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  1. #1

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    I do love owning an L5 CES. I don't play it as much as I should because every time I do pull it out, something bothers me about it.
    I have gotten used to the low frets, that seem lower on the treble string side, but that's a matter of spending time on it.

    In the last couple of days, I have put my finger (!) on what it is. It's tone when amplified.

    The bridge p/up is a screamer and rocks. But who plays an L5 on the bridge p/up???

    The neck p/up seems very dark, and when I boost the table on the amp, and the Mid control, it does get brighter, but there is always this annoying
    veil of midrange. Sounds blanketed. It chokes off any sweetness, and that also dulls the snap of the strings. With different strings, and in different amps!

    This is the best I can do to describe the problem. I have a few other guitars that sound better in those regards, and are more of a joy to play.
    I have adjusted the p/up up and down, pole pieces too, and i have even rotated the p/up around.

    I think it's just a dull pickup, or a case of a low resistance pot. It's a 1981 model.

    Is it time for a Seth Lover p/up to let it sing? I want a brighter sweeter neck tone, like many other smooth jazz players have, Norman Brown, Paul Jackson Jr. George Benson, to name a few. I think an L5 CES can do it.



    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    Some folks probably won't dig this, but have you considered graphic or parametric EQ?

  4. #3

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    No, I haven't. Maybe a good point! I am just so used to plugging in and getting very useable tones from diff. guitars into diff. amps. But, the p/up just seems lifeless, no matter how I dial in the amp. Treble from 10 to 0, mids up and down, bass on or off. Big changes yes, but still lacking some snap.

  5. #4

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    Have you tried a mix, with the "screamer" dosing in some treble end on less than full power? Depending on pots, the right dose may be hard to find.

  6. #5

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    Unless there is an unusual problem it shouldnt be dark... I mean: a les paul or a 335 are darker sounding guitars. The L-5 should be sweet but brighter due to the resonance and big box and also the longer scale brings up more harmonics. The lack of snapiness is common in 12s and higher caliber strings.
    Did you compare it to another humbuckered guitars?

    Enviado desde mi LG-H870 mediante Tapatalk

  7. #6

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    Probably a 300k volume pot where a 500k should be...

  8. #7

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    On every two pickup guitar I have, I adjust the neck pickup height for tone (not output), and after I get it where I want it, I adjust the bridge pickup to match / balance with the neck pickup. Sounds like maybe your pickups are too high.

  9. #8

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    It's worth looking at the pots & caps. I had a problem with my volume pot in my 2015 L5CES and replaced the whole wiring harness with one from Jackson Electronic Luthier. The whole sound and tone of the guitar is now tremendously improved, to my ear. The harness arrived fully assembled. All I had to do was pull out the old one, solder the pickup leads in their correct spots, and install the new harness.

  10. #9

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    AS I have said, I have played with p/up adjustment, high and then low, pole pieces too. I have mixed in the bridge p/up too.

    Neither of those avenues have relieved me of the congested tone.

    So yes, Lawson, I think the volume pot value deserves scrutiny, if I can find a way to measure it without disassembly!!!

    Other than that, I think a p/up swap is in order.

  11. #10

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    Since you have an '80's L5, maybe you have an old T-Top 490R or Shaw pickup in there. Most likely it's a 490R (Rhythm/Neck). The 490T (Treble/Bridge) p'up sounds strong and great for rock. And that's how you've described the bridge tone.

    Nothing wrong with those p'ups, but some folks do not like their tone. And from your description, you might benefit from another pickup in the neck position. Seth Lover, Classic 57, Throbak, etc. all are great PAF type pickups that should work. Keep us posted.

  12. #11

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    Good point. Could it be something as simple as pulling the pup to verify what's in there? If it is a 490R, it seems like the 80's were like the wild west of installing anything in those guitars.

    OP, are you the original owner? Are you able to pull the pup to verify it?

  13. #12

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    How does one verify this? I have a 490R in my ES165 but it has no marking, even has the PAF sticker. Gibson is funny about not identifying the pickups in some guitars. The MHS Humbuckers have no identifying marking that I know of.

    If there is some obscure hidden way to know, I'd love to hear it.

  14. #13

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    Perhaps I should have said "attempt" to verify. Maybe since the guitar is an 80's build the pup could be identifiable?

  15. #14

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    As would I. And how to measure a pot's value without deconstruction! I am an avid reader of guitar tech stuff on the web, and have been around long enough to know that the 490 p/ups are not many people's faves. And yet, they still appear in some recent guitars (my friend just bought a LP studio with them in it - and they were plucked out as quickly as possible for some Lindy Fralins).

    So, while my L5 has many beautiful qualities, I will pursue this electronic maze.

  16. #15

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    Jimmy, if the issue is that you don't like the neck pickup, then it makes sense to have it replaced. I agree that Gibson pickups are almost impossible to identify without removing the cover and checking the Kohm.

    490R's tend to measure close to 8k to 8.5k. 498T (I incorrectly called it 490T) measure a much hotter 13 to 14k.

    AlNico2 magnets are in the 490R, and an AlNico 5 in the 498T.

    The Gibson 57 Classic and Seth Lovers have AlNico2 magnets.

  17. #16

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    Classic 57's do have the "patent applied for" sticker.

  18. #17

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    I'd look elsewhere for a solution other than the neck pickup. Do you have a TOM bridge on it? When was last time you had the saddle pieces looked at? Is the TOM damping the strings? Switch it out for a stainless steel Callaham TOM bridge perhaps?

    The bridge pickup always sounds relatively bright because of its position close to the bridge. The neck pickup shows up more tonal variations.

    Given the age of the original 1981 TOM and the soft zinc alloy, I am just guessing that it is sagging in the middle and damping the strings to create this congested veiled midrange sound. If you can, try borrowing a Tech21 Q/Strip or Empress ParaEQ pedal.

    I would be hesitant to rip out the 81 humbucker or pots. The TOM sags over the decades and sometimes folk just don't notice it.

    Just my ha'p'orth worth of opinion.

    Callaham Vintage Guitars and Parts (Callaham CNC Machined Steel Billet ABR-1 tun-o-matic bridge )

  19. #18

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    Heck, if the TOM is the issue I've got a brand new Gibson TOM around here somewhere. I'd give it to you!

  20. #19

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    The bridge is not the original, it is circa 2005.

  21. #20

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    With a kind of shelf or plateau on the tone, I am wondering if it's a capacitor issue? It's a more invasive fix, but a different capacitor, or a treble bleed circuit, or a change in the wiring (traditional vs modern) could be involved too.

    If there are issues in the wiring affecting the tone, a pickup change won't fully address it, I wouldn't think.

  22. #21

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    With the tone control on 10 volume control on 10 the capacitor is in effect out of the circuit. It's a passive circuit so I would doubt that the capacitor would have failed. He has stated that his pickup is too dark. Remember also with the "modern" wiring the volume control being lower does add some treble bleed. That is something that I strugle with on my L-5 at practice volumes.

  23. #22

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    Change the caps, bridge, jack and the knobs, walk and drive making only left turns, glue aluminum foil inside the git.

    Seriously, Your L5 likely has 57 classic pups. If you haven't sorted out the issue a cheap and easy test is to try replacing the A2 magnet with an A5.

    I did just the reverse on a SD "Jazz" pup which was too bright and focused with the A5 and replaced it with an A2 which mellowed it out nicely.

  24. #23

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    Have you tried other amps? Other guitars in the current amp? Sometimes a particular guitar and amp are a good pairing and other times, they're not. Is there a local shop with a good vintage collection where you could A/B your L-5 against some others with other amps?

    If it's a tube amp, when's the last time you retubed? What about cleaning pots? Trying a different cord?

    I think you said earlier that you are just a "one guitar, one cord, into the amp" guy, but if there is ANY pedal in the signal chain, try pulling it out.

    For years I played with an EB vol pedal, usually in the FX loop, as a way to have hands-free control of overall volume (not gain) and for the occasional swell/fade-in effect. Not till it started getting scratchy and I took it out of the signal path to clean it did I notice that it caused a subtle dampening of really high-end treble and/or presence (in a good way, actually).

    So the takeaway advice here is to make sure it's really the guitar that you don't like the sound of, instead of something else... like old, dead strings? :-)

    Apologies if this is just obvious and not applicable.

  25. #24

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    You might me able to read the pot's value with a dentist mirror through the f-hole (but usually wiring and solder is in te way).

    How does it sound with the volume pot fully open? (Dime your amp's volume.)

  26. #25

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    Sorry but for me a guitar that routinely costs $5000 to $10000 and you can’t just plug in and be thrilled beyond expectations with the sound (and everything else) is just not something I would subject myself to.

  27. #26

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    Sorry guys, but I don't post things without thinking them through first. I was asking for opinions on other p/ups, thinking maybe some others have been down this road and found success with, for example, a Seth Lover p/up, which seems to be admired by many, but not that many L5 owners have piped in in several forums that I read.

    Some of you are trying to help, but , apparently did not read my posts.

    I am a working pro, having had, and tweaked many guitars and a lot of experience with different amps. I know a lot, just not how a Seth Lover or similar p/up will work in an L5.
    Others have suggested Lollar low winds. Classic 57's were not around in 1981.

  28. #27

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    Kent Armstrong is the best one to call for your pup swap. I don't think a Kent Armstrong Handmade costs more than a Seymour Duncan Seth Lover.

    Describe to Kent what you posted here. Kent will have something for you that ticks all the right boxes, I am sure.

    Guitar pickups - Handmade pickups by Kent Armstrong

  29. #28

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    Jimmy Mack,

    You clearly know that something is “off”. Here’s an opinion on the Seth Lover pickups from Seymour Duncan—they sound fantastic. I put them in a $650 Ibanez hollowbody and it sounds as good as my L-5 (which sounds amazing, btw). I like the Seths so much, I bought another set to upgrade another guitar. I think they would be perfect in your L-5. If you decide to replace the pickups, I’d do as Lawson-Stone suggested and make/buy a complete wiring harness to rule out any pots, caps or wiring failures. Just my two cents.


  30. #29

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    Ibanez AKJV95 with Seth Lovers. Neck pickup:

    Gibson L-5 with stock Classic ‘57. Neck Pickup:

    Moonlight In Vermont L-5 by Rolijen | Free Listening on SoundCloud

    Please excuse any clams. Was going for a quick sound comparison.

  31. #30

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    Hey roligen, thanks for posting those. Always good to hear other's guitars and playing.
    For whatever reason, I liked the sound of the Ibanez track better than the L5 track. Clearer, sweeter voice!

  32. #31

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    Right?! I had several people say that same thing when I originally posted these a while ago. I’m pretty sure I used the exact same settings, mic placement, etc. That low-end Ibanez turned out to be a real tone machine after installing the Seths.

    I do love my L-5 though. It plays like a dream and I love the sound of it. I really just wanted you to hear how sweet the Seth Lover tone is.

    If I’m feeling up to it, tomorrow, I’ll be rewiring and installing new Seths, pots, caps, jack, switch and wiring harness in either my Epiphone Broadway or my Ibanez LGB30. I’m actually having a hard time deciding which one. I’m confident the upgrade will dramatically improve the richness and sweetness of either of those already very nice guitars. I have 4 nice Gibsons but my Broadway and LGB30 get the most playtime because I leave them out.

    i honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to decide which one gets the makeover. First world problems.


  33. #32

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    Just ordered a Seth Lover neck pos. p/up. On Reverb. Seymour's site and MF are out of stock. Buying used! Looking forward to great tone.

  34. #33

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    I ended up installing the Seths in the Ibanez LGB30. I built a new harness with new pots, caps, switch and jack and did the tedious old “fishing” job to pull everything into place. I got it all together and learned that the selector switch was defective. I fished it out and noticed that the contacts were warped such that the neck position (where this guitar will stay 90%+ of the time) wasn’t making contact. A little bending and everything is sorted.

    This makeover turned a nice guitar into a great guitar. Soundwise, it’s incredible. 100% legit PAF tone. I’ll gather the parts and do the Epi in a month or two. I’m very meticulous, but the process just takes me way too long. I am for sure buying the pre-made harness for the next one.

    Good luck with your new SL pickup. I hope it solves your issue and unleashes that beautiful guitar of yours.


  35. #34

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    Is it possible that the volume pot in my '81 L5 CES is under 200K ???

    I just opened up the guitar to change the pickup, and decided to read the neck's volume pot (from the p/up hot end of the wire to ground, with the pots on 10) and my multi-meter is close to accurate

    The old pickup has a number on it besides the Pat. # stamped into it. It's an ink stamped # that reads 430 781. On my meter, the R is 8K ohms. Any clue as to what p/up that is?? 490? Shaw? T-top?

    Thanks guys

  36. #35

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    The good news is, and thanks to lawson-stone and rolijen, my eyes (and ears) have been opened to more new insights.

    I pulled the wiring from the L5. Some disappointment and some encouragement. The wiring is sub par but the p/ups are what appears to be Shaws. The pots look like some import leftovers, with average looking soldering, BUT in shielding cans. The shielded cables are not steel braid, and fall apart when attempting to work with them.

    So, moving on, I contacted Pete Biltoft to make a new wiring harness with reliable pots of the better value for h/bers. He will also add a longer lead wire and new cover to the neck p/up which was eroded by off-gassing of the p/guard.

    So for followers of minutia: one p/up has ink stamped numbers (indicative of '80's Shaw h/bers. and the other does not. The one that has no ink stamping, has the white spacers inside, and the bright orange coil wiring, and no "T" on the bobbins. Pete will open the neck p/up to re-cover it, and he can let me know if it has white spacers. It does have the ink stamp #'s.

    I have waiting, for re-installation: the original neck p/up (Shaw?) , a Seth Lover, a SD '59, a Classic 57, and a Gibson T-top.

    THat's it for now.