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Old 07-19-2010, 05:54 PM
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1 knob electric guitar. Why?

Electric guitars traditionally have either two knobs, a volume and tone control for all pickups, or perhaps four knobs, a set of volume/tone for each pickup, or even some combination like the Strat's schizo arrangement of one volume, two tone knobs. However, there's a certain niche of guitars out there that have one or more pickups and one knob, a volume control. I understand this may have originally been an Eddie Van Halen thing, ala his Frankenstrat, but you can find 1-knob guitars out there from quite a few guitar makers these days.

So I gotta ask -- what's the attraction of these instruments? Is it really a bad thing to have a tone control? I understand some metal or hard rock players like this arrangement. Why?

Also a technical question -- if there's no tone knob one these guitars, is that equivalent to the missing tone control being all the way up, or all the way down? Is a capacitor added in-line with the volume circuitry, or is it just as if the pickup went straight to the amp?
Old 07-19-2010, 06:33 PM
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Someone clever with real gear-knowledge will come along to answer your technical questions but from the perspective of a player, I generally don't use the tone knob. I don't play jazz or blues (not that jazz and blues players are the only ones who use their tone control.) If I want a little less treble without changing amp settings, I play a little softer or mute with my hand slightly. Plenty of my friends who play noisy rock type music never use the tone control either.
Old 07-19-2010, 07:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Manwich View Post
Someone clever with real gear-knowledge will come along to answer your technical questions but from the perspective of a player, I generally don't use the tone knob. I don't play jazz or blues (not that jazz and blues players are the only ones who use their tone control.) If I want a little less treble without changing amp settings, I play a little softer or mute with my hand slightly. Plenty of my friends who play noisy rock type music never use the tone control either.
Okay, that all makes sense. But why would you (general you) buy an instrument that has no tone control, even if you don't use it? Just leave it up (down?) all the way and never touch it again. Maybe you don't play jazz/blues/whatever now, but maybe you'll find some style that makes the tone knob useful, so why not have a tone control? Is there some tone advantage to not having one, or is it purely esthetic minimalism?
Old 07-19-2010, 07:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by squeegee View Post
Okay, that all makes sense. But why would you (general you) buy an instrument that has no tone control, even if you don't use it? Just leave it up (down?) all the way and never touch it again. Maybe you don't play jazz/blues/whatever now, but maybe you'll find some style that makes the tone knob useful, so why not have a tone control? Is there some tone advantage to not having one, or is it purely esthetic minimalism?
Aside from looks and minimalism: to avoid bumping it and accidentally changing the knob. Keep in mind that the modern player has a lot of places to adjust the tone: guitar, amp, and effects.
Old 07-19-2010, 07:30 PM
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A lot of players find their tone and just go with it. Most players I know of do not do a lot of pickup switching or tone adjustment when playing live. There are exceptions, Steve Morse comes to mind. He changes his pickup selector while doing runs, moves towards the neck pickup as he gets higher on the neck. This, btw, is hard to do smoothly while playing fast. Very hard.

You can actually get a lot of variety out of changing pick ups if there is more than one by changing the volume and pickup. Not as fine as a tone knob but you can do a lot.

Also, if you are a player who has your own tone (think Van Halen) you don't want to go messing with it too much. Just get it dialed in and go. Other players, or players who play a wider range of material will have to use more knobs just to get the control they need.

I use my tone knobs quite a bit. I generally get each pickup selection to the tone I want then switch between pickups depending on what I am playing. This can change from song to song so it can be a bit of a pain to remember which song gets which tone setting. Add to that any pedals or other outboard effects and pretty soon you've got a whole lot of stuff going on.

Back when I just played really heavy stuff I would find my tone and be done with it. These days I play a wider range of stuff which requires a wider set of tone options. My pretty leads are on the neck pickup with the tone about 5. My rip your head off leads are the bridge pickup and tone set to 0. For in between stuff I use the middle pickup selection (one half bridge/one half neck) and the tone settings changing depending on what I feel like.

As far as the difference between having a tone knob and not having one goes, when the tone knob is at 0 it is supposed to be off. Of course, just having it in the circuit will change things a bit but not having a tone knob should be the same as having the tone knob set to 0.

Slee

*Every time I tried to type in tone knob I typed in tone know. Every time. Ack, repetitive typos can be annoying...
Old 07-19-2010, 07:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sleestak View Post
As far as the difference between having a tone knob and not having one goes, when the tone knob is at 0 it is supposed to be off. Of course, just having it in the circuit will change things a bit but not having a tone knob should be the same as having the tone knob set to 0.

By "set to 0", do you mean set to 10? As in, no cut in treble?

I just spent some time reading about this on some guitar forums and people do claim that having a tone control does effect the tone and they prefer their sound with it removed.
Old 07-19-2010, 09:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Manwich View Post
By "set to 0", do you mean set to 10? As in, no cut in treble?
Whatever he meant, I have to say I'm not clear on exactly what the circuit does -- roll off the treble, or roll off the bass? I expect it's the former, like you said.

Quote:
I just spent some time reading about this on some guitar forums and people do claim that having a tone control does effect the tone and they prefer their sound with it removed.
Huh, I didn't expect that, but from my question above you might guess I'm not exactly an electrical engineer. I wonder if there's some objective measuring of the signal that could be done with/without a tone control (i.e., w/ the control set to "do nothing") that would settle the question? I don't think Mythbusters would be interested, unless maybe they could blow up the test guitar.
Old 07-19-2010, 09:52 PM
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Originally Posted by squeegee View Post
Whatever he meant, I have to say I'm not clear on exactly what the circuit does -- roll off the treble, or roll off the bass? I expect it's the former, like you said.
Yes, a guitar tone control is a low-pass filter. It reduces the amount of treble in the signal, it does not boost the bass.
Old 07-19-2010, 10:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Manwich View Post
By "set to 0", do you mean set to 10? As in, no cut in treble?

I just spent some time reading about this on some guitar forums and people do claim that having a tone control does effect the tone and they prefer their sound with it removed.
My bad, I wrote that at work and got it backwards. In any case, there is never going to be a perfect pot that does not affect the circuit it is in. So just by adding the tone control there will be some change in tone. How much? Beats me, I am a computer guy not an electrical guy but I do know that it will affect the circuit. Is it enough that you can hear it, probably, but I'd guess it is a very small change. I'd imagine that non musicians wouldn't notice the difference.

Slee
Old 07-19-2010, 10:34 PM
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I never use tone knobs, but I like to have them there. Even when the knob is on "10", having it in the circuit causes a bit of a reduction in top end.

Pickup makers design pickups to work with the usual set of tone/volume pots. Take one (or both) out of the circuit and the pickup becomes very bright and toppy.

The brighter sound can help if the pickup in question is a muddy overwound humbucker played through a big distorted amp, which is why many hard rock/metal players dispense with the tone pot. But if your desired sound is cleaner and more articulate, then no tone pot = too bright.

This is a general rule of thumb, there are always exceptions.

ETA - Yes, taking the tone pot out of the circuit makes an audible difference: it's not that subtle, most people would be able to hear it.

Last edited by Shakester; 07-19-2010 at 10:36 PM. Reason: Response.
Old 07-20-2010, 09:04 AM
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Okay - here is a quick brain dump before I dig into work:

- A 1-knob electric got popular with Eddie Van Halen - 1950's Les Paul Juniors had a single pickup with a volume and tone control.

- Eddie was, in a lot of ways, really playing his amp, a hot-rodded Marshall - he stripped down his setup to the bare minimum, only using the Volume knob for swell effects (dialing down the Vknob, striking the strings, then dialing up the volume to get a swell with no initial attack)

- Having a capacitor in the circuit by including a Tone knob will affect the overall tone even with the Tone knob on 10, so yeah, most guitar circuits don't have true bypass. I believe some Esquire (Telecasters with just a bridge pickup) have a true bypass setting that does bypass the Tone circuit completely. And by the way - it is like having the Tone control all they way up to 10/full on - except just a tad less; as I mention above, introducing a capacitor via a Tone Circuit is typically not true bypass, so a bit of latent capacitance is introduced.

- FWIW and slight hijack - but Esquires have a cult around them when it comes to "simple." Folks talk endlessly about "that unique Esquire tone" and how the lack of a neck pickup reduces magnetic pull on the strings so they vibrate more freely / differently, giving the Esqy a beefier tone.

IM-not-so-humble-O, not having a Tone circuit is a Bad Thing, as is the habit most playings have of simply diming their Tone control (i.e., leaving it at 10 and forgetting it). Eddie Van Halen is and always will be differently than you and I - sure, I suppose I am referring to technique (duh), but I really mean playing situation: super-high-volumes, driving more air than I will breathe in a lifetime through a bazillion cabs and a bunch of 100watt amps with their tubes glowing. Oh, and changing those tubes regularly because Eddie runs them so hot they burn out. That's one of his tone things - and it takes the edge off of a bypassed Tone control. Restated: he can run his guitar with a bright Tone/no control because the highs get rounded off via his over-driven amps - that Eddie's Brown Sound.

Your average Joe doesn't play in those circumstances - where he/she can simply use Volume to sculpt the tone. As I have said a bunch on this board, when you play with an overdriven tube amp, the Volume control on the guitar is *really* functioning as a Master Voicing control: You set your amp to just be veering into crunchy tone, more than you want for cleans, and then back off your on-board Volume so that at about 5-6, you get a decent, usable, sellable clean tone. Then head up to 7-8 - you should have a working, solid, chunky classic rock crunch rhythm tone. Then open it up all the way - a big, thick, overdriven lead tone. Your Volume control settings enable you to dial up the clean-to-crunchy, rhythm-to-lead voicing you want.

Within that context, the Tone is a fine-tuner for the Voicing you are after. When clean, if you go with a 8 - 10 Tone, you get a bright, maybe brittle tone - a lot of room for twang if you pick near the bridge. But if you roll it off to 4-5, especially if you dial up the Volume to 7-8, you get a thick rhythm tone. When I am playing with a crunchy tone, I dial the Tone know while I am letting a knob ring out and there's this little, slow "wah" - like you are slowly stepping on a wah pedal - that I listen for and use to dial up the Tone setting. Very cool.

By the way - I am speaking from the experience mainly on a Tele - the Volkwagon Bug of electrics; the best starting place I can think of. With Gibson layouts with separate V's and T's you can find cool combinations along the way when you blend.

It's such a great tool - took me a while to get past my EVH-idolizing beginnings but I am so glad I did...

Last edited by WordMan; 07-20-2010 at 09:07 AM.
Old 07-20-2010, 09:30 AM
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It has to do with stage lighting. Sometimes you just can't see what you're doing--particularly when house lights are low. By engineering tricks you can use the One Knob to tie together and get any effect you're looking for, hence: One Knob to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them...
Old 07-20-2010, 07:06 PM
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I've recently built myself an Esquire which is wired on a 4-way switch as such:

Position 1: volume pot only
Position 2: Volume and Tone
Position 3: 22 capacitor and volume - cocked wah tone
Position 4: 47 capacitor and volume - bassy jazz tone

I've had a lot of fun playing it and I do much the same as Wordman does. I actually get my amp to a good crunchy, lightly overdriven rhythm tone. Roll off on the volume to about 7-8 for clean sounds. Roll it back up in conjunction with my OCD overdrive pedal for leads.

I find I use position 2 the most. For my clean sounds, I may also dial back the tone a little depending on the sound I'm going for. It's nice to have pos 3 and 4 too. They're like built in tone settings for certain applications that occur a little more frequently than others for me.

Position 1, I don't use too much. It's nice to have, but it is a tad too much high end for my taste...
Old 07-20-2010, 07:28 PM
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Thanks for that info, BigShooter - I may have to build me one of those...
Old 07-20-2010, 11:12 PM
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Originally Posted by BigShooter View Post
I've recently built myself an Esquire which is wired on a 4-way switch as such:

Position 1: volume pot only
Position 2: Volume and Tone
I take it then that there is an audible difference for you between positions 1 and 2 (with tone @ 10) ?
Old 07-21-2010, 05:14 PM
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Originally Posted by squeegee View Post
I take it then that there is an audible difference for you between positions 1 and 2 (with tone @ 10) ?
Most definitely. Without the tone knob it's a little harsher and top-endy...
Old 07-21-2010, 05:33 PM
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Originally Posted by BigShooter View Post
Most definitely. Without the tone knob it's a little harsher and top-endy...
Exactly - true bypass matters. Especially on a Tele with it's legendarily bright bridge pickup...

In about 1968 or so, Tele's went from having 250K pots for V and T to having 1m pots. Totally tightens and brightens the tone - so both guitars on 10 have very different tones because of the different-valued pots in the circuit (now that I think about it, I should've cited this as another example of where, even with knobs at 10, having components of different values will definitely affect the guitar's sound)...I find a Tele with 1m pots to be unusable; I have 250's in my two homebrews...
Old 07-21-2010, 07:19 PM
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Originally Posted by BigShooter View Post
Most definitely. Without the tone knob it's a little harsher and top-endy...
That sounds like the answer I was looking for in the OP -- a 1-knob guitar sounds different than a >1 knob guitar, and some players like that for their music style. Asked and answered, thanks.
Old 07-21-2010, 07:33 PM
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Originally Posted by WordMan View Post
In about 1968 or so, Tele's went from having 250K pots for V and T to having 1m pots.
Interesting. I was curious and popped open my AD Tele. The volume pot is 250k. I didn't see any k-ohms value mark on the tone pot; there were no markings on the barrel, and a long string of numbers on the bottom where there wasn't wires soldered that did not contain a number + K. If anyone is curious, the cap read "MBR.022" or something like that, give or take a zero; I don't recall how to interpret that, but I assume that's the uf value. The parts list (pdf!) from Fender (if I got the right one) indicates 250k pots for both v and t. I see that other Tele parts are all over the map, with 250k, 500k and 1000k pots strewn around.

Last edited by squeegee; 07-21-2010 at 07:34 PM.
Old 07-22-2010, 01:42 AM
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Originally Posted by squeegee View Post
That sounds like the answer I was looking for in the OP -- a 1-knob guitar sounds different than a >1 knob guitar, and some players like that for their music style. Asked and answered, thanks.
You'd think they'd be able to make a knob+switch for them now, though. Car radios pulled that off in the 70s.

Last edited by BigT; 07-22-2010 at 01:43 AM.
Old 07-22-2010, 08:21 AM
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Originally Posted by BigT View Post
You'd think they'd be able to make a knob+switch for them now, though. Car radios pulled that off in the 70s.
I am not sure I understand the statement - you mean that you could wire a knob so that at one end of its dial, it could click and become true bypass?

squeegee - to my knowledge, pots are matched out of the factory - so if a V is 250mg or whatever, so is the tone. A mismatch would indicate someone had modded the guitar. I don't know enough about electronics to know if mismatched V & T pots is a good or bad thing or if there are standard mismatched pairings that modders try in specific guitars...

1m-pot-equipped Teles are much more chicken-pickin' / country territory. They sound good with the big squish of a compressor and some slap-back echo while some Nashville Cat pulls off fake pedal-steel licks...I love to watch and hear it, but it is not how I play or the tone I am after...
Old 07-22-2010, 09:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by squeegee View Post
That sounds like the answer I was looking for in the OP -- a 1-knob guitar sounds different than a >1 knob guitar, and some players like that for their music style. Asked and answered, thanks.
I think also, many players realized that they did all their sound/tone adjustments through their pedals/effects anyway, so why do they need an extra knob on the guitar that could be accidently misadjusted?

[By the way, has anyone famous ever wired up a guitar so the tone controls don't affect the direct signal from the guitar, but instead control a downstream effect/pedal? I think Jerry Garcia had his wired up so the signal went from his guitar pickups out through effects, back to the guitar through the volume knob and back out to the amp. Anyone ever taken the next step and turned the tone knob into a wireless effects control?]
Old 07-22-2010, 10:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Quercus View Post
I think also, many players realized that they did all their sound/tone adjustments through their pedals/effects anyway, so why do they need an extra knob on the guitar that could be accidently misadjusted?
I think there is some truth to that - which is, I dunno, sad - because that means they have a rig that so compartmentalizes their sound that the actual nature of the guitar - it's controls, it's overall system - can't color their tone - or they actively don't want the guitar to do it, e.g., not touching the Tone. It's kinda like investing in a great natural spring with natural carbonation, then taking the bubbles out, making wine with it, and then injecting bubbles back into it. Yes, you can rigidly control the process, but the quality of the end result...loses something.

Note, this is something I went through myself - I didn't start off as a "simple rig, tweak the knobs" cork-sniffing tone snob - I had to work at it And, as I have said many times, in a strict A/B, a rig that is all effects-driven or even digital can sound great. But don't tell me it responds to your hands the same way.

Quote:
[By the way, has anyone famous ever wired up a guitar so the tone controls don't affect the direct signal from the guitar, but instead control a downstream effect/pedal? I think Jerry Garcia had his wired up so the signal went from his guitar pickups out through effects, back to the guitar through the volume knob and back out to the amp. Anyone ever taken the next step and turned the tone knob into a wireless effects control?]
Dude, if you can imagine some whacked-out circuit, someone has built it. Light show triggers you can launch from your guitar? Synthesizer hook ups? Built-in effects? Sequencers? Oh yeah...

Last edited by WordMan; 07-22-2010 at 10:09 AM.
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