. I totally agree with DBM on the Strat controls. I think Leo put the volume control too close to the 1st string. If I haven't played my Strats for awhile, I tend to kill the volume at times when I get too aggressive with my rhythm playing. I also like Kuru's idea of wiring direct to the jack and avoiding the tone pots all together...he's working on a project and will get back to us on how this concept works out. I still like having at least one volume control like the Delonge Strat concept, with no tone controls. cool

Last edited by Larryz; 06/22/20 03:03 PM.

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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050366 06/22/20 04:28 PM
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I rarely use any tone control on the instrument, although I like having that option available if I ever want to use it. I usually set the tone on my amps for a nice fat clean round sound with the trebs cut down a bit, and the presence all the way off. From there I do use an overdrive pedal with tonal options as well. I use the guitars volume control turned all the way up, and the guitars tone controls all the way open as well.


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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050469 06/23/20 01:52 AM
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I usually set up my amp and pedals with the tone knob at 7 out of 10( all dual humbuckers vintage hot pickups JB or hot PAF style) then as I add any effect that robs a bit of edge I can dial it back in. Especially for my progstyle metal sound. This works for me using High gain amps. Got a compliment on this in January this year. The other guitarist I was jamming with noticed and asked me to show him and now he is using this method. I never could get a strat to work for anything I do so I don't use one in general, but this also works with my telecaster ( I have to reset up my amp).

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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
CEB #3050559 06/23/20 04:42 PM
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Originally Posted by CEB
Most my Strats run 3-way switch Memphis wiring. The middle knob is the fade knob for the middle pickup.
That sounds eminently practical to me. When you say "fade knob" does that mean you fade between two of the pickups? Is there a diagram of this Memphis wiring available?


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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050569 06/23/20 05:16 PM
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Originally Posted by picker
Originally Posted by CEB
Most my Strats run 3-way switch Memphis wiring. The middle knob is the fade knob for the middle pickup.
That sounds eminently practical to me. When you say "fade knob" does that mean you fade between two of the pickups? Is there a diagram of this Memphis wiring available?

Sounds like a straight volume knob for the middle pickup. I've heard of it.
To make it work you have to reverse the leads on the pot, like a Jazz Bass. Put the pickup lead on the center lug and the output lead on the outer lug. The ground lug remains grounded.

That way, when you turn down the volume, you are grounding just the pickup instead of the entire system, which turns everything down. Would give you the neck/middle, bridge/middle and all three pickups - something you can't get with a 5 way switch.


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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050593 06/23/20 07:10 PM
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Yes. It’s called Memphis wiring. It’s a pretty common setup. My tech originally got the idea from Skunk Baxter’s guy. 3-way switch just controlling the the bridge and neck like a Tele. With a master volume and master tone. The middle knob fades in the center pickup. It gives you a couple of settings you can’t get with standard 5 way switch. Just B&N and all three. All three sound great for Country slide type stuff ala
Leroy Parnell. Just B&N is sort of Tele-ish. If you are careful you can fade in just enough middle to cancel hum and not do much else. ... sort of. But hum is okay, it lets you know the guitar is on.

Last edited by CEB; 06/23/20 07:11 PM.

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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050596 06/23/20 07:15 PM
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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
CEB #3050597 06/23/20 07:21 PM
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All but one of my guitars are dual HB Guitars, so it's a bit different from the controls on Strats & Teles.

I tend to use my Neck PU, and will sometimes roll the Volume knob back to 9, which rolls off just a bit of the highs. In the middle position, I tend to roll the Tone knob on my Bridge PU back to around 7. If I use the Bridge PU by itself, which I rarely do, I'll have the Tone knob around 7 or 8, and Volume at 9.

On my Godin Freeway SA, which has an H-S-H config and a 5-way switch for the Guitar PU's, I tend to put the switch into the 2nd position, between the Neck HB and the Middle SC, with the Volume and Tone both at 10. The Middle PU by itself is just annoying, and the Bridge PU . . . well, they might as well have just saved some space there, IMHO.


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Re: Tone controls;who uses them?
picker #3050602 06/23/20 07:56 PM
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Just neck and bridge pickups here, active EMG single coils. I prorfoundly dislike hum, some gigs are worse than others but the lower I can keep my own hum level, the better.

My "Strat" has a piece of white plastic glued to the bottom of the pickguard to fill the middle pickup hole. 3 way switch like a Tele.
The pot hole closest to the strings has plastic behind it too, no knob. The middle knob is an EMG SPC, which is a mid-boost - more of a humbucker tone. It's all the way up, all the time, I could just take the knob off and sink it under the pickguard, it wouldn't change anything.
Volume knob is down at the bottom, out of the way. Once in a great while, I might do a swell with a delay on just for fun, mostly I don't touch it. I could probably hard wire right past it and not miss it enough to care. If I ever transition to gigging with my Peavey Vypyr amps, the Sanpera switch boards come with a volume/wah pedal, at that point I may go for pickups to output jack.

My gigger Tele is wired like a Tele but with an EMG SPC instead of a tone control. Both knobs all the way up 99% of the time.

I've got my neck pickup lowered and the bridge pickup adjusted so it's just a bit louder than the neck. Most of the time, I just dial my amp for the neck to sound good and use channel switching and effects that are built into the amp.
I don't effects pedals anymore, I only own 2 and one of those is studio use only. I like being able to plug straight into the amp and to have a footswich that just plugs in too, so much simpler and it sounds better to go straight in.

If I want a little more highs and volume, I will switch to the middle position. I never use the bridge position. With both pickups on I can get a good variation of tones simply by moving my picking location closer to the bridge or neck as needed. I use Dunlop Gator 2mm picks and just vary the pick attack to go from loud to soft. Took a while to get that touch while strumming but I like it, freedom from knobs!!!!

I may switch from neck to both 3 or 4 times in a 3 set gig. I will use my amp footswitch for clean to lead, sometimes chorus or rotary (depends on the amp and the song) or delay. Reverb stays on.

Simple. Probably a lingering influence from playing acoustic guitar (not plugged in) for many years. You learn to get tones and dynamics from just the strings and your pick. Now it is instinctive.


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