Not the kind you smoke, nor the kind you cook in. I’m talking about potentiometers used in guitars for controlling volume and tone.
My thinking used to be that electrons don’t really care how much you spent on a potentiometer, so long as the rated resistance (in ohms) is close enough to give the desired effect.
And the many electrons I’ve met have all validated that assumption! However – there IS A DIFFERENCE between brands of guitar potentiometers – a difference that can ruin your day, as it did mine.
So I bought this filthy red Epiphone Dot archtop semi-hollow guitar. Met the guy in a parking lot (why didn’t I bring a portable amp?), checked the guitar for cracked headstock, fret wear, etc.
All was good (“Buyers Eyes”!) so he got the cash and I got the #$$%&! guitar. A good cleaning, polishing and a setup and I’ll have a great guitar to sell to some happy customer – or so I thought.
I got an early start that next morning, planning to finish by lunch time. As I started to plug my bench amp in, the jack fell through the hole and into the depths of the guitar!
Anyone who’s had to fish a pot or jack out of a hollow body, can attest that you need either a ton of patience of a deep four-letter vocabulary. I had one of those.
I fished the jack back up though the hole and discovered that the threads were hopelessly shot. So, push the jack back down through the hole to replace it.
Of course the wire to the jack isn’t nearly long enough to get it back out through the f-hole, so you have to take a volume pot out with it. Double the fun!
Got it all back together and wished I’d checked it all out before reinstalling. The neck volume knob was difficult to turn. So I removed that pot and discovered that the threaded shaft was made with cheap, fragile pot metal (at least, that’s what it appears to be) and had broken loose at its base.
So, I replaced the pot, tested it and reinstalled. But when I went to check everything out, I discovered that the bridge volume pot had the same problem – a broken threaded shaft. This time I believe it broke as I tightened the pot. Bot pots had been loose when I bought the guitar.
I then remove the volume and tone pots for the bridge pickup, because the wires weren’t long enough to let me pull just the volume pot. I replaced that pot, checked everything out and reinstalled.
What I discovered is that both broken pots were the same brand – Alpha! I checked my supply of pots and I also have a number of Alpha pots and they all appear to be made with the same fragile threaded shaft.
But my CTS pots and even my supply of cheap dime-size Chinese pots, did not have this problem!
I used to think that the main difference between larger pots and dime-size pots was that the larger pots could dissipate heat better – and that is true still. But there is also a difference in brands that goes beyond just how they feel when turning knobs.
I will never buy another Alpha pot again!