Gibson speed knobs vs top hats, which one is the better choice? A seemingly insignificant topic to talk about. Yet, is one that is highly debated and discussed among Gibson guitar (mainly Les Paul models) owners alike.
In this post, I aim to compare the Gibson speed knobs with the Gibson top hats and give you my opinion on which one I think is the better choice for your guitar.
My Story: Speed Knobs or Top Hats
When I got my first Gibson Les Paul a long time ago, I was completely unaware and oblivious to the types of volume and tone knobs the guitar came with.
In fact, It didn’t even occur to me that there would be different types of knobs for your guitar. You see, I came from the Stratocaster and Telecaster world. Whereby there is only one type of knob for the guitar. I thought the same applied to Gibson guitars.
However, I soon learned that there were options when it came to volume and tone knobs. I was never quite satisfied with the top hat-style knobs that came on my guitar.
I found the top hats to be harder and stickier to control. Whilst the top hats resembled the knobs from the Stratocaster I was used to, I found the speed knobs to be of similar feel compared to the Stratocaster knobs.
Which just felt more natural to me. I thus delved into discovering the debate surrounding Gibson Speed Knobs vs Top hats for Les Pauls.
Before I can compare these two control knobs for Gibson guitars, we have to dive into the brief history of both the speed knobs and the top hats.
The top hat control knobs were the first type to be featured on Gibson guitars. The top hats are very often considered to be the more traditional of the two because they were featured on the early Les Paul electric guitars for their first 20 years or so of production.
History Of Speed Knobs For Les Paul
It was not until the 1970s whereby we saw the introduction as well as the gain in popularity of the Gibson speed knobs. The evolution of rock music that went on into the 70s saw guitar players exploring the boundaries of the electric guitar.
As an example, guitarists would use the guitar volume knob to swell the volume which, produces a cool effect. However, these volume swells were only really possible with speed knobs.
Aesthetics or Functionality
When comparing these two Gibson-style volume and tone control knobs, you have to ask yourself which is more important to you. Is it functionality or is it aesthetics?
Both these style knobs essentially achieve the same thing and perform the same function. However, the way in which they achieve this function is different.
Therefore, deciding what is more important for you is key to deciding between Gibson Top Hats vs Speed Knobs.
For me, it is all about functionality. I am very seldom phased by looks. As such, I gravitated to the speed knobs. I just found them to be much smoother and easier to control.
The speed knobs allowed me to wrap my pinky finger around the knob which is something I got used to from playing a Strat most of my life.
I found that the top hats were much harder to turn and sometimes got stuck. It seems to me that the top hats sit closer to the body of the guitar in comparison to the speed knobs.
Therefore, dirt from playing often got lodged between the top hats and the body making it stick even more. A simple clean would sort this out but I’ve never found that to be the case with speed knobs no matter how dirty the guitar got.
Which Is Best for You?
If you are focusing on playability then I highly recommend the speed knobs. I just find the speed knobs easier to control the volume and tone which makes for a much smoother and more enjoyable playing experience.
If you are however focusing on the look of your guitar. Or perhaps are thinking about selling your Gibson and would like to know which people prefer the look.
The general consensus is that the Top hats achieve the classic Gibson look. Especially that of the vintage Gibsons. If aesthetics is more important to you, then I’d say go for the top hats.
Some more differences between the Speed Knobs and Top Hats.
Weight: Speed Knobs Vs Top Hats
Something that never occurred to me was the weight difference between the two Gibson knobs. An often talked about topic among Les Paul owners is modifying it in such a way that makes the guitar lighter.
Les Pauls are notoriously heavy and thus guitarists have been finding crafty ways to cut the weight of their beloved Les Pauls at every possible chance they get. Apparently, the speed knobs weigh more than the top hats.
To me, this seems a little crazy as the difference is minuscule in my opinion. However, I completely understand that everything adds up so if weight is an important factor, the top hats are probably your best bet.
Do The Top Hats Sound Different To The Speed Knobs?
The fact that these two knobs could possibly sound different was something I never in a million years would have ever considered.
It was not until I was part of a conversation among other guitarists debating this exact topic. That I heard about the fact that these two knobs can possibly affect the sound of your Les Paul.
Unfortunately, I am yet to be able to do a sound comparison between the two. It still seems something that would be impossible.
However, the way it was explained to me (in the simplest terms) is that each knob affects the way in which the pot turns. Therefore a top hat will turn the tone or volume in increments whilst the speed knobs control the volume or tone pots more seamlessly. Thus, resulting in a smoother sound.
Downsides to The Gibson Speed Knobs and Top Hats
There is a downside that I have come across that is present in both the Speed Knobs as well as the Top Hats. This is the issue regarding the grip of the top hats as well as the speed knobs.
Or should I say, lack of grip thereof? As I’ve already mentioned, I was a Stratocaster player. And the Strat has tone/volume knobs that have somewhat of a grip on them.
If you take a closer look at the strat volume./tone knob you will see grooves present. These grooves allow for your fingers to grip the knobs and thus allowing for better control. No such grip is present on either the speed knobs or the top hats.
The outright winner for me is the Speed Knobs. I don’t mind how they look at all and find them to give me the best playing experience with my Les Paul. As a gigging guitarist that like to use a Les Paul as their number 1, the speed knobs just make the most sense.
Hey, fellow guitar mate! I’m Justin, I have been a professional guitarist since 2012. I have traveled the world playing on different stages alongside some of the best indie bands, at some of the biggest music festivals in the world. As a result, I’ve played lots of different guitar gear. Instead of keeping that knowledge to myself, I have set up this site to share my honest reviews of various guitar gear. But most notably, my love for guitar picks.