Mod Garage: Les Paul Master Wiring #3
Want split-second tone switching on your dual-humbucker guitar? Try this simple yet potent mod.
Hello fellow modders! It's time now to explore the third and final version of our master wiring schemes for the venerable Gibson Les Paul. So far, we've covered master volume plus master tone (“Les Paul Master Wiring #1") and master tone plus two volumes (“Les Paul Master Wiring #2"). In this third version, the volume pot is the master and it will be supported by two individual tone controls.
Although we call it a “Les Paul" master wiring, you can apply this mod to virtually any guitar with a similar dual-pickup, four-potentiometer configuration, such as an ES-335 or SG. And with a little ingenuity you can adapt it to any guitar with two pickups. For example, you can swap out the Gibson 3-way pickup selector toggle switch for a Fender-style pickup selector switch, which means you could use this wiring on a Telecaster. (Yes, my friends, there's just enough space on the control plate to install a third pot.)
I should also mention that having a master volume and two separate tone controls in a dual-humbucker configuration is nothing new, and Ibanez, Danelectro, and PRS are among the many companies that use this wiring on their guitars.
But back to the Les Paul: The basic idea of this wiring is to reduce the number of pots from four to three. The payoff? Removing the unused pot gives you room for an additional switch for yet another mod of your choice (a phase-reverse, coil-tap, or kill switch, for example). But you don't have to add anything extra to benefit from this simple mod—getting a clearer, more practical control layout is a legitimate goal, and you'll enhance your guitar's tone by removing unneeded or unwanted components from the circuit.
The basic idea of this wiring is that while sharing one common volume control, each of the two pickups has a dedicated tone control, and this allows you to use different tone caps to tweak the sound. Besides using different cap types for your neck and bridge pickups, you can also use different capacitance values.
A common combination is the standard value 0.022 µF for the bridge and a slightly lighter 0.015 µF value for the neck pickup, which inherently has less treble.
But you can also choose a more radical configuration. For instance, how about a very small 6800 pF silver mica cap for the bridge pickup—thus converting the bridge tone pot into a “warmth control" that will yield a super-sharp, contoured solo sound—in combination with a 0.033 µF paper-in-oil cap for the neck pickup. The latter would let you dial in deep, classic jazz tones or a warm rhythm sound. You can have a lot of fun experimenting to find a combination that works best for you.
Another benefit of this wiring is its “preset" function. You can dial in two completely different tones, as in the example above, and engage either with only a flip of the 3-way pickup selector switch. And because of the master volume configuration, you'll have both tones at almost unity volume—especially if you've adjusted pickup height with this in mind. Many players like this practical approach, so the setup is really worth a try.
There are several different ways to complete this wiring, but I opted for the one that requires the least changes in the stock Les Paul circuit. Also, it doesn't matter which of the two volume pots you want to keep because this wiring will work for either of them, so feel free to assign both pickups to the volume pot of your choice.
You'll have to desolder your guitar's stock caps from their original volume pots. If you're going to reuse the stock caps, take care not to shorten their legs more than necessary in the removal process. As shown in Fig. 1, you'll need them to connect to the hot outputs of the pickups, as well as the wires coming from the pickup selector switch.
That's it! Now that we've finally closed this LP master wiring series, next month we'll launch a different project. Until then ... keep on modding!