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gear: Mad Hatter Guitar Products

By Anthony Garone

Hear what your guitar is missing via an interview with Ed Heisler.

Mad Hatter Guitar Products

Several years ago, I randomly received an email from Robert Scovill , world-famous front of house sound engineer for huge artists like Tom Petty , inviting me to play guitar at a mega-church in Scottsdale, AZ. I was dumbfounded. Turned out he was serious, so I went and played a few times at that church. It was there that I met and played with Ed Heisler, founder of Mad Hatter Guitar Products.

Ed and I didn’t talk for several years until we bumped into each other at a guitar show in Tempe, AZ in 2014 or 2015. And it wasn’t until about 10 minutes into our conversation that we realized we had played together several years prior. I ended up buying one of his electronic upgrade kits for my 1997 Ibanez Jem7vwh .

I had no idea what a difference it would make to get the upgrade kit installed in this guitar. It turns out that Ibanez used (uses?) incredibly cheap, low-end components, even in its high-end guitars. After Ed helped me install the kit in the guitar (it was a tight fit), it sounded amazing.

Since he’s basically a 1-man show and he’s passionate about doing what he does and he’s such a good guy and he cares about weird music, I thought he’d be a great fit on the site. Plus, I’d have to say, with his upgrade kit, I have more flexibility in guitar tone than ever. There are a lot of guitar players that visit the site that’d definitely get a lot out of buying his gear.

Find out more about Mad Hatter at their website! 

I invited Ed into my tiny bedroom studio to talk about Mad Hatter, and talk we did! I learned a lot in this interview and I hope you do, too. We talk about guitar electronics, manufacturing processes, how the electronics work, and more.

Interview video

Here’s a video of the interview:

Interview Audio (Podcast)

(NOTE: hitting the “play” button requires a hefty download of the entire audio file!).

Or, download an mp3 .

Interview transcript

Anthony: Hey, this is Anthony with MakeWeirdMusic.com and I’m here with Ed Heisler.

Ed: How you doing, Anthony?

A: I’m all right. Thanks for joining us today.

E: Great to be here.

A: Thank you. Why don’t you tell us about who you are, what you do, and why you’re here?

E: Well, I’m Ed Heisler, AKA “Electric Ed”, with Mad Hatter Guitar Products. We sell products that are basically a whole electronics system for electric guitars. We have a relacement kit upgrade  to enhance your tone.

A: Tell us about how it is an upgrade.

E: A lot of what you find in guitars, especially those made in Asia, is very subpar. Even in Mexico, they tend to use cheaper components even though some of the guitars coming out of those countries are great guitars. Some of the best guitars are coming out of Korea, actually, and it’s just amazing.

There’s some stuff coming out of China that’s really well made, actually, and in Mexico, the Mexican Strats  and Mexican Telecasters . A lot different than when I was a young kid. You’d start with these guitars and the action was 2-3” inches off the neck. They were garbage whereas that’s totally changed today and the quality is much better. But in order for manufacturers to save money, they cut costs wherever they can and one of the places is the electronics.

So a lot of people buy these great-playing guitars. They go to the music store and go, “Wow, these play great,” and they say, “Well, if I upgrade the pickups to maybe some DiMarzios  or Seymour Duncans , this could be a great sounding guitar, too.” But what they don’t realize is you’re basically putting the pickups into a guitar that plays good, but you’re putting them through potentiometers , output jacks, and switches that are basically garbage because that’s where they’re cutting costs.

And if you don’t mind, I have a box called my “Box of Doom.” I pull this stuff out of guitars… This is from a Squier  Strat. This is about as cheezy and cheap as it gets.

A: Now what–some people, myself included, wouldn’t be able to look at that and go, “That looks like junk,” versus, “That looks fantastic.” So tell me how to identify junk.

E: The way I can identify it is that pretty much anything coming out of Asia is junk. Anything coming out of China is going to be junk.

A: As far as musical electronics?

E: Yeah. Obviously your iPhone was probably made there, so…

A: Yeah, I was thinking, “There’s probably some variance there.”

E: Yeah, but as far as guitar electronics… What you’ll find is a lot of these–sometimes you’ll notice when you turn it on, you’ll notice the volume’s there, the volume’s there and you roll it down and boom, it’s gone. There’s no graduation of it that you normally would have in a quality pot. The switches and contacts are not that good either. When you feel it, it just feels cheap and doesn’t feel as good. What we use at Mad Hatter is a much better quality product. What we did is basically we–

A: Before you go there, I’m curious… What are these components made of?

E: Oh jeez, just the cheapest stuff they can find. They’re supposed to be carbon, but it’s more or less the quality of it. The quality of how they put it together because they’re so mass-produced. The issue is to make it as quick as possible.

A: What are some of the other side effects of poor quality in terms of sound or even the physical use?

E: Oh, tone. First of all, I think these are 250K  [pots]. I’ll measure them and realize that instead of measuring 250K, it might measure 190 or 180K. It might not–It just won’t even be close.

A: So they don’t meet specifications?

E: Not at all. No.

A: The quality assurance is fairly low.

E: There would be no quality assurance. The only thing they’re looking to see is that it works.

A: So you might pick up two of the same guitar, one made right after the other, and they’ll sound very different. One might sound much worse than bad and the other might just sound bad? It’ll never sound great?

E: There’s more to that–that’s pretty much any guitar out there. I’d like to talk about that later–the characterstics of the guitar.

A: Okay, cool. Is that what makes–over time, when your pots start crackling–

E: They get dirty. Yeah, that’s pretty much all pots. Even the pots that we use were designed after the great pots used in guitars in the 1950s. I basically went to CTS Corp  and said, “Listen. I want a pot that is basically what you guys were manufacturing in the 1950s that were put into ‘59 plain tops, in the 1960s strats, and 50s strats and stuff.”

A: Just so we can start with the basics, what is a potentiometer and what does it do?

E: Okay, a potentiometer is basically–originally they would call them “rheostats.” What it does is it tapers–we’ll use an audio taper, okay?–As opposed to a linear. In audio, it basically curves off the sound and what you’re doing with an electric guitar on a volume pot is, basically, when you start rolling off the volume, what you’re doing is you’re going from one center wiper of the potentiometer into another one that’s hooked up to ground, and what you’re doing is shorting out the sound. As you slowly roll it down towards ground, basically you’re making it sound more quiet until you’re eventually hearing nothing.

A: So, it’s basically re-routing the signal?

E: Yep.

A: Into a wire that has no effect on your output, other than buzzing (if you don’t have good ground).

E: Yeah, that’s a whole other thing.

A: So when you turn it, is there like two contacts inside?

E: Basically you have a wiper in the center two contacts on each side and that resistance goes back and forth. Basically you’re sweeping from one side to the other side.

A: And that’s for volume. What about tone?

E: What you’re doing there is the same concept, but you’re usually only using two contacts. You can see here, you have a capacitor and different capacitors give you a different dynamic and roll off the tone. Unless you have a resistance here going through the volume pot. The guitars in the 1980s, where they had no tone pot, they tended to be brighter. The reason why is because you didn’t have the tone pot in the circuit, which was going to create a little bit of roll-off just naturally by itself.

A: So when you roll the tone knob all the way down and it sounds mellow, what are you doing electronically?

E: You’re adding this capacity into it and this capacitor is going to roll off those frequencies.

A: Oh, interesting. So when you change the capacitance there, it’s going to change the character of the high end or of the whole signal?

E: The whole signal. Yeah, that’s why with our kits, we design them so you can easily grab different capacitors and try them out and swap them and see what you like. There’s so many characteristics you can find. You can sit there all day having fun. A lot of times, I’ll take a capacitor–well, here I can show you right here. [Picks up a guitar.] See in this guitar here, I’ve added–we have the polymer caps  and I’ve added this one here and this one here, what it does is when you roll it off, it doesn’t go as deep as most caps. So it gives you a smaller frequency range, but yet it gives you a greater distance to dial in that frequency, if that makes sense.

A: So you have more granularity and control over those frequencies, so a little turn on another capacitor would be the same as a larger turn on this capacitor?

E: Exactly. You can easily swap them out and that’s how we designed it. Fenders use the orange drop. I had one guitar where I bought some bumble bee-type caps that used to be used in the old Gibsons  and I put those on there. Russia makes some great–new old stock Russian ones you can find online. You can find oil-filled ones and then the bumble bees. Sometimes you can spend hundreds of dollars on caps. Some of the old vintage ones, people get serious about it.

A: So the variety of tone you get out of one instrument is pretty significant just by switching out capacitors and switching out your potentiometers?

E: Oh yeah. Sometimes you won’t even really hear it–

A: Are these your pots too?

E: Yeah, this is our kit right here. This is our single volume, dual tone kit. Basically what you’d normally use on a Stratocaster.

A: What does a dual tone give you? A lot of guitars I see have one tone knob.

E: Fender used two. What they did was on the original ones they had one for the neck and one for the middle and then the bridge was direct. You’d basically bypass the tone so it was really bright. But what I’ve done here is I’ve used the first tone pot and I’ve tied the bridge pickup on the 250K side of the pot because we have a dual-value pot, which I can go into and discuss. And then I put the neck on the 500K to make it brighter, so you can change the different values.

A: So the whole guitar, all the pickups, you have much more control over how they might sound.

E: Oh yeah.

A: Awesome.

E: Every guitar is different. Every guitar has a characteristic of its own. We were talking earlier about picking up two different guitars that were made in the same place and sound different. I remember when Eric Clapton  Blackie  came out and I remember they took his Blackie and took it to the Fender Custom Shop and every nick and every little thing–

A: Their relic series–

E: Yeah. They measure the capacity of the amps and the pots and they try to make it exactly identical. I was at a store where they had two of them. They had gotten two of them and I played one and was like, “Wow, this one’s nice.” Then I grabbed the other one and we were looking at it and it was unbelievable how different it sounded. Just, it didn’t ring out as much as the first one did because the wood’s different. Even though the Custom Shop sat there and made sure they had the same resistance on all the pickups and the potentiometers were the same, it still was different.

A: Different trees, different wood densities… Those affect the vibrations of the strings.

E: Yeah. I mean, no two guitars are alike. Just like you and me. I think every guitar has its own characteristic. That’s basically how Mad Hatter started. It was based on that concept.

A: How so?

E: I walked into a music store one day and hanging onto a wall was a Les Paul Standard . A black one with factory gold. It was just, boom, playing it and, “Oh, I gotta have that.” I picked it up and it’s got a little bit of a fatter neck and it played great. But I noticed it wasn’t ringing. Sometimes you pick up a guitar and you just feel a little vibration. I thought, “Man, this plays great, but it’s really not ringing. It plays so nice.” Plus it looked cool. I had to have it, so I saved my money and got it home.

First thing I did was upgraded the pots. I pulled the pots out of it and they were Gibson pots and stamped with the Gibson medallion. They claim they’re CTS, but I don’t know. I put it on the meter. The 500K pot was reading about 300, so it was way off. I took them out and put new pots in there and I started putting different caps and pickups and it was just like, “Yeah, maybe not this one.” I tried this type of pickup and it just kept going back and forth trying to find the right tone for that guitar.

I was doing it and thinking, “Wouldn’t it be nice–” Every time I did it, I had to pull out my soldering iron, plug it in, wait for it to heat up, unsolder it, solder it back in. It was like, “What a pain! Wouldn’t it be nice if I just had some switches or something?” And that was the first design. I sat down with pencil and paper and etched out what became the solderless tone shaping system. That’s what the routing board was with little switches on it where you could change whether you wanted to go with the 250K or 500K and stuff like that.

A: This is a hobby for you, right?

E: It started out that way! Just like a lot of guitar players, it was just something that started as a hobby and it’s growing into a business.

A: So it started out with pencil and paper and you’re manipulating electronics in this Gibson guitar and then, when did you decide, “I need ot have my own system that is consistent?”

E: About that same time. Yeah and I sat down and just manufactured a board. That was our first generation. Since then, at the end of last year, we decided, “How can we improve on this? How can we make it better?” We looked at what my customer service emails were and stuff and I thought, “Okay.” I kind of did an evaluation and I thought, “You know what? I need to eliminate the board.” That’s when we came up with the Terminator system.

A: Oh, okay. I have the system with the board.

E: You have the original solderless tone shaping system. And now we have the terminator system, which is more–if you understand guitar electronics, you’ll look at this system you’ll say, “Oh, I know exactly what to do here.” Now you have total and complete control. You can basically take any schematic online, just google whatever, and you say, “Oh, you know what? I can try that with this.” You can use our schematics that we send out with the product or you can use whatever you find online.

A: And that involves changing capacitance. Do you have different kinds of pots with different values?

E: Let me talk a little about our pot. That was the main thing that I really wanted to make sure, because this is where it all starts. This is where the pickups go to, the switch in here. The switch–let me jump over here a little bit. We use Switchcraft  toggle switches and CLR selector switches .

A: CLR is a company? A brand?

E: It’s a company. I didn’t bring any Switchcraft. I’m sorry about that. But that’s the toggle switches you find on Les Pauls. The three way. We use Switchcraft. That’s what Gibson’s been using forever and it’s the best. They’re made here in the United States. This is CLR. These are made over in North Carolina. You see this spring here, that’s how you usually tell.

These are the ones that Fender’s been using. Leo started using them in the 1950s. All the American made strats, you’re going to find these in there. And they’re just much better quality. You can tell just by moving it. It just feels much more solid. You’re not going to have an issue.

So this is the new Terminator system where we mounted the terminal to the side so on a Strat, your pickup wires would go here. On every component we have dead terminals where you can land–in this case we have two dead terminals so you can land the center tap wires on the pickup. So the pickup wire, you have a signal wire and a ground wire. Typically a two wire.

On a humbucker , you have your middle wires for each coil where they come together, where the south poles of each coil come together. And those you call your center tap. A lot of times when people try to turn their humbucker into a single coil, they’re basically dropping at the ground there.

So anyways, we have the terminals here where you can land those as well and do mods and stuff like that. This one here is our HSH switch. What this one does is for a guitar with a humbucker, single, humbucker and you go to position 2, you’re going to split the coil of the humbucker with the middle, and then the same thing in position 4.

But going back to the pot, I went to CTS and I said, “Look, this is what I want. I need a pot. I want it to be smaller in diameter.” So we went with a 17mm diameter instead of the normal big, fat ones. But, I said, “Internally, I want it to be the same as what you guys were making in the 1950s. A carbon pot. I want it to be a brass bushing, brass end, with the 22 knurled  teeth end here, split.”

Then what I did was I made the shaft here, the bushing length, 12mm. The reason why I did that was because I wanted to be able to fit comfortably into guitars with pickguards like stratocasters, telecasters, whatever, Ibanezes and stuff, and then guitars with carved tops like Gibsons and stuff like that. And it does. I have yet to find a guitar where this does not fit. The 12mm length can fit in any guitar that’s manufactured today.

Then we went with the bushing diameter, we went with 8mm. The reason why is because our target market is upgrade those guitars made overseas and they use an 8mm hole, which is a smart hole. Most of our customers–We don’t want our customers to have to drill out the hole and make it larger if they don’t have to. With this one, you won’t have to do that. And then what we have–although with our yin yang push/pull pots, they are 3/8” so you’d have to make those a little bit bigger. We’ll talk about those in a minute. Then I also wanted dual value. 250K, 500K.

A: Okay, I was wondering why the dual pots over there.

E: I wanted it to be as universal as possible so that way strats that are 250K, Gibsons that are 500K. And then with the new Terminator system we can bridge them together so they’re 750K so they can be even brighter. So we have 3 options now with the pot. We have an exclusive deal with CTS corporation for this pot. We’re the only one that they’ll make this for.

A: Wow. So in the case of my custom 7-string, which has a tone bypass circuit where you turn the tone all the way up and then it effectively shuts off the tone knob, you don’t really need that because 750K should allow everything.

E: Well, 750K would be real bright.

A: Probably as bright as having nothing on it, right?

E: Not quite that bright, but pretty close. Yeah, it still gives you that option to roll it down to where you get that really mellow sound.

A: That’s cool! Are guitar companies picking up on these?

E: We have a few guys that are using our products exclusively. MAP guitars  in California. JR Guitars Customs  in Montreal, Canada. James up there is a great guy. Some of the builds he’s done are for the Alzheimer’s Association. He loves to give back. He calls me up and says, or send me emails saying, “This is what I wanna do.” Something goofy, off the wall. He’s always thinking outside the box and I love working with him.

A: These are so flexible that any idea he has, you can figure it out.

E: Yeah. We’re doing a double-neck together right now. A telecaster, which is kinda cool.

A: What do these builders think of the electronics?

E: They love them. They’re putting our card on there as a hang tag and letting customers know that it’s a quality product inside.

22:53

A: Is it substantially more expensive? Is it a “get what you pay for” kind of thing?

E: The price point of our products is, for example–let me grab a kit here–this is our single volume, single tone 3SS kit. This is $79.99. If you were to go out and buy all brand new CTS pots, CLR selector switches–let me open this up here so you can see what you’re going to get when you open it up.

You get a Switchcraft output jack, CLR selector switch–so that’s what our price point is on that. Comparably, if you were to go out and buy all these components, you’re gonna be paying at least half that, if not more. If you’re a do-it-yourself kind of person, it’s a lot easier and you’ve got all the flexibility of the product itself and what it can do.

A: So it’s a complete electronics replacement system. So, what about pickups? Are they also variable in quality or are they fairly consistent?

E: Or they’re variable too. There’s one manufacturer–I was going back to the Les Paul and trying different pickups in there and one manufacturer that’s very boutique-y, they average single pickups at $130 and I bought one and I put it in there and they had it out of phase and I actually called the shop up and they said, “Well, you used it.” Even their quality, you just don’t know. So it’s something that you just have to really stay on top of because you don’t know what you’re gonna get.

A: That’s wild.

E: Yeah, it’s not often you see that, but it does happen. This kit here, our SS kit, is basically a setup–you can see our instructions here. This one allows you to run–the person that ordered this wanted this kit, I just put it together for a customer, and what they’re doing here is they want to run their bridge pickup at a different K (500K or 250K) and then their neck at a different one, so that’s what this wiring diagram shows how you can actually do that.

A: That’s awesome.

E: Yeah. Then you can mix it up if you want to put–sometimes some people put their bridge pickup volume at 500K and then they’ll do the tone pot at 250K or something on the same pickup. It’s just 100% complete flexibility. On these two, we also have a dead terminal for mods or whatever you wanna do.

We color code it. Our green ones are “Goes to 11 volume pot” and then the red ones are our “Killer tone pot.” That way you can easily tell whether you’re using the right one. Then what we do is we blacked the black terminals for ground. If you ever see a black terminal, it’s ground. The red terminals are 500K and then the blue are 250K.

A: These are definitely nicer upgrades from the first generation.

E: Yeah the first generation, you just plugged into the board. You can do a lot more now. Like if you wanted to add a treble blade, like some people like to do on their volume pots, now you can do that by just puttig it in parallel with the pot like you normally would. So like I was saying, you can basically grab any schematic offline and just follow it.

A: How consistent are your parts?

E: Our parts are within 10%. The values are all within 10%.

A: So 500K will never be below 450K or higher than 550K.

E: Exactly. And it’s usually been dropping to around 480, some to 500. Same thing with the 250K values, which is the top part. They’ve been at the same thing. You don’t see them below 225K. Usually I see them around 235, 240.

A: Do you get a “cleaner” tone with less noise? When I put mine in, I was pretty astonished at the clarity that I heard, but it could have been several factors.

E: That’s really the quality of the pot and the switch because the contacts are so much better with CLR. This pot is designed with the carbon where it’s going to be a much better, cleaner tone. It’s better manufacturing, better components, all put together…

A: Are there any manufacturers putting out anything close to this quality?

E: Oh yeah, there’s a couple. Even you could just go online and buy some CTS pots as well as CLR. You could solder it together yourself. But what you won’t have is the flexibility of this dual value pot  as well as the ability to quickly and easily switch combinations or capacitors.

A: That’s really cool.

E: So that’s the benefit we have. There’s other solderless systems out there, too, but I’ve noticed that they’re on a board, so they basically either strictly into a Stratocaster or strictly into a Les Paul.

A: So you’re basically more universal with customization.

E: Yeah. This kit here, it can go into a Telecaster, it can go into a two-pickup Ibanez, or a Schaller, or LTD ESP, dual humbucker. It’ll fit just fine in there.

A: And you make other products like kill switches and what else?

E: Yes, we do have kill switches. Let me show you here. These here–we were going to the shows and constantly people are coming to me asking if we have kill switches. I have to admit, I’m thinking old school hit-a-button-and-it-kills-everything-and-shuts-it-off. Little did I know that they were talking about a momentary switch.

A momentary switch is where you push a button and you kill something for a moment and let it go and it turns back on. Then I saw that Eddie Van Halen had one in his guitar and I thought, “Oh, okay.” So my son and I sat down–basically I went out and I ordered a bunch of switches. A bunch and bunch of switches.

We sat down and we just plugged them in just trying them all and we came up with this one here and we just love this kill switch. We call it our Rapid Fire Kill Switch . It’s a momentary and you hit it and it bounces right back. When it’s mounted on the guitar, you can just go crazy with it. What we liked about it is that it really bounced back really nice.

The second thing we liked about it is that the hole is slightly bigger than a 3/8 hole, but it’s not like some of those switches where the hole is almost a one inch diameter and you’re boring out a huge hole.

A: Buckethead  has an arcade button.

E: Yeah, he does and I’ve had people ask me about those. They see ‘em in his Les Paul. I have to say, “Gibson had to manufacture that with a 3/4 inch or 1 inch hole.” It’s a huge hole. So I ask, “Do you really want to do that to your guitar?” Some people do and that’s fine.

A: So these switches, you didn’t customize. You probably added your own wiring.

E: Yeah what we did is we put them to this state where we solder them up, we check them out and then we give instructions on how to mount them in the guitar. When you buy them, they’re going to come in this packaging and you’re going to get a Mad Hatter Guitar Products sticker and one of our cards, which has our website and information so you can contact us for customer service.

And then we have instructions on how to install it and make sure you’re drilling the right size hole. If it’s a pickguard, you can drill a clearance hole. If it’s a carved top guitar, you wanna go a little smaller and thread it in there. These are $7.99. They’re not that much money. We also, for a couple bucks more, we’ll put an 18 inch lead on it, so if you want to put that switch up here or whatever, you can expand it out.

A: Cool! Can we get a demo?

E: On the kill switch?

A: No, just on the electronics of the guitar. You brought two guitars?

E: I did. Let me plug in. This is a Reverend  Warhawk 390 model . I don’t know if you’re familiar with Reverend, they’re out of Livonia, Michigan. This guitar is made in Korea. It’s all Korina wood. These pickups are their pickups.

A: Looks like a P90 .

E: All three P90s. I kinda modded it a little bit. I’ve added some Tone Pros bridge and then obviously our system. Our single volume dual tone 5-way. Switchcraft output jack. What I have right now is it’s set up for 250K on the volume and then I have the bridge pickup on the tone here at 250K and the neck on the tone here at 500K. The middle is on 500K. XXX EDIT

A:

E: Right now, this is the bridge pickup. Just gonna play some chords here. [Demos different pickups and configurations] For a Mexican Strat, it’s made really well. They used to be a lot of components were made in the United States and then shipped down there. I think all the pickguards are still, the last I heard. But yeah, it’s the same alders, maple necks and everything, but the only thing different is the electronics.

A lot of people buy them and upgrade the pickups, but with our system in it in addition to the pickups, now you have a guitar you can pick up on Craigslist for $300 that now is valued at considerably more. $500, $600, $800. It’s not valued that much more, but it sounds as good as that.

A: But you’d probably upgrade a $2000 guitar, too. Right?

E: Oh yeah, like I said, the first Les Paul. I’ve done a few guitars.

A: My Ibanez Jem.

E: Exactly. Your Ibanez, that’s one.

A: I couldn’t believe the difference. It was stunning and when I took it home, it was like a new guitar. It sounded like a new guitar. Probably because the pots being 17, 18 years old and probably paper on the inside and junky components. It sounded like a brand new guitar. I couldn’t believe it.

E: Yeah, you start hearing the dynamics.

A: Oh yeah. You get all new sounds out of it.

E: The sensitivity, the midranges. It opens up the span of what you’re missing.

A: It felt like that Allegra D commercial where it starts out with everything as hazy and then they take the medicine and the whole screen wipes and suddenly the color is vibrant and very clear and clean. That’s how it felt picking up the guitar after putting in those electronics. It was night and day.

E: Yeah and it makes you want to pick it up more. And you wanna get more out of it. Our slogan is, “Hear what your guitar is missing.” That’s what it truly is. When you put our system in there, you truly think, “Wow, I didn’t know those tones were there, but they’re there. They’re hidden in the guitar.”

Let me pull up this Telecaster here. I get emails from people all the time saying they can’t believe the difference. The ones that really shine through–a friend of mine has a Squier bass made in Indonesia and he said–he plays at a church and he took it there and put my system in his guitar and plugged in and even people who don’t even play instruments were like, “Wow. Did you get a new guitar? It looks the same.” It was such a huge upgrade. The tone overall.

A: For about $80, right?

E: Yeah. Actually, he had a P-bass, so that one is $69.99. So, that’s incredible. This one here is the guitar that I do a lot of–I love the guitar, but you can see it’s a bit Frankenstein. I can’t leave crap alone. I don’t have a guitar–you go through my guitar collection and try to find a guitar that’s stock, no luck. No chance. If you don’t mind, let me digress for a little bit. You look at the people that mess with their stuff: Les Paul, Eddie Van Halen…

A: They make it their own.

E: Well, Blackie I was talking about with Eric Clapton. From my understanding that was a collaboration where he went to the music store and bought a half dozen guitars and started mixing and matching until they got to the one he liked the best. I was watching a video about Jimmy Page talking about his #1 guitar and some of the changes they did on that one.

But anyway, on this one here, you can see this plate doesn’t stay down anymore because I stripped out the screws. I’m constantly pulled out the screws. This has our 5-way single volume single tone kit in it. And then what I did was I had this mini toggle. Normally when I have a toggle, I have it in there to jumper the bridge and neck pickup together so I can still get that middle position of a Tele.

So, this is one of the guitars I’m constantly changing. I’ve got a switch here that is a 3-way switch. Normally I have a switch that jumpers the neck and bridge pickups together, but I took that out and put this switch in here and I have it wired to the volume pot. And what it does here is in this position, the volume pot is 250K and in the middle it’s 500 and then it’s 750.

A: Oh, cool, so we get to hear all of them.

E: Now you’re probably not going to hear a huge difference.

A: If you start at the 250 and jump to the 750, would it make a big difference?

E: Not really. You’re really going to notice it when you’re playing it and you try different pedals and stuff. It’s like, “Oh wow.” We did an install in a Telecaster and it was a comparison video that we’re going to be releasing here soon. We did a before and after and we stayed with a 250 and the dynamics all opened up with 250. Then I started messing around with 500K and 750 and I ended up landing on the 500K. The guitar sounded better there, so that’s what we did. [Demos the Telecaster.]

So you can hear it. When you put the pedals to it and delays, that changes the characteristics of the tone and amplifies it more. Then that’s when you really start to notice it. For guys like me, I want as a shredder, I want that right tone. It’s gotta be that mid-range brown sound kind of thing.

So I’ll usually go more toward the 500, or actually I find on British pickups, I’ll like 250K, especially with humbuckers. That’s been my thing with Gibsons. They’re traditionally 500K, but I want the 250K because it’s so close to the bridge, sometimes those guitars have that harshness on them and with taking it to 250K kind of rolls that off and smooths it out a little bit.

A: Do you get skeptics saying, “This sounds silly or far-fetched or ridiculous. How much difference could it really make?”

E: It’s kind of all over the map. I get a lot of people that say, “This is genius.” I love those people. Anyone who refers to me as a genius, I’ll take it! Then I have those who just see it as a solderless system. They say, “Oh, learn how to solder.” Well, it’s not a solderless system. It’s a tone enhancement system. It’s an upgrade for your guitar to make it sound better.

The solderless part of it is just a byproduct. Although I will admit that most of my customers are buying it because you can screw wires in instead of getting a soldering iron. That’s what they feel more comfortable with. For those people, it’s a huge bonus for them because what they’re getting is a huge upgrade. I think as far as tone purists, no they all get it. The guys that are really into tone, they’ll go out and buy new pots for guitars. They’re always constantly changing stuff. So, yeah, they get that aspect of it.

A: So it’s usually just people thinking, “I don’t need that.” And they’re probably not looking for tone upgrades.

E: No, I have one friend of mine at NAMM a couple years ago, they came by to my booth. We’ve been friends for about 30 years. Great guy, great guitar player. He works in the industry and he’s like, “I see what you’re trying to do, but I’m not sure if I get it.” He’s the type of guy who walks in a store and play every guitar on the wall until he finds that right one. Then he won’t touch it.

Those are the guys, those are customers I’ll never have because they don’t want to touch nothing, they don’t want to change nothing, they like it the way it is. They don’t even want to touch the intonation. They’ll take it to a service guy and they’ll tweak it. The only thing they’ll do is change strings.

A: Interesting. That’s awesome. Anything else worth noting about these systems?

E: Buy. Buy many. They’re great. I think it’s long overdue. I think it’s something we really, really need. I think a lot of people agree with me. I don’t see manufacturers improving their quality of electronics. They just want to make, especially the ones coming out of China, they want to make a quick, fast, cheap guitar.

A: What attracts me to the whole thing is you’re just one guy in a garage with a shop designing electronic components. I think that’s super unique and it’s had such a dramatic effect on my own guitar, so in terms of making weird music, I feel like this kit gives you more possibilities and that’s one thing I loved about it when I put it in my guitar. I was like, “Oh, now I can get more of the country sound or I can more of the rock sound or I can get more of the jazz sound.” It increased the diversity of my tonal capabilities.

A lot of people say, “Tone is in the fingers,” but there is a mathematical limit in terms of frequency range and what you are able get out of an instrument. Your fingers will do certain things, but they will not give you above 1K frequencies. So, it’s awesome for me to see a kit made by a guy who’s passionate about fixing guitars and expanding their horizons. I think it’s awesome.

E: Even as I was mentioning before, people who have great fingers are messing with their guitars, too. There’s so many–you can start with your fingers, and then your strings through the pickups through the electronics and then through that cable, which we do sell.

A: Oh yeah, you make cables .

E: We sell great cables, too!

A: What’s special about your cables besides their cool color?

E: I love cool colors. We have green, purple, orange, black. And what we do is we use Neutrik  ends with a kill switch on them and then they’re gold.

A: They don’t snap apart like those Planet Waves ones?

E: No, these…

A: How does the kill switch work?

E: It shorts it out when it’s not plugged in. When you plug it in, then you have a signal. What I did is I went with a lighter cable because Monster and all them are getting a big, fat–Mogami and stuff like that.

A: Like 8 gauge…

E: Yeah, you’re dragging around a rope like you’re at the gym. You should be exercising with it. So, anyway, with people nowadays doing more home recording–that’s the other thing. I’ve had my recording gear on a table, I’ll plug in the heavier cable, and boom all my stuff is being dragged off because the weight of the cable.

So, I wanted a lighter weight, smaller cable. Some people think, “Oh, it’s smaller, maybe it’s not good quality.” This is an excellent quality cable. I’ve actually A/B tested it with Mogami  and against the Monster  and it’s right there, the same quality. Same frequencies and stuff. And we priced it, too. Like this cable, 18 foot $49.99. My goal is to keep it under $50. I have very little margin, but I just think it’s stupid to pay $100 for a great cable.

A: What makes it a great cable?

E: The quality of it.

A: What makes a quality cable?

E: This is a Canare cable  and these are probably the best cables you can buy. With the Neutrik ends, probably the best ends you can buy, in my opinion.

A: Do you solder these yourself?

E: I do them myself.

A: So you buy a spool of the cable and you’ve got the ends and you make them.

E: Yeah, I sit there and put it together and test it out and make sure it’s all good. Everything’s quality tested. Yeah.

A: That’s awesome.

E: So, yeah. It’s a product that I think–we don’t sell a lot of them because we’re not really a cable manufacturer. It’s just something we offer. But, I would like to sell more of them. I think what it is is that I’m starting to see more people go toward a smaller cable. I think once it catches one, they’ll realize, “Oh yeah, you don’t need a honking cable for good tone, you just need a good solid-quality cable.” That’s what this is.

A: Do you bundle the cable with the kit for any price?

E: Wow.

A: Sorry.

E: I guess I could, yeah! For a Make Weird Music special.

Use the code "weirdmusic" to get 10% off at Mad Hatter! And thank Ed for his generosity. :)

A: All right, if we do anything like that, we’ll put it on the website.

E: Yeah, we will. And obviously we sell t-shirts with the cool logo . And our product, let’s face it, is a geeky product. It’s not shiny.

A: No, there’s nothing sexy about potentiometers. Those cables, though.

E: Cables, a little sexy. But potentiometers and switches, no. I wanted to have a cool logo. I wanted to use a name that was very familiar, one that I had to worry about–I open up the magazines and it’s KBG or KBC or KVD or whatever. Initials. Somebody’s last name. I wanted to use something interesting. What really got me was I remember when I was a kid, there was a company still around called Bad Ass.

I remember as a kid, “Okay, the guitar isn’t cool unless you have a Badass bridge on it.” I want to bring that vibe back. I think it kinda got lost because everyone’s got technical names now. I wanted to grab something that people remember.

I hired a cartoon artist who drew this logo for me. He used to work for Todd McFarlane . A guy by the name of Jay Fotos . Brilliant artist. I was really pleased with the outcome of what he drew up. So we sell these shirts.

A: Shirts, cables, kits, picks.

E: Yeah, we got picks too. This year–we try to change them up every year. This year we have one of the delrin  type materials. They’re like a jumbo jazz.

A: I actually need some of these. I’m doing a video on pointy picks. I’ve got delrin triangular picks.

E: That’s yours.

A: .73mm. That’s it. Okay, cool.

E: We got different sizes. Next year, might be something totally different. Last year, it was just a regular celluloid  type pick.

A: Delrin’s great. I love it. Thank you so much, Ed. I really appreciate your time.

E: Thank you! This is awesome.

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