Audio or linear taper pots? What’s the difference?
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.
This is really confusing, on the Gibson-talk.com forum, it appears to say the complete opposite.
Could you confirm which is correct.
Paul, the way a pot sounds to a player due to the taper is purely the choice of the player. The taper represents how the pot responds when you dial it up or down. There are those players that absolutely hate audio taper pots because, until you get to “3” or so, you get no volume increase at all. Then you get a HUGE volume increase and it’s tough to dial it up in a very small amount. A linear taper pot will solve that… giving you more control over how much signal that you get as you move the knob. But… some people STILL love audio taper pots. In terms of an audio taper pot on the tone control, it works the same way… nothing until it gets to about “3” or so and then a LOT of warmth. There are science people that will tell you that audio taper pots are better for volume due to the way that the human ear hears. I can’t pretend to understand what that means. I can tell you that, if you order a wiring harness from Hoagland Custom and you don’t express a preference, we will build it with audio taper volume pots and linear taper tone pots. However, we build our wiring solutions to fit our clients needs and desires. If you asked for all audio taper or all linear taper, that is how we’d build it. I can’t say that the guy (“Davomite”) on the Gibson forum is wrong. It’s like describing ice cream – which is better – chocolate or butter pecan? In my world, the preferred taste depends on who is doing the tasting… Thanks for a VERY good question! Jack
I have a stock gibson and find the volume pot to offer too large a jump from 8 to 10 so as to make the volume control too touchy , seems to go from maybe 60% at 8 to 65% at 9 to 100% at ten. Would I get a smoother, and therefor more controllable transition from going from an audio to a linear style pot?
Philip, thanks for the note. A linear taper pot gives you a smoother transition to volume or tone from “0” all the way to “10” in my opinion. I, personally, like linear taper pots in volume & tone positions because they are very dependable in terms of how the volume/tone is increased or decreased. Not everyone agrees. Some players are used to the way a volume pot (audio taper) works and they want to keep it that way.
When you dial up a linear pot, the signal increases in a very predictable, linear way… At “1”, it gives you 10% of the available signal. At “4”, it gives you 40% of the available signal and at “9”, it gives you 90% of the available signal. An audio taper pot increases the signal logarithmic manner. At “1”, “2”, or even “3” on the volume knob, you may get no increase in volume at all. The vast majority of the volume increase comes between “4” and “8”. After “8”, there is very little signal increase but, in car radios, stereos and the like, a LOT of clipping and signal distortion.
In your case, we’d suggest trying a linear taper pot in your volume position. It’s a quick $10 repair that could solve that for you!
Thanks, Philip… good question!
So which one is A-type and which one is B-type? In other words, if I have a pot marked A250K, is it audio taper or linear? Searching the web yields many conflicting claims about which is which. Is there even a uniform standard? Perhaps different brands use different labeling practices.
Thanks for the note, Eli… The vast majority of pot manufacturers agree that the “A250k” is the audio taper and the “B250k” is the linear taper. It certainly is that way with CTS, Bourns, & Alpha pots. Thanks for a good question!
Thanks! According to one forum, the confusion stems from Europe. Apparently, some European manufactures reverse the “A” and the “B.” I’m not sure which ones, though.
I recently put a blend pot in my Mustang PJ in place of my pickup selector switch, and while it generally works as planned there is a problem: all of the blend action takes place in a tenth each side of the midpoint, the rest of the rotational travel does virtually nothing. Suggestions would be very welcome.
The blend pot is an Alpha 250K linear taper, wiring is the usual crossover arrangement.
Should I be using an audio taper pot or somesuch? Thanks in advance!
Ross, usually a linear taper pot is what you want. Is the blend pot and actual “blend” pot or just a standard linear taper pot? Also, drop us a picture if you can. We’d like to take a peek at how it’s wired. Thanks! Heywood
I think you are suffering from a misunderstanding. Audio pots are referred to as ‘Audio’ pots for a reason. Human hearing responds in a logarithmic fashion to sound levels. A doubling in signal level does not result in the doubling of perceived volume as you seem to be saying. The control curve of an audio / log pot matches our perception of volume change fairly well. Similarly for the perception of tone. So it makes sense to use log pots for the volume and tone controls in an electric guitar.
Morning, Terry… Thanks for the comment. It is our experience, as with most things in Life, there are very few things that are perfect for everyone. This is also true of pots/taper. The taper of a pot (for other readers) does not affect the volume or the tone. The taper of a pot affects HOW the volume or tone is increased or decreased. We prefer linear taper pots in the tone position for the control that they give you. A slight bump in a linear taper pot will give you a slight signal increase. That same slight bump with an audio taper pot might give you a BIG signal increase. Also, our experience tells us that most players have audio taper pots in their volume positions. We get a lot of complaints about that (“I just barely bump my volume pot and it CRANKS the volume when I just wanted a little increase.”). A linear taper pot will give players the ability to increase their signal in a much more controlled fashion than an audio taper pot will. Tone-wise, of course, there really isn’t any difference. I’s all about control (choices). You like chocolate ice cream. I like butter pecan ice cream. But… it’s all good if it works FOR YOU. Thanks for a good observation and comment! Jack @ HOAGLAND CUSTOM
Which pot is great for doing swells like a steel guitar? I have a tom anders pickups td3 in the bridge, a Sa reverse in the middle and td1 in the neck.
Looking for brent mason wiring with smaller dome knobs.
Also which capacitor do you recommend?
Right off the bat, we do carry the smaller Tele domed knobs.
Next, the swells… We carry CTS & Bourns Pro Series pots. They are both exceptional quality pots. The CTS seems to be a little tighter (offers more resistance to turning) than the Bourns. The loosest pot that we’ve seen (but not great quality, unfortunately) is the Alpha brand. It’s pretty loose and turns really easily. That’s good and bad. It will never get any more snug and will only loosen more with use. One of the reasons that we don’t carry them. I’d suggest the Bourns pot for swells. There is also the issue of which taper works best for swells and, in our opinion, it’s the audio taper pots. (we have an article on our site that explains how the taper works) I think you’d get more response from an audio taper when doing swells.
Next, capacitors… These days, a good paper-in-oil cap isn’t that expensive but it does make a difference in tone (we’ve done side-by-side tests with poly, ceramic disk, & PIO caps). The PIO cap just sounds better to most player’s ears. Our PIO caps range in cost from $8 (Black Bee) up to $55 (reproduction Bumble Bee). Personally, I like the “Black Candy” caps. They have a great warm tone and are only $11 each. While we sell the “Bumble Bees”, I’m not a big believer in spending a zillion dollars on caps for a tiny difference in tone.
That’s our 2 cents. If you have any other questions, drop me a note! Thanks… Jack@hoaglandcustom.com
The volume pot i have is B250k. If i increase the volume all the way to 10 no sound is coming but if slightly reduce the volume from 10 it brings out volume. What could cause it??
The first thing that we would do to test that it is functioning correctly is disconnect it completely from the guitar wiring circuit. Then we’d use a digital meter (set to measure ohms) with one probe on each of the outside lugs. The B250k is a linear pot. It should measure “0” when turned all the way down and (approx) “250k” when turned all the way up to “10”. When you turn it up to “10”, if it measures “0”, that will tell you that the pot itself is faulty and needs to be replaced. (the carbon dust-covered wafer inside could be warped from overheating) If it reads (approx) “250k”, that will tell you that the pot itself is fine and the problem that you are experiencing is somewhere else in the circuit. I hope that helps but, if that doesn’t solve the pot problem, get back to me… Thanks for a good question! Jack@hoaglandcustom.com
What about vintage taper? What the heck is that?
“Vintage taper” is, essentially, audio taper. In the early days of electric guitars, they used, almost exclusively, audio taper pots for volume and tone. Today, “vintage taper” is synonymous with audio taper. Thanks for a good question!
Informative discussion on pots, thanks. I arrived here researching why my Heritage 535 had such a poor variance in volume, next to no volume till 5-6 then too much of a spike. I understand the preferences but if I want the most versatility out of my guitar/amp bridge/neck PUs with respect to volume levels just seems linear would offer significantly more tonal options.
My personal preference is linear (due to the more predictive rotational quality) over audio. If you’re looking for a more vintage feel, however, back in the day, they used all audio taper.
I am an acustic guy trying to understand electronics in a Legacy stradocaster which my wife found at a thrift shop! I have purchased Fender Custom Shop Strat 54 Pickups and intend to get a Fender (250k) Tone Saver for Volumn Pot. The guitar also has a green (?) between the two Tone pots with “2A473J” on it and was advised to wait till later to put in the (Red) Capacitors that come with the Pots!
The question is do I use Audio Taper or Linear Pots.
The CTS (250K) Pure Vintage 3/8″ split shaft Potentiometer where recommended!
But (here we go) should they be Audio or Linear Taper Pots or a combination for this set up. and which 5 way switch should I use as a replacement or keep orginal for now?
Audio or linear?? The age-old question! It’s a personal preference issue, really. It depends on how you like the pot to act. Do you want it to turn the volume up QUICKLY and all-of-a-sudden? If so, then audio taper is the way that I’d go. Or would you prefer a nice, smooth, predictable increase in the volume (or tone)? If that’s what you’d like, then linear would be the best for you. Read our article on audio versus linear taper pots. And, if you have any other questions or concerns regarding pots and their taper, let us know! We’re happy to help… Jack @ HOAGLAND CUSTOM