Cleaning Pots and Switches
Controls crackling? Simply cleaning potentiometers and switches can help.
If you’re not already aware of it, let Tech Talk introduce you to the wonders of pot cleaner.
Stop snickering. We’re talking about the pots on your guitar and your amp—you know, pots as in short for potentiometers. Every electric guitarist and bassist has had to contend with dirty pots and switches at some point, because they sound annoyingly scratchy and noisy.
Assuming the most simple diagnosis first—that the pots are just dirty rather than damaged—the easy fix is simply to clean them. Sometimes just turning the knob or working the switch back and forth a few times is sufficient to clear the connection and dispel the unwanted noise, but if not, it’s time to bust out a chemical cleaner.
Several spray-cleaner brands are all easily found online and in any hardware store; the most popular is probably an electrical contact cleaner called Deoxit (“Chemically Improves Connections!” says the website). Other makers include CRC, Max Professional and Permatex.
You just spray this stuff into the pot or switch. This often necessitates removing control knobs, removing the pickguard and maybe even removing the pots or switches themselves. Helpful hint when spraying cleaner into the pots: wrap or cover the surrounding area with a paper towel to catch the overspray. And don’t inhale it. Let it get into the electronics, then turn the knob back and forth (or work the switch back and forth) and let the cleaner work its magic.
Pot and switches should be replaced if and when they’ve deteriorated to the point where they’re too far gone, but short of that, cleaning them is a routine part of guitar care and maintenance 101 that can often prove helpful.