Sound Science - Do Pots Change Your Tone?

We receive a lot of questions regarding pot values, how they work, and what kind of difference they make on your sound. It recently occurred that the easiest way to experience how potentiometers change the sound of your guitar lies squarely in the highly contested Rhythm Circuit of Jazzmasters & Jaguars.

The Rhythm Circuit is either loved or hated, embraced or taped over, engaged or removed. To put feelings about the circuit aside for the purpose of this experiment, if you are interested in “how does a pot value change the tone of my guitar”, you need to look no further than this switch. The reason being simple; the difference between the lead and rhythm circuit is the tone pot value. That’s it. One simple pot change is what causes the tonal difference. 

The lead circuit comes stock with 1 meg volume and tone pots in most Jazzmasters, which has such a high resistance it is almost like there is no pot at all in the circuit, whereas the rhythm circuit comes stock with a 1 meg volume pot and a 50k tone pot. That 50k tone pot is what is sending more high end frequencies to the ground of the circuit, and is causing the “darker tone”.

A phenomenon we hear quite a bit when doing makeovers is that the “rhythm circuit is now usable”. What is so great about this feedback is that we have done absolutely nothing to the rhythm circuit, but we have decreased the resistance in the lead circuit by installing 280k pots. Because we are making the values so much closer together, the perception is that the rhythm circuit has changed, when in actuality the overall top end of the guitar has been tamed by the 280k pots, thus the change between rhythm and lead is less drastic.

So if you’re exploring how pot values change the sound of a guitar, all you need to do is flip up the switch on your offset!



  • Another great read! And I exclusively only use the rhythm circuit – imagine that! Even switching to the rhythm pickup (lead circuit) feels too bright. The combo of full volume and 50k tone pot on the rhythm circuit gets the best clean sound I’ve ever heard through my Fender amps. “The rhythm circuit is now useable” 😅

  • Keep the sonicology coming Shelby :)


Leave a comment

Purchase options
Select a purchase option to pre order this product
Countdown header
Countdown message