Dan’s Guitar RX: Adding Master Volume to a Les Paul

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Dan’s Guitar RX: Adding Master Volume to a Les Paul
Alex Aguilar with his Master Volume’d Les Paul.

My friend Alex Aguilar recently asked me to do something most guitarists would consider sacrilegious – add a Master Volume pot to a Les Paul, and put it in easy reach of his pinky.

You might recognize his name as founder of Aguilar Electronics and co-founder of Aguilar Amplification. He was also a design engineer on amps and pedals at Fender, and now he’s an engineer at Stewart MacDonald, working on pedals, amplifiers, and other electronics. Primarily a Tele player who uses the Volume control for swells, he has long wanted a Les Paul that could be played the same way. This mod presented an especially enticing challenge.

1) Alex marked the spot for the control with a blue sticker. His Les Paul is a 2021 model.

2) Since a hole for the pot will cut through the wiring channel – and because the guitar will be completely re-wired – we removed the electronics.

3) I had a handful of practice wood pieces left from a finishing workshop, so I used one to test-bore holes.

4) Despite the fact my test piece came out well, I was a little nervous as I jigged the guitar then started the milling/drilling machine.

5) Scary, right?

6) Anticipating the control knob being on plane with the top carve, I drilled the shaft hole with the guitar shimmed at an angle.

7) With woodwork complete, I filled the grain in the bore with StewMac Colortone water-based filler colored with Cherry Red stain, then brushed on several coats of Cherry Red clear lacquer.

8) Alex wanted a long-shaft 1k-ohm pot, but I couldn’t find one, so my friend Joel Wilkens, a repair expert and master of electronics, made a custom pot by joining two. “I got CTA audio-taper 450 pots, one 500k with a long shaft, the other a 1-meg with a short shaft,” he told me. “I removed the wafer from the 1-meg and installed it in the 500k. It was super simple.” That’s the wafer in the middle.

9) Our shop intern, Ceil Thompson, made a cover plate for the new hole on the back. It looks stock, doesn’t it?

10) Gene Imbody does clean wiring work here in the shop – better than mine – and loved doing this mod.

11) Ceil did final setup – her first on a Les Paul. She also packed and shipped the guitar to Alex, who was thrilled enough to send a note: “Dan, the Les Paul arrived safe and sound. Wow, it’s fantastic! The reach for the Master Volume is perfect, the execution and work are awesome. This is the LP I’ve always dreamed about, and with the StewMac Parsons Street pickups, its sound is clearer, with better articulation and dynamics. The setup is perfect and it just feels terrific. I am so pleased!”

Dan Erlewine has been repairing guitars for more than 50 years. He is the author of three books, dozens of magazine articles, and has produced instructional videotapes and DVDs on guitar repair. From 1986 through his retirement in late 2019, Erlewine was part of the R&D team for Stewart-MacDonald’s Guitar Shop Supply; today he remains involved with the company, offering advice to the department and shooting video for the company’s website and social media. This column has appeared in VG since March, 2004. You can contact Dan at dan@stewmac.com.

This article originally appeared in VG’s February 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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