Guitar Modding: SG Gets Gretsched!

Regular readers of my irregular blog posts know that for the last few years I’ve been assembling Fender-style guitars, and playing them live. The Tele design in particular makes a great platform for a variety of pickups and hardware choices, plus I’ve had fun comparing the appearance and sound of several different woods for the bodies. I like rosewood fretboards and I always flip the plate so that the volume knob is in front.

I play with a band called Swamp Ash, and we play a mix of funky/jazzy/New Orleans/rock covers. I’ve found that the sound of two humbuckers, both switched on, is a perfect tone for rhythm playing in that music, but there’s a problem with the standard four-control Gibson layout. When playing in the middle position, you can’t easily change the volume. Both volume knobs are working, and you hear a change in the pickup blend, but not much in overall level. I have this 2004 SG Special with Jim Wagner pickups and upgraded wiring and hardware, and I really like it, but it wasn’t a good fit for this band. So it was living in its case.

Recently my bench was clear, a rare thing. I was caught up on repairs and had just delivered a beautiful obeche Tele to its very happy new owner, so my building was done for the moment. I starting sketching a modified SG wiring diagram that would give me individual pickup volumes (so I could blend them as I liked) and a single volume to control the overall level of the guitar. The only trade-off would be a master tone control, but that didn’t seem like too high a price to pay.

I figured out a circuit that looked like it would work, and then went poking around on the internet to see if this circuit was already in use. That led me to the T.V. Jones pickup site, and their stash of mostly Gretsch-style wiring diagrams, and there it was. Good to find you’re on the right track! It’s listed as their “Tone Pot Circuit”. Here’s a link: http://www.tvjones.com/wiring-schematics.html. They don’t seem to claim it as their intellectual property, but that’s where I found this drawing. Credit where credit is due.

The photos show my original-style upgraded circuit. It’s worth that I was using a .012 mfd tone cap on the neck pickup, and a .022 on the bridge in the old circuit. Both volumes have 180 pf “treble bleed” caps, which help avoid lost treble when you turn the volumes down. I left those caps in place, and wired the master tone with a smaller size .022. The pot is no-load, which means that I modified it so that it’s out of the circuit when dialed to “10”. As you might guess from the photo, the knobs for the individual pickup volumes are in the top row, with the bridge pickup knob next to the jack. The larger speed knob is the master volume, and the other is the master tone control.

Problem solved! This layout works great, and lets me control the guitar exactly as I want to. It’s out of the case and getting played a lot. This guitar loves these pickups, and it’s fun to play. Try this wiring if you find the stock Gibson controls a problem, as I did, or if you’re just in the mood to experiment. It’s not hard, and you can always go back to the original circuit if you want. Have fun!

One thought on “Guitar Modding: SG Gets Gretsched!

  1. I played Gibson SGs in one form or another for years in your basic rock bands – my first one had P90s, then a couple different humbucker models. You need to put speed knobs on the volumes, and then when in the middle position you roll both volumes up/down with the side of your right palm. I like the Gibson 4-knob set-up because you can tweak the balance between the PUPs for different sounds, and then take it up/down together. That said – I went to Strat-style guitars with a single master volume and that was fine too. It’s all subjective.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *