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50's Wiring for a Lester



Back in 2020 I ran across one of the new Lesters Guitar Chimp had up on Reverb.  After a phone conversation with Jerald (and consultation with a certain esteemed HFCer/Gibson expert in the Nash Vegas Metropolitan area) I bought it.  It's a 2019 50's Les Paul Standard. 


The Burstbucker 1 and 2 pickups are fantastic and if I could have this neck on every instrument I play I'd be more than happy.  The 500k pots work / sound much better than the old 300k's but I've been listening to too many vintage Lester clips and have gotten curious about 50's wiring.

Those in favor of it say it "removes the blanket" (whatever that means - the 500k's do a lot of that) and allows the controls to do what they were originally intended. Those opposing it say it makes the controls too "fitzy" with the Tone control messing with volume and vice versa. 

Personally, I am constantly tweaking both controls, so I don't think I would dislike it after getting used to it. My purpose (other than curiosity) would be to see if I could get closer to the vintage tones I'm hearing without spending my entire retirement fund.

Tons of discussion of this on other forums, but I don't know those folks.  What say the HFC about 50's wiring for a VVTT setup? 


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Very easy to try, very easy to reverse if you don't like it.

On my brother's Gibson explorer the internal wiring was very cheap, his Les Paul pretty much the same; I just redid the wiring using good stuff, soldered, and a new good jack and the difference in clarity is huge.

Also converted his tone pot to no load and that really made a nice diff with the burstbuckers also


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Yep, the '91 Howard Roberts I have listed on Reverb came with 300k pots.  I replaced them with RS Guitarworks 500k pots and caps and it really works much better (of course, the Lollar Imperials had a little bit to do with the improvement...).  But that is wired modern-style.  I wasn't taking anything to chances given the effort required to change anything on the harness. 


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you won’t notice too much difference really. if you already have new 500k’s in there, then go ahead and 50’s it, it’s good if you like riding the knob’s while playing a dynamics amp that responds well to volume tome changes on a whim,

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So I did it! Pretty cramped so I started with some protection:


Seemed to me the best strategy was to desolder the most delicate piece first, then zero in on that Tone pot.


This can certainly be done without changing the Tone pot ground lug from the lower (in the picture) to middle, but they used the middle lug for ground in the 50's and 60's.  To quote Premier Guitar: 


[RE:60's wiring] ...in this configuration, the tone cap is still connected to the input of the volume pot, but on the tone pot the middle lug is now connected to ground. Electrically, the '60s wiring is completely identical to the modern wiring with the same tone, behavior, and problems. But there is one significant difference: In terms of shielding, the '60s wiring is superior to the modern wiring scheme. When electromagnetic interferences enter a guitar, they will also stray into the tone pot's unused pin and therefore into the middle lug (the wiper) in both wirings. With the wiper connected to ground, as in the '60s wiring, the interferences will stop at this point.


So, compared to the modern wiring, the signal-to-noise ratio in the '60s wiring is superior. This is technical knowledge from yesteryear: The wiper of a variable resistor is connected to the low resistance part of the circuit. This knowledge was really important when designing and building tube amps, radios, and televisions, but is almost forgotten today.


So why did Gibson switch from the '60s to the modern wiring? My personal theory is that this allowed them to use pre-configured pots for both volume and tone, with the same third lug soldered to the case as the grounding point. I don't know if this is true, but if you know the reason or have another theory, please share it. 

[Updated 9/9/21]

Seemed worth the extra trouble (iron was already hot).

Nothing to do now but zip the Bridge controls all back together 50's style and replicate on the Neck components:



Verdict: I like it much better. I almost never run the Volume or Tone controls on 10, so it is much better for my use.  Far less mud as the Volume control turns down. I was concerned about the interaction between Tone and Volume controls, but it is very minor and actually useful. The middle (both pickups) is where this thing shines and the new wiring makes that even better. Pretty good use of a rainy Saturday.

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