Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

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vwelch01
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Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby vwelch01 » Tue Dec 19, 2017 10:44 pm

Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference? I have no idea and thought I would ask on this forum. I have an older DC200 and was thinking about upgrading the pots. Thoughts and recommendations? Thanks in advance.
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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby EL_SUPER_BEASTO » Wed Dec 20, 2017 2:28 am

UnexplodedCow will probably pop in and give you the specifics, but from my own experience the pots that came in my Kiesel were all within 5% +/- their value. I've never liked CTS's travel just because it's so inconsistent to the touch— some are stiff and some are smooth, but (thankfully) not a lot of scratchiness. Bourns pots have the best travel in my opinion, and if you get 5 or 6 of them you've got a safe bet you'll have a few within 5% of spec'd range.

It can make a big or slight difference, as can swapping out the capacitors. It's really all about what you want, BKP offers some pots that are spec'd a bit hotter and I'm a big fan of those myself. If you go from 500k to 250k there will be a huge difference, going from 485 to 500 the difference is barely noticeable but in my opinion still a worthwhile upgrade for humbuckers. As long as you don't have to ream the pot holes there's no real danger in swapping them out, much easier than swapping a set of pickups.
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DannyB819
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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby DannyB819 » Wed Dec 20, 2017 7:47 am

I won't speak specifically for CTS, but I've swapped out the electronics on both my Carvins and it made a huge difference.

That said, I've put in CTS audio pots in both my C66s (as well as DiMarzio pickups) and it turned two great playing but bland sounding guitars into monsters. I think any high quality pot is an upgrade over what comes in stock, be it CTS or another brand.

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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby UnexplodedCow » Wed Dec 20, 2017 6:55 pm

I sense that my name was mentioned....or maybe it was my soul.

I've done a LOT of parts swaps over the years, and consider pots the least consistent part. More specifically (yup, I'm doing it) CTS normally specs a 20% tolerance on pots. They offer a 10% tolerance in some cases (mojo tone I know sells them), and that is considered tight tolerance outside of precision, multi turn pots.
I have also tested every stock Carvin/Kiesel pot I've come across, and they have always tested within 10%, and more than half were 5% or tighter. This kind of consistency is key. Passive pickups are heavily influenced by the load placed on them from the volume pot, as well as any other pots in the circuit. The lower the pot resistance, the heavier the load placed on the pickup.

What happens from there is the effect on the pickup output, frequency response, and especially resonant frequency. I could go into more detail, but won't. Other threads on the BBS have the info.

Anyway, the short of it is that if the pots work perfectly, no reason exists to replace them. Their quality is actually good, and I have never replaced the stock pots unless they were faulty, or another resistance was desired. CTS can be fine, but they are looser spec. Alpha is similar, but cheaper. Bourns is my favorite, and they are usually within 5% tolerance, plus they make various kinds specifically for guitar, even with switches. I hope this helps.
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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby gumbynotpokey » Wed Dec 20, 2017 7:00 pm

UnexplodedCow wrote:I sense that my name was mentioned....or maybe it was my soul.

I've done a LOT of parts swaps over the years, and consider pots the least consistent part. More specifically (yup, I'm doing it) CTS normally specs a 20% tolerance on pots. They offer a 10% tolerance in some cases (mojo tone I know sells them), and that is considered tight tolerance outside of precision, multi turn pots.
I have also tested every stock Carvin/Kiesel pot I've come across, and they have always tested within 10%, and more than half were 5% or tighter. This kind of consistency is key. Passive pickups are heavily influenced by the load placed on them from the volume pot, as well as any other pots in the circuit. The lower the pot resistance, the heavier the load placed on the pickup.

What happens from there is the effect on the pickup output, frequency response, and especially resonant frequency. I could go into more detail, but won't. Other threads on the BBS have the info.

Anyway, the short of it is that if the pots work perfectly, no reason exists to replace them. Their quality is actually good, and I have never replaced the stock pots unless they were faulty, or another resistance was desired. CTS can be fine, but they are looser spec. Alpha is similar, but cheaper. Bourns is my favorite, and they are usually within 5% tolerance, plus they make various kinds specifically for guitar, even with switches. I hope this helps.


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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby UnexplodedCow » Thu Dec 21, 2017 2:35 am

I've not heard the "tone solder" debate, but I'll probably use it as a joke when talking about guitar electronics.

I used to believe wood significantly impacted an electric sound until I started experimenting with winding my own pickups, then researched more. Even pickups are somewhat variable, and is why some show more or less resistance than another, or have a slightly different resonant frequency. They even change over time depending on magnet type (AlNiVo loses strength over a long time).

These days I think the wood debate is mostly anecdotal. I've watched videos supposedly proving one way or the other about it. Does it matter? Yes. Is it even an audible difference we can consistently hear? I'm unconvinced, and think wood type mostly affects sustain. Pickups generate the tone, but are influenced by other factors. I'm not saying wood, or possibly even solder, doesn't matter, but I think they are trivial. That doesn't stop me from buying a guitar made from ash instead of alder, or have a nice quilted top. I like a pretty face as much as the next guy, but am not put off if the instrument lacks nice features.

Acoustics, however, are an entirely different matter, and wood choice, or even neck joint, makes an audible difference to my ears, but that's a topic for another day.
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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby Doctor Doug » Thu Dec 21, 2017 8:31 am

I have no idea how anything works from a technical stand point but I can say that pots make a big difference.

I have two white Epiphone Les Paul Customs that should be at least somewhat similar. I dropped Suhr Aldrich pickups and swapped put the pots in both of them. I put CTS pots in one and Bourns in the other.

The guitar with the Bourns pots sounds much better to me. The sound is smoother and less 'prickly'.....if that makes sense.

Here's the one with Bourns pots just for fun:
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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby UnexplodedCow » Thu Dec 21, 2017 1:16 pm

If you like the Bourns more, have your tech measure their resistance, and keep that info handy the next time you replace. You may have to buy 10+ pots at once, but then you can cherry pick and find the one that most closely matches what you like. At that point, brand shouldn't matter.

As for your description, that leads me to believe that the Bourns are lower resistance than the CTS.
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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby hopkinwfg » Sat Dec 23, 2017 2:43 am

I guess we would also like to know if changing pots of same value but to different brands do make a difference ? Ie 500k volume CTS vs a 500k volume mini Alpha stock ?

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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby colossal » Sat Dec 23, 2017 10:52 am

Pots make a significant difference in the performance of the instrument. Pots matter both for their construction but more importantly, their taper. Precision is how close the pot is manufactured to the stated value. The taper is the curve which affects the rate of onset/decrease of the perceived effect of volume or tone. On my HH1Xs with the KH12B, I use PEC pots, 250k Linear for volume and 250k 10% logarithmic taper for tone. On my R9 Les Paul with 50's wiring, I use Emerson Custom pots 500k logarithmic for both volume and tone and handpicked to 535-540kΩ. These pots have a custom 30% taper. I use paper-in-oil capacitors for tone in both the Kiesels and the Gibson. The pot values affect the self-resonance of the pickup's inductance. The pots, pickups, capacitors, cord, and amp input impedance are between your signal and the amp. This very much affects what you hear.

Here is the circuit model:

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Last edited by colossal on Sat Dec 23, 2017 12:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby colossal » Sat Dec 23, 2017 11:21 am

hopkinwfg wrote:I guess we would also like to know if changing pots of same value but to different brands do make a difference ? Ie 500k volume CTS vs a 500k volume mini Alpha stock ?

Different brands make a difference because you have to consider the material used on the pot's track as well as the taper and the manufacturer's stated precision. Conductive plastic, hot molded carbon? The taper is also important. For guys like me that ride the volume and tone controls, I want to exploit the nuances of small changes in the sound going from 10 down to 8 on a Les Paul for instance, or rolling off the Tone to get a thicker, softer sound, while retaining clarity. You have to look at the data sheet for a given pot and compare the charts for the stated taper.

There can be a lot of variance within a given manufacturer's spec. So for instance, a standard CTS off-the-shelf pot may have a stated precision of 20%, meaning that you can get 500k +/- 20% of that value, so if you order a 500k pot, you could get anything from 400-600k! That is very significant because if you look at the plot of your pickup's inductance, DC resistance, your chosen tone cap and then that pot, that value will very much affect the roll off of what you get when you go from 10 to 0. This is a big deal for some. Now if you don't even use the volume and tone control and just leave everything on 10 all the time, then personally, I would just wire the pickup straight to the output jack and cut out the middle man.

Taking the case of the CTS pots made for Emerson (which I use in my Les Paul), they have a stated precision of 7%, so that is a more narrow range. When I ordered them, I had them specifically pick my pots out of the lot for a very narrow range of values and on the high side because I want the extra resistance. Also, the taper is customized for Emerson. The rolloff is extremely smooth and you don't get this huge volume drop going from 10 down to 9. The Gibson Historic pots do that and it is annoying (even though their taper is quite close to the old Centralab pots). So, as you can see, the answer about picking a 500k from CTS or Alpha isn't always cut and dry.

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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby UnexplodedCow » Sat Dec 23, 2017 1:24 pm

The different construction materials would have stray capacitance, mostly, that would cause a difference in sound, assuming identical measured resistance. This does not apply to wire wound resistors, which are also inductive, and more sensitive to RFI.

About tapers: linear ones are usually very consistently tapered from each maker. Audio, or logarithmic are a different story. Almost none are actually logarithmic but instead use two different resistance rates. For the first 2/3 of travel, for instance, the taper may be very low, and the last 1/3 it ramps up quickly. A true log pot is rare, and I have never seen one in a guitar.

I prefer linear pots of higher value, and use a secondary adjustable resistor to tweak the resistance when not on 10, as well as the taper to a lesser extent.
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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby Koshchei » Sat Dec 23, 2017 4:44 pm

Nice tonsils.

And if they're within stated spec, they should be good.

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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby UnexplodedCow » Sat Dec 23, 2017 4:46 pm

:lol:
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Re: Does swapping out to CTS Pots make a difference?

Postby OotMagroot » Sun Dec 24, 2017 6:34 pm

I swapped the electronics on my Bolt...several times, in fact. The stock pots were fine but they were difficult to turn and never loosened up over time.

I first swapped to CTS pots. Easier to turn, but not a big difference in sound quality.

THEN, I swapped to Dimarzio which were WAY easier to turn and seemed to have a slightly better taper to them.

I also swapped the pickups for various sets of Lace, Dimarzio, and EMGs and the Carvin (at the time) pickups held their own...for the most part.


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