Potentiometers are an electronics component that are essentially used as variable resistors in guitar pedals and other electronics. I have an article on how potentiometers work and the different types if you want more information, but if you’re already pretty familiar with potentiometers but need information on how to wire them, you’re in the right place.

As mentioned, potentiometers work as variable resistors. A typical potentiometer has three pins, and how things are wired to these pins will depend on how they behave.

Potentiometer Wiring And Potentiometer Pins

Typically, potentiometers have three pins. There are dual gang pots out there, which have six pins, but I won’t be covering that here. This article is about the typical wiring of potentiometers, especially for guitar pedals, and less about unusual potentiometer wiring practices.

Here’s what the inside of a potentiometer looks like:

Diagram of the inside of a potentiometer.

When you turn the dial on a potentiometer (or adjust the slider in a slide pot), you adjust the resistance between the resistance between a given pin and the wiper itself.

Because of this, a potentiometer is usually wired to have a signal or current through one of the outer pins then out through the middle pin. The other outer pin can be unused or go to ground depending on what the pot is doing.

I’ll go through some typical uses/wirings for potentiometers, but if you’re unsure how to convert a wiring diagram to how it’s wired on a physical component, it’s actually quite easy.

Wiring diagram for potentiometers showing where pins are.

Volume And Dimmer Potentiometer Wiring

When wiring a potentiometer to reduce a signal, like for volume control, the signal or current needs to come in then out again. Since the wiper adjusts the resistance between itself and one of the outer pins, that’s the way it’s wired. Here’s that with the pins labeled.

Typical potentiometer wiring with the signal coming in the left pin, out of the middle pin, and the right pin going to ground.

With this wiring, the potentiometer is acting as a voltage divider, which has a wiring diagram like this:

In the diagram above, R1 is the resistance between the left pin and the middle pin, the line to Vb is the middle pin, and R2 is the resistance between the middle pin and the right pin.

Tone Control Potentiometer Wiring

A potentiometer can be wired to be used for some forms of tone control, creating a low or high pass filter.

For a high or a low pass filter, the middle pin is sent to ground. The third pin is either not used or wired to the middle pin (it’s the same electronically).

A low pass filter and high pass filter is diagramed like this:

Creating a low pass filter with a pot, the wiring diagram looks like this:

With a potentiometer, the diagram is like this:

To wire the actual potentiometer pins for this diagram, here’s how:

Potentiometer wiring for tone control with a signal coming in the left pin, ground in the middle pin, and the middle and right pins are wired together.

Here, you can see that the middle pin and the right pin are wired together. It’s also acceptable to just leave the right pin unwired.

I have a longer article on the explanation of how low and high pass filters work, but the long and the short of it is that by adjusting the resistance, you change what frequencies are being sent to ground. Since the wiper adjusts the resistance between itself and one of the outer pins, you can adjust how much resistance there is and therefore what frequencies are being filtered.

Gain Control And Potentiometer Wiring

Another common potentiometer use is to control gain/distortion in overdrive and distortion pedals. The amount of gain present is controlled by how much voltage is allowed to flow through the feedback loop of an op-amp. Obviously there’s more to it than that, but that’s the basics!

Typically, gain control is wired in a similar way to tone control, under the same principle, but also kind of like a volume control though, just with no ground.

Potentiometer with the signal going into the left pin and out the middle pin.

Like with tone control, the right pin can be wired to the middle pin, or just left bare.

Other Potentiometer Wiring

Obviously potentiometers can be used for things other than volume, tone, and gain control. Since they adjust resistance and therefore signal strength, they can adjust all sorts of parts of an effect.

However, what you’ll usually find is that the wiring of a potentiometer is one of the two ways that you’ve seen in this article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *