Guitar wiring refers to the electrical components, and interconnections thereof, inside an electric guitar (and, by extension, other electric instruments like the bass guitar or mandolin). It most commonly consists of pickups, potentiometers to adjust volume and tone, a switch to select between different pickups (if the instrument has more than one), and the output socket. There may be additional controls for specific functions; the most common of these are described below.
The following section describes the most common components found inside an electric guitar.
Pickups convert the mechanical energy of a vibrating string to an electrical signal, allowing it to be amplified, processed and reproduced.Pickups vary greatly in construction, size, types of materials used, as well as various electrical properties, but are generally divided into two categories – single-coil and double-coil (also known as humbucker).
Potentiometers (often abbreviated as "pots") can be used to control a variety of functions inside an electric guitar. Most often they function as tone and volume controls, but can also blend two pickups together, attenuate one coil of a humbucker, and so on.
Potentiometers are differentiated by their electrical characteristics, of which the following are most important in an electric guitar:
Besides the common pots used for volume and tone controls, a number of specialised types exist:
Capacitors (often referred to as "caps") have several uses in electric guitars, the most common of which is in the tone control, where it combines with the potentiometer to form a low-pass filter, shorting all frequencies above the adjustable cut-off frequency to ground.Another common use is a small capacitor in parallel with the volume control, to prevent the loss of higher frequencies as the volume pot is turned down. This capacitor is commonly known as "treble bleed cap" and is sometimes accompanied by a series or parallel resistor to limit the amount of treble being retained and match it to the pot's taper.
A different take on the standard tone control is the Varitone circuit sometimes used on Gibson guitars (such as the Blueshawk). The Varitone is actually a variable notch filter consisting of one of several capacitors (selected with a rotary switch) in series with an inductor, forming an LC circuit.When placed between the signal and ground, this circuit starts to attenuate frequencies around its resonant frequency, as determined by the following formula:
While this control is not very common in guitars, a number of aftermarket versions are available, both with and without an inductor (the latter being a simple low-pass filter with a movable cutoff frequency).
Capacitors used in electric guitars are differentiated by the following electrical characteristics:
There are countless ways to modify the wiring of an electric guitar. Some of the more popular modifications are described below.
A humbucker pickup is electrically equivalent to two single-coil pickups wired together in series. Coil splitting involves shorting one of the coils to ground, essentially turning the humbucker into a single-coil pickup (not a perfect replica, though, as the magnetic circuits of the two pickup types are different). This is usually done with a DPDT switch, but can also be done with a push-pull pot. Some manufacturers have used a pot to vary the amount of signal shorted to ground from one coil, thus producing a range of tones between a humbucker and a single-coil. Coil splitting results in a sound that's brighter and has less output than a full humbucker. It also eliminates the humbucker's noise-cancelling properties. This modification requires the start and end of both coils to be exposed, which is more commonly available on aftermarket than stock pickups.
This modification is commonly (and incorrectly) referred to as "coil tap",which actually involves bypassing part of a pickup's coil using a tap point on the coil. This also serves to reduce the pickup's output and change its sound, but is found only on single coil pickups (and even then rarely).
Another popular modification is to reverse the electric polarity of one of the pickups (or one coil of a dual-coil pickup). When two pickups are selected, this produces a very thin and weak sound, due to phase cancellation between the pickups.The closer the pickups are to each other, the greater the cancellation and thus the weaker and thinner the resulting sound. In case of a humbucker this results in a sound that is so weak as to be almost unusable, as well as the loss of the pickup's hum-cancelling properties (due to the coils being magnetically out-of-phase, but electrically in-phase with each other).
A way to increase the usability of the sound acquired this way is to wire a capacitor in series with the pickup that has its electric polarity reversed. This filters out that pickup's lower frequencies and thus preserves the corresponding frequencies from the other pickup. The resulting sound is fuller and stronger, yet still different from the standard in-phase combinations, resembling the sound of a "cocked wah" (a wah-wah pedal set in a fixed position). The capacitor used for this is usually in the 20–100 nF range.
Unintentional phase cancellation can also occur if a guitar's pickups are wired incorrectly, or if a new pickup installed in the guitar has different magnetic or electric polarity from the one it replaced. To fix this, the pickup's magnetic or electric polarity needs to be reversed (which one exactly depends on the respective polarities of the other pickup(s) and whether or not hum-cancelling combinations are desired). While the latter is usually a small matter of reversing the pickup's hot and ground wires,the former may be more difficult, especially if it requires the magnet(s) to be removed and reinstalled in a different orientation, a process which can damage the pickup and render it unusable if not done carefully. This is the case with most humbuckers. On the other hand, single-coil pickups with magnetic polepieces can simply be repolarised by applying a strong enough external magnetic field.
While most single-coil pickups are wired in parallel with each other, it is possible to wire two or more of them in series, producing a fuller and stronger sound not unlike that of a humbucker.This is a popular modification for instruments with two single-coil pickups like the Fender Telecaster and the Fender Jazz Bass. For the former, special 4-way switches are available to replace the stock 3-way switch and provide a series wiring position.
Likewise, the two coils of a humbucker which are wired in series can be connected in parallel. This results in a brighter sound and lower output resembling that of a single-coil pickup. Compared to coil split the sound is usually a bit fuller and the pickup's hum-cancelling properties are retained. Like coil split, wiring a humbucker in parallel requires the start and end of both coils to be accessible, which is sometimes possible with stock pickups. Unlike coil split, it also requires a DPDT switch (coil split only requires a SPDT switch).
Blend potentiometers (essentially two potentiometers ganged on the same shaft) allow blending together two pickups in varying degrees. The operation is the same as in a balance control found in stereo equipment – in the middle position (often marked with a detent) both pickups supply their full output, and turning the pot in either direction gradually attenuates one of the pickups while leaving the other at full output.
Blend potentiometers are a popular modification to instruments with separate volume controls for pickups, no master volume and/or no pickup selector. For instance, on the Fender Jazz Bass, the dual volume controls can be replaced with blend and master volume controls, to allow the instrument's output level to be adjusted with just one knob while still retaining the various combinations of the two pickups blended together.
While the modifications described above have all been passive (i.e. they don't require an external power source), active electronics considerably increase the number of possible wiring options. These can range from simple preamps that offer a volume boost and buffer the instrument's signal (to prevent loss of higher frequencies in longer cable runs), to multi-band equalisers and more.Enterprising guitarists have even built entire effects processors into guitars, such as the Korg Kaoss Pad.
The main downside to active electronics is that they require power to operate. This is most often provided by a 9 V battery, but can also be phantom power from an external source, delivered over the guitar cable.
A list of popular manufacturers of guitar components follows.
The bass guitar, electric bass or simply bass, is the lowest-pitched member of the guitar family. It is a plucked string instrument similar in appearance and construction to an electric or an acoustic guitar, but with a longer neck and scale length, and typically four to six strings or courses. Since the mid-1950s, the bass guitar has largely replaced the double bass in popular music.
A humbucking pickup, humbucker, or double coil, is a type of electric guitar pickup that uses two coils to "buck the hum" picked up by coil pickups caused by electromagnetic interference, particularly mains hum. Most pickups use magnets to produce a magnetic field around the strings, and induce an electrical current in the surrounding coils as the strings vibrate. Humbuckers work by pairing a coil that has the north poles of its magnets oriented "up" with another coil right next to it with the south pole of its magnets oriented up. By connecting the coils together out of phase, the interference is significantly reduced via phase cancellation: the string signals from both coils add up instead of canceling, because the magnets are placed in opposite polarity. The coils can be connected in series or in parallel in order to achieve this hum-cancellation effect, although it is much more common for the coils of a humbucker pickup to be connected in series. In addition to electric guitar pickups, humbucking coils are sometimes used in dynamic microphones to cancel electromagnetic hum.
A single coil pickup is a type of magnetic transducer, or pickup, for the electric guitar and the electric bass. It electromagnetically converts the vibration of the strings to an electric signal. Single coil pickups are one of the two most popular designs, along with dual-coil or "humbucking" pickups.
The Fender Jazzmaster is an electric guitar designed as a more expensive sibling of the Fender Stratocaster. First introduced at the 1958 NAMM Show, it was initially marketed to jazz guitarists, but found favor among surf rock guitarists in the early 1960s. Its appearance is similar to the Jaguar, though it is tonally and physically different in many technical ways, including pickup design, scale length and controls.
The Fender Jaguar is an electric guitar by Fender Musical Instruments characterized by an offset-waist body, a relatively unusual switching system with two separate circuits for lead and rhythm, and a medium-scale 24" neck. Owing some roots to the Jazzmaster, it was introduced in 1962 as Fender's feature-laden top-of-the-line model, designed to lure players from Gibson. During its initial 13-year production run, the Jaguar did not sell as well as the less expensive Stratocaster and Telecaster, and achieved its most noticeable popularity in the surf music scene. After the Jaguar was taken out of production in 1975, vintage Jaguars became popular first with American punk rock players, and then more so during the alternative rock, shoegazing and indie rock movements of the 1980s and 1990s. Fender began making a version in Japan in the mid-1980s, and then introduced a USA-made reissue in 1999. Since then, Fender has made a variety of Jaguars in America, Mexico, Indonesia and China under both the Fender and Squier labels. Original vintage Jaguars sell for many times their original price.
The Fender Jazz Bass is the second model of electric bass created by Leo Fender. It is distinct from the Precision Bass in that its tone is brighter and richer in the midrange and treble with less emphasis on the fundamental frequency. The body shape is also different from the Precision Bass, in that the Precision Bass has a symmetrical lower bout on the body, designed after the Telecaster and Stratocaster lines of guitars, while the Jazz Bass has an offset lower bout, mimicking the design aesthetic of the Jaguar and Jazzmaster guitars.
A pickup is a transducer that captures or senses mechanical vibrations produced by musical instruments, particularly stringed instruments such as the electric guitar, and converts these to an electrical signal that is amplified using an instrument amplifier to produce musical sounds through a loudspeaker in a speaker enclosure. The signal from a pickup can also be recorded directly.
The Fender Telecaster Deluxe is a solid-body electric guitar originally produced from 1972 to 1981, and re-issued by Fender multiple times starting in 2004.
Mains hum, electric hum, or power line hum is a sound associated with alternating current which is twice the frequency of the mains electricity. The fundamental frequency of this sound is usually double that of fundamental 50/60 Hz, i.e. 100/120 Hz, depending on the local power-line frequency. The sound often has heavy harmonic content above 50/60 Hz. Because of the presence of mains current in mains-powered audio equipment as well as ubiquitous AC electromagnetic fields from nearby appliances and wiring, 50/60 Hz electrical noise can get into audio systems, and is heard as mains hum from their speakers. Mains hum may also be heard coming from powerful electric power grid equipment such as utility transformers, caused by mechanical vibrations induced by magnetostriction in magnetic core. Onboard aircraft the frequency heard is often higher pitched, due to the use of 400 Hz AC power in these settings because 400 Hz transformers are much smaller and lighter.
The Fender Lead Series was produced by the Fender/Rogers/Rhodes Division of CBS Musical Instruments. The series comprised Lead I, Lead II, Lead III and Lead Bass models.
The Fender Jaguar Bass is an electric bass guitar manufactured in Japan and China by the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.
Fender Telecaster Custom is a model of electric guitar made by Fender.
The Fender Stringmaster is a series of console steel guitars produced by Fender from 1953 to 1980.
The Fender Performer was an electric guitar designed by John Page for rock and metal guitarists in the mid-1980s. The Performer was also available as an electric bass.
The Gibson L6-S is a solid body electric guitar. It was the working musician's descendant of the L5S jazz solid-body electric guitar. It was the same shape, very much like a wide Gibson Les Paul, but with a 24-fret two-octave neck, the first Gibson guitar to have this.
The Fender Noiseless series is a line of electric guitar pickups made by the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. Introduced in 1998, they feature and are a row of dual stacked-coil design to cancel hum noise. This single-coil (size) stack consists of a row of paired single-coils stacked one on top of the other (compacted), so as to fit (incognito) into the same size width space as a regular single-coil pickup. This is to be contrasted with the original humbucking pickup design, which is a row of paired single-coils double wide.
The James Burton Telecaster is a Signature/Artist Series electric guitar made by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. The guitar is available in two models, Upgrade and Standard, and both were designed by American country-rock guitarist James Burton along with Dan Smith at Fender. Both models are patterned after mid-century Fender Telecaster guitars played by Burton during his long career with Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley,(James was hesitant to play the now infamous Fender Telecaster pink paisley guitar because it was thought was too bright, Elvis's guys persuaded him to play it live on stage with Elvis and Elvis loved it and wanted him to play it all the time on stage.)Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, John Denver and many other well-known artists.
Jens Ritter Instruments is a manufacturer of high-end electric stringed instruments. It was founded by Jens Ritter in the mid-1990s and was known as Ritter Bass Guitars until 2010 when Jens expanded his line to include guitars. Jens produces 50 to 60 handmade instruments each year in his shop located in the small wine town of Deidesheim, Germany. A number of well-known bassists play Ritter Basses including Phil Lesh, Josh Dunham and Doug Wimbish. Jens Ritter Instruments are best known for their progressive design and construction, artistic appearance and limited availability. They also produce strings and other accessories.
The Yamaha Corporation is a multinational corporation and conglomerate based in Japan with a wide range of products and services, predominantly musical instruments, motorcycles, power sports equipment and electronics.
The Fender Telecaster, colloquially known as the Tele, is the world's first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar. Its simple yet effective design and revolutionary sound broke ground and set trends in electric guitar manufacturing and popular music. Introduced for national distribution as the Broadcaster in the autumn of 1950 as a two-pickup version of its sister model, the single-pickup Esquire, the pair were the first guitars of their kind manufactured on a substantial scale. A trademark conflict with a rival manufacturer's led to the guitar being renamed in 1951. Initially, the Broadcaster name was simply cut off of the labels placed on the guitars and later in 1951, the final name of Telecaster was applied to the guitar. The Telecaster quickly became a popular model, and has remained in continuous production since its first incarnation.