The Vintage-Wired Les Paul

My favorite mod for a Gibson Les Paul, SG, or ES-335—or any other double-humbucker guitar with master volume and tone knobs for each pickup—is also sometimes called “’50s wiring,” “vintage wiring," or “’50s vintage wiring.” But it all means the same thing: This mod makes your dual-humbucker Gibson operate the way they did back in the nifty ’50s. Many players with PAF or PAF-style humbuckers prefer it because it yields many of the tones heard on iconic albums by so many guitar legends. (That said, you can also apply this mod to Strats, Teles, or any other type of guitar.)

If you spend much time in online guitar forums, you may already know that this mod has been a bit of a hot topic in recent years. Because of that, there are a lot of myths and urban legends about it.

Electronically, there’s nothing too special about this wiring: It simply connects the tone pot to the output (the middle lug) of the volume pot instead of to the input. Tonally, however, ’50s wiring has three major influences on your tone: First, your overall tone gets stronger and more transparent—more in your face. Some players say it “blooms,” because the notes just seem to open up after you’ve played them. It’s difficult to get this type of response from a dual-humbucker guitar without using this wiring style.

The second big impact that the vintage-wiring mod has is that it drastically decreases the treble attenuation that occurs when you roll back a volume knob. With passive volume controls, when you turn down—even just a little—the treble loss is far greater than the volume loss. One way to remedy this by installing a “treble-bleed” network—a combination of a capacitor and a resistor in parallel or in series—on your volume pots. However, ’50s wiring does the trick, too. This means it’s much easier to clean up an overdriven amp by simply rolling back the volume on your guitar. (Incidentally, we’ll cover the treble-bleed mod next—it’s my favorite for “super strats.”)

The third big effect of this mod is that it makes your guitar’s tone and the volume controls interact more than before, similar to how some Fender tube amps’ EQ and volume settings alter responsiveness (e.g., when you change the volume, the tone changes a little bit as well and vice versa). This may feel strange at first, but it doesn’t take long to adjust to it. Further, you’ll also notice that your guitar’s tone controls react much more smoothly and evenly, without the typical hot spots.

One of the other cool things about this mod is that it’s not only easy, but it’s also “invisible”—you don’t have to alter how you switch pickups or add any new switches that complicate the layout of your switches and knobs. It’s also easy to switch back to standard wiring.

Wiring diagram for the vintage-wired Les Paul mod. Diagram courtesy of Gibson Guitar Corp.