Understanding the Tone Knobs of Les Paul – Epiphone & Gibson

Author: Dedrich Schafer | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Unlike many other guitars, the Les Paul has a bit of a different control setup. This can make the Les Paul seem a bit more complex to use.

Most guitars normally only have a volume knob and maybe one or two tone knobs, like the Strat. Les Pauls, on the other hand, have two tone knobs and two volume knobs.

Let us take a look at the controls found on both the Epiphone and Gibson Les Pauls to get a better understanding of how they work.

The Tone and Volume Knobs

The control knobs on a Les Paul can be grouped together in two ways: by pickup and by function. Each pickup has two of the four knobs dedicated to it.

The top two knobs, the two closest to you, control the neck pickup. The bottom two (those further away from you) control the bridge pickup.

The front two knobs, those closest to the neck, are the volume controls. The back two, those closest to the bridge, are the tone knobs.

The Volume Controls

The two volume controls are fairly self-explanatory. These two knobs control the strength of the signal going from your guitar to your amp. In other words, how loud your guitar is.

Most guitars, like Strats, only have one volume control. This controls the volume for all the pickups on the guitar.

The great thing about having volume control for each pickup is that you have greater control over the pickups. You can set each pickup to the right volume.

For example, if you are switching between the bridge and neck pickup for the lead and rhythm parts of a song, you can set the volume for each part. This means that you don’t have to adjust the volume each time you switch pickups.

If you are using both pickups together, you can also blend their volumes. Since they have different tones, you might not want to be one pickup as loud as the other. You can have the tone of the bridge pickup be the main one, while the keeping neck’s tone as support.

The Tone Controls

The tone controls are used to shape the sound of the pickups. Specifically, they control the amount of high-end present in the tone of the pickups.

Setting the tone lower will reduce the highs. This will give the pickups a deeper, warmer sound.

Turning the tone up will increase the highs present. This will give the pickups a brighter, sharper sound.

It is important to remember that the tone controls don’t change the lows or mids. They only adjust the amount of highs.

Reducing the amount of high frequencies does make the bass more present. This makes it sound as though you are increasing the low end.

Separate tone controls are fairly common on guitars with multiple pickups. This allows you to control the tone of each pickup without affecting the others.

This is a great way to blend the tones of different pickups if you are using them together, or to set each pickup to have a specific sound when you are switching between them.

The Pickup Selector

As with any guitar that has multiple pickups, Les Pauls have a pickup selector. The pickup selector allows you to switch between pickups.

Les Pauls use a three-way pickup selector. This means that there are three settings, or positions, on the selector. Depending on the position, you can use either just one of the pickups or both.

Starting at the top, the closest to you is position one, or “Rhythm”. The middle is position two, then the bottom (farthest from you), is position three, or “Treble/Lead”.

  • Position One – This position uses just the neck pickup. This position gives you a warmer, more mellow tone. This is usually the position you will be in during rhythm parts, which is why it is often referred to as the “Rhythm” position.
  • Position Two – This is the middle position. This position uses both the neck and bridge pickup. This blends the sounds of both pickups. Depending on how your Les Paul’s pickups are wired, the middle position will either use the whole pickups or just the inner parts of the humbuckers. This creates a sound that is similar to two single-coil pickups.
  • Position Three – The bottom position uses only the bridge pickup. This position is often referred to as the “Treble” position. This will give you the brightest, most aggressive tone. This is the position you will use for lead playing, as well as genres like rock and metal.

Using the Controls

Now that we know what the controls do, we can take a look at some ways to get a great tone for certain scenarios.

For Rhythm

For rhythm playing, you, of course, want to have the pickup selector set to position one. This is to give your rhythm sections more warmth and mellowness.

For the tone, you don’t want it to be full. This is to add to the warmth and mellow tone. Depending on how warm you want your tone to be, you will have the tone set differently. A good starting point would be 5, then adjust accordingly.

Volume is similar. Start with 5 and then adjust, but your volume will usually not be set to full. This is to avoid your rhythm playing drowning out the other instruments or the singer.

For Lead

Lead will be the opposite of rhythm. You will want to use the bridge pickup or position three on the pickup selector.

The volume and tone controls are going to likely be set to full, or 10. This is to give your sound enough brightness and aggression to make lead parts stand out.

Blending The Tones

Les Pauls also allow you to blend the tones of both pickups. This is done by setting the pickup selector to position two, or the middle position. You can then use the volume and tone controls to adjust the tone to the way you want it.

Depending on the amount of warmth or brightness you want, you will adjust the tone for either the neck or bridge pickup. You can then use the volume to adjust how much of the tone is present.

Coil Tap and Coil Split

Modern Les Pauls also feature settings called coil tap or coil split, often referred to as coil tapping and coil splitting.

Both these settings are a way of turning the humbuckers into single coils. This is done by essentially disabling half of the humbucker. While both do the same thing, they do it a bit differently.

Coil tapping is done through the volume knobs. When you pull the volume knob, you activate the coil tap for that specific pickup.

Coil splitting is done through the pickup selector. This is usually the middle position and activates it for both pickups.

This means that you can set each pickup individually with coil-tapping, giving you a mix of a humbucker and a single coil. While coil splitting doesn’t allow you to have a humbucker and a single coil active at the same time.


On the surface, Les Paul’s controls might seem a bit more complex than a normal guitar’s. But in reality, they aren’t any different.

In fact, a Les Paul offers you more control over your tone than many other guitars. And now you know what those controls are and how they work.

It might take some time, but mastering the controls of a Les Paul can take your sound to that next level and make it truly stand out.

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About Dedrich Schafer

Dedrich is a guitar player, songwriter and sound engineer with extensive music production and studio experience. He mostly listens to classic rock and punk bands, but sometimes also likes listening to rap and acoustic songs.

3 thoughts on “Understanding the Tone Knobs of Les Paul – Epiphone & Gibson”

  1. Great and possibly THE BEST ARTICLE I’ve ever read on how to use / and function for the Les Paul Gibson/ Epiphone controls and very easy and straightforward

  2. I use the bridge for aggressive distorted power chords and neck or middle for lead. Im not the only one as i see other players. Using the bridge for lead has a brittle sound but more clarity with power chords. The only time i have used the neck for rhythm is with a clean sound


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