Cheap Vs. Expensive Guitar Pots (What’s The Difference)

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Guitar potentiometers, otherwise known as guitar pots, control the volume and tone of your guitar. In other words, they are a pretty important part of your guitar because if they aren’t working properly, you won’t be able to control your volume or adjust your tone.

When determining if you should upgrade your current guitar pots, an important question is whether you should choose a cheap or expensive option.

So, what’s the difference between cheap and expensive guitar pots?

For all practical purposes, there are not many differences between cheap and expensive guitar pots. However, the more expensive, name-brand pots will potentially last longer, perform better, and be more reliable overall than the cheaper products available on the market.

Below, I will discuss what a guitar pot actually is and why it is so important to have solid functioning pots, as well as some of the differences between cheap and expensive pots to help you make an informed purchasing decision.

What Is A Guitar Pot?

According to Wikipedia, guitar pot is a terminal variable resistor that can adjust the tone or volume of your guitar by either increasing or decreasing resistance when you turn the knob. As the pot is turned, the wiper moves and makes electrical contact with a given area, corresponding to a volume or tone change.

Some guitars, like many Gretsch models, including my Gretsch that you can see in the photo below, have several pots, in this case, four. In fact, there are so many pots on my Gretsch that I often have to refer back to the manual to remember which is which!


Other guitars, like the ESP Arrow, feature only one pot to control volume and nothing for tone control.

Regardless of how many pots a guitar has, it is crucial that they all work correctly. Otherwise, you will have serious issues when recording or on stage.

Guitar pots are one of those components that are often not given much thought until they aren’t working correctly, at which point it can become quite a serious issue.

The only real difference between volume and tone pots is that tone pots have a capacitor (cap), which essentially regulates which frequencies are allowed to pass through.

If you want to learn more about the nuances of guitar pots, check out the fantastic video below that provides a detailed look into what guitar pots are and how they function.

Guitar Pot Considerations

Changing out guitar pots can be done at home, but it can be tricky and does require a few tools. The video below presents an excellent tutorial on how to do this at home. When in doubt, it is a good idea to take your guitar to a guitar shop to change your old pots for new ones.

I have never changed or upgraded guitar pots on my guitars, but it is a common practice among guitarists and could be something you should consider doing. Before doing this, Sweetwater states there are a few considerations that are worth mentioning.

Consideration #1: Resistance Level

One of the most important considerations when determining if you should upgrade your guitar pots is the resistance level of the pots. While there are some other resistance sizes, the two most common options are 250k and 500k, although there are some other options available.

It is traditionally agreed upon that 250k tends to work best with single coil pickups, like those found on most Stratocasters and Telecasters, whereas 500k pots work best with humbuckers like you tend to find on Gibson Les Pauls and SGs. This is because humbuckers are designed versus single coil pickups (see video below for details on this).

Usually, you can expect a darker, warmer tone with 250k pots compared to 500k pots, which provide a brighter tone. 250k pots have lower resistance, which means some of the higher-range frequencies will be lost compared to the higher-resistance 500k pots.

The video below provides an excellent comparison between 250 and 500k pots. Further, the video also explains that they tend to put 500k pots in every guitar, even those with single coil pickups.

Consideration #2: Tapering

There are two main types of tapering that are used in guitar pots; audio and linear. You will be able to determine the difference as audio pots are marked “A” and linear pots are marked “B.”

Which type you choose is a matter of personal preference, but typically audio pots are preferred as their volume changes tend to work better with how the human ear perceives sound.

The video below provides a good comparison of audio vs. linear pots, which can help you decide which is best for you.

Consideration #3: Physical Size

In general, there are two main size considerations when dealing with guitar pots. Guitar pots either come with a long shaft or a short shaft.  The main factor here is how thick the guitar body is or if the pots are mounted directly to the pickguard.

You may run into some other size considerations that could even result in you having to enlarge the hole for the shafts to go through. The second video above about how to change guitar pots discusses this in more detail.

What Makes A Guitar Pot Cheap Vs. Expensive?

Unlike other stock features, like guitar strings, the stock pots that come with your guitar will usually work well. If you buy a cheap guitar, you might expect cheap pots and poor wiring, but the stock guitar pots should be fine. However, if you want to upgrade your pots, you should know some pros and cons of cheap and expensive pots.

For the most part, guitar pots will be manufactured the same, so parts-wise, there is a small difference between cheap and expensive pots. This means that the biggest difference between cheap and expensive pots is reliability.

Some performance issues you might encounter are a loss of higher frequencies, especially when the volume is low, abrupt volume changes when turning up or down, or scratchy-sounding pots when turning the knob.

Usually, scratchy pots are simply due to dust and grime build-up, but sometimes it can mean something is wrong with the pots. A recent post on Seymour Duncan’s website states that if you move your scratchy pots back and forth and the sound starts to go away, they need to be cleaned. If the scratchy sound doesn’t go away or sounds more like a clicking sound, the pots will likely need to be replaced.

Which Should You Choose?

Below I have provided a short list of pros and cons of both cheap and expensive guitar pots to help you decide which pots you should buy.

Expensive Pro#1: They Aren’t That Expensive

The good news is that guitar pots are not pricey, unlike guitars or bass guitars. Even the most expensive pots won’t cost you much more than $100.

The most expensive guitar pots currently available on Sweetwater are all for EMG active pick-up model guitars and range in price between $79 and $99. Familiar names like Fender, Gibson, and Seymour Duncan pots are all between $25 and $80.

Expensive Pro#2: Reliability

It is a safe bet that if you are spending over $25 on a guitar pot from a reputable brand, you will receive a quality product that is reliable and will perform well.

Regarding guitar pots, because even the expensive products aren’t too expensive, it makes a lot of sense to opt for the higher-end products to ensure high performance and reliability.

Expensive Con#1: Costs Can Add Up

Although the higher-end guitar pots are not that expensive compared to other music accessories, if you own a guitar with several pots, like my Gretsch, opting for several expensive guitar pots will be fairly pricey.

Further, for those who are not super confident of their soldering skills, like me, there are numerous pre-wired kits available, but these are going to be quite a bit more expensive than individual guitar pots, often ranging well over $100 and even up close to $500.

Cheap Pro #1: Extremely Affordable

If the expensive guitar pots were affordable, the cheap pots are extremely affordable. There are many options for individual pots for under $10, so you can’t really go wrong at this price. If you mess up the soldering process or ruin a pot, or you buy a faulty pot, it isn’t going to cost you much to buy another pot.

Cheap Pro #2: Still Pretty Reliable

Most of the cheap pots currently available on Sweetwater are made by Fender, so you know you are buying from a reputable and trustworthy company.

I do not have a con listed for the cheap guitar pots because, in my opinion, there really isn’t a downside to trying out some of the cheaper pots. You will only be out a few bucks if the pot is faulty. The potential upside is far greater than the downside regarding cheap guitar pots.


Guitar pots are a vital but sometimes overlooked component of your guitar. Without a high-functioning guitar pot, you will run into all sorts of reliability and sound issues while playing, recording, or performing.

I hope you have found this article beneficial and better understand what guitar pots are, how they operate, and some of the slight differences between cheap and expensive pots.

Until next time, stay creative and keep on playing!