Busting Tone Control Capacitor Myths!

Discussion in 'Tonefreaks' started by Bytor1958, Feb 7, 2014.

  1. David Collins

    David Collins Senior Member

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    I hate to bite on the troll bait, but since this was pretty obviously a dig at me...

    First let's look at your love of using the word "scientific". To begin with, I never purported to conduct a "scientific analysis of tone caps". As much as I'd love to, this would involve a lot more in the way of test equipment, material research, electrical engineering expertise, time in the lab, etc, than I could afford to dedicate to an inquiry such as this.

    So your repeated criticisms of my testing as not being scientific enough is really quite baffling. First is because I do not recall me claiming my work to be a 'scientific test', although I do believe I did a decent job in following the basic principles of scientific method (within limitations of time and resources I was willing or able to devote to this work). Still this alone does not make for a perfect or ideal scientific test, which is why I never attempted to sell it as such.

    Secondly, with your repeated assertions that my results are not credible because the tests were not 'scientific enough', one can only assume that you value reliable science so greatly that you demand a higher degree of scientific validation on which to take a firm position. Please tell me then, since you seem to hold the highest scientific standards as the benchmark by which to judge my conclusions, on what tests of superior scientific standards do you anchor your position behind? You seem quite firm that my conclusions are "crap", and my methods not to be scientific enough for your standards, so where is the scientific testing which renders my conclusions as invalid and yours to be true? Surely with the standards you seem to hold for good evidence you must have some you can share with me.

    I may be going out on a limb here, but what the heck. If I conducted the exact same tests as presented here, and the results came back with a statistically significant positive identification of different dielectrics, I have a hunch that you would be much more likely to embrace my tests as reliable validation (perhaps even 'scientific' validation) of your personal position. At the very least, I'd bet you would not be so vociferously attacking the test methods.

    This of course leads to a hypothesis that it is not the test methods which bother you so much, but rather that the results do not align well with your predispositions on the matter. Let's test that hypothesis by looking back at other posts and discussions since you've joined which argue cap type does make a difference, based on casual anecdotes and comparisons with virtually no reasonable attempts at good controls or being remotely 'scientific'. Give me a minute.....



    Nope. There are plenty of posts arguing in favor of cap differences which fall fathoms below my loose standards of scientific inquiry. If lack of adherence to high scientific standards were indeed your primary motivation for criticizing my tests, no doubt you would have tore some of these other posters to shreds due to their complete irreverence toward objective scientific testing. I suppose this must leave me to conclude that you're not raising such a stink because I violated the sanctity of science, but rather just because you didn't like my results.

    I'm telling you (though I don't quite know why anymore), that I have done near everything I can to prove cap material does make a difference, and have borrowed the ears of some pretty great players in hopes of finding someone who can in a well controlled blind test. It is only in my failure to be able to find anyone able to identify a difference, that I have been left to conclude that even if there is a difference, it must be much, much, much smaller than the changes so many purport to hear. So small in fact as to be considered insignificant.

    Back to what I ask of you though (evidence which does meet your high scientific standards), I also have to inquire - since you would never consult a guitar repairman for their experience on such issues, who would you go to? This topic came up over lunch with Lindy Fralin a few months ago, and his position was the same as my own. It came up when I was at the bar with Seymour Duncan some years back, and he'll tell you it's a load of crap. Jim Rolph didn't give much credence to the influence of cap type when he presented in a seminar at our shop some time ago. Joe Glaser and I have had some good discussions on testing methods for this issue as well as others. I'll be presenting at a seminar with Roger Sadowsky in a few months, and could ask his opinion on the matter if you like (pretty sure I already know what he'll say). And Dan Erlewine was pretty impressed with my methods when he spent a few days in my shop last year. If my opinion is worthless to you, as well as those of my colleagues who happen to agree with me, then who's advice exactly would you seek as the final word? Not trying to just name drop here, but these are my colleagues who I've spent time with, truly top experts in their fields, and I know their positions on this are the same as the conclusions I've finally come to. If the positions of top experts and / or those who have gone out of their way to do honest, unbiased controlled testing mean nothing to you, then who would you consult with?

    My guess - anyone who you know will reinforce your predispositions, regardless of the merits of evidence on which they've arrived at their position.
     
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  2. yeti

    yeti Senior Member

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    It ends in argument for one reason alone, the same reason that vintage guitar owners think that their axes are better, the same reason that analog tape is still being used, the same reason why the "cool kids" do what they do to be different, etc.
    it's ingrained into the psyche. "I know the secret and you don't, if you don't get it, I'm not going to explain it to you". Note the word "explain", because that's where the "believers" always fall short. they can question the science but they never explain anything. It's funny, really.
     
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  3. yeti

    yeti Senior Member

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    Great post, David. I wish you could expand on this model and put a few more guitar-related so-called truisms under the microscope. May I suggest "top-wrapping vs regular"?:cool:
     
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  4. Kalz

    Kalz Senior Member

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    Hey.. I don't like your tone!

    :naughty:



    Also I didn't know we can get this in depth about tone caps :eek:
     
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  5. David Collins

    David Collins Senior Member

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    Like many threads of this nature, I think we left the core topic of tone capacitors behind long ago. By this point it has instead become a case study on psychology, reasoning, and debate.
     
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  6. HogmanA

    HogmanA Senior Member

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    [SC][/SC]
    I'm trying to reconcile my experiences with all that you believe/ have tested, and it's very difficult.

    How about: both camps on each side of the debate are correct, because as bling stated earlier, it changes feel which some players interpret as sound (because practically it does change the sound), and other players/ listeners use only their ears and so it sounds identical.

    Having said that, I have my own recordings were amp, guitar the same but different caps and I can even hear the difference there, but it would certainly not be accepted by this forum as the change was coi cidental.

    The topic is not yet closed, even if the debate cannot go any further at present. I am not in a position to at the moment, but I will record the differences in as controlled way as possible.
     
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  7. freefrog

    freefrog Senior Member

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    Exceptionally, I answer from the place where I work, during a pause.

    When I test caps and talk about them, I don't think to know a secret: with a perplexity which feeds my curiosity, I face the mystery of components which appear to behave differently according to their singularities (all caps being not equal even in the same batch) and to the context.

    When I do that (since 2003), I don't "believe" anything: I try to understand why these small components appear to affect the tone in an unexpected way in my experience.

    The fact that I question science instead of trying to explain my findings appears as totally logical to me: I'm waiting a scientific explanation based on unseen parameters and/or on random /variable factors which could explain why there's apparently two "realities" in our human experiences.

    Actually, as my Professional and familial environment includes engineers and teachers in electronics (and students invited to work on tone caps) I have already a couple of possible theoretical explanations Under my belt.
    I keep them for me because
    1) it remains a "work in progress" and posting prematurate conclusions wouldn't be a sign of wisdom and intellectual honesty;
    2) I wait someone else to develop independantly these explanations by himself, sooner or later. It would be a nice "double check"... But it didn't happen until now.

    Right now, I think that psychology, reasoning and debate become the real subject of such discussions as soon as the words "tone capacitors" are wrote. It's like writing "politics" or "religion": the promise of a fight, with expected bipolarization and previsible answers which often tend to caricature and humiliate other people...

    As I said in the other iteration of this topic, it's only online that I notice so hot and hardened arguments on this topic: nor my family nor my colleagues vilify my experiences and experiments in the name of science. On the contrary, they find the subject interesting.
     
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  8. Brocko

    Brocko Senior Member

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    I wouldn't belittle your efforts david - you used the scientific method and considered the pitfalls - that makes it science - just cos you don't (i assume) have a degree from MIT doesn't mean it is not science.

    The dumbest thing about the criticism you reacted against is its own hypocrisy. The scientists get slated for debasing the argument down to lab experiments, then they get slated for not being scientific enough.

    Nikolai Tesla could come back from his grave and set up a task force made up of the wisest brains in electronics, with billions of dollars of funding and certain posters here would still find reasons to pick apart their findings.
     
  9. freefrog

    freefrog Senior Member

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    Would Faraday conclude that caps all sound the same in a guitar? Maybe yes. And maybe not. I don’t know.
    But what I know for sure is that mutual oppositions make impossible any objective and useful discussion about caps.
     
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  10. Brocko

    Brocko Senior Member

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    Yes, notice i didn't make an assumption on what results Tesla would find, just hinted that if certain posters this thread didn't agree with them then they would probably argue and challenge his 'expertise'.

    My own thoughts on the matter were fairly concrete before i ever got involved in this debate, but since reviewing evidence put forward by yourself and others i willing to accept there is things going on we don't understand.

    I would still continue to advise anyone who asked ME for advice that i don't think cap material alone makes any real difference but there is still some debate on the matter.
     
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  11. QReuCk

    QReuCk Senior Member

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    Actually, the graphs you've posted page 2 kind of tell us a lot about the subject. The main difference relies in the THD, which would imply:
    1° there is a difference
    2° this difference lies more in the generation of harmonic distortion than in a linear filter effect.
    3° as you can see, the difference isn't "one type of cap generates more THD than another", but rather "the THD distribution other the frequency range differs from one cap to another". This doesn't help at all a bling player to accurately identify a cap type over another unless he knows what to listen too (with was pitch the difference will go in one direction or another).

    My opinion is kind of mixed between David's and your's now: there is a measurable difference, but this difference isn't consistant enough through the tonal range of the instrument for a player to really identify it for sure. As I'm pleased with the tone I get from my guitars which have tone caps (which are ceramics), I don't really see why I would change them anyway.
     
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  12. Batman

    Batman Senior Member

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    BINGO!

    I have my own opinion on this topic but I refuse to wade into it because I have neither the time nor inclination to construct a bullet proof argument and/or offer the proof that my opinion is valid. (It does make for a highly thought provoking thread if you are not part of the argument and are willing to put aside your personal prejudices and listen to the relevant data and testing)

    At the end of the day, I like what I hear from using certain caps over others. Is this due to their construction or to my own prejudices? I honestly can't say. Is it because the guitar pickup circuit is an RC circuit complicated by inductance? I honestly don't have the knowledge to formulate an opinion. I do have a preference and I have consistently (within my own small sample size) picked my preference blind. This is all of the evidence *I* need to satisfy my personal quest for tone. I do not feel spending $10 for a capacitor is excessive or this amount has caused me to regret the purchase and create an internal psychological need to like this choice but I am no expert not do I claim to be. I am simply a tonefreek guitar player happy with my personal tone.
     
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  13. yeti

    yeti Senior Member

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    Freefrog, my earlier post that you quoted was most certainly not directed at you, just to clarify.
    There is nothing wrong with questioning the science, coming to different conclusions and having a debate about this. Your contributions to these discussions seem logical as you explain your viewpoint (very thoughtful,BTW.) It's the lack of effort to explain anything, as evidenced in some posts here that my comment was about.
     
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  14. yeti

    yeti Senior Member

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    I'm convinced that a lot of folks would do that even if Gibson made a Historic and installed vintage electronics, found in an old box from an attic of a former Gibson employee in Kalamazoo, and didn't tell anyone about it. :D
     
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  15. madryan

    madryan Senior Member

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    One thing I know from building amps for people. Your ears lie to you.

    Electrical components behave differently as they change parameters (heat, current flowing through them, etc.)

    I'd much rather use quality, quiet components than pine over "vintage mojo" or some crap because nobody likes a noisy amp.

    It really doesn't matter what sort of caps I use in an amp provided what I use is appropriate for the application. The real "mojo" in a circuit happens when you get the circuit all done and start tweaking little values here and there to get the thing the last 5% of the way there. Tone caps aren't really any different whether you're talking a guitar or an amp.

    I lol'd that someone equated Gibson with corksniffery for pushing caps that can be had from Tube Depot for $.50 or so.
     
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  16. David Collins

    David Collins Senior Member

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    Very good points, and I thank you for remaining reasonable and contributing to civil discussion (in a contentious topic), when I have to admit to becoming a bit hot headed myself and digging trenches in knee-jerk response to less reasonable challenges.

    Here's a story that repeats itself regularly in my shop.

    Great players can be quite picky and particular, and when they have an instrument serviced it's common that they want to make every effort to ensure the setup is as ideal as possible. This often means that when they come to pick up an instrument we go through a test and tweak phase where minute final adjustments are done directly with the player.

    There are several cases in memory where this back and forth tweaking has been done, only to end up at exactly - and I mean exactly - where the setup was when they first came to try it out.

    Now here's the kicker - even though I know that nothing I adjusted in the fine tuning could have possibly effected tone, as we just went through a circle of adjustments which ended exactly at where we began, the instrument still sounds notably better in the end. I'm not just saying the player hears it as better because of any placebo effect, as I hear a notable change as well, even though I know full well that nothing on the instrument has changed at all.

    My theory has always been quite simple with this. In these cases the instrument sounds better because the player, having achieved a new level of confidence and comfort that it is truly tweaked and proven to the most ideal adjustments for them, are now embracing and engaging with the instrument in a different way that inevitably follows through to affect the tone.

    I like to openly distinguish in these cases that I really don't think it's the instrument or the final adjustments I did which improved the tone, but rather that it's the player themselves that is where the magic is coming from. Bonding with an instrument in a new way, whether final tweaks, new aesthetic trims, or having the caps you always wanted, these can all add up to make a very real difference when the fingers touch the strings. This is why I'm not the least bit against buying boutique electronics if you like them, even if I don't believe they have any direct influence on tone. If you engage with a tweed covering more enthusiastically than a black Tolex amp, by all means, go for the tweed. As a technician however, I just like to have as good an understanding as possible as to what the underlying causes of change are, so that I can better advise my clients and predict results.

    And I have to add the note that I am excited and intrigued by FreeFrogs testing and results. What I've seen so far still wouldn't support what some claim to hear of night and day changes from creamy to warm to harsh to bright, but those aren't points he seems to be interested in. If the subtle changes he's observed prove to be accurate and repeatable under particular circumstances, then I will certainly revisit my position of absolutely no difference of any significance. I'm actually looking at purchasing a new FFT system (currently leaning toward Faber Acoustical Signal Scope Pro, in case anyone has any better suggestions) for some other testing, and have made a few exciter coils and pulled out some of my old tone generators to experiment with. My current project isn't focused on tone caps, but I will be better equipped to approach the study from a different angle than before, should I decide to return to this issue in the future.
     
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  17. Brocko

    Brocko Senior Member

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    Case closed Columbo
     
  18. HogmanA

    HogmanA Senior Member

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    Lol. No.
     
  19. Brocko

    Brocko Senior Member

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    Please god yes.
     
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  20. Brocko

    Brocko Senior Member

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    The Devil was bored once so he put on a hat that was coloured red on one side and green on the other. He met two men in the street and told them some gold was buried under a tree in the woods, but they would need many man to retrieve it.

    So the men ran to the town to recruit - the first said that a man wearing a red hat told them where some gold was buried and he needed help to get it. The second man agreed but questioned the colour of the hat and insisted it was green. They argued and pretty soon the whole village was arguing about the colour of the hat. Two sides were formed and a huge fight ensued.

    A few years later the village was split in 2 with both sides bitterly hating each other but everyone had forgotten about the gold.

    A strangely familiar tale, except in this thread, the devil used caps, rather than hats.
     
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