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clear and blue (1)
_Sanitarium_ (1)
unet (2)
pl0x (1)
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tone capacitor notes

Views: 6,602
Comments: 10
I get questions occasionally about tone capacitors and their effect on your tone. Hopefully this will help some people.
The very basic: tone capacitors are what make your tone knobs work. The one(s) that came in your guitar look like little pancakes. They are very bad. You have probably noticed that your tone knob is only usable on 9 or 10. The stock capacitor is to blame.
There are two characteristics you should be concerned about when changing your tone cap. The first is value (the amount of capacitance) and the second is construction.
Value: Standard tone cap for strats and les pauls nowadays is .022 or .047 microfarads. A larger value will cut off more of the treble frequencies. Start with the standard value and move up or down depending on what you like. You should be able to use nearly the entire range of the tone knob if you have selected the right cap.
Construction: Capacitors are made in a few different ways, and some are better suited to your tone control than others. Here, in rough order of quality, are the common types:
Old paper in oil caps: These include thins like Bumblebees, Vitamin Q, Black Beauty, etc etc. They have a very woody and warm tone and are excellent, but are no longer made and relatively expensive: $10-20 each is the usual range.
New paper in oil caps: Caps like the mojotone "Vitamin T" and the RS guitarworks "GuitarCap" are close to the vintage types. They don't sound quite the same but they are more readily available and usually cheaper.
Mallory 150: These are polyester film caps, cheap and easy to find. They are bright yellow and commonly used inside amps. They have a smooth top end and don't mess with your original tone much.
Sprague Orange drop: These are the most common upgrade of your tone cap, with good reason. They have a stiff and sparkly high-end and are very clear. They're also cheap and easy to find. The 715 and 716 series are the ones most people use in guitars.
Silver mica caps:
These are hard to find in reasonable values. They have a big emphasis on the mids which usually makes the guitar sound kind of odd. You can use them, but I wouldn't suggest it.  
Radio shack green poly film capacitors:
Decent, but they don't sound as good as better poly film caps when turning the tone down.
Ceramic disc capacitors:
Your stock guitar tone cap. Throw it away.
3:13 pm - 10 comments - 5 Kudos - Report!
clear and blue wrote on Dec 23rd, 2008 3:29pm

cheers. good breakdown of various caps instead of the more common " . . . are the best". often heard people using various exotic sounding caps but never seen them put into an order of quality


unet wrote on Mar 11th, 2009 3:31pm

I chose Orange Drops.
I'm upgrading tomorrow with a 0.047UF.


Invader Jim wrote on May 19th, 2009 8:50pm

You forgot to mention that in a guitar, the cap is only shunting signal out, so the type and construction mean nothing. ;) The differences in linearity are negligable and only show in the whole sweep of the pot. Tones are usually set-and-forget-awhile adjustments.


Roc8995a wrote on May 19th, 2009 9:51pm

'Negligible' is in this case a statement of opinion. There is, without a doubt, a difference to my ears.
Tone controls are only set-and-forget if your cap only lets you get one sound out of that pickup.

The shunt of signal varies by frequency; different caps types are more or less efficient or thorough in the range of treble they cut.


stykerwolf wrote on Oct 29th, 2009 9:40am

Holy pancakes, that's exactly why my tone knob only works at 9/10

I saw the tiny cap there and i was wondering to swap it out, and i thought it wouldn't make a difference.

I don't live in the US, finding caps like the ones you listed would be hard if not impossible, so a simple .022uF or a .047uF should change how my tone knob works like right?

(this is the cap that's soldered onto the head of the pot right?)


Roc8995a wrote on Oct 29th, 2009 4:49pm

Well, no. You probably already have a .022 in your guitar, so changing to the same value in a ceramic will make no difference, and going to a .047 will make it even worse. You may still be able to find polyester caps, they're quite common. They're usually green with a chiclet sort of shape. Alternatively, a better brand of pot will help as well. Many larger electronics suppliers will ship anywhere in the world, so places like mouser are worth a look.


stykerwolf wrote on Oct 29th, 2009 6:14pm

Thanks there Colin, i'll ask Nik at Ceriatone for two .022uF caps when ordering parts for a build i've been planning for

by the way, my tone pot works when it's at 0 or 1, and 2 untill 10 sounds the same, is this the same problem or is my cap doing the exact opposite of what it was ment to do


Roc8995a wrote on Oct 29th, 2009 7:03pm

That might be a function of the pot rather than the cap, but replacing those two should take care of that issue for you provided your pickups are decent.


stykerwolf wrote on Oct 30th, 2009 9:56am

my guitar is basically a practice guitar really, i started guitar late and i don't have a respectably gearlist right now, but hopefully i will finish my first tube amp build and then move on to my first guitar build and such.

Thanks again Col, i'ma bookmark this page :p


pl0x wrote on Feb 8th, 2011 10:27pm



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