Do not underestimate the effect of (crappy) pots in a guitar!

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2017/07/16 04:22:39 (permalink)

Do not underestimate the effect of (crappy) pots in a guitar!

A few weeks ago, I purchased a Fretlight guitar intended to be a gift for a 10-year-old who had been given the choice of instrument (only one chance, and she chose piano - when she was 7). After hearing about the "only one chance," I felt that was unfair as I played piano as a child and ended up hating the instrument. On paper, the Fretlight has some nice selling points, so after researching them, I picked up the Orianthi Limited Edition model for $399. I chose this because the pickups are passive, it has a little more attention to them, treble bleed circuit (first exposure to one for me), and it also has a bridge humbucker (H-S-S model).
Upon receipt, the intonation of this guitar was way off, the neck pickup tone pot did nothing, and both the master volume and mid tone pot did nothing until they got below 4. After contacting Fretlight, they confirmed the mid tone pot was mis-wired (was supposed to be to the humbucker), and said I could modify the PUP wiring without negating the warranty, so I immediately popped it open (only loosening the strings) to snip off the treble bleed. Closed it with not much change, then pulled a knob off and saw it was corroded grey like it was 20 years old!
Issues with this guitar initially:
1. The treble bleed circuit was a a .223uF capacitor in parallel with a 220Kohm resistor (they are normally .001uF in either parallel or series with a 150Kohm resister). The .223 they used was just another they use on pots.
2. All pots used were 500Kohm, which makes single coils excessively bright to me.
3. The mid tone was supposed to be to the bridge pickup and wasn't.
4. The neck tone had a cold solder in it somewhere.
5. The pots looked like they were 20 years old, and were almost 20% off from spec.
6. The solder looked like lead-based, and sort of nasty.
7. The switch could have been fine, but after seeing the pots, I didn't trust it.
The PUPs seemed fine, so I went to StewMac to replace the pots, caps, switch, and get parts for a bleed in case I wanted to use it. I ordered CTS pots not realizing how big they are (those guys are rather large!), but luckily they fit into a Strat-style guitar (not much to spare, but they fit, and required the face plate holes opened to fit the shank). Being the first Strat-style I have ever worked with, I went with Example 2 on this page. 500K pots on the bridge tone and master volume, and a 250K on the single coils (and linked them).
I swapped all of that out this afternoon, and the difference is literally night and day. So much so, that I had to recess the mid and humbucker back to where they were when they shipped because they suddenly got hot. Strats are so nice to wire though... unsolder the bridge ground and jack and you can sit the guitar to one side while you work on the rest.
Bottom line to this... never underestimate the effect of cheap pots on the performance of a guitar. They probably saved themselves $10 or so to use crappy pots (cost me $18 to replace) and totally ruined the performance of the instrument! I do not intend to install the treble bleed back since the roll off is minimal as well as useful.
The only things I do not like about it otherwise is the neck is like a baseball bat to me, and the nut could be better. Since the fretboard is literally plastic I am not sure if the nut can be replaced. I also cannot test any of the actual fretlight features since I have nothing to pair it with and own no iProducts; but as a guitar, it is quite capable now.

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    Re: Do not underestimate the effect of (crappy) pots in a guitar! 2017/07/16 06:32:07 (permalink)
    >I purchased a Fretlight guitar intended to be a gift for a 10-year-old
    Cudos to you. Both for the gift and taking the effort to make it effective.

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    Re: Do not underestimate the effect of (crappy) pots in a guitar! 2017/07/16 08:22:55 (permalink)
    I bought a $150 LP copy on eBay that has quality throughout. Good pots. Excellent finish. Great sound. Solidly built. Only thing they skimped on was the 2nd tone pot. There aint one, so you know instantly its a cheap copy. Still the best $150 ever spent on gear!
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