Volume and tone controls. Potentiometers. Pots. The Voodoo of the Guitar World, indeed.
What is the difference between audio taper and linear taper potentiometers? And which should you use?
Traditionally, audio taper pots have been used in volume control positions and linear taper pots have been used in tone control settings. We don’t pretend to understand the physiological reasoning for this but, apparently, the way we humans hear makes the use of audio taper in volume positions better.
An AUDIO taper pot increases the signal from your guitar to your amp in a logarithmic (exponential) fashion. Simply explained, “1”, “2”, or “3” on the volume knob will produce little, if any, signal but once you get past “3” or so, the volume will ramp up a LOT. Past “8” or so there will be very little volume increase. An audio taper volume control is used on you car radio. You will notice that when you turn on the radio you have to rotate the knob to the right quite a bit before you get any volume. And past “7” or “8” on the radio volume knob, it doesn’t really increase your volume anymore. It causes your signal to clip.
A LINEAR taper pot increases the signal in a linear fashion. (“1” on your control is equal to 10%, “4” is equal to 40% and so forth) This works very different from an audio taper volume pot. For those looking for a smooth, predictable transition to volume, a linear taper pot will probably work best for you.
As a general rule (and this depends on the listener), swells tends to work better when funneled through an audio taper pot. There seems to be more control over the swell created when rolling the volume knobs up or down.
The quality of the pot also makes a BIG difference in how the signal is increased or decreased. CTS and Bourns pots, in our experience, seem to give better control & a more reliable signal of all the pots that we’ve tried. (Bourns, Alphas, RS, CTS)
We would encourage you to experiment with linear taper and audio taper pots. There is no right or wrong. Only what you, the player, like. Some players would like audio taper pots and volume positions and some players will like linear taper pots and volume positions.
You need to find what works best for you! As always, you can call us at our shop and talk about pots or any other guitar parts anytime.