50s Vs Modern Les Paul Wiring

A Gibson Les Paul, SG, ES-335 and many other guitars use a two-pickup/four-pot setup: two dedicated volume controls and two dedicated tone controls. The tonal possibilities are almost endless if you know how to dial it in right, and the tireless tinkerers among us have tried several ways of hooking up the pickups to the pots over the years. That might sound strange because you might think there’s just one way to wire it all up, but clearly there are more roads that lead home! Let’s take a closer look at the various ways you can wire up your four-pot guitar.

Before we really dive into new wiring possibilities, let’s quickly recap what a pot is and how it works. The word ‘pot’ is shorthand for ‘potentiometer.’ Structurally speaking, a pot has one large resistor inside with a start and an end (which we see as the outer lugs on the casing of the pot). That part doesn’t move when you turn the knob. What does move is a bridge, which is connected to the middle lug. It moves over the resistor and acts as a bridge between the signal and the output or ground. If it’s on the far side it bridges the signal to the ground, shorting the signal and creating silence. On the other side, it bridges the signal directly to the output of the pot without any signal going to the ground. Every position in between allows some part of the signal to go to the ground, in essence lowering the volume.

The ‘traditional’ way of doing things is to hook up the signal to the outer lug, and by using the middle lug (the moving part) you can dial in how much of that volume you want. In this case, the pot works as a power divider. But it can be done in a different way. If you hook up the pickup to the middle lug, the amount of load ‘behind’ the input is what causes the decrease of volume when you roll down your volume. This wiring is called the ‘independent volume mod,’ because in the middle position you are now allowed to dial in the exact tone you want without sacrificing volume. In theory this might sound neat, but it does take out a huge amount of your high end.

Gibson '50s Wiring

The Les Paul 50s wiring is what it’s actually all about. That particular schematic focusses on the tone pot/volume pot relationship. As with the volume pot, there are two ways of wiring up the tone pot. I’m not talking about the entire filter (there are more ways that lead to Rome!) but how the two are connected.

Modern Les Paul Wiring

The modern way is to hook the tone pot up to the outer lug of the volume pot. The 50s version is to wire it up to the central lug of the volume pot. Is there a ‘best way’? It really depends on your guitar, pickups and playing style. The modern version will maintain the overall volume better when you roll down the volume but at the cost of losing a bit of high end. If you have a bright pickup that may not seem that bad of an idea, because with less volume and the same amount of treble the tone might be too piercing. On the other hand, the 50s version keeps the amount of treble the same but drops a bit in volume as soon as you roll down the tone pot.

What you might prefer is very much subject to personal preferences. I’m very fond of the Les Paul 50s wiring myself. Once I discovered it, I modded almost all of my guitars to have this version. The highs seem to be clearer, especially with the volume pot rolled back.

If you want to read even more about the different ways of wiring up a tone pot, click here. For information on guitar pickups for Les Pauls, check out these articles:

Choosing Neck Pickups For A Les Paul

Choosing A Bridge Pickup For Your Les Paul

Join the Conversation


  1. The diagrams were good, except as a novice I cannot read how you’ve hooked up the ground wires. I thought that a ground was supposed to be connect to the top of each of the four pots then soldered to a bridge. Also, in a Les Paul, where would one find the area to solder the bridge ground to?

  2. Found that some 10 years ago, and it was a revelation. The thing is, that a lot of people I know play Les Pauls (or any guitar) with pots full open. That is so limiting… You have endless sounds on a LP, as long as wiring is right. Two volume and two tone pots…endless possibilities… I used to set up my sound on a LP as a three channel amp… neck is clean, mid position is crunch, and treble pickup for lead… But the wiring is essential…
    Since then, my playing took a whole new turn. Tested and proved… My faded special LP with 50’s wiring sounded much closer to my 57 Goldtop reissue then my 2008 standard with modern wiring… And when I replaced Burstbuckers Pro with BB 1 & 2, liked it even more.
    That’s why I prefer a dedicated volume pot for each pickup.

    1. yes —
      agreee with more hi and lo’s control. can’t seem to get the mix out completely as you would in the original dedicated vol. knobs.

    2. really? I have LP Reissue and I hate this guitar. Dirty, muddy, neck leaking into the bridge. I tried to get rid of neck pickups and it sounded much cleaner but too sharp. I’m thinking of swap to SD pickups and modern wiring

    1. It is short for potentiometer, and people have always called it that. And why would the year make any difference?

        1. Actually a potentiometer is different from a variable resistor. A potentiometer taps off of the voltage drop. A variable resistor is created by shorting the wiper to one end of the pot. Yes, you can quibble about the semantics and how it works, but this is the normal usage.

          1. Wouldn’t that mean it’s a potentiometer when all three lugs are used and a variable resistor when only the wiper and one outside lug is used? So the volume is a Pot and the tone is variable resistor.

    2. maybe call the pots the “round thingies” or “louder softer” controls . which reminds me i have to buy some 250 Kohm round thingies for my next telecaster build . check “egotripband” tunes on youtube on how to Not play lead . rockon potentiometer people

    3. yes i also wonder why people call the pots pots
      they should call them pots not pots
      and also amps strats pauls teles

    4. they should call it
      a three-terminal resistor with a sliding or rotating contact that forms an adjustable voltage divider. If only two terminals are used, one end and the wiper, it acts as a variable resistor or rheostat.

    5. Pot stands for potentiometers. What’s the problem? What do you want to call them?

  3. Modern wiring allows you to isolate the tone controls from each other by backing off the volume controls (and turning up the amp.) So you can roll off the treble on one pickup but preserve it on the other. There’s a variety of good tones in that.
    I don’t see that the wiring of the tone pot would be a factor, a person could use a switch to change from vintage to modern, and have both available.

    1. it does make a difference in how the tone pot is wired. I have had both ways and vintage definitely sounds better… in both cases the tone pots are isolated just in vintage tone is affected AFTER volume and modern it is affected before the volume. so in essence in modern you are changing the R/C formula BEFORE volume which in effects alters the R/C formula cause the output resistance gets changed… in vintage the pickup volume is changed before hitting the R/C tone so no matter the input volume, the output R/C formula will remain consistent. That allows you to keep the brightness since it isn’t being affected by resistance after the fact

  4. want even better tone and less volume drop on the tone control with vintage wiring??.. use real pio caps!! big fat bumble bee’s are the best!!

    1. just dont waste your money on the new gibson bumblebees cause they are NOT PIO they are in fact film caps in a bumblebee wrapper ( thats right gibson is doing people dry without lube on yet more products not just the guitars because of the name on the headstock

  5. so there’s no need of a treble bleed this way
    i made my les paul like that yesterday
    i should play it for about a week
    and then decide if i like it

  6. I am thinking about changing the wiring in my guitar. What are some of the better 50s wiring kits for Les Pauls?

    1. No need for a kit to switch to ’50s wiring – just move some things around like shown above.

  7. I have a 2014 R-9 Les Paul with bumblebee caps and I have a pre historic ’57 gold top reissue with Antiquities and the little drop shaped caps. The new guitar cleans up with the volume right away if the tone is rolled back, i mean it cleans up at about 8 rather then 2-3 like it does with the tone rolled off. The gold top doesn’t clean up until about 2-3 regardless of were the tone is. Is the difference because of the bumble bee caps?

    1. It could very well be the caps, but it could also be the taper of the volume pots themselves. There’s a good chance the taper on your Historic is more linear than that of your 2014.

  8. I prefer the Jimmy Page wiring. Phase and coil splitting along with the tone and volume controls gives an infinite amount of possibilities.

  9. Nice I tried this 50s wiring seems ok at first cause it make the tone clearer indeed but it lacks that punch. compared to the modern, in the end I ended back to modern wiring

  10. Just put the Slash set in one of my LP’s a few days ago and decided to change out the caps for some orange drops while I was in there. Well I just happened upon this article and man am I glad that I did because after getting the pickup height adjusted for the sweet spot and then getting a nice balance between the strings it started to get a bit too muddy when I’d roll the volume back at all. There’s so much more control with the 50’s style wiring and it cleans up so well at low volumes now and there’s so many more tonal variations to be had (good ones, not just “more of them”).
    I don’t understand why this wouldn’t be the default wiring design.

    1. Some people (a lot, actually) don’t like the way the volumes & tones interact with 50s wiring. Good thing for use is that it is easy to switch back and forth, unless you have everything on a PC board.

      1. The best thing anyone can do is get rid of the awful pots that Gibson uses and put a high quality pot in to replace it like the bourns pots.

  11. The hipsters seem to be awfully pretty impressed with themselves for changing their guitars over to the 50s wiring, next week the cool thing for them to do will be something else.

    1. No..Not really..If you want to sound a little more like a real burst. 50’s wiring would definitely be a step forward. Plus I love a quick clean-up 10 to 8, retaining the same amount of treble..Then roll down even more for a super quite approach..I have two Gibsons w/it, and it’s incredible..I’ve been holding off w/my R8, but am gonna go for it on that guitar next week. I’m a little nervous, because it is already a bright sounding instrument. I can see both sides and have been using both for years. Wish me luck. JGH, Nashville TN.

  12. The 50 Wiring is good if you don’t use your tone control and don’t use the middle position, with the 50s Wiring the tone control also acts as a volume control and all four controls act really funky in the middle position because they interact with each other more so than with the Modern Wiring.
    If you like most players that leave your tone cranked up to 10 all the time then the 50s wiring is the way to go, but if you like to use your tone controls then go with the Modern wring, unless your pickups are muddy and dark sounding, then go with the 50s wiring, or better yet go with no tone control at all.

    1. Didn’t have those problems with the tone controls, they are very active in any setting and the tone can get crystal clear with certain settings. Maybe the pots are not grounded, check to see if they are, might be the problem.

    2. All the pros in the 60’s and 70’s w/bursts were constantly working their tones and volumes(50’s wiring). It’s very tight controls, you can’t turn them a half a turn, more like a number or two..Tons of tones. It’s all about finesse. And pedals weren’t needed back in the day to clean up a marshall. Personally, to me, modern wiring is for someone who never touches there controls, and keeps them on 10 (using clean, dirty, dirtier pedals) to sculpted there tone..I did it for years and still use pedals. But not for major tone sculpting, as I once did.

  13. Just modded my 2001 classic with the 50s’ wiring Seth pups and it sounds so much better I was surprised. When I put the Seths’ in I was disappointed and the guitar went back in the case for quite a while. Today I was going to put the Gibson 57 Classics back in it but decided to do some research on the best caps for those pups and came upon this article while searching. So on the bench I wired it up for the 50s configuration and actually took out the bridge then had second thoughts and put the Seth bridge back in. Glad I did! The tone just exploded and can dial in many colors. Thanks for the article Orpheo!

  14. My sound improved the most when I quit tinkering, took lessons, practiced better and added high end compressors to my rig. I can now recreate anything from Clapton to McGuinn effortlessly. The proof is in the hot women following me around after gigs begging for some.

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