Bumblebees - how do I tell if I need 'em?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by WordMan, Dec 25, 2004.

  1. WordMan

    WordMan Member

    Messages:
    1,344
    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2004
    Okay, so I finally have a non-Master Volume amp - I know, welcome to reality.

    Anyway, I am - for the first time - actually using the pots on my guitar with some regularity.

    I know that the old Sprague Bumblebees are supposed to be more musical than recent, more efficient caps. But how can I tell if my guitar needs upgraded caps? What specifically should I listen for? Is there a "trick" where if you try to get Clapton's Woman Tone and play a certain note and it sounds flat and doesn't sing, that probably means time for an upgrade?

    Clue me in!

    Also - would an RS kit be sufficient for this?
     
  2. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

    Messages:
    13,080
    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2002
    Location:
    Scotland
    You don't. That's how you tell.

    :)

    The cap type makes little or no difference to the tone when used in a simple passive treble-pass circuit, like a guitar tone control.

    There may be very subtle tiny differences, most noticable when the tone control is right down, and probably not at all when it's full up - but these may have as much to do with the aging and changing values of old caps as much as the type.

    You can experiment with different types and values if you like - they aren't expensive, and you can build 'composite' values by adding caps in parallel, if you can't get the exact one you want - eg if you want .015uF for example, you can add a .01 and a .005 (.0047 is the standard specified value). Also remember that caps typically have a wider tolerance than most other electonic parts - +/- 20% is not uncommon.

    Different cap types certainly do make a difference in high-voltage, fairly high-signal applications (like in amps), but I'd say the only time it would be worth using expensive vintage caps in a guitar is when restoring a genuine vintage one.
     
  3. WordMan

    WordMan Member

    Messages:
    1,344
    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2004
    John Phillips - on one hand, it sounds like you know *much* more about electronics that certainly I do. Especially considering that I know zilch. nada. nuthin'.

    On the other hand, from what you have posted, it sounds like you aren't commenting on the infamous Bumblebee caps from the old 50's Les Paul Sunbursts. You basically say "caps aren't that big of a deal - play around and figure out what you like," and in concept I am cool with that. But for BB's specifically, they have a reputation as really contributing the the tone of the LP 'burst - they "leak" or something in a musical way - just like tubes compress and fail in a musical way in an amp - so when Clapton rolled down the tone on his neck pickup thru a Marshall Bluesbreaker he got his Woman Tone....

    So:

    1) Assuming you are aware of all the hype around these old caps - any point of view? Is it just hype?

    2) I hear that RS kits have the same "musicality" as the old BB's - if you say it is just hype, then I guess I needn't worry....
     
  4. John Phillips

    John Phillips Member

    Messages:
    13,080
    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2002
    Location:
    Scotland
    I am specifically talking about the Sprague 'Bumblebee' caps used in old Les Pauls and other vintage Gibsons. Yes, I'm aware of their reputation.


    If you have an old Gibson that needs restoring (and can be got to a worthwhile level of originality), pay whatever it takes to get the right caps in it. Someone will care if you sell it, and it adds to the 'mojo' of the thing. It may even affect the tone in a small way.

    If you don't, use a modern cap. You may want to play around with values, since this does make a difference. You may even want to play around with types, which may make a smaller difference. But there's no point in paying an excessive amount of money for a specific vintage-type cap which is extremely far from the most important reason those old guitars sound the way they do.

    It may contribute, but you won't get vintage LP tone from a modern guitar by using them.

    This is just my opinion :).


    FWIW, I restored a '57 LP Junior some years ago. I did get hold of an old Bumblebee cap - I got it out of a radio or something I think. It looked dead cool in the cavity, and made no difference to the tone that I could hear. The guitar sounded great with the other cap too...

    I'm also not sure what special 'musicality' RS kits contain. They use standard high-quality pots, switches, caps and wiring as far as I can tell. That's all you need. Buying the kit is a convenient way of getting everything in one package.
     
  5. WordMan

    WordMan Member

    Messages:
    1,344
    Joined:
    Dec 18, 2004
    Hey thanks - JP - I appreciate your taking the time.
     
  6. Jim Collins

    Jim Collins Member

    Messages:
    1,940
    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2002
    Location:
    Pleasanton, CA
    I think the last time I looked at RS, the kits contained Mallory 150 caps. I have Mallory 150 caps in one of my guitars. I happened to have some left over from an amp project, and they were the only ones I had in the value I wanted, so I used them. Frankly, I don't hear a difference between these any other caps (of the same value) I have used.
     
  7. serial

    serial Member

    Messages:
    2,263
    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2003
    Location:
    Central Pennsyltucky
    JP is right on. No way you'll be able to tell the diff. If the values are the same-absolutely not. There are too many other variables in a guitar that will change the tone more radically. You will not get "instant woman tone" by dropping any caps, pots, pickups, etc. That's a myth propogated by the sheep-like masses on some of these guitar geek bbs.
     

Share This Page