Tagged with "to"
An Alternative to Volume & Tone Knobs Tags: alternative volume tone

This article is a basic "think about it" commentary.  It neither proposes industry wide change nor suggests personal choice.  It's just food for thought.

 

MY ZERO-KNOB GUITAR

I built an electric guitar for myself that has no control knobs.  That's right, no volume, no tone, straight pickup to jack.   Let me explain why.

 

IT'S NOT REALLY WHAT THEY DO

As guitar builders know, volume and tone knobs are potentiometers.  There are different potentiometers:  250k, 500k, 1M, Type A and B.  But in the end game they differ not in tone itself, but tone potential and in the way they produce it.  A 500k pot contains all the sound potential of a 250k pot but allows more treble.  An A or B pot either one produces the same sound output... just at different speeds of getting there. 

But what's more interesting is that a volume pot really isn't a volume pot:  It's a "tone cutter".   It starts by cutting out the high tones, then cuts out mid tones,  and then on the low end cuts all tones completely.  It seems to be a volume pot because it does indeed reduce audible sound.  But it does so by simply grounding out specific ranges of sound, starting with the high tones until it cuts out all the tones completely.

The downside to this:  if you use your guitar volume knob to turn down volume slightly, you're in reality cutting out part of the guitar's treble range.  Is that really what you're wanting to do?

A tone pot does indeed change the sound coming out of a guitar... but in most  instances it tends to muffle sound rather than accurately change its tone.  This is visible in how tone pots are built; they simply bypass a certain range of sound by increasing or decreasing increments.  They don't change all tones evenly.  Advanced, well-made tone knobs do a better job overall, but seldom change tone well. 

Do you really want to "muffle" your guitar?

Don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong with volume and tone knobs.  They're used industry-wide and people like them.  They do offer utility and convenience.  But that doesn't mean they're absolutely required.  To put it plainly:  they are not essential to producing good sound.

 

PROVE IT TO YOURSELF

Try to use the volume and tone knobs on your guitar.  Listen to the results.  Then crank all your guitar knobs to "10" (full pickup output mode)  and change the volume and tone at your amplifier.  Chances are you will notice a significant difference, with the amplifier alterations sounding much better. 

Why is this?  Because a good amplifier has all sorts of modification circuitry built in to adjust volume and tone properly, beyond the basic capabilities of a simple potentiometer.

So this leads us to ask:  Which is better, to adjust volume and tone at the guitar, or at the amp?   If the amp does it better... why not use the amp?

This issue is why equalizer boards exist.  It's why professional musicians use pedals and sound boxes.  It's why amps have all those fancy settings in the first place.

The truth is, many professional guitar players crank both volume and tone knobs to "full 10" setting and then adjust output at their amp.  This fact could bring one to wonder:  if professionals do that, are the guitar knobs necessary to begin with?

Think about it this way:  if a guitar volume and tone knob were sufficient, why would an amplifier need such?  Why wouldn't the amp have no knobs, and just let the player control it all from the guitar? 

 

OUTPUTTING PURE SIGNAL

Wishbringer FlatCat™ pickups produce beautiful sound without any alteration whatsoever.  This is the case with many quality pickups... but commonly beginning guitar players aren't aware of this because they never give them the chance to do so.  Many players are under the impression that volume and tone controls on the guitar are essential to getting the "perfect sound".  In reality the opposite is true; you will achieve the most "perfect", precise sound by bypassing all controls entirely, sending the pickup signal straight to the amp.

While you will very seldom see this in practice there are some instruments that connect the pickup(s) directly to the output jack. Dual pickups might have a switch in between (which will significantly change the output sound of the guitar when one switches between neck and bridge pickup)  But volume and tone knobs may be missing. 

Why would anyone do this?  Because that way you're sending pure signal to the amplifier, with no potentiometers getting in the way, no pots to go bad, no interference with the current going directly to the amp and no potential grounding issues. Doing so can also reduce potential "hum" problems, especially if you use shielded or twisted-pair wire.

You then adjust the precise volume and tone you want at the amp, which has far better circuitry for doing that sort of thing.

Of course you can use a quality volume pedal (popular) or equalizer box in between to put the controls close at hand.  But in many instances once you have your amp set properly, you're good to go.

 

A WONDROUS NO-KNOB ELECTRIC GUITAR

The guitar I recently major-modded is an old archtop which was unplayable.  I spent a few onths on it, taking it down to bare wood, re-gluing where needed, re-finishing and then replaced all the hardware.  To make it electric I used a single FlatCat™ pickup near the neck. I wanted the purest sound I could get to go to the amp, so I ran the FlatCat straight to the jack.  I can adjust volume and tone at the amp with better results, with no potential distortion from basic pots.   This is electric guitar output at its simplest and cleanest:  straight from the pickup to the amp, direct wiring. 

It's an idea worth considering.  Of course, it's doubtful customers will buy a guitar with no control knobs.  It's a psychological thing:  you gotta have volume and tone knobs, right?  But this is my personal guitar, so that's the direction I chose on this project.

The resulting sound is awesome, undistorted, clean as it can be.  There are no unsightly knobs to get in the way of playing.  Quite a bit less wiring involved as well, and zero hum or noise.  And I can get any tone I want out of it by adjusting my amplifier.

Just something to think about.   It's an unusual idea, but with sound reasoning behind it.  One might be surprised how many musicians "bypass" their guitar controls by cranking them full-on "ten" and letting the amp do its job.  Bypassing controls might work for your project as well.

 

--o--

 

BUILDING A BOX GUITAR Tags: box guitar cbg cigar box guitar how to build building

BUILDING A BOX GUITAR

     I build and sell "cigar box guitars"-- or as I prefer to call them: "box guitars"... because they can be made out of just about anything.   I've built guitars out of cigar boxes, cardboard boxes, license plates and even Altoids Mint tins.  I've seen them built from silverware boxes, wine boxes and more.  They have all sounded great.  The trick is:  it's not so much what they're made from, as how they're made

    I enjoy helping people learn how to build their own instruments.  If you're going to build it yourself it's good to know the pitfalls ahead of time.  If someone can't build one (for whatever reason) or doesn't have the time or tools, that's where my store comes in.  Either way, the idea is to get music in the hands of the people.  

    In addition to instruments I also offer the popular FlatCat guitar pickup as well as other accessories.   People buy these to put on guitars they have built themselves.  Some are experienced builders, some are just getting started.

   For customers who purchase the FlatCat I offer a full set of instructions on how to build a box guitar.  Simply request the instructions at the time of ordering the pickup and I'll send you the instruction set free of charge.  This is my way of helping you get started and building your first guitar successfully.  These are the same instructions I use when building my own guitars, including all the hints, tips and tricks for building the best instrument possible.

--o--

 

 

Customer Photos Tags: customer photos

"Battle Axe" 4-string FlatCat-based guitar by Lucas Melton

CBG-model pickup. Customer appraisal:  "Excellent pickup. Sounds awesome!!!"   I take it he plays this guitar very carefully.  : )

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FlatCat on a "Gretch 1883" guitanjo by Lee M.

Notice the common-sense installation methods in the photo below.  The FlatCat wires were run through the guitanjo head and over to the control pots, which are installed in the upper top side of the instrument.  The outer drum tuners are grounded (good choice) as are the strings.  The wires running to the extended, through-body jack are wrapped around the central metal support to reduce RF/EM interference, significantly cutting potential hum and noise. 

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FlatCat on a Traveler Bass-- a guitar that has hardly any room to add a pickup.  Customer reports: "This pickup worked very nicely for me on my traveler bass. Solved the problem where the old piezo pickup was too quiet and wouldn't work with my Rocksmith guitar game. Looks nice as well!" - Greg

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FlatCat Bass Assist on a Gibson by Phillip Krzankowski

Phillip used a CBG FlatCat to emphasize the lower three strings on his Gibson guitar by offsetting the smaller-than-normal pickup to one side.  He reports being very pleased with the results.

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FlatCat-based Shovel Git by Rockets Instruments

This dandy guitar uses a Molten Iron FlatCat and cranks out some amazing sound. 

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FlatCat on Jim Hillis CBG

The Molten Silver color goes well with the palm rest.  Beautiful job.  Cigar boxes can be difficult to come by in some areas; Jim uses a cake pan for the back of his guitars.

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Brook Williams with his FlatCat-based resonator.

Here is a video from this fine performer, using a FlatCat-based CBG:

https://youtu.be/iSoIOyOOJBw   

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4-string CBG by Kevin.  - Old canning Ball Jar opener for the tailpiece (handy bottle opener at the end!), drawer handle for the bridge, walnut neck, skeleton Key nut.

 

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Shovel-based guitar by Ken C.

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John Sime's FlatCat-based Michale Messer Blues Resonator

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FlatCat Altoid Pickups on shovel guitars by Jeffrey

These antique collectors-item tins were supplied by the customer and turned into guitar pickups.  Customer review:  "This pickup is perfect for my slide shovel guitar, fit like a glove n extremely clear n loud, lowest setting on my Peavey Amp will wake the dead."

Shown:  Standard 3-string and bass 3-string

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Vintage 1960 National Guitar with FlatCat by Mike

 

I'd like to thank these customers for taking the time to photograph their finished instruments so we could all see the results.  Fine looking work.  There's just nothing like personal creativity to enhance an instrument... or make something totally new!

--o--

 

 

History of FlatCat™ Pickups Tags: flatcat history pickups

THE HISTORY OF FLATCAT™ GUITAR PICKUPS

From the owner of Wishbringer Music

    Around the end of 2014 I became aware of flat pickups when I noticed a brand called Thinkbuckers.   Looking further I found another brand called FlatPup, another by the Lace company, another brand by National.  I was already building guitars by hand and was fascinated by the concept of flat pickups, but could find very little information on how they were built. Even the cigar box guitar communities seemed very secretive (at the time) as to the process.

    Research revealed that flat pickups were nothing new; they'd been around for decades.  Lace and National produce off-the-shelf models, but they are very pricey. 

    Gaining little or no cooperation from the community in understanding flat pickup design, I went to the Net and did some research.  Very little was found there. So I started experimenting by the seat of my pants, beginning with only a slight inkling of how these were made, based on non-specific photos.  Existing pickups were wax potted and wrapped in cellophane packing tape-- a process that didn't appeal to me. I wanted something sturdier and more resistant to environmental changes.

    Factory-made flat pickups were pricey, starting at $145 each.  I wanted to build a pickup that was especially sturdy and had a wide-range of sound ability, but at a price affordable to the everyday guitar player.

    I started developing an unusual design, significantly different than prior designs I had seen.  Not a quick process.  Hundreds of hours were involved in basic R&D. Dozens of trial pickups. Detailed records were kept on all attempts-- gleaning the best features from each and discarding failures.  Eventually, the FlatCat pickup was born.

 

    By mid-2015 the R&D sessions had accomplished several things:

    * Considerable improvement over existing design concepts both in construction and resulting sound.  Testers stated it sounded better and was more versatile than other pickups.

    * FlatCats are fully potted and encased in solid PolyResin, which makes them very sturdy and more immune to elements and the environment.

    * Because of their design I was able to create and offer the first low-cost 6-string flat pickup on the market, intended for use on standard electric guitars.  Where factory-produced pickups started at $145 and up, FlatCats are priced at $50 to $55.   FlatCats extended beyond the realm of cigar box guitars. 

    *  Flatcats were significantly more powerful than existing CBG-type flat pickups.  Despite that gain in power, FlatCats remained wonderfully rich in tone, without distortion.  They work well with pedals, including distortion and overdrive models.

    *  FlatCat was released in  Cigar Box Guitar and Humbucker footprints.  Both models are aboout 1/4" thick and designed to be mounted to the surface of a guitar.

    FlatCats were released to the market and over the next several months earned solid 5-star reviews.   They were purchased by professional luthiers, cigar box guitar builders and customers  modding their own off-the-shelf guitars.  Repeat purchases by existing customers proved their effectiveness.  

    FlatCats are often specified as the "pickup of choice" by people who order custom guitars from Wishbringer, with those guitars receiving top reviews as well.  

    Today the FlatCat is available in a variety of colors.   Their sturdy composition assures their continued function over decades-- the wonderfully unique sound available to you for your special guitar projects.

--o--

 

How to Play a Cigar Box Guitar Tags: how to play

Wishbringer music store:  http://Etsy.com/shop/Wishbringer

HOW TO PLAY A CIGAR BOX GUITAR in ten minutes or less!

What first attracted me to cigar box guitars was how easy they are to play.  I have played 6-string classical/folk guitar for years, written dozens of songs, produced and marketed three CDs... yet the simplicity of this instrument fascinates me.  

I was browsing YouTube one day and came across this video:

(Go ahead and watch it.  It's only 4 minutes long.)

So the CBG is an instrument that just about anyone can play regardless of musical background.  This delighted me because we've all heard someone say "I wish I could play an instrument but never learned how."  Maybe you've said that yourself.  The CBG offers an introduction to music without years of practice... and encourages improvement of skills as you learn more songs. 

Cigar box guitars are a foot in the door that can bring years of playing enjoyment without requiring rigorous study.  They are truly the heart of folk music... but versatile enough to play any style from blues to jazz to rock n' roll.

 

 

 

 

VERSATILITY

Most of us have seen a dulcimer, a lap-instrument that is played using a wood peg and a pick.  I've always liked these instruments, but they use a diatonic scale (7 whole notes).  The CBG is chromatic (all musical notes) and can have from 1 to 6 strings (most have 3 or 4).  These are tuned so that a "chord" can be played by placing a finger across all strings at the same place (called "barring" the chord).  The instrument is so versatile that almost any song can be played using this method. 

 

NUMBERED FRETS

This method is so easy that CBG players often "write" their music using numbers rather than notes or chords.   No matter what your git is tuned to, you can play a song literally by the numbers.  On the neck we start with the nut as zero, followed by fret 1, 2, 3 and so on.  

This in mind, see if you can figure out what song this is by playing it on your CBG (answer at the bottom of this post)

** means pause, 0 means open string

9-9-7 ** 9-9-7 ** 9-9-7-5-3-3-3-3-3 * 0  

 

PICKING OUT YOUR SONGS

It is easy to pick out songs by ear.  Just sing the song and bar different frets until it sounds right, changing chords as the song seems to need a change.  It can seem tricky if you're just starting out, but gets easier as time goes along.  For those who suffer from being tone deaf, there's always guitar music---

 

"READING" GUITAR MUSIC

You can tell what chords are on the CBG by the fret number.  In the key of G (where the thickest string is a G note) these are:

O    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    12

G    G# A   A#  B    C   C#   D   D#  E    F     F#    G

Most guitar music has chord signatures above the music.  These signatures will look something like this:

C     D     G7     Am    C    D    F    Em   C

All of these represent full chords that are played on a 6-string guitar.  

On a CBG however, because of the harmonic tuning you can drop the secondary signature (7, m) and just play the main chords:

C   D   G   A   C   D   F   E   C

It usually still sounds right.  So that simplifies things to start with.  

When you know where the chords are on the CBG (it doesn't take long to learn them; there are only 12), you can actually read and play standard guitar music books... without the months or years of practice necessary to learn standard guitar chord fingering.  Just place your finger across all the strings at the positions shown above, and there are your chords.  It's like a dulcimer on steroids!

MOVE IT UP A NOTCH

Now that you have the bascs, you can expand your tuning and playing skills with one little, fantastic trick:

Tune your guitar to D-A-F.  Alternate tunings are C-G-d# or G-D-Bb

Here is a really neat video that shows why this works.  It's well worth watching.  The link below starts playing at 2min 16sec to avoid the unnecessary stuff.  Note this video is in regard to 4-string tuning, but can be just as easily used for 3-string.  It is my personal favorite tuning and playing method.

https://youtu.be/i9_mVi_pS-c?t=136

 

THAT'S THE INTRODUCTION

There is of course a lot more you can learn about playing a CBG.  You can learn fingered chords and rifts and all sorts of things as you gain experience.  But to get started, to my knowledge there is no easier stringed instrument in the world.  Not only that... but cigar box guitars sound wonderful (especially when amplified), they are great conversation pieces, and they're just plain fun.

https://Etsy.com/shop/Wishbringer

--o--

 

* The by-the-numbers song shown above is "Proud Mary" (Rollin' on the River).

 

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