Dialing in a G&L PTB and MFD Tone Circuit

As a long-time Fender guy I was accustomed to not messing around much with my volume and tone potentiometers: cranked open, set and forget. Any deviation resulted in tone suck. Switching to G&L guitars featuring the passive treble and bass (PTB) circuits and magnetic field design (MFD) pickups required a change in habits.

Not all G&L models feature both the PTB or MFD elements but models such as the Comanche and S-500 offer a whole lot ‘more’ than you might be used to from traditional designs: more highs, more lows, and more volume. Even the Legacy, though not equipped with MFD single coils or an expander switch, still benefits from the PTB tone controls that sets it apart from the standard offerings from the likes of Fender.

Play one of these guys and you’ll finally be putting your tone and volume pots to use. Here’s a quick and dirty guide to help the traditionalist along:

1a. Try simply rolling the volume back a little and see if a desired sweetness doesn’t emerge. A lot of times this will get you where you want without further ado.

Not yet?

1b. With the volume down on the guitar a bit simply drain off some bass or treble to your liking. If the tone of the guitar with the volume down isn’t doing it for you try again with the volume pot dimed, cutting off a bit of the top or bottom until you find the sound you like.

Not yet?

2a. Think ‘backwards’ – instead of starting with all your tone knobs maxed out, you might roll them back to zero and then dial ‘up’ to find the sound. Start with your volume rolled back a bit then dial in the amount of treble you want (you might only need to turn that pot to '2' or '3' or even a lot less than that) and then mix in as much bass as you like. Then adjust your volume up or down to where you want your rhythm volume. Once you adjust your volume again you might fine-tune the bass and then the treble again. If that didn’t get you where you want, try again with the volume knob dimed.

2b. Think like a recording engineer: instead of dialing in more treble, reduce the bass. Need more bass? Try reducing the treble control. One of the best sounds you can get from a G&L is the neck pickup with most of the bass cut – clear but still woody and robust.

Notice how much of this advice revolves around lowering the volume of the guitar. Find your riffing and chording tones with the volume down a bit, reserving 'full on' for leads.

On my Comanche, I can get a killer lead sound (with an 808-style overdrive) by turning the volume down to around '7' or '8' and putting the treble at only '1' or '2' and the bass all the way down or maybe at '1'. When it's time for the big solo or the sound guy is cramping your style you can just dime everything and, without a large increase in db, slice through with an aggressive, fat, and cutting lead.

Beyond just fiddling with the pots:

3. Adjust the pole pieces on the pickup – closer for hotter and louder.

Not yet?

4. Adjust the pickup heights – lower for less volume and an airier, sweeter tone.

By now, you should have found the sound you’re looking for or an all-new, groovy tone you never got from your other guitars.

The volume, treble, and bass pots interact somewhat dynamically so, if you’re one of those guys who cranks everything to ten and forgets about adjustments on the fly you might spend some time getting to know the wide palette of new sounds available to you – as well as those classic tones that are usually hidden just ‘beneath’ the surface of the bold, modern tones offered up by the models featuring the PTB and MFD systems.