I’ve been doing some electronic work for my good buddy Nick’s Gibson Explorer in the ever-so-attractive naturalburst finish. That name makes me think of nudists doing jumping jacks, but that’s neither here nor there.
Nick recently replaced his original 500T/496R Ceramic pickups with more decidedly vintage-flavored Burstbucker Pros, which are great pickups. Nick’s a HUGE metal guy – neither physically large nor is he made of metal, what I mean is that he enjoys metal music – so punch and treble response are of great importance. Trouble is, since the pickup swap he’s been missing both of those things. Curious.
That great old Gibson tone we all love is a combination of elements working together to create a tone, we all know this. What’s not so obvious to most players is that even though Gibson guitars are thought to come equipped with 500K pots (which do indeed have a large tonal role to play) most models are coming out of the factory with wildly variant ratings. My own personal ’99 Standard had pots marked at 500K but measured in the 300K range, for example.
This Explorer was suffering from the same fate, unfortunately, so when Nick went from a super hot, super bright set of pickups like the 500T/496R set to lower output, warmer units, that difference in pot rating was really choking off his tone. I mean, it was muddy, indistinct and lacking any sort of oomph. I spent part of my afternoon building a new harness out of high-quality, properly rated 500K pots and a .022 MojoTone Dijon tone cap, and once installed it sounded as if a blanket had been lifted from the guitar’s overall tonal palette. Really a huge difference. Clear treble, a more defined bass and midrange that sparkled and snapped.
If you’ve been feeling like your guitar sounds like you’re playing through a thick wool sweater, give some thought to upgrading your potentiometers before you go dropping money on a set of pickups. It might be that extra kick you’ve been looking for!