Auditioning Tone Capacitors
Breaking the myths of tone capacitors and helping you find the best one for your tone.
As you know, we love to discuss the smallest details about our guitars, and the tone caps inside of them are no exception. Finding the right tone cap can be a very time-intensive and expensive project and, as always, the internet is full of urban legends – including magical, para-psychological “facts" about them. Believe me, there is nothing mystical inside of capacitors. Without drifting into any voodoo fields, it's time to uncover some of the mystery that surrounds these little rascals. Over the next two months I will show you how find your tone cap – without wasting a lot of time and money!
In a nutshell, a capacitor is an electrical/electronic device that can store energy in the electric field between a pair of conductors (called "plates"). The process of storing energy in the capacitor is known as charging, and involves electrical charges of equal magnitude but opposite polarity building up on each side.
Capacitors are often used in electrical and electronic circuits as energy-storage devices. They can also be used to differentiate between high-frequency and low-frequency signals. This property makes them useful in electronic filters, and that´s exactly what we use them for inside our guitars. Basically, our passive tone control can be used to dampen the high frequencies. When you close the tone pot, it rolls off the treble response, giving a more mellow tone. Adjusting this control affects the sound very noticeably, but it still is quite recognizable as the same guitar.
A basic rule for tone caps is that the bigger the cap, the darker the tone. Depending on the cap's value (capacitance), the effect can reach from "slightly warmer" to a "woman tone" all the way to "completely dark and clinically dead." Remember, the tone cap is always part of the guitar circuit and it even influences the tone when the tone pot is fully opened.
I often receive e-mails and calls from guitarists who don't use the tone control at all, mostly complaining about tones that are darke and lifeless, hotspots when closing the tone pot, and a basically useless taper of the tone control. I'm sure you've experienced the last problem; when closing your tone control, all changes occur between 10 and 8, and from 8 all the way to 0 there is no audible change of your tone. Don't worry, this can be solved. I hope that I can encourage you to give your tone control a second chance. It is really unbelievable how many tone colors can be easily dialed in with a proper tone control.
There are two basic parameters that we will talk about: the value (capacitance) and voltage rating of the cap, plus the type of cap itself. Both parameters will influence the tone a lot; this month, we will start with the value and voltage rating of the cap. Capacitance is a measure of the amount of electric charge stored (or separated) for a given electric potential. The voltage rating describes the maximum working voltage of a cap (potential, measured in volts).
One of my all-time favorite urban legends has to do with voltage ratings. You can read about voltage ratings of 400 volts – and higher! – for tone caps, and how this influences the tone. Do you ever talk about 400 volts coming out of your guitar? Of course not. Then how exactly does it influence tone?
As a basic rule you can say that every cap with a voltage rating of 0.5 volts or higher will work inside a passive electric guitar, with higher voltage ratings resulting in larger caps. The reason for the high-voltage tone caps that you find in guitars is easy to explain. A lot of popular caps, like the Sprague "Orange Drops," are for tube amps with inside voltage of 600V or higher. Nevertheless, the caps sound great inside a guitar, but an Orange Drop cap with a 10V rating would also sound great. A cap with a higher voltage rating does not sound different from the same cap with a lower voltage rating.
I've spent a lot of time with A/B comparisons, blind tests and measurements and I never could ear any difference. I'm not Eric Johnson, and I use my eyes instead of my ears to verify if the grass in my garden is growing, but you can try these tests yourself. Orange Drop caps are great for this experiment because they are available in voltage ratings from 100 to 680 volts.
Now that those rumors are debunked, let's focus on the more important parameter – the value of the cap. Remember our basic rule to help understand this parameter: the higher the capacitance, the darker the tone.
In the "golden days" of electrical guitars, Fender and Gibson used tone caps with a very high capacitance (0.1uf/0.05uF and 0.047uF/0.022uF, depending upon the time period). The 0.022uF value is still the standard today. If you need very dark and bassy tones, this value may work for you. For most of us, however, this value is much too large and the effect is more or less useless, resulting in the aforementioned problem of the effect only taking place between 10 and 8. The solution to the problem is simply a tone cap with a much smaller value. This little change will enhance the usability of your tone control dramatically, giving you a good evenness among the complete taper of the tone control without any hotspots, and every movement of the pot will result in a change of tone.
The value of your tone cap is always a matter of individual choice and needs, because everyone has a different ideal tone and everyone uses the tone control differently. Personally I use very small tone caps of 3300pF up to 6800pF, depending on the guitar and how bright it sounds. With these mall values I´m able to dial in a lot of tonal shades and colors all over the tone pot, and with every small movement the tone gets a little bit warmer and sweeter - not dull and dark.
Finding the Perfect Value
To find the perfect value for you, I suggest getting a piece of cardboard, two 10" pieces of wire, two solderable alligator clips and some cheap standard ceramic caps. The cheapest caps from a local electronic store are good enough for this, and the voltage rating is completely unimportant. Get values from 1200pF to .1uF, plus every value in between you would like to try. One piece of each value is enough. Glue the caps side by side on a piece of cardboard, with the legs reaching over the edges. Don't forget to note the value of each cap on the cardboard! Then, solder the alligator clips to the wires (one clip per wire, soldered to one end of the wire).
Now open your guitar and desolder and remove the existing tone cap. Solder the end of the wires opposite to the alligator clips to the points where the original tone cap was connected and close your guitar leaving the wires hanging out. Now you can change the different caps within seconds by simply connecting with the alligator clips. Play your guitar and use the tone control to see which value works best.
Hopefully you will be able to determine through this method what your favorite cap value is. My tip is to try 2200pF, 3300pF, 4700pF and 6800pF and listen to how they interact with the tone and taper of the pot. Chances are good that you will like them!
This is a very important step in converting your tone control to a useable and helpful tool in the future. Next month we will talk about the different cap types, and how to figure out which one is for you.
See you next month!
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For these new recreations, Fender focuses on the little things that make original golden-era Fenders objects of obsession.
If there’s one thing players love more than new guitars, it’s old guitars—the unique feel, the design idiosyncrasies, the quirks in finish that all came from the pre-CNC era of instrument manufacturing. These characteristics become the stuff of legend, passed on through the years via rumors and anecdotes in shops, forums, and community networks.
It’s a little difficult to separate fact from fiction given these guitars aren’t easy to get your hands on. Fender Telecasters manufactured in the 1950s and 1960s sell for upwards of $20,000. But old is about to become new again. Fender’s American Vintage II series features 12 year-specific electric guitar and bass models from over two decades, spanning 1951 to 1977, that replicate most specs on their original counterparts, but are produced with modern technologies that ensure uniform build and feel.
Chronologically, the series begins and ends, fittingly, with the Telecaster—starting with the butterscotch blonde, blackguard 1951 Telecaster (built with an ash body, one-piece U-shaped maple neck, and 7.25" radius fretboard) and ending with the 1977 Telecaster Custom, which features a C-shaped neck, a CuNiFe magnet-based Wide Range humbucker in the neck position, and a single-coil at the bridge. The rest of the series spans the highlights of Fender’s repertoire: the 1954 Precision Bass, 1957 Stratocaster in ash or alder, 1960 Precision Bass, 1961 Stratocaster, 1963 Telecaster, 1966 Jazz Bass, 1966 Jazzmaster, 1972 Tele Thinline, 1973 Strat, and 1975 Telecaster Deluxe. The 1951 Telecaster, 1957 Strat, 1961 Strat, and 1966 Jazz Bass will also be offered as left-handed models. Street prices run from $2,099 to $2,399.
Fender '72 American Vintage II Telecaster Thinline Demo | First Look
Spec’d To Please
Every guitar in the series sports the era’s 7.25" radius fretboard, a mostly abandoned spec found on Custom Shop instruments—Mexico-made Vintera models, and Fender’s Artist Series guitars like the Jimmy Page, Jason Isbell, and Albert Hammond Jr. models. Most modern Fenders feature a 9.5" radius, while radii on Gibsons reach upwards of 12". Videos experimenting with the 7.25" radius’ playability pull in tens of thousands of viewers, suggesting both a modern fascination with and a lack of exposure to the radius among some younger and less experienced players.
T.J. Osborne of the Brothers Osborne picks an American Vintage II 1966 Jazzmaster in Dakota red.
Bringing back the polarizing 7.25" radius across the entire series is a gamble, and it’s been nearly five years since Fender released year-specific models. But Fender executive vice president Justin Norvell says that two years ago when the Fender brain trust was conceptualizing the American Vintage II line, they decided the time was right to “go back to the well.”
“We’ve been doing the same [models], the same years, over and over again for 30 years,” says Norvell. “We really wanted to change the line and expand it into some new things that we hadn’t done before and pick some different years that we thought were cool.”
“It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”—Steve Thomas, Fender
To decide on which years to produce, Fender drew from what Norvell calls a “huge cauldron of information” from Custom Shop master builders to collectors with vintage models to former employees from the 1950s and 1960s. The hands-on manufacturing of Fender’s golden years meant guitars produced within the same year would have marked differences in design and finish. So, the team had to procure multiple versions of the same year’s guitar to decide which models to replicate. Norvell says some purists would advocate for the “cleanest, most down-the-middle kind of variant,” while others would push for more esoteric and rare versions. Norvell says that ultimately, the team picked the models that they felt best represented “the throughline of history on our platforms.”
Simple and agile, the Fender Precision Bass—here in its new American Vintage II ’54 incarnation—earned its reputation in the hands of Bill Black, James Jamerson, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and other foundational players.
Norvell says the American Vintage II series was developed, in part, in response to calls to reproduce vintage guitars. Just like with classic cars, he says, people are passionate about year-specific guitars. Plus, American Vintage II fits perfectly with the pandemic-stoked yearning for bygone times. “For some people, these specific years are representative of experiences they had when they were first playing guitar, or a favorite artist that played guitars from these eras,” says Norvell. “These are touchstones for those stories, and that makes them very desirable.”
Fender’s electric guitar research and design team, led by director Steve Thomas, dug through the company’s archive of original drawings and designs—dating all the way back to Leo Fender’s original shop in Fullerton, California. They found detailed notes, including some documenting body woods that changed mid-year on certain models. Halfway through 1956, for example, Stratocaster bodies switched from ash to alder. That meant the American Vintage II 1957 Stratocaster needed to be alder, too. That, in turn, meant ensuring enough alder was on hand to fulfill production needs.
Among the series’ Stratocaster recreations is this 1973-style instrument, with an ash body, maple C-profile neck, rosewood fretboard, and the company’s Pure Vintage single-coils.
Thomas and his team discovered another piece of the production puzzle when researching how pickups for that same 1957 Strat were made. “We realized that if we incorporated a little bit more pinch control on the winders, we could more effectively mimic the way pickups would have been hand-wound in the ’50s,” says Thomas. “It takes a lot of doing to go back in time and sort of uncover the secret-sauce recipes.”
Thomas proudly calls the guitars “some of the best instruments we’ve ever made here in the Fender plant,” pointing to the level of detail put into design features, including more delicate lacquer finishes which take longer to cure and dry, and vintage-correct tweed cases for some guitars. New pickups were incorporated in the series, like a reworking of Seth Lover’s famed CuNiFe Wide Range humbuckers, which were discontinued around 1981. Even more minute details, like the width of 12th fret dots and the material used for them, were labored over. Three different models in the line feature clay dot inlays at unique, year-specific spacings.
Ironically, modern CNC manufacturing now makes these design quirks consistent features in mass-produced instruments. While the hand-crafted guitars from the ’50s and ’60s varied a lot from instrument to instrument. “Everything needs to be located perfectly, and it wasn’t necessarily back in the day,” says Norvell. “Now, it can be.”
Don’t Look Back
With this new series so firmly planted in the rose-tinted past, Fender does run the risk of netting only vintage-obsessed players. But Norvell says the team, despite being sticklers for period-correct detail, sought to strike a balance between vintage specs, practicality, and playability. The 1957 Stratocaster, for example, has a 5-way switch rather than the original’s 3-way switch. Norvell also asserts that the “ergonomic” old-school radius feels great when chording. “It might not be [right for] a shred machine, but it feels great and effortless.”
The 1966 Jazz Bass is also represented, shown here in a left-handed version.
Norvell also pushes back on the notion that Fender is playing it safe by indulging nostalgia and leaning on their past successes. He says that while the vintage models are some of the most desirable on the market, the team “purposely did not stick to the safe bets,” citing unusual year models like the 1954 P Bass and the 1973 Stratocaster.There’s a good reason why anything that hails back to “the good ol’ days” hits home with every generation. We’re constantly plagued by a belief that what came before is better than what we’ve got now. But with the American Vintage II series, Fender makes the case that guitars from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s can very easily be a relevant part of the 2020s.
JET Pedals Releases The Red Sea
The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment.
Introducing the Red Sea, an all-analog signal routing matrix, designed for countless stereo and mono signal path routing options. The Red Sea was born out of the vision to provide complex signal routing options available to the live/performing musician, that up until now, are only found in a studio mixing environment. The Red Sea has accomplished this in a compact, easy-to-use, and cost-effective solution.
Wet | Dry | Wet
The Red Sea gives you the ability to run a FULL Stereo wet dry wet rig using only 2 amps or just 2 signals to the FOH, while also giving you complete control over your Wet & Dry mix! Use the Blend knob to control the overall mix between stereo wet effects and mono dry/drive signals.
Stereo Dual Amps
Run dual amp modelers if full stereo w/ stereo effects. Gone are the traditional ways of one amp in the Left channel and another in the Right channel. Now use the Red Sea to seamlessly blend between two separate amps in true stereo. Think of this as a 2-channel amp where you can blend anywhere between both amps.
Stereo Parallel FX
Red Sea has two independent stereo FX loops. Use each FX loop to run stereo delay's and reverb's in parallel, where each effect does not interact with each other. Huge soundscapes can be achieved with washy reverbs and articulate delay repeats while being able to blend between each FX loops mix level.
The Red Sea can also do the following routing options:
- Wet | Dry utilizing a single amp
- Clean Wet | Dry | Wet (drives DO NOT run into wet effects)
- Wet | Dry | Wet with dual delays (one in the L channel & other in R channel)
- Parallel Dual Amps (run dual amp modelers in FULL stereo)
- Convert a tube amp's serial FX Loop to a parallel FX Loop
- Stereo and Mono analog dry through (avoid latency in digital pedals)
Crazy Tube Circuits Announces the Stardust V3
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct amplifier models.
Stardust V3 was designed to capture the sound and response of 3 distinct maxed-out amplifier models. An all-analog signal path with discrete gain stages featuring MOSFET transistors provides juicy overdrive tones with great note separation that clean up to that sparkly sound that we all love and heard in recordings of the past. Set gain and tone and control everything from your guitar. Sparkly clean to crunchy mean are all there.
You can select the amplifier voicing via the onboard toggle switch.
BSM: Voiced after a blackface amp head that was primarily targeted for bass guitar players but got famous for electric guitar classic rock tones.
VLX: Voiced after a chimey 2x10” combo offering the perfect amount of controllable crunch
DLX: Voiced after one of the most popular low wattage 1×12″ combo amps that have found their way in countless recording studios and clubs around the world.
Stardust V3 now comes with top-mounted jacks and soft-click true bypass via a high-quality relay. The pedal has loads of output volume and enhanced headroom provided by 18V DC (boosted internally) so that it can also be used as a preamp going straight into your Power Amp or AudioInterface when combined with a separate speaker simulation device.
Street price: 199 Euro / 199 USD.
For more information, please visit crazytubecircuits.com.
EarthQuaker Devices Presents the Third Incarnation of the Sunn O))) Life Pedal
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original and includes a third footswitch.
Sunn O))) present an enhanced version of the Sunn O))) Life Pedal Octave Distortion + Booster, in collaboration with their comrades at EarthQuaker Devices. The Sunn O))) Life Pedal circuit has been meticulously tweaked from the original to squeeze every last drop of heavy crushing tone available. The octave section has been fine tuned to make it more pronounced without losing the bottom end and we added a third footswitch, utilizing Flexi-Switch Technology, for the octave to allow an additional method of quick and radical tone shaping.
“Working on this new version has been a great continuity of this collaboration which feels so right, and sounds so right,” says Stephen O’Malley. “It’s a really beautiful pedal and it’s also a beautiful art collaboration. I think we made something really interesting that people can enjoy to use for their own music, but also, it makes a lot of sense to release a piece of distortion as a release for our band. We’re really happy that this is a trilogy now.”
The Sunn O))) Life Pedal is designed to represent the core front end chain used in those sessions, to drive the tubes of the band’s multiple vintage Sunn O))) Model T amplifiers (or take your fancy) into overload ecstasy. This is a 100w tube amp full stack’s holy dream, or its apostate nightmare.
Sunn O))) Life Pedal is a distortion with a blendable analog octave up and a booster
- Features 3 different clipping options: Symmetrical Silicon, Asymmetrical Silicon & LED, and pure OpAmp Drive
- Distortion and booster can be used independently
- Expression and footswitch control over analog octave up
- Octave blend allows total control over how much Octave is mixed into the circuit
- True bypass with silent relay based soft touch switches
- Features EarthQuaker Devices’ proprietary Flexi-Switch® Technology
- Lifetime warranty
- Current Draw: 15 mA
- Octave Distortion: Input impedance: 1 MΩ / Output impedance: <1 kΩ
- Booster: Input Impedance: 500 kΩ / Output Impedance: <1 kΩ
- List Price: $299 USD