Let It Bleed

You know how when you’re playing through a distorted amp, you can turn down the volume on your guitar and the amp will clean up? The only problem is that the high end gets cut off as well, right? There’s actually an incredibly cheap & easy fix for this: the “Treble Bleed Circuit”. Once installed, your guitar’s volume knob leaves the highs alone when you roll back the volume. Here’s a better description:

When you turn your guitar’s volume down, you’re allowing some of the current to go to ground as opposed to going out to the amp to make sound. (Think of it like a valve that diverts water’s flow when you turn it……) When you do this, the frequencies that leave first are the high ones, which makes the tone seem muddy and thick, without the “edge” on it. A way to avoid this is by using what’s called a treble bleed circuit. It’s called this because it prevents the treble frequencies from bleeding off. It allows some of the treble frequencies (the ones we want to keep) to walk around the volume pot to the output, rather than go through it and get lost to ground.

I’ve always been a Volume knob tweaker as I hate dealing with foot pedals (I’m just too much of a klutz), but I’ve never been completely happy with the results, especially on the neck pickups as it was just too muddy. I’d heard about this mod many times, and while I’m not afraid to play around with my guitar’s electronics, I’d never bothered trying it myself until yesterday. Guitarists are full of mythical tricks to improve your tone & many of them are questionable, so maybe that’s why I never really took it all that seriously. Well, that and it would require a trip to RadioShack and I’m both lazy and forgetful when it comes to stuff like this.

In this case, however, the effect is strong & immediately noticeable. For less than $2 and a little work wielding a soldering iron, it will dramatically change the way your guitar’s volume knob reacts.

You just take a capacitor (I used this $1.49 0.001 µF capacitor from RadioShack) and wire it to your guitar’s volume knob like this tutorial explains:

Treble Bleed Image

I’ve got a Carvin Bolt Kit with two DiMarzio Breed pickups and the stock AP11 wired like a Jem. Playing through a completely distorted amp (I have a Mesa/Boogie, so it does indeed get very dirty), I can roll back the volume from 10 to 3 or so and go from a fat, round, fuzzy neck humbucker sound to a bright, clear-but-slightly-gritty bluesy tone. Pop the five way switch to the 4th position and I’m completely in Strat territory. It’s not a completely clean sound, but I like the way a clean Strat sounds just as it’s starting to break up—when you can pick quietly and get a clean sound, but dig in more and make the amp break up and sustain—and this lets me get that sound without switching channels and without settling for either a muddy clean sound on 3 or a piercing, harsh distorted sound on 10.

There are many variations on this modification, many because people think just the .001µF cap alone preserves too much high end. And my guitar does actually sound more trebly as the volume goes down now. But I like my clean sounds to be bright & clear and prefer more fullness to my distorted sounds, so for me, this is actually a feature, not a bug.