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Does capacitor material affect tone?

Capacitor choice is a hot topic in the guitar world. Debates rage between both camps as to which capacitor material has the best tone, or even if the material has any affect on tone at all.

Cropped picture of the contents of the Treblemaker kit. Focus is on the capacitors spilling out of the bag

How does capacitor material affect the capacitor?

Why are there different materials for making capacitors? Whether that be, ceramic, mylar polyester, paper in oil or the many others, the reasons for each material to be chosen are the specific electronic and environmental conditions the capacitor will be subjected to.

When a circuit is designed, we want to pick a capacitor that will give us the same characteristics and capacitance under the stressors of the application. So for instance, we would pick a different capacitor for high temperature environment, such as furnaces, than we would for a cold arctic environment. What is important is that the capacitor gives the required capacitance we need over the full range of conditions the circuit will be in.

Other factors that affect the material we choose are the the voltage and frequency requirements.

So really the material that is used doesn’t affect the capacitance per say. Actually we could say it preserves it, under harsh conditions. The harsher the conditions, the more specialised the materials have to become, and the more expensive the capacitor will be.

Here is an excellent webpage explaining the differences in behaviour between capacitor materials.

Why does this matter for guitar tone?

In general we can say that it shouldn’t. Unless you intend on gigging in an active volcano or on a glass furnace, a cheap ceramic capacitor will do the job. As guitarists we aren’t going to get any capacitor to a point it starts to fail!

More important I would say is the tolerance of the component. If I were to produce 100 wiring looms and wanted them to sound the same, then a higher priced capacitor with a 2% tolerance is going to give me more consistency than a 10% tolerance.

Another factor I haven’t mentioned is how older components, like vintage paper in oil capacitors, behave. They will give you a different tone because over time they break down and don’t operate as they should. This “vintage” tone is something a lot of players want.

I also believe I something you could call a “gear feel factor”. When you feel good about the components you’ve used, whether it’s because they’re higher quality, or replicate a certain time in guitar history, then you will feel good about your instrument, and about your tone. That will translate to how you play and how you sound! No question.

So why did I choose to supply Mylar Polyester capacitors with the Treblemaker?

There are a few reasons.

1) The capacitors have a good tolerance of 5%.

2) They’re a similar material and makeup to Orange drop capacitors. So for people who believe these capacitors give a better tone, these will be closer for them to experiment.

3) They’re physically large enough that the capacitance values are easy enough to read, I think.

4) They can operate in harsher conditions than a lot of ceramic capacitors. Right or wrong that makes me feel I’m giving that bit extra to you.

5) They look good and are only slightly more expensive than ceramic caps. I don’t underestimate the “gear feel factor” on how you feel about my products and how they’ll feel in your guitar!

So are there any capacitors you really like to use? Are there any you’d like to see as an option with the Treblemaker? Leave a comment.