REVIEW: Acme Guitar Works ToneShaper for Telecaster

The Acme Guitar Works ToneShaper gives you every possible switching option you need and want!

Acme Guitar Works, Inc. started as a hobby shop back in 1993 for George Ellison and his friends to work on their guitars. This “hobby” turned into a full time career as George took on all the repair work for Veneman’s, a major music chain in the Washington, DC area. George eventually moved away from repairs to pursue optimized pre-wired pickguards and innovative solutions like the ToneShaper.

THE GOODS

I’ve been restoring a ’76 Telecaster and initially contacted Acme for complete replacement hardware: knobs, switches, tuners, ferrules… the works (I guess that’s why they’re called Acme Guitar “Works”). Noticing the ToneShaper on their site, I inquired about it and found the concept fascinating enough to install their 4-switch version for review.

The ToneShaper is a network of electronic connections built into a compact circuit board that resides in the control cavity of your guitar and interacts with existing pots and switches. After assembling the components, including connecting your pickups to a custom terminal block (no soldering required!), you’re ready to roll.

Tone shaping is as simple as flipping DIP switches which are contained within three switch blocks. The first two blocks are used to configure the ToneShaper based on your pickup switch (3-way, 4-way, or 5-way). One of the blocks includes an option to turn the volume kit on or off. This addresses the issue of treble loss when turning down the volume on your guitar by incorporating a resistor/capacitor set. It also includes a “Billy Mod” which solves the same problem but in a different way by sending the signal from the volume’s output to the tone pot. The third wiring block toggles four tone capacitors on or off and can be set in any combination. Finally, the 4-way switch activates the neck pickup, bridge, and neck/bridge in series or parallel.

TONE SHAPING

I started my shaping with the tone capacitors which are available in .015, .022, .033, and .047 microfarad measurements. Each flick of a DIP switch engages a corresponding capacitor which results in a heavier, muted sound. This effect is more noticeable as tone is dialed down. I tried numerous combinations from all off (tone control disabled = tone pot fully open) to all four on (murky and muffled) and found my happy place with the .033 microfarad capacitor by itself. Next, I experimented with turning the volume kit on and off. Treble roll-off is something that may or may not catch your attention, but it’s a significant issue that plagues a lot of players. As expected, with the volume kit off, treble frequencies faded away the more I turned down the volume. With the volume kit on, tone maintained consistency throughout volume adjustments. I approached this issue with the Billy Mod as well. It was difficult to discern a difference as the two options effectively solve the same issue, but for those who prefer this method, it’s available.

The 4-way switch is great in that it opens up another possibility for fueling your tone quest by outputting combined pickups in series or parallel. This alone makes the ToneShaper worth considering as I found both voicings very useful for different situations.

THE FINAL WRAP

The ToneShaper is an affordable solution allowing you to easily solve the issue of treble roll-off as well as dial in capacitor values to taste. If you go with a 4-way switch (3-way also available for Telecasters), you can take full advantage of pickup configuration possibilities. No soldering is required which makes using the ToneShaper practically hassle-free and is a tremendous aid in doing A/B comparisons.

PROS: Simple installation. No soldering. Easy manipulation of features. 4-way switch allows an additional configuration for your pickups.

CONS: None

MSRP: $109.99

Dan Coplan is senior staff writer at SMG. Dan is a Los Angeles based cinematographer and self-admitting guitar junkie. Email: dancoplan@sharemyguitar.com

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  • stan

    there is a serious CON not mentioned by the company in that it is a serious one that everyone should know about using 4way switching with this toneshaper,

    if you happen to switch from position 2 to 3 and happen to end in the middle of those 2 spots sometimes called the in-between position, you will have complete silence nothing, no hum just a dead guitar!!

    not very good if in a middle of a solo and you want the extra boost that position 3 gives you and you end of dead with no sound ! !

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