Thursday, March 24, 2011

RS Guitarworks Les Paul Upgrade Kit: Product Review

Inexpensive pots and fake bumblebee caps. Boo!
    This is a long one so if you want the quick version,skip to the bottom.With so many great guitar mods around today,I couldn't possibly try every one on my own. Sometimes I just have to wait until a customer brings one into the shop. RS Guitarworks is a company that offers upgrade kits for various types of guitars,mostly stuff like Teles,Strats and Les Pauls. I was very interested when a customer brought in a Les Paul upgrade kit. I had read about them and many of their ideas were things I'd been preaching about for years; the taper of the pot is important,the value and type of the capacitor is important! Hallelujah brother! The reality of mass produced guitars is,they...
...don't always use the best parts. Even some of the most famous names in the business use whatever is cheapest or,if they're out of something,use whatever they have on hand. This Les Paul had volume pots that did almost nothing when you turned them down until you reached about 2 on the dial,then they turned almost immediately off. This is what us guitar geeks are talking about when we refer to the "taper" of a pot. Many people want the volume to "taper" evenly from 0 to 10 when turning the knob.
RS Guitarworks Les Paul upgrade kit.
   I think the reason that most people don't use their tone controls is they have never tried a guitar with the right potentiometer and capacitor combination. A good taper is also essential in a tone pot. The capacitor is the thing that soaks up the high end and turns that pot into a tone pot. They come in different values,that each soak up different amounts of high end. Combine a lousy pot taper with a cap that turns your guitar into useless mud,no wonder you think tone pots aren't cool!
Making a cardboard "jig" to hold the parts allows you to do most of the soldering outside the guitar!
   Along comes RS Guitarworks to the rescue. They provide different pots for volume and tone,all labeled. They get extra bonus points for two different capacitors,including the very cool .015 value for the neck. I wish this value cap was easier to find because it sounds great on a neck tone control. I get mine from my Arizona home boys at Antique Electronics,whose online home is  If you do your own soldering,you should find this easy enough,although the Gibson style of soldering the braided wire to the pots is not for first timers. Check out the photo for a cool tip on making a "jig" to hold the parts while soldering. As always,if you feel at all intimidated,support your local guitar tech! Sound wise this kit does everything it says it will. The volume pots work wonderfully at all points. The caps are well chosen and offer useful tones throughout it's range. Well done RS Guitarworks. This gets my thumbs up...with a caveat.
This owner borrowed an idea from Joe Bonamassa,two styles of knobs let you feel where you are,even on a dark stage.
   The upgrade kits are expensive. IF and only IF you have a qualified guitar tech near you,one who doesn't stare slack jawed when you mention potentiometer taper and capacitor value,please consider supporting your local guy. I stock high quality pots and caps and offer a selection of different styles. I could have gotten this customer the same level of quality for less money...if he had asked before ordering something on line.
Here are our new pots and caps,safe and sound.
  Another point to consider,don't get too caught up in brand name when shopping for pots. Those inexpensive pots we took out of the Gibson? Made by CTS. The really good pots made to RS Guitarworks specs? Made by CTS. Some of the really good pots I stock and recommend? Made by CTS. To make matters even more confusing,Allparts,where I get many of my parts,is getting into the custom taper potentiometer business and has started offering their own high end guessed it. Made by CTS. I haven't tried them yet but I'll be ordering in some soon. The point is,CTS will make what ever quality level you ask for.
  To sum things up,the RS Guitarwoks upgrade kit is excellent if a bit expensive and if you have a good local guitar tech,support him.


Anonymous said...

Hey I was looking for reviews on the RS pots and caps for my new Les Paul with BB Pros when I found this. Great write up!
So you mentioned I could get equavalent pots and caps for less money. Would you mind pointing me In the right direction and part numbers etc?
Also, have you ever done magnet swaps? I'm thinking about tossing an A8 in the Burstbucker pro bridge to see how it does. This will be after I tinker with the caps and stuff though.
My email is paulhartrocks at gmail dot com if you'd rather write. I'll check back here a few times and see if you are monitoring though.

billy / said...

My name's Billy, and I'm the Head Guitar Tech at RS Guitarworks. I just read your review, and it is an accurate review. I would like to shed some light on a few of your comments...

It is true that CTS makes pots for alot of guitar manufacturers AND parts suppliers. However:

• Potentiometers are sold to those companies by their "tolerance"...that is, how close to their 'advertised' value (500K, for example) are the pots really in relation to what they read on a meter, and, how much does a company or parts supplier want to spend on the level ("tolerance") of quality. The lower the cost, the lower the tolerance.

• RS Guitarworks currently gets their pots from CTS at the HIGHEST tolerance that CTS offers, and this service is NOT cheap. So, they next time you buy a '500K' pot, and you put it on a meter and it reads "400K", it's because whoever bought the pots bought them at a 20% tolerance. It's easier for CTS to sell the pots that "didn't quite make" the target value at a lower cost. Why is that important? The amount of treble loss with a 400K pot vs. a 500K pot...or MUD!!!

• RS Guitarworks DEVELOPED the unique taper of the RS SuperPot. It is not an audio taper, it is not a linear taper, but something COMPLETELY ORIGINAL. The engineers at CTS scoffed at the taper initially, and a few HUNDRED THOUSAND pots later, we get to have the last laugh. But, in the development of the RS SuperPot, there was involved the high costs of tooling from CTS. Again, it is not cheap to design and develop a completely unique pot taper from scratch to THOUSANDS of the finished product.

• Most of the potentiometers in a guitar are either audio taper, or linear taper, or a combination of both. In the review posted by Mr. Clark, the pots described sound more like linear pots to me --- no taper whatsoever, and then 'off' like a switch at '2'. Audio taper pots are better than linear for Volumes, but still have tone and roll-off issues of their own.

• At RS Guitarworks, we use 3 different caps, each with its own tone 'signature', or how it affects the guitar's tone just by being in the circuit. If a guitar is bright, we have a cap for it. If a guitar is dark, we have a cap for that. Country player? We have a cap. Metal? We have a cap. In short, pots and caps DEFINITELY affect the tone of a guitar, and these caps (again) cost much more than your typical 10¢-cap available at Radio Shack™...have a look in your Gibson or Fender (or any major manufacturer), and I'll bet you you'll find a cap that looks eerily similar to those available at Radio Shack™. It is absolutely criminal for a company to charge $2000 for a guitar that has the cheapest electronics available in it.

Yes, the RS Guitarworks upgrade kits are expensive. We have incurred great expense to develop the highest quality guitar Volume pot available...not just in quality, but also in response, feel, and TONE. The RS electronics transform your guitar into high performance instrument, no matter the manufacturer or the guitar's price level…

Parting shot: if you take your guitar to a tech, wanting to improve the electronics, and he says "…pots & caps don't matter, that's all B.S…", TURN AROUND AND WALK OUT THE DOOR!!!