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250k or 500k Pots-- Which Should I Use? Tags: pots potentiometers controls

250k or 500k POTS-- WHICH SHOULD I USE?

One of the questions I get asked most often is what type of "pot" to use with the FlatCat™ surface-mount pickup.  This question is also asked when someone is building their own guitar-- which pot will work best?

The quick answer:  either pot will work fine with the FlatCat.  Here's why:

 

THE K RATING.  "Pot" is short for potentiometer-- an electronic component used for both volume and tone controls on your guitar.  Generally pots come in three ratings:  250k, 500k and 1,000k.

The "k" rating signifies the top-end treble sound the pot will allow through to the amplifier.   The lower the number, the less high-end treble gets through. 

Thus 250k pots are often used on bass guitars or guitars that have a naturally high-pitched tone (such as the Stratocaster with single pickups), to limit the top-end treble.   500k pots allow more treble to pass through.

 

TYPE A or B?

There is probably no more controversial an area in gutiars as to whether type A or B potentiometers should be used.   One can read the Internet and find heavy arguments both ways. 

In general, the concept is that A= Analog (audio volume) and B= Linear (tone).  The two types will achieve the same results on both ends of the scale; the difference is in how they get there.  A tends to move evenly from one end of the scale to the other, whereas B increases power faster on the front end and more slowly in the second half. 

So the standard advice is to use A for volume, B for tone.  But there are claims and opinions equally strong on both sides of the issue.  Manufacturers of sound controls will use both A & B pots in different configurations; even the pros don't seem to be able to agree on which type to use for which control.  One writer says he 'just uses type A for both volume and tone and forget the controversy'.   But a prominent manufacturer uses type B for both volume and tone. 

You can read article after article that says to use type A for volume and type B for tone.  But if you purchase pre-assembled tone control sets from different manufacturers, they will not be consistent in which type of control they use.  So what is the layman to believe?

Since opinions seem to run equally strong on both sides, my opinion is to use whatever you have on hand... or whatever sounds best to you.  Sound is subjective.  Some people like one kind of control type, others like another.   I've personally used both A and B pots on both volume and tone and noticed no significant "advantage" either way.  They both will alter both volume and tone and will both produce identical resulting sound.   As with most things guitar, there is no "better"... there is just different.  Of course, there are different qualities in pots.  It makes sense that more expensive pots tend to work better overall than cheap pots.

I know that sounds like a non-committal answer... but check the Net yourself and read the forums and blogs.  You'll see why it's difficult to give a definitive, absolute answer on this one.  Some people prefer whiskey, others prefer vodka.  Choose what you prefer. 

 

VOLUME IS TONE?  Note that with either pot, as you turn down the volume you are literally reducing the K value-- causing the pot to also act as a "tone control" to an extent.  So as the volume decreases, so does more of the treble.  In reality you're not decreasing the "volume"-- you're decreasing the range of tone that passes through the pot until at zero setting, little or no tone is getting through (thus no volume). 

That is why many volume controls seem to go from "zero to 60" quickly... but then taper off on the upper half of the dial.  The lower end is allowing more of the bass sound through (loud) whereas the upper end is allowing more treble sound through (less "power" in that sound range).  Capacitors can be added to pots to help correct this issue by allowing treble to pass through regardless, but that has its disadvantages (volume never goes to complete zero).  Many guitar manufacturers don't worry about tone shift on the volume control and just use a straight pot, unaltered.

Because of this, it is common for guitar players to turn their guitar volume to max and control the volume either at the amplifier or through a foot pedal.  Quality amps and foot pedals tend to have more advanced volume control systems that compensate for tone alteration.

 

THE STYLE OF MUSIC.  Which pot you use  may also depend on the kind of music you're playing.  Country music often uses the full-range of 500k pots.  Blues tends to smooth that out a bit with 250k pots.   Heavy metal sometimes uses 1000k pots for that "shrill" effect.  But many country artists use Stratocaster guitars... which use 250k pots.  Others use hollow-body guitars and 500k pots.  There are no rules.

Since 500k pots contain the full 250k range and more... I typically use 500k pots.  But again with the FlatCat pickup, either pot will do fine.  It reproduces all sound ranges equally well.  

--o--

 

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