Like many guitarists, I love to use the volume control to affect the gain coming from my amp. If this practice is new to you, please do yourself a favour and look into it. Once I started habitually using my volume control, the size of my pedal board just shrank because all of a sudden I didn't need a tube screamer, and a clean boost, and an overdrive, and a distortion, and a fuzz... you get the idea. Just turning your amp way up and using the volume control dramatically extends the dynamic and tonal range of your guitar.
Back in 2014, I was shopping for a Gibson SG guitar. I would lie awake at night salivating over the possibilities that the tried and true Gibson Les Paul style wiring (2 pickups, 3 way switch, 2 volume knobs and 2 tone knobs) would afford me and how my playing would grow from this experience. I got a call from a friend who told me about an SG in a shop nearby that had everything I was looking for. I came to the store and bought it that day, it was a 2013 standard. It was a weird time for Gibson, right before they put those robot tuners on, and a year that they got in trouble for making their SG standards a little too similar to the '61 reissues... with one glaring difference.
I brought the guitar to gigs and noticed almost immediately that the volume controls didn't do what I wanted them to. All the travel was between 0 and 1, and from 2 to 10 there was little to no change. It was impossible to clean up a dirty amp by rolling off the volume a bit. What was the issue?
Let me tell you.
After hours on gear forums, I learned that in 2013, for some reason Gibson decided to put LINEAR TAPER pots on their SG Standard models. So what are linear taper pots and why should you care?
All volume pots are nothing more than wiper pots. When the volume is at 10, 100% of the signal goes to the output, and when the volume is at 0, 100% is going to ground. Linear pots actually work pretty intuitively. On a linear pot with the volume at 5, 50% goes to ground and 50% goes to output. With the volume at 8, 80% goes to output and 20% goes to ground. Seems fine, but here's the issue.
Electrical signal is NOT the same thing as volume.
Most guitars are built using AUDIO TAPER pots. Audio taper pots, when the volume is at 10 have 100% of the signal going to output. However, when the volume is set to 8 for example, something more like 40% of the signal is being grounded, and only about 60% is going to output. Audio taper pots roll off the signal much more quickly than linear taper pots because this is much more akin to what your ear perceives as volume. 20% of the volume is not equal to 20% of the electrical signal. 20% of the volume is really more like 40% of the electrical signal, and audio taper pots are built to take this into consideration.
If you're reading this and realizing "oh God I think I have linear taper volume pots in my guitar", there are so many great after market audio taper volume pots that you can find.
500k Audio Taper Pots
500k audio taper pots are used usually for humbuckers. This could be useful info even if you're thinking of replacing the single coil in the bridge of your strat with a humbucker. Humbuckers almost always have 500k pots, and unless you wire that bridge pickup to a separate volume control with a 500k pot (maybe convert one of the other tone controls to a volume for the bridge in this case) the rolloff for that humbucker might be a little weird.
250k Audio Taper Pots
250k pots are what is used for single coil pickups, like in Telecasters or Stratocasters. If you're looking to replace linear taper pots in a single coil guitar, it's important to use 250k pots rather than 500k, otherwise the rolloff will be a little funky.
These days, you can even purchase pre-wired kits for many common guitar models. The best ones are built by an American company called Emerson, and these kits take all the guesswork out of upgrading the guts of your guitar.
Les Paul Pre Wired Kits
These kits are awesome, because you don't have to worry about getting the correct size of volume pots. The other cool thing about these kits is that they also come with upgraded paper in oil "bumble bee" style tone capacitors.
SG Pre Wired Kits
If you're looking to upgrade your SG, don't make the mistake of buying a Les Paul pre wired kit. The different position of the pickup switch means that the wiring is different enough that Emerson makes their own kit for the SG, complete with the bumble bee capacitor upgrades as well.
Finally, if you've been reading this thinking "maybe linear taper pots are what I'm looking for, this actually sounds kind of cool". Well you can find those after market as well. Here's a couple from well known manufacturers you might want to check out:
250k Linear Taper Pot
These linear taper pots are for single coil guitars such as Stratocasters or Telecasters. I know I've been complaining a lot about how they function as volume pots, however some people like them. Additionally, they are used often for tone controls, as the different rolloff may be desirable for some guitars.
500k Linear Taper Pot
The 500k is for Humbucker guitars like Les Pauls, or SGs.
That's it for me for my rant on volume potentiometers. I hope some of this is helpful and informative. Most of all, I hope that somebody out there might be struggling with the same problem that I was. Maybe you're playing a guitar that has a rolloff on the volume pot that you can't stand and you've been thinking maybe it's the pickup you put in. I'm here to tell you, I've been down this rabbit hole before and sometimes a $10 potentiometer will fix the problem more effectively than buying a $200 pickup will.
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