Control Considerations

How you approach which components you use to control the mods in your guitar depends on several consideration you need to bear in mind when you're designing your circuit.  Take a second to ponder your preferences regarding these sometime before you get out your soldering iron... let alone a drill!



Ask yourself which category you and your instrument fall more into:
Noodlers vs. speed demons.  How fast to do want to get to a given option?  Are you willing to fiddle with several toggles and knobs to get to the sounds you want or do you want to just flip a switch?  Take this example: Most guitars have a single pickup selector switch.  On a standard Stratocaster, that's a 5-way.  The problem is it doesn't give you all seven possible combinations of pickups.  An alternate approach is to swap out the 5-way for three On/Off switches for the individual pickups.  This allows you to get any combination, but just to change between, say the neck pickup and the bridge, you have to turn off one and turn off the other.  With a conventional 5-way, that's one step.  It's a trade-off.  Which is right for you?

Extremists vs. moderates.  As I detail on this page, many options can be addressed with either a switch or a potentiometer.  The difference is a switch is all-or-nothing whereas a pot allows a gradient all along the spectrum between the two possibilities.  However, a switch is usually a faster approach than twisting a pot all the way around.  That might sound like a moment out of your time, but a moment is an eternity if it causes you to miss a note in the middle of playing your part.  Another trade-off to think about.

James Bond vs. Star Trek.  In the movies, 007 kept his gadgets hidden out of sight so no one ever saw them coming.  On Star Trek, there was no doubt you were looking at the future from all the switches and knobs and gauges and blinky things.  Although which controls you use are addressed by the other concerns discussed here, you need to consider the aesthetic side of things as well.  You can often hide controls in plain sight through the use of push-pull pots, but you can also modify a stock control to a different end (e.g., automatic coil taps in a 5-way switch).  Similarly, you can always substitute existing pots for those with a different purpose (e.g., where the vol knob once was, you now have the EQ of a preamp).  On the other hand, maybe you want your guitar to look like you're from outer space.  If so, go crazy with it and cover the thing with switches and knobs and who knows what else.

Consolidated vs. distributed.  Although I describe many of the mods featured on this site in terms of stand-alone controls (or at best with a push-pull pot), it is possible to combine multiple options in a single component.  In the example of the 5-way switch vs. three separate toggles, you are performing several actions with one motion (i.e., turning off a pickup and turning on another).  However, you can use a more complicated component such as a four-pole rotary switch to switch coils off, on, in phase, out of phase, in series, in parallel, etc. (see this page for specifics).  That's one extreme example, but there are other approaches that will similarly consolidate several options within one control rather than several.

One way streets vs. redundant routes.  Many guitars have built-in redundancies that achieve the same end.  For example, most classic Gretsch guitars have a volume knob in addition to individual pickup volume controls.  This allows rapid switching between pre-set options, obviously, but it does make for a lot of controls over the face of the guitar.  Although it might take longer to get what you want, a guitar like a Les Paul could theoretically forego its pickup selector switch given that it already has volume knobs for each pickup.  Many bass guitars have always done this.  In fact, it's the exception to see a bass guitar with a pickup selector switch; players usually use volume controls instead.  Think in terms of whether you can part with some things.







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