Years ago, anything that needed a handset required a panel potentiometer—radio controls and home stereo equipment, to name a few. And while panel potentiometers were commonplace in handsets, they hadn’t yet transcended the music industry. Today, that’s no longer the trend.
As music instruments and equipment have evolved, electronics have become more digital in nature. Yet one element remains true: musicians want to be able to feel and/or hear the differentiation in sounds. Take for example, guitar “wah” pedals. Panel potentiometers are now being used in such pedals to allow guitar players greater feel and more precise movement in the pedal, thereby resulting in a more precise sound. Some such potentiometers are offered with linear, audio, reverse audio and custom audio tapers, allowing for a customer-defined feel.
Music manufacturers are realizing the benefits of utilizing high quality, robust panel potentiometers in guitars, amplifiers, stomp boxes and electronic mixing boards as well. As seen at the NAMM (National Association of Music Manufacturers) show in January, reliability is paramount. Like many other industries, musicians and equipment manufacturers are looking for devices with extended life cycles. Life cycles to 1 million rotations are paramount, and some manufacturers are even offering “wah” pedal rotary potentiometers with life expectancy to 2 million cycles.
The high quality and reliability required to meet extended life usage has been enhanced by some manufacturers through the use of specific materials, including improved contact springs, conductive materials, metal shafts and repeating audio tapers, as well as matching substrates to the specific application.
Today’s panel potentiometers, often miniaturized, are also allowing music equipment suppliers to do more with the guitar in terms of both sound control and style. Whereas 10 years ago the potentiometers available were larger and less reliable, today’s components are miniaturized and robust. By offering a wide range of components to meet any space requirements, component manufacturers are able to cater to the customer’s requirements across a broad range of applications.
Also evidenced at NAMM, panel potentiometer design and performance has been enhanced. Because of that, music manufacturers are specifying panel pots in large quantities. The key to being a top supplier in the music industry is providing an extensive breadth of products to suit any need. From one panel pot in a foot pedal to meeting the demand for 20 potentiometers of all different sizes on an amplifier or mixing board, music instruments range from $40 to $40,000, and components must fit the application, in terms of cost-competitiveness, specifications and performance.
One concern among some component manufacturers, however, is as pricing becomes more competitive, customers may turn to cheaper, yet less experienced suppliers, resulting in less reliable devices. While this isn’t the trend yet, there have been several recalls due to defective components. While some established component manufacturers may be slightly more expensive, the products are made to their precise quality, material and electrical specifications, eliminating reliability concerns.
The market for panel potentiometers has seen recent growth, particularly in more “mainstream” arenas including the music industry. Such applications (amplifiers, electronic mixing boards, electric guitars, stomp boxes etc.) require high quality, durable products with exceptionally long life due to the number of rotations required and the extended lifespan of each end product. The smaller and more versatile these components become, the more they enable music instrument and equipment manufacturers to produce unique, high quality products, both in terms of sound effects and visual appeal.
By Barbara Wiesinger, BI Technologies
About the Author:
Barbara Wiesinger is Director of Marketing for Variable Products and has been with BI Technologies for nine years. Prior to joining BI Technologies, Barbara was the Sales and Marketing Manager for BEI Duncan. Barbara received a B.A. degree from Carthage College in Kenosha, WI and has participated in a series of graduate-level Executive Management courses at Stanford University.