ProGuitarShop

The Simplest Single Mod for Your Les Paul

October 12, 2013

We’ve been on the hunt for simple but effective wiring mods for our favorite guitars. Having already covered Teles then Strats—must be time to turn our attention to the mighty Les Paul! Thankfully, there’s a mod for the LP that is even simpler than the last two we’ve covered, so get out your Lester (or similar dual-humbucker guitar) and get ready to make it come alive!

 photo via MikeSlub @ LesPaulForum.com

photo credit: MikeSlub @ LesPaulForum.com

The ’59 Les Paul is one of the most iconic guitars in history. Everyone seems to be chasing that magical tone from ’59, featuring the original PAF humbuckers. Plenty of pickup manufacturers produce PAF reproductions with spec-correct winding and magnets—it’s almost always a cinch to swap out pickups to upgrade your tone and get closer to that vintage 50s tone… however, you’d still be missing a critical piece of the sonic puzzle.

 

To get as close to true 50s Les Paul tone as possible, you’ll want to do the curiously named (!) “50s Wiring” on your pickups. This wiring is also commonly referred to as “Vintage Wiring” – Gibson used to wire Les Pauls this way in the 50s but eventually stopped and changed to what we consider “standard” wiring today. However, the ’59 Les Paul made appearances on so many legendary recordings that this wiring is still a desired and sought after tweak to your modern day Les Pauls (or any dual-humbucker equipped guitar).

 

So—what’s the “mod” in 50s Wiring? It’s freakishly simple: you connect the tone pot to the output of the volume pot (normally, it is wired to the input). Here’s Gibson’s diagram to show you what the wiring looks like in the Vintage Wiring mod:

diagram via Gibson.com

 

 

One convenient aspect about this mod is that it requires no modifications to your control panel—no extra switches, pots, levers, pushbuttons, LEDs, etc—but the real reward of this mod is YOUR TONE!

 

The 50s Wiring mod makes your tone stronger and actually makes your tone more “transparent.” It also eliminates much of the typical treble loss that happens when you roll the volume pot down—meaning you don’t have to solve for treble loss by installing some sort of “treble bleed” system in your wiring. With 50s Wiring, it becomes exponentially easier to clean up your overdriven amp by simply rolling back on your volume knob. You may find after performing this mod that your volume and tone controls interact differently than before (meaning changes to your volume can impart a slight effect on tone and vice versa), but the general consensus is that it’s easy to adjust to. Lastly—another great thing about this wiring is that it is easily reversible if you don’t like it. 

If you’ve done this mod or have a guitar that already has this wiring, let us know in the comments! Happy modding!

Gratuitous Shot Of Author's Favorite Les Paul in the Galaxy. 

Comments

  1. Regats says:

    So - if this wiring scheme is superior and doesn’t add to the cost, why did Gibson change it?
    Is there any advantage to the way dual humbuckers are being wired now?

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 6:16 am
  2. Zachary Broyles says:

    Best to check to make sure you have 500k pots a lot of standard production gibsons have 330k which sap tone as well. New Pots, Good caps, 50s Wiring and your guitar will really wake up!

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 6:25 am
  3. Futt Bucker says:

    I put them in my bum.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 6:28 am
  4. Wayne says:

    it adds labor cost at the factory to do them this way… the “modern” wiring is also typically darker and some say “hotter” (driving the amp a little harder)

    I did this to my LP, and left my SG modern wired… big difference between the 2… 

    also, if you have an Epiphone, or LP with muddy pickups, the 50’s wiring alone adds a lot of clarity, especially in the neck pickup!

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 6:39 am
  5. Alienist says:

    Does this configuration also work on an ES 355?  What’s it bring to the table in terms of tone change?

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 6:42 am
  6. SteveJ says:

    Great post! I have a Custom Shop VOS ‘58 “Plain Top” that came from the factory with this wiring, along with “bumblebee” caps. I really love the way my ‘Paul sounds, and am not going to make ANY changes! This wiring does keep things very transparent, and the tone pots do behave a little differently than “modern” wiring double ‘buckers I have owned. I can set the amp to heavy overdrive (or use pedals) and clean it up just with the volume knob. If you like vintage tones, you should try it out - assuming you have soldering skills.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 6:44 am
  7. Art says:

    I don’t think I would ever mod my Gibson.  It sounds too good to screw it up.  Once I get a Chinbson, then, I’ll mod the hell out of it.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 6:57 am
  8. Ray Tracy says:

    What about 3-pickup configs?

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 6:58 am
  9. Brian says:

    I tried the 50s wiring, but it made the tone pots too non-linear, where you would roll ALL of the tone off between 7 and 10 on the pot. Same with volume.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 7:15 am
  10. Bluesman345 says:

    I have a Gretsch G5120 archtop with Kentron Filtertron-style humbuckers.  Would this mod sound good on this guitar?  I also have an Epi ‘56 Gold Top Les Paul R.I. with Dimarzio Virtual P90’s (P90 voiced humbuckers).  How would this mod work with a P90 vibe?

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 7:15 am
  11. Wayne says:

    it shouldn’t have made them less linear.. unless they were already audio taper or just cheap pots…  I used CTS 550k pots and they work great!

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 7:17 am
  12. Shooze says:

    Does this mod apply to Les Pauls with P90 pickups as well?  If not, can something similar be done for that configuration?

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 7:17 am
  13. Dweezle says:

    There are a lot of things Gibson does that don’t make sense!
    The suits are making the decisions over there.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 7:23 am
  14. Smylie says:

    I’ve got the new CTS pots and original bumblebee caps prewired up coming.  So all that I have to do is unsolder 4 conections, pull out the old one, put the new one in, resolder and voila it’s done. I have to agree with most sites that the Classic 57 in the neck position just sounds muddy and this clears it up.
    You also have to roll back a bit on the tone as well because as wide ipen it bypasses the cap almost 100%. All this for my 2011 Les Paul Classic Custom (Yes, with the maple frestboard). I’m excited…... (tundratone)

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 7:43 am
  15. Kidmag says:

    If your les pal is too dark, try swtiching to 50’s wiring.  It definitely adds a bit more treble

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 8:03 am
  16. Kidmag says:

    Regats - standard wiring gives you more control over your tone/volume whereas 50’s tend to be less responsive and then pack all the vol/treb change in the back half of the dial.  Also if you play heavily overdriven marshall style amps (which I view as bright amps), 50’s wiring can feel a bit harsh.  Sometimes a good dark les paul is the perfect mate for high gain marshal (jcm800/2000/JVM).

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 8:07 am
  17. Dbeard0217 says:

    I have one of the new LPs with coil splitters and bypass. Is this something that I could attempt on mine?

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 8:14 am
  18. Rich says:

    Anyone ever try this with mini humbuckers?  I have a deluxe with 2 minis.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 8:21 am
  19. Bradley Shuppert says:

    Lets not forget the braided wiring just like the wire the old PAF’s had.  You need to get rid of that thin copper wiring inside your guitar and wire the switch and the pots together using the vintage wire as well.  if you want that REAL 50’s sound.  PLUS use vintage CAPS from .010MFD to .022MFD….install and listen for the tone you are inspired by.  I love .012 to .015mfd myself and it gives me the range to do more with the amps tone knobs and lets me dial it back from the guitars tone knob then when I am ready to solo….I dime the tone control and volume control and it is like having a booster right on your guitar…...TRY it…You will love it!!

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 9:58 am
  20. Heviduty says:

    All my Epiphones have this wiring with Switchcraft switches and jacks, CTS pots, paper in oil capacitors and Seymour Duncan pick-ups. The sound as good as any Gibson at 1/3 the cost.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 10:36 am
  21. Dweezle says:

    Keep telling yourself I hope it makes you feel better, it is not true though.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 11:02 am
  22. lukas says:

    Can you do this with four conductor wiring?

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 11:13 am
  23. Regats says:

    Dweezle:
    About Hev’s comment about Epiphones being as good as Gibsons. I agree with you. It is not true - Korean Epi’s I’ve seen recently have a fit and finish that is not as good as new, stock GIbsons.

    The Epiphones are clearly SUPERIOR !

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 11:13 am
  24. Abbacus says:

    Thanks 4 this post, PGS!

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 11:14 am
  25. Dweezle says:

    I have to say the Koreans are doing very good work.
    My Reverend Sensei is as good quality in many ways as my Gibsons.
    Gibson do cut every corner they possibly can.
    The quality of the metals and plastics are terrible.
    The finish is ugly and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hate those fake bees.
    I have replaced every single piece of metal and plastic on my RO and had it refinished.
    They certainly aren’t the vintage replicas they sell them as.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 11:19 am
  26. fat-eddie says:

        oh so true . for the effort of soldering a couple of leads , you get a ‘new’ guitar . takes away the neck p/up mud . I went the whole route : 50’s wiring , luxe b/bee repro caps (.015 & .022), 500k matched pots , s/steel posts , aluminum t/p , bone nut . recently , I added a Faber bridge and locking steel posts ... a whole new ballgame .

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 11:32 am
  27. dirks says:

    There’s a reason that they don’t use 50’s wiring anymore. It’s too bright.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 11:37 am
  28. Wildman says:

    The 50’s wiring works well, for a brighter and more open sound.
    BUT ARE YOU SERIOUS???
    Vintage braided wire?? Good shielded wire is good wire; vintage or otherwise.
    Thin Cu wire vs thicker wire?? How much current do you think flows in these ccts.?
    One brand of pot vs another? There are many quality pots available; none of which impart some special tone.
    Caps - what difference is a paper in oil, ceramic, poly or whatever cap going to make, when it is not in the signal chain? They just bleed off higher frequencies!!
    This deluded idea that you will get some mojo tone, from all this vintage stuff and fancy caps is all bullshit.
    Use good quality components for reliable service, pick caps and cct topology for your desired sound and wire them up with good quality shielded wire: Job done.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 11:59 am
  29. Edward Bowles says:

    Yes it will work with almost all of your guitars and wiring schemes posted above, bear in mind this may not be a desirable outcome if you already like the sound of your guitar. It does change the response of all your controls and they become highly interactive, so if you are one of those players that just leaves everything on 10 and only plays with the neck pickup for one solo a night, it won’t really do anything for you. One of the other very important things to bear in mind when you do this mod is: to get the most, out of it you have to dial in your amp 50’s style. (I’m talking about tube amps of course, this hasn’t worked on any digital amps that I’ve tried to date, because they don’t really respond the same way) Set your volumes around 6 or 7, switch to the RHYTHM pickup and dial in your rhythm tone. Try to keep your preamp volume low and turn up the power section as much as you dare. Now when you switch to the bridge it should be unbearably bright, so roll back your tone for that pickup. Now start playing with the knobs and you will get the full rewards, it takes time to get the hang of it, but well worth it in my opinion.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm
  30. Edward Bowles says:

    PS, to the guy with the new LP that has all the fancy switching, rip that shit out and get it wired up properly. Sorry, but I’ve tried a bunch of them in the store I work at and they were all the most lifeless sounding Gibsons I’ve ever played. A friend bought one and gutted the electronics to put real stuff in there, (50’s wiring & Lollars) Holy S**t! Now it’s a real guitar.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 12:05 pm
  31. cdngtrplyr says:

    Why not wire the neck pickup to 50’s specs and leave the bridge as it is so that you brighten up the rhythm pickup without changing your lead pickup tone ??

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 2:38 pm
  32. Laine says:

    Thanks for the tip. It gave my SG a lot more clarity without taking anything away from my tone range. Lows were nice and warm with no mud and my bridge pup caught a breath of life as the highs rang out crystal clear.
    I think I’ll go and wake my tubes up now.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 2:50 pm
  33. Steve says:

    Have done this to an LP and SG really making the tone knob much more useful while retaining clarity as the volume is turned down.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 3:12 pm
  34. PJones says:

    I found that cloth vintage wire was the single greatest thing you could do to your guitar and I put in all my guitars. Although there is different wire in Gibsons and Fender the manufacturer is probably the same. If you wanted to sound like Hendrix you needed to use some cloth vintage wire in your strat.

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 10:32 pm
  35. Ed says:

    I have the new Trid pro 2 with coil splitter and 10 db boost will this mod work and how much harder would it be to do it?

    posted on October 12, 2013 at 11:06 pm
  36. gimelgort says:

    Do not discount the effect of a few drops of blood from a virgin, best mod there is. Tone to my bone!

    posted on October 13, 2013 at 5:14 am
  37. spentron says:

    1. not a LP-specific mod. 2. with the volume maxed, is no different. 3. messes up the wonderful thing a guitar tone control can do that other simple circuits don’t when the volume isn’t maxed. However I can’t recall the last time I turned down the tone and volume at the same time, so ... ;)

    posted on October 13, 2013 at 10:30 am
  38. Chris says:

    I did this to my LP and it’s a HUGE improvement. I used Luxe paper in oil caps, CTS pots, a switchcraft jack/toggle, replaced the pups with Sheptones, Tone Pros Kluson Tuners, a Faber tuneomatic bridge with brass saddles on the treble strings and titanium on the bass, ripped out the Nashville bushings and plugged them and replaced the tailpiece with aluminum. It’s the closest thing to a really nice vintage Paul that I’ve ever played. ...and it began life as a Les Paul Classic! hahahaha

    posted on October 13, 2013 at 4:17 pm
  39. Ascarin says:

    I can’t do this on my ‘09 Les Paul, it comes with a prewired plate to which everything is attached solid. However, I am looking to change that stupid thing to better pods.

    posted on October 14, 2013 at 5:32 am
  40. fuzman says:

    Actually there is a huge difference in cap types. They all filter off the highs, but it’s like a coffee filter. You get a better brew from a mesh filter than a paper towel. The different cap materials make the 2nd, 3rd, and so on, harmonics line up differently, giving various levels of that sweet creamy harmonic distortion to what’s left of the signal after those highs are filtered off. Polypropylene is a very fast material and gives a HiFi type of harmonic. Old paper In Oil caps react slowly and give a squanky harmonic. I guess it’s all bullshit if you are tone deaf or so loaded up on dirt pedals that it doesn’t matter what signal comes out of the guitar.

    posted on October 14, 2013 at 10:04 am
  41. fuzman says:

    And, unless you are using no-load pots, the cap is ALWAYS in the signal chain.

    posted on October 14, 2013 at 10:06 am
  42. James Marchione says:

    I wire all my guitars this way. Every time I rearrange the control plate on a tele to get the volume pot under my hand or hot rod a strat, I switch the tone cap to the input of the volume pot. It just sounds better when you work the volume control. I’m so used to making this mod that when I install pickups or pots for friends I just go ahead and wire things up this way and I think it contributes to how much better they feel the aftermarket parts sound! I have an sg and a gretsch I still need to get around to, but when AI open them up, I know this will be part of the wiring scheme.

    posted on October 14, 2013 at 10:41 pm
  43. Thomas says:

    I have a 2008 gibson les paul standard, should I consider this?

    posted on October 14, 2013 at 11:05 pm
  44. 57Stratman says:

    In addition to the tone mods, rewiring the volume pots to work independently of one another makes a world of difference. Modern wiring does not give true separation-when both pickups are selected, turning down either volume pot will silence the guitar. Modding the volume pots to work independently (which I did not see mentioned in this article, but can be found in various websites) lets you “blend” each pickup to the other….less bridge or less neck when both selected. While I’m here, adding a Treble Bypass cap/resistor, is also something I would recommend.
    In response to Rich regarding this wiring with LP Deluxe minis, I have a 3-pickup LP Deluxe wired in this manner. I removed the original PU selector switch (it gave N/NM/B) and replaced with standard N/NB/B switch and used lower Tone pot for middle pickup volume, also a push/push pot to cut the middle pickup off. I can have the neck / bridge pickups working as normal and can add the middle full on or blended. Also gives the option for middle only by cutting the other volume pots down.

    posted on October 15, 2013 at 1:34 am
  45. spentron says:

    I thought we covered tone controls a couple weeks ago. They do NOT just “roll off highs”, they are a reactance that can cause some frequencies to be boosted as well as some be cut. It isn’t like pouring sludge over the pickup and slowing it down. It’s more like the pickup is a spring and you’re adding weight to the end of it, so it is slower but may actually spring farther at a slower speed. That’s most true, however, when the tone is set to 0 and the cap is connected directly across the pickup (with 50s wiring, volume must also be max.).

    I have seen a demo where I heard a difference for paper-in-oil caps at tone=10, which was certainly surprising. At that setting, compared to the pot the cap is essentially a short. As all the other caps were identical, I’d say the paper-in-oil was the least pure capacitance of the lot.

    posted on October 16, 2013 at 10:45 am
  46. Vikram Vivekanand says:

    I can’t do any mods to my Les Paul Studio. Opened up the control cavity to see a damn PC board. I was thinking to myself, “Where’s all the solder???”

    posted on October 18, 2013 at 3:44 pm
  47. Dave Stephens says:

    I run all my customers through how to do a complete 50’s vintage Les Paul wiring harness from start to finish, its SOOOO important. It is actually more than just how the tone caps are wired. Your harness is nearly half the battle for good tone, something most luthiers really overlook, probably because its not taught in schools. One thing this diagram above does not show well at all is that at the switch, the braided shield wire is tied together with a single wire and soldered all 3 leads together, the wire then runs to the switch and is how the ground at the switch is done. There are good photos of this on Dr. Vintage website. Also notice the heavy gauge bus wire ground wire connecting the four pots.

    In Gibsons you also need to dump their pots and tone caps, they are BAD stuff. Good CTS pots and real paper in oil tones caps are a must. Pots vary in actual values and a good idea to tune them to the harness, using 550K values for neck and 450-470K values for bridge. .022uf cap for bridge and .015uf for neck is the way to go. The wire itself must be bare braided shield, NOT plastic covered cheap wire like every clone uses, plastic has a negative dielectric effect that dulls tone. Offshore clone guitars have terrible harnesses in them and it all must be thrown away, the difference in installing a 50’s repro harness will turn your guitar into a completely new amazing little beastie with great clarity and transparency you won’t believe ;-) If you need help in sourcing parts and better diagrams to do this you can contact me at sdpickups.com website and I’ll send you photos and links to accomplish all this. I also put 12 years into reverse-engineering vintage PAF’s and have about 16 video demos on YouTube under SDPICKUPS if you want to see the results of that obsessive research. Pro Guitar Shop isn’t that far from me and I highly recommend them!
    I’ll have another article in Jan 2014 Tonequest coming up for those who subscribe to that as well.
    Peace
    Dave Stephens

    posted on October 21, 2013 at 4:16 pm
  48. Rod says:

    I changed it all, quality caps and pots and pickups from Bare Knuckle (The Mule) and 50’s wiring. But it is too bright now, dare to say.. too transparent?! I’m going to reverse the wiring back to “modern”.

    posted on October 22, 2013 at 4:56 am
  49. greg d says:

    rod ,dont reverse the wiring.Try swapping caps first. Use paper in oil to get a smoother tone,if you had .022 then go to .033 or .047.If you had .047 .Drop the height of the pickup 1/16” at a time may help as will as going to 11’s instead of 10’s.  You’ve already got quality parts right? so now comes the finesse work .

    posted on October 22, 2013 at 9:53 am
  50. Rod says:

    Greg, thanks for your comment! I may try diferent caps indeed. Lowering pickups, not much of a margin left already, and 11’s already there. I guess caps are the last thing to try. Thanks again.

    posted on October 22, 2013 at 9:58 am
  51. Dave Stephens says:

    You have to “tune” your harness to whatever pickups you’re using, and yes many commercial pickups will be too bright. For bridge I use Mojo’s cheapest CTS pots because they are under 500K, more like 450-470K. For neck I use 550K. Yes, you really must use paper in oil, and Gibson’s caps are NOT paper in oil, nor are they well liked by anyone, neither are their pots. The Russian paper in oil caps on Ebay are generally great caps for very little money. The green ones are a little more edgy, so you probably don’t want that. Make sure you used the bare braided shield vintage type wire, if you used anything else it will sound bad, the capacitance of the wire is just right, Mojo carries that as well. The brighter pickups in original 1959 vintage Les Pauls usually had .033uf tone caps in them, so try those, the Russian ones come in that range. .047uf is too dark for my work but you can try them and it will help some. The highest value tone caps Gibson ever used were .041uf but only in their P90 gold tops. In bridge I like the Jensen copper foil paper in oil tone caps, an amazing tone cap unlike anything else, but expensive.

    Now also don’t forget that all your favorite classic rock heroes USED their TONE POTS, modern players seem to not realize they are there ;-) Duane Allman used his alot, Eric Clapton always cranked his bridge tone pot down, Page used his alot, they all did.

    All PAF replicas are not the same, they are ridiculously complicated pickups to understand, they must be machine wound, not hand wound, the metallurgy must be right and this is a highly misunderstood subject we spent at least 7 years pursuing with the help of an industry specialist and his lab in a major steel company. It took years of experimentation and analyzing a 40 year span of Gibson magnetic circuit parts, to see the full picture, and even then it was quite difficult to translate into modern materials useage.

    One other thing to consider is your guitar cord. Guitar cords in my youth (1960’s) were crappy high capacitance things. Try some different cords. I’ve been using one company’s product and after 4 years it has become harsh sounding, I kept thinking it was my tubes, my cap job, and other things, nope, it was my guitar cable. Thicker guitar cables are better, skinny ones can sound too bright, harsh. Expensive is not always better either. I have a guitar cord from GFS for pretty cheap that sounds really really good, has oxygen free copper plated with silver.
    Hope all this helps….
    Dave Stephens

    posted on October 22, 2013 at 11:32 am
  52. EduardoLeite says:

    Simply I loved the tone !
    A friend of mine did the wiring for me. I only tested the result
    And it’s totally aproved !
    My Epi sounds better, specially at the neck pickup. Totally transparent
    I think I have a better guitar now !
    Thanks for the post !

    posted on November 22, 2013 at 4:48 am
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