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No-load pots: a few tricks and thoughts...

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  • No-load pots: a few tricks and thoughts...

    I share below a few words explaining how I've made no-load pots, why I use them or not and why other players might find them useless or not.

    Q-Why do I mount no-load pots instead of regular tone pots + switches bypassing them?

    A-Because technically, a no load pot is strictly the same than a tone pot + bypass switch: "No-load" means that you remove of the circuit the resistive load of your pot, just like with an on-off switch enabling or disabling the tone control. :-)

    Q-Why do I spend money in expensive no-load pots?

    A-There's no need to buy no-load controls: a regular pot can be changed in a no-load one in a few minutes with an x-acto knife.Just open a tone pot with a pair of pliers and cut the resistive track where is the red line here:

    I've done that dozens of times and have never killed a pot (but I've cut my thumb. LOL. If you're afraid to hurt your fingers or want the mod to be reversible, just lay some nail polish on the end of the resistive track).

    It will make your tone pot work like this:

    -From 0 to 9/10: normal behavior.

    -Pot @ 10/10: as if it had been pulled off the circuit or switched off, since its resistance to ground is now "infinite"...

    Q-Why some people hear what no-load pots do while other people don't hear any difference?

    A-Simply because the impact of a no-load pot on your tone depends on other parameters...

    Sonically, a 250k pot + a no load tone control = the same thing than a 500k volume +a 500k tone... it bumps the resonant peak of a few dB's.

    Same thing with other resistive values, as illustrated decades ago by Helmuth Lemme:

    We may or may not hear it.

    It depends on...

    a)the resonant peak itseilf and its Q factor. A pickup with a naturally flat and wide resonant peak (like most garden variety humbuckers compared to Fender type single coils) will be less "sensitive" to a no load pot.

    b)the input impedance, signal path and gain of your effect(s) and/or amp(s). A Fender Twin with a 1M input impedance will be more sensitive to no load pots than a Marshall JVM with a 470k input impedance...

    Parenthesis:- Below is what various input impedances (and stray capacitances) do to the resonant peak of a single pickup, as shown by Brian Moore years ago (line number one being flat thx to a ultra high input impedance):

    A clean amp with the bright swtich enabled willl be more sensitive to no load pots as well, while a cranked up dist pedal will most often hide any difference.

    c) our hearing: old ears will be less sensitive to harmonic changes due to no-load controls than young ones (if the young ones are working properly, of course. LOL).

    =my two cents, FWIW. Everybody is free to agree or disagree and I couldn't care less since...

    I-I've translated what I think to be the objective truth. :-)

    II-As usual, I've posted to share and not to argue.:-))

    FOOTNOTE - A no-load is not worse nor better. The resistive load of a tone pot flattens the resonant peak but it also makes some upper harmonics (those above the resonant peak) a bit more noticeable and complex. So, a "load pot" might be better with some pickups. For example, I prefer Filter'Tron's with regular ("loading") pots.
    Conversely, a no load tone pot might be an effective solution for a dull sounding humbucker : for instance, that's how I've made alive the chrome covered T-Top's of a Norlin Black Beauty with low resistance controls.No-load tone pots gave access to its original sounds + an extra hint of clarity of sparkle when the tone controls are full-up. Just what the doctor ordered in this case.

    Last edited by freefrog; 08-18-2020, 02:14 AM.
    Duncan user since the 80's...

  • #2
    Great post


    • #3
      When modding a pot like you hear it snap out of the circuit, or is it so gradual you can't hear it?
      Dave, Ambassador/Writer/Artist for Seymour Duncan


      • #4
        Originally posted by Mincer View Post
        When modding a pot like you hear it snap out of the circuit, or is it so gradual you can't hear it?
        I've done it both ways. Scratching off the resistive strip or painting over it with nail polish. I didn't notice any snap or click.

        On another note, I think the cleaner your tone the more you can hear subtle changes like a no-load tone pot makes to your tone.

        And the more you appreciate those subtle changes.

        Conversely, if a guy likes playing with grinding distortion most of the time those subtle changes are less discernable and less important.

        And that's fine too.
        “Practice cures most tone issues” - John Suhr


        • #5
          Originally posted by Mincer View Post
          When modding a pot like you hear it snap out of the circuit, or is it so gradual you can't hear it?
          What Lewguitar said... In most cases, I don't hear it. Sometimes, there's a subtle "click", depending on the rig used... For example, I've noticed it with some Burns Tri-Sonic's plugged in a Treble booster feeding a Vox : they did/do click when passing from no-load to tone pot (which is necessary with these pickups when they're used with gain, IMHO, while the no-load option is very nice for obtaining from them sparkling clean sounds that they don't quite achieve naturally ). But the noise remains subtle. Enough to be acceptable on stage IME.

          Anyway, it's always possible to apply the solution used for Gibson Varitone's: a 10M resistor from "no-load" to ground would get rid of any click without sounding different compared to a truely no-load circuit. :-)
          Last edited by freefrog; 08-18-2020, 10:53 PM.
          Duncan user since the 80's...


          • #6
            i got to add:

            It depends on...

            c) the cable used: length and capacitance