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The definitive answer: do "boutique" capacitors affect tone in bass wiring?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by fourstringbliss, Jan 8, 2012.

  1. Yes, definitely.

    30 vote(s)
  2. Nope - no real difference.

    122 vote(s)
  1. fourstringbliss

    fourstringbliss Supporting Member

    Oct 5, 2003
    Puyallup, WA
    I've been looking at Jazz bass wiring harnesses and wiring kits on Ebay and most of them have Sprague Orange Drop caps, and a few other (more expensive ones) have "oil and paper" caps. All of them claim that these more expensive caps will positively affect tone, but do they? Do the more expensive oil/paper or big orange drop 0.047uf caps give better tone than the $1 metal film 0.047uf caps I can get at Radio Shack?
  2. Isotonic

    Isotonic Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2011
    Round Rock TX
    My experience with oil caps vs film etc is with speaker crossovers and tube amps. In both of those cases there is a definite difference and it is pretty accepted practice to use them. That they sound better is a matter of taste and objectives. But Paper in Oil caps will tend to make the highs sound a little smoother, more buttery.
  3. bongomania

    bongomania Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    Here's the thing--whenever somebody swaps a capacitor in their bass, two things happen every time:
    1) The cap is a different value than the previous one, so it sounds different. On rare occasions you'll get somebody who swears they used the exact same value, but these caps have a tolerance range that means they are probably not the exact same value, they are just "within a range". Even in the cases where the caps really were extremely close in capacitive value, that leads us to...
    2) Expectation Bias. We think we will get a certain result, and by gum we get that result! We paid $15 for a single oil-in-paper cap, and we have heard from tone hounds that we will get amazing tone with it, and wouldn't you know, when we listen to it the tone is amazing! Waaaay different from the crummy old ceramic cap that the bass came with. It's all in our heads though. But because it is in our heads, we perceive it as reality, how's that for a kick in the pants!

    Now, I'm not saying there is never any difference--there may sometimes be some difference, possibly. What I am saying is that when people say "I swapped in an orange drop cap and it sounds way better, and I've been playing bass professionally for 100 years so I should know", you can't actually take those claims seriously most of the time.
  4. singlemalt

    singlemalt Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2007
    White Salmon, WA
    Exactly, that sound came in through your ears and ended up in your brain. If you spent the afternoon soldering parts into your bass (scary stuff!) when you get done you are: really glad it still works and glad you made the change, it must sound better!

    I've been building crossovers for my fEarfuls for a while now, and I can tell you that I put resistors and all the other stuff on my multi meter before and after. The range for parts values is fairly wide.

    As for expectation bias, check this article out: Aesthetics and money: Fiddling with the mind | The Economist

    A blind test of six violins, the revered vintage makers including Stradivari and modern instruments build on the old patterns.

    Guess which violin faired the worst? Maybe it just needs some new caps?
  5. fourstringbliss

    fourstringbliss Supporting Member

    Oct 5, 2003
    Puyallup, WA
    I ask because I want to start my own guitar repair business and plan to sell wiring harnesses on the side. I see these wiring harnesses using full-sized CTS pots, push-back with and orange drop caps and know I could make one that would work just as well for less and charge less - except that "everyone knows" that orange drop caps, etc give a more "vintage" tone than dime-sized Alpha brand pots (better size for cramped control cavities and easier to solder to the back of, IMHO) regular thin Teflon coated wire (also, better for cramped spaces, and regular metal film capacitors give the same sound as the other stuff because this is all really low voltage stuff.
  6. grisezd


    Oct 14, 2009
    No signal that passes through the cap makes it to the amp. If the value is right and it's not dried up, a (non-electrolytic) cap is a cap. In business though, the customer is right. Offer the option with no claims and just watch which option most people pick.

    Oh, and one other thing. If a customer wants to buy something "custom" from you they'll expect that you can guide them in the best choices. If you can't give opinions based on experience then there's less value in your services. Buy a handful of caps, pots, wires, pickups, and sample for yourself!
  7. I simply went to my local Radioshack (I think I'm the only person to visit that lonely component section in weeks) and picked up a few different value caps, all either .1uf, .22uf, .01uf, or .047uf, in metalized film, ceramic, polyester, and a few other odd looking chiclets. It cost me about $10, and I found out that tone caps, while even almost the same value, can sound very different, and I switched out the cap on two basses, and left one as it was. As for $15-a-pop (no pun intended) capacitors, I don't know if I would bet my life on it sounding better, but in the future, I'm sure I'll give one a try.

    The best part about the caps I bought, is that the cheapest ones sounded the best :bag: Don't tell anyone, I don't wanna get excommunicated...
  8. drewfx


    May 14, 2009
    If you want a definitive answer you don't do a poll; you do some quantitative testing.
  9. FunkMetalBass


    Aug 5, 2005
    Phoenix, Arizona 85029
    Endorsing Artist: J.C. Basses

    But I'll save you some time: in the wiring of a passive tone control, the value of a capacitor (non-electrolytic) is the only thing that matters.
  10. fourstringbliss

    fourstringbliss Supporting Member

    Oct 5, 2003
    Puyallup, WA
    That's what I understood. I think I'll buy a bunch of different caps, including the boutique caps, and do sound clips using the same bass changing only the capacitor in place. This way I can put them on the auction page or my website so people can make an informed choice.
  11. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    You know they didn't use orange drops in vintage instruments.

    Here's my 1972 Fender Mustang guitar:


    My '59 Jazzmaster had some big ol' wax covered cap, but that's just because that was what caps were like back then.

    Like bongomania said, if they are within spec, you wont hear a difference. The signal is not really going through the cap anyway. That part of the signal gets shunted to ground, and you don't hear it. If the signal was going through the cap, such as with a coupling cap, you will hear some kind of difference between cap types.

    You also wont hear the cap with the control on 10. At the values used on guitar the impedance of the capacitor in the range of the resonance is a lot less than the pot value. So on 10 you are hearing the resistive loading on the resonant circuit. As you turn the pot closer to zero the cap has a larger affect on the sound.

    Same thing for the push back wire. That stuff is a pain to work with and has no benefit over teflon or other insulation types.

    But some people think they want stuff that they either will never see once it's in the bass, or will never notice because it doesn't really do anything different.

    Worrying about what kind of wire is in your bass, or the color of the flatwork on the pickups, is like worrying about what color socks James Jamerson was wearing when he did sessions.

    I'd follow your own path. Some people will dig it, and others wont. You don't need the latter group of customers. Fake vintage is a dime a dozen these days.
  12. Agreed with everything David said. People want a "vintage" tone, but they have almost no idea what components go in to it. If anyone tells you they want a vintage tone, direct them to their amp, because if you play an original '60s P bass through a Line6, or Aguilar, or Mesa Boogie, it will sound modern. It probably won't sound like Jamerson, or JPJ, or Roger Waters; it's more likely that it will sound like Coldplay, or Soundgarden.

    If they want a good sounding instrument, do a blind test. Wire their guitars up with "vintage" push back cloth, oil-paper caps, and CTS pots, see how they like it, then replace all of that with it's modern counterpart, and see how they like that. And after they tell you they can't tell the difference, tell them how much option "A" will cost them.

    Personally, I use crappy, cheap solid-core wire for my guitars, because I find it easy to work with and it's never failed me, and I use whatever cap sounds best with whichever guitar, and unless a pot is scratchy, or fails, a pot is a pot.
  13. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    People also don't know what a vintage tone is. You see guys with Jazz basses that want a 70s tone. The majority of 60s and 70s recordings where done on P basses. Even Joe Osborn said he was disappointed when Fender send him a Jazz bass, because he wanted a P. So he only uses the neck pickup!

    They also don't realize the strings being used at the time, and what was expected from a bass. D'Addario Chromes, or TI Jazz flats don't sound like the old Fender flats. They are brighter and play in tune better.

    Often the P bass had the bridge cover on with the string mute, or additional foam under the strings.

    Stuff like Motown was recorded direct. But the amps back then were basically crap. They were underpowered and not very clear sounding. This is why people like Norm Sundholm of the Kingsmen got together with his brother Conrad to design Sunn amplifiers. He couldn't hear himself on stage on tours! Then of course there was Acoustic. JPJ used one of those, and it had a big 18" speaker in a folded horn enclosure. It was a whole lot of woof and very boxy sounding.

    The other thing is people think "vintage" and set their tone for no high end at all. Thats not how the old basses sounding, and not even the Motown tracks. They had their tone controls wide open.

    I will say though that my Mesa 400+ can get some killer "vintage" bass tones. I also don't have any problem getting vintage tones with my Trace Elliot and Mesa cab. I sometimes play with a classic rock band and can nail off those tones. As with the direct recorded stuff, the amp doesn't matter all that much.

    That reminds me of this:

    Guitar Tone Capacitors, part 1: Evaluating Material Types - YouTube

    Read the comments here. You can clearly hear no difference between the caps, but the people posting comments swear they do! I mentioned that the guy strumming the guitar changes the way he strums for different caps. Might be unintentional, or conformation bias.

    Also, the caps are listed in big letters as he does each pass, so it's not a blind test at all.

    And of course the caps were not measured before the "test."

    But people hear what they want to.

    Same here. Some of my basses have solid core wire, because that's what I had on hand. I like the little yellow box caps, but I have some green film caps from Radio Shack in a few guitars and they sound fine.
  14. fourstringbliss

    fourstringbliss Supporting Member

    Oct 5, 2003
    Puyallup, WA
    That's funny - I just watched that video and was about to post it here! I didn't hear a noticeable difference between any of the caps except maybe when he went through that line of Orange Drops of different uf values, but that's not what I'm looking at here.

    I'm trying to break into a fairly choked market and want to offer more than the other guys without charging more. The more I can offer is more information and more options. I want to cut through the hype and myths and offer a good product at a good price. I should be able to make great wiring harnesses pretty easily at lower prices. If they want a paper in oil cap and cloth wire I'll it to them (and charge them for it), but I want them to see that it won't make things sound better.

    I'd rather use small pots, metal film caps, stranded teflon-coated wire and use the extra space for options. I'm thinking a Jazz wiring harness with a pan pot and push/pull series/parallel volume. I'd even use pin and socket connectors so they can do it up with no soldering (for the solderphobic).

    For the record, I can go from convincing vintage to super hi fi with my Zoom B2 run through the FX return on my Carvin BX500 210 combo. Push the foot switch and turn a knob and bingo - it's fat city.
  15. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    See, different values. But the same value of each cap sounds the same. You can see me there trying to talk sense into people, but hey, it's a lost cause!
  16. I more just meant that the smarter our amps are getting, it's harder to get those old woofy, undefined tones, because they usually played POS brand amps.

    I know, I saw that a while back. Of the four or five different types of caps I picked up, all the same value, there were only about three different tones. The difference between the first tone and the other two is at least easily noticeable, because it dealt more with midrange than the highs, but the difference between the second and third tones is hardly there. But yeah, changing the value of the cap did more than changing the material.

    Do something different then. There is definitely a market for different. Look at the Les Paul Triumph bass. That thing has more tone controls- and more tones, more importantly- than most active basses I've seen, and it's passive.
  17. fourstringbliss

    fourstringbliss Supporting Member

    Oct 5, 2003
    Puyallup, WA
    Thanks for the suggestion!! I had been struggling with the scope of my business, whether I was going to be doing general repairs or what, but my original thought was finding a way to get paid for doing wiring. I'm really just looking for a part-time gig to bring in more cash. Your suggestion helped me narrow things down.

    I don't want to out-vintage these other guys but I think I can out-information them and offer innovative products that do more for about the same cash. Some guys are totally satisfied with V/V/T on a Jazz but (obviously) some want more options while keeping things passive. I can do that. Now I just need to source my parts and try to keep costs low.
  18. mongo2


    Feb 17, 2008
    Da Shaw
    I actually find it easier to work with the cloth push back wire since I don't have to strip the wires, just cut it to size and push back the cloth to expose the amount of wire I need to make the connection.

    As far as tone control caps go, I just use the green chicklets from Radio Shack...they work fine.
  19. SGD Lutherie

    SGD Lutherie Inactive Commercial User

    Aug 21, 2008
    Bloomfield, NJ
    Owner, SGD Music Products
    I think it's too heavy, I like a little thinner gauge wire, and I like exposing a certain amount of the ends before I solder. But a lot of people like it. :bassist:
  20. fourstringbliss

    fourstringbliss Supporting Member

    Oct 5, 2003
    Puyallup, WA
    I'm going to stick with the thinner plastic coated stuff because I'm aiming at Jazz bass wiring mods and don't want the wire taking up more room than necessary.

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