Can I Improve my Les Paul Tone
So you are wondering can I improve my Les Paul Tone. If you are like most you have been filtering through the many articles, comments and opinions found on the internet. What is this 50’s vintage wiring, cloth wiring verses what I have now, what pots to use, long shaft, short shaft and the dozens of different type caps? Yes it can be mine boggling. Hopefully this article will help clear up a few questions and simplify your quest for a better tone.
First off understand that the "Best Tone" is subjective. We all have different taste and more important different playing styles. Tone does not just come from the electronics in your guitar. Tone is effected by the different characteristics of the type of wood your unit is made from, the neck, the caps, pots, wiring, pickups, the amp you use and the way you play. You can make your guitar sound better with a few good upgrades. My own preference is the Vintage Sound from the 50’s and 60’s.
Upgrading your Les Paul can be as simple as changing out a few tone caps or a full re wire job. No matter how small of a change. You will hear a difference.
Tone Caps: This can be one of the best changes you can make. Normally the caps that come in your guitar are not the best. A capacitor is like a filter: They let the highest frequencies pass, but resist lower frequencies. The two most common upgrade caps are Orange Drops and Paper-In-Oil (PIO). I prefer the characteristics of the Vintage PIO caps. These caps will give you a very warm vintage tone. Plus they get better with time. Most common is a .022uf for both the bridge and neck pickup but I like to put a .015uf in the neck pickup. It’s great for a good jazz / blues warm tone out of the neck pick up. A good rule to remember is the higher the cap value the darker the tone. Let your own ear decide what cap, is best for you.
Pots: Almost all LP use 500K pots. I recommend to stay with that value. Brand wise I like Bourns. I have found them to be smooth and long lasting. Long or Short Shaft? Depends on your model and year made. Typically Pre 1977 Gibson USA manufactured Les Pauls, All Epiphone LP and other off shore made LP copy's use Short Shaft. 1977 to present USA made Gibson Les Paul's use Long Shaft.
Audio or Linear Taper Pots: I recommend Audio Taper pots. Without going into a lot of technical detail about the difference think of it this way. Audio taper are matched with what the human ear hears. Tone is what we hear. Our hearing is not linear.
Wiring: The characteristics of your wiring will effect the tone. Use vintage 22 gauge cloth push back wiring. This is what you will find in most vintage 50’s and 60’s made guitars. It does effect the tone and you will hear a difference. If you are replacing your 3-Way switch and I do recommend you to do so,make sure you replace the wiring. Use vintage braided cloth wiring.
50’s wiring: The tone is just better with 50’s wiring. It’s stronger and the notes really reach out and grab you. Plus the loss of treble when turning back the volume is reduced. It's easy to find a 50's Vintage LP Wiring Diagram on the web.
Switches: Don’t try to save a few bucks here. The best is Switchcraft 3-Way and Output Jacks. They give a solid connection and last longer. Now if you are trying to save some money or limit the work involved keeping your guitars present switch and jack is OK. Unless they are noisy. The Pots, Caps and wiring are the key to Tone Improvement.
I hope this covers the basics to help you with your Tone Improvement. Good luck and if you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us.
Tone Man Guitar