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With a few models of my pickups I give a treble bleed. It makes such a difference to how the volume control works. They aren’t for everyone but it’s worth experimenting and finding out if it works for you.
Here’s the diagram:
Pretty simple eh, it just straddles the ‘in’ and ‘out’ legs of the volume pot. Easy to fit, completely reversable and cheap – what’s not to like? Let’s take a deeper look.
A brief explanation of how a treble bleed circuit works and why you might need one
With some help from Sammy the dog
Here’s a more wordy explanation:
You may have noticed that when you turn the volume control down on an electric guitar it not only gets quieter but also more muddy, some of the high frequencies are lost.
As the volume goes down so does the clarity. This can, of course, be useful. Quite often you’ll want to be able to take some sparkle off the sound especially with single coil pickups. But with humbuckers for many of us they just get too wooly and undefined as the volume goes down.
So here’s the solution, it’s cheap and simple, easy to fit and makes humbuckers so much more versatile without taking anything away from the full volume sound. I’m talking about treble bleed circuits.
What do capacitors do?
For our purposes all you need to know about capacitors (caps for short) is they allow treble frequencies to pass through them but block bass. The frequencies involved depend on the value of the cap. The details of how caps work can get very complicated but that’s all we need to know to understand what’s going on here. They’re more commonly used in tone circuits but that’s another story.
The volume control (potentiometer or pot) on an electric guitar looks like this:
It’s a fairly simple device, As you turn the volume down the resistance between the ‘in’ and ‘out’ leg increases. This makes it increasingly harder for the signal from your pickups to get through. Less signal means quieter. That’s what happens when you turn your volume down. It’s very simple and works well except for that treble loss. On some guitars a bit less treble can be a useful (Strats for me) but not always.
Here’s the same thing with our cunning little circuit added:
Where do you put a treble bleed?
This one has the ‘Orange Drop’ treble bleed which has a resistor added to it. This resistor softens the treble as you turn down making the effect more subtle.
What does it sound like?
So as you turn down the volume and the the resistance increases there’s an alternative path for the signal – through the cap. But, as we know, the cap will only let treble through. This means your sound not only gets quieter but also thinner from the treble sneaking through the treble bleed.
As you turn the volume down you’re also turning the bass down. As a result you have a usable single coil (ish) sound when the volume is low. If you’re overdriving an amp the result is cleaning your sound up. So with a high gain amp and your volume at about 1/4 you get a bluesy breaking up sound , crank the volume on the guitar and you’re rocking.
Capacitor and resistor values
It really is something worth playing around with. There are a few variations on the circuit but the idea is the same. If you want a less subtle effect just use a 0.001micro farad cap on it’s own. To soften the effect add a 150KOhm resistor in parallel. These values are just common values, play around with them, these are cheap components.
On most of my guitars I prefer a simple treble bleed, no coil taps or series parallel. Just the volume control. This isn’t a mod to just automatically use on every guitar, I find with Strats I welcome some tone roll off. With a 2 volume control set up it may be worth treating the neck and bridge pickups differently.
Then there’s the matter of the 50’s wiring circuit in Les Pauls. With this wiring a treble bleed does very little. As the difference between the 50’s wiring and modern wiring is just in how the tone control is wired to the volume control it is possible to use both systems on the same guitar. With a Les Paul type set up the neck pickup could be wired with the ‘modern’ circuit with the addition of a treble bleed and the bridge to 50’s wiring.
There really are a lot of options here and a lot of experimenting to be done. It’s always worth remembering there really is no right or wrong way to do this despite what you might read on the internet. If you come up with anythis fantastic be sure to let me know.
So with a most models of my pickups I give you a bleed circuit or two. If I think it works with that pickup I’ll pop one or two in the box. I know a lot of manufacturers give sticker or a guitar pick for free with their pickups but I thought I’d give a more practical little gift. It’s great if you use it, quite a few of my customers have tried one for the first time and liked it but even if it isn’t your thing maybe you have a Mate who’d be interested.
If you have any ideas os subject matter for blog articles on pickup related topics please let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
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updated 28 August 2023