Introduction: How to Clean the Controls on Your Amplifier

Picture of How to Clean the Controls on Your Amplifier

Is that crackling and popping when you turn the controls on your amp driving you crazy?  Here's how to clean them and get back to the music.

There are spray "contact cleaners" available for this purpose, but in most cases just mixes the dirt and grime already inside with more dirt and assembly grease and may make the control operate worse than it is already.

Step 1: Remove Mounting Knobs and Nuts

Picture of Remove Mounting Knobs and Nuts

The first step is to remove the knobs and nuts mounting the controls to the front panel to the amplifier.  Remember to keep all the parts sorted so you can find them later.

Step 2: Unsolder the Controls

Picture of Unsolder the Controls

After the circuit board is removed from the amplifier box, each control is removed and cleaned one part at a time.  Do not take them all off at the same time, because you may mix them up.

Step 3: Remove Old Solder

Picture of Remove Old Solder

Remove old solder and inspect the pads for any burnt or broken traces. 

Step 4: Open the Control

Picture of Open the Control

Open the control (potentiometer or "pot") by lifting the mounting tabs slightly.  Remember that these tabs will not handle being bent more than a few times before they break off.  If a tab breaks off, you may be able to solder it back on later.

Step 5: Inspect Dirty Contacts

Picture of Inspect Dirty Contacts

The control is made up of two main parts.  The contacts and the carbon resistor.  Each side must be cleaned without damaging them further.  If the carbon looks burnt or has broken areas, the entire control may need to be replaced.  If the contacts are worn too much or broken, the entire control may need to be replaced.

Step 6: Cleaning

Picture of Cleaning

Carefully, clean the contacts and carbon with a pencil eraser.  Do not push too hard, and clean the eraser on a piece of paper when it gets too dirty.  Do not use any cleaner or solvent except rubbing alcohol or cleaner designated for this type of control.  Make sure to blow off any eraser particles left on the control before assembling the part.

Step 7: Cleaning Continued

Picture of Cleaning Continued

If you are cleaning a dual control, the method will be the same, however it will take twice as long, and you must align both controls so they go back together correctly.

Step 8: After Cleaning - Reassemble the Control

Picture of After Cleaning - Reassemble the Control

Being careful not to forget any parts, recrimp the case making sure not to bend the case or trap any parts between the case and the parts inside.  Turn the control and check for a nice smooth motion from the 0 to 10 locations.  The control should move approx. 120 degrees without any binding or bumps.

If you think you assembled one incorrectly, set it aside, and open the next one to look at how it should be assembled to fix the last one.  If you need to, take pictures of each phase to help you reassemble the parts later.

Try not to get any grease or oil on the contacts while assembling the part.  There may be some grease on other areas of the control, but it is not intended to be on the contacts.  There is a special conductive grease that can be used on the contacts, but is not necessary for proper operation.

Step 9: Resolder and Continue Cleaning the Rest of the Controls

Picture of Resolder and Continue Cleaning the Rest of the Controls

Use new solder to assemble the clean control back onto the PCB.  Clean the solder flux off with some rubbing alcohol or flux remover.

Step 10: Finish and Test

Picture of Finish and Test

Put the PCB back into the cabinet, and test the amplifier.  Turn each control and make sure it works as it should.

That's all folks, enjoy your "good-as-new" amp.

It took me about 2 hour to clean this Peavy, so at a tech rate of $60 per hour, I saved a bunch of cash doing it myself.


PorkieM (author)2017-12-12

Thanks very much for this. Simple and effective. This worked well for the input gain knob on my Trace Elliot. It got very scratchy and then finally I could get no output at all. It probably took me 10 passes with a clean eraser before the eraser did not pick up anymore carbon (clean). So be patient if you are doing this. Now I'm completely "scratch" free, after many years of ignoring it. I won't need to wait as long next time.

gdesmarais (author)2015-05-01

For the hard to acces pot, go with perchloroethylene (PERK) found in brake cleaner. Take a spray tube from another bootle if the one you purchased didn't come with any. Then no need to dismantle and desolder anything. A good alternative is almost pure isopropyl alcohol. Avoid water content unless you can dry it or wipe it afterward.

mail.stab5 (author)gdesmarais2017-08-15

"For the hard to acces pot, go with perchloroethylene (PERK) found in brake cleaner."

That's the best way to go. Brake Clean cleans and dries grease, oil, etc... Just as an example, brake clean is used to diag oil leaks on cars. The bottom of a motor can be soaked in oil, and all you have to do is spray it with break clean, and it completely dries all the oil. No need to wipe anything down, or do anything else. It works as long at you can get it on whatever you need to clean.

An alcohol based cleaner can damage anything like plastic, wire dielectric, water born acrylic/latex paint, or similar materials.

Mineral spirits is not a good choice either. It can also harm certain materials, and has a strong odor.

LarryS9 (author)2015-05-30

Nice job detailing the steps. Here is an easy method that I use. as always, make sure power is unpligged. If you can get to the pot don't bother unsoldering the pot. If not remove it. Use canned air with the thin straw that it comes with and point the straw at the base of the legs of the pot and blow air up and through the pot. Safety Warning for the next step. Don't spray your fingers. You will get frostbite. it will be very cold. Turn the canned air can upside down and spray into the pot again. the stuff in the canned air comes out as a liquid when you do that. It will vaporize in the pot. Turn the pot back and forth a bunch while it warms up. It may be stiff while you do this. Don't force it if it is too stiff. Wait a bit. As it warms up it will get easier and easier to turn. once it is easy as normal to turn you are done. I usually give it 5 minutes after that before powering on. That stuff evaporates pretty quickly

douglas.bischoff1 (author)2014-08-14

An eraser is a cheap and easy way to fix it sometimes. This was is great if you have a cheaper amp however if you have something that is vintage and high dollar. I would exercise the knob with some electro wash (I believe this is a 3M product). Follow this will a ultrasonic bath for 24 hours then dry for 24 hrs. If this doesn't fix it a new pot would be the answer.

Lenny24 (author)2010-09-06

This step may change the resistance or the wattage of the potentiometer.
So be careful you dont do this too often

Teslaphonics (author)Lenny242010-09-14

That's true, I've seen some people "clean" pots with sandpaper. They don't work at all after the carbon is removed from the phenolic backing.

Prometheus (author)Teslaphonics2010-09-16

Sandpaper has no place in contact-cleaning when it comes to electronics....Electrical sometimes, but not electronics. "Carbon Tracks" (such as those laid on phenolic for radial and linear varistors) should never be cleaned with an abrasive. The surface itself MUST be smooth for "noiseless" operation. A soft cloth and solvent can be used, but not sandpaper (O_o).

If they are using things like sandpaper on it, then you need to take it away, as well as any sharp objects, before someone or something gets injured. As said below; if a blast of "TV tuner cleaner/lube" or similar product, followed by moving it through it's range-of-motion several times does not solve the "scratchy pot", then just replace it, as the brush or substrate may simply be worn-out.

Automatically replace it if the maximum resistance is not within 10% of it's rating (or 5% for motor speed-controls and non-television audio equipment is my standard). If there is a lot of "play" in the shaft of a radial varistor (indicating wear), just replace it.

Sandpaper will work just fine for "cleaning" contacts.

The only thing you need to do is use high grit sand paper...say 600 to 1000 grade or higher depending on how sensitive the components are.

That pencil eraser he is using has the same effect on the carbon that sandpaper smoothly removes layers of existing material.

Would methalyted spirits (denatured alcohol) work for cleaning contacts? :)

That's one of the things it was made for, it's just not as strong a solvent, you you might have to work a little more at it, but that would be the second-best thing. In the case of a potentiometer or similar sliding contact, you want some lubrication that won't interfere with the electrical properties.

For cleaning contacts like nintendo cartridges or audio jacks, etc., denatured alcohol is perfect.

camogreen (author)2013-04-19

The tech would have used some spray and charged for an hour's labor. At the same time this technique may be considered overkill but will certainly work well. Good job and now many people know what is inside a pot.

fizzard (author)2012-01-11

This is brilliant. I have a MusicMan amp that has been going loud/soft/fuzzy intermittent for ages.

I followed your instructions and dared to take it apart to clean the volume pot.
Now I have a new amp!

Thank you for your superb clear instructions and pix.

Now how did Stairway to Heaven go? (only jokjng!)



djjoec (author)2011-10-20

I was wondering if I could use this same technique with the nobs on my numark mixer as Im a Wedding DJ in Melbourne. And my mixer  makes crackling noise when I raise the volume. If anyone can recomend a product that would be great and save me from buying a new mixer. Cheers

nonobadog (author)2011-06-19

Slightly off topic but - Awesome Photography! What equipment are you using? Especially for the lighting, are you using a ring flash? It doesn't quite look like it but the results you get are great.

molbar (author)2011-03-17

be here in new zealand i use a product called selley's rp7 just spray it in work controls a few times and job done and it is safe to use on electrical and electonical equipment

hlee tech (author)2011-03-07

one thing i learned years ago is not to use WD40 for many things that it seems successful at .. i had a big daven switch that never worked again after a clean and lube with wd40 .. i had a gorgeous selectric typewriter that become so gummed up that it never worked again. i was in a big airline and we had to make an emergency landing. the tail gate was indicating that it was open in flight. it turned out that the tech had been using WD 40 to clean the micro switches. after a while they gum up and quit working. we used to have really good control cleaner that included a lube. but recent stuff had to be reformulated for some reason. i cleaned a bunch of stuff with the new formula and they all quit working. turns out whatever it is, was causing delamination of the control resistance film. it was dissolving the adhesive that holds it together. yikes .. that was expensive. its best to use a product that is known to work like Deoxit . and to be really cautious of reformulations. i called the WD40 people years ago to find out why the failures. they said "its not intended for that service" the results will be unpredictable". i understand its fish oil and it does a nice job of displacing water. but not necessarily all the other things its become known for. often it seems to work great for awhile but can cause lots of trouble. its lubricating properties are not easily penetrated by switch contacts and sliders in pots once it has lost its evaporate. then it seems to get sticky (gummy) after a while and hard to remove.

Dr. Science (author)2010-11-11

Deoxit it is a great product and I'm not taking anything away from it's quality. Please don't laugh at me until you've actually tried this though: instead of Deoxit, try spraying WD-40 on the pot or switch. This solution has worked great for me, also. WD-40 will not conduct electricity so one can use it in real time, is long lasting (I've sprayed guitar amps, pro gear, and even AC switches with excellent results). No joke. -the doctor is now in.

ejensen99999 (author)2010-10-08

Before going through the trouble of taking apart your amp or spraying anything in it take a few minutes to "exercise" your pots. If you take the time to observe where your problem areas are you'll often find that the ranges of your pots that you don't use often are the areas with the problems.

"Exercising" you pots means to periodically run the pot back and forth through the entire range of motion so that oxidation has less of a chance to take hold in any given area. Indeed, you can even "exercise" a scratchy area completely out of existence with this method. I resurrected a rather expensive fender amp ( and got a deal in the bargain ) with a complete set of scratchy pots by turning it on, playing a tone through it, and then running the pots back and forth until the scratchiness went away.

Basically the wiper in the pot abrades away surface oxidation that causes scratchiness. This is fine for your amp because these pots are designed for thousands of turns through the course of their lifetime.

richarpo (author)2010-09-18

Would be tempting to replace the potentiometers, if they did not cost too much. Fantastic pictures, they are crystal clear.

mwseniff (author)2010-09-16

Deoxit by Caig is definitely the way to go. I have been working in electronics for 30+ years and it is hands down the best product out there. It contains a high molecular weight paraffin that leaves a molecule thick layer over the metal surfaces which protects them from further oxidation. When the contact is moved it displaces the film temporarily allow the contact to do it's job then reforms behind it, It also increases the conductivity (some manufacturers use a paste form of this to increase current rating of switches as it also stops arcing). I find that I rarely need to disassemble a pot after using this magic spray. There are also varieties that include lubricants for use in slider controls. You also need to be aware that many products contain solvents that flush away all the lubricants in controls and this can be a big problem in sliders. I have used Deox-it and it's kin (Preserve-it, as well as the gold variety) on everything from old guitar amps, mixing boards, chemistry instruments to flashlights with excellent results. Many years ago when I worked in a high end stereo shop I went over the connections of the distortion test gear with Caig products and lowered the loop distortion test readings by an order of 10. It is all I have used for the last 28 years including on my vintage guitar amps. It reduced potentiometer replacement to zero except when they were physically broken. I have found nothing else to compare to these Caig products and many so-called contact cleaners can damage controls so be careful. MCM Electronic is a good source for Caig online.

As an aside there are electronic problems that can cause pots to sound scratchy as well. Most commonly DC leaking on to the pot from a bad capacitor so that is worth checking to especially in old tube amps. Some modern guitar FX pedals exhibit these symptoms while working normally like some Zvex and other boutique distortions that use a pot to voltage starve the circuits but the pots are usually marked "crackle ok".

crusty knight (author)mwseniff2010-09-16

I heartily concur with De-Oxit. Our company uses it as a standard troubleshooting tool for intermittent electronic problems. Pull all the boards, spray the contacts and turn it back on. It works awesome!

Once again I say, there's no magic spray that will turn grease, scratches and dirt into pure gold and silver. Spraying a bad solder joint will not make it conductive again, spraying a cracked PCB trace will not fix it.

Agreed, however Deoxit will clean oxidation from contacts in harsher environments. I've used it to clean rust out of electromechanical clutches so I see no reason it wouldn't work to clean dust and crud out of the potentiometers; but you're right, broke is broke.

eddems (author)mwseniff2010-09-16

I really like Deoxit. I used it on tube strain gage amplifiers back in 1975. We couldn't get our amplifiers to stay at zero (microvolt measurements) unless we cleaned the gold plated edge connectors with it. In thwe ionstrumentation lab, we depended on it. I used it on TV cable connectors too, back in the analog days. Good stuff. And this was a great instructable.I didn't know anyone did work like this anymore. Outstanding..

dagnabbit (author)2010-09-16

I didn't see a disclaimer anywhere here- I want to add this for safety:
Especially for tube amps, and for any electronics using large capacitors and/or large power transformers in general... PLEASE BE CAREFUL. Discharge those capacitors first safely. Don't work with amps that are powered on. If you've never done this before, learn basic electrical safety first. Be safe! :-)

Scott_Tx (author)2010-09-05

that's a total cleaning! Something you could also try is something called Deoxit Gold. I've never used it but the people in the flashlight forums say its good for cleaning contacts and they stay cleaner longer afterwards.

Teslaphonics (author)Scott_Tx2010-09-14

I'm not familiar with that product, but I'll look into it. Sometimes if the contacts are silver or gold plated, I will use a tarnish remover first, then an alcohol wipe to keep from removing the thin plating. Not all contacts are made of the same materials, and you don't know until you take it apart.

dagnabbit (author)Teslaphonics2010-09-16

Deoxit works great. There's two main products- the regular Deoxit and Deoxit Gold. Deoxit has way more cleaner in it. Deoxit Gold has less cleaner and is more about contact preservation (regular Deoxit does this as well). I use Deoxit on all my music gear contacts (jacks, plugs, XLR's, etc). I know it's also used for doing slider maintenance on mixing consoles- I'm in the process of refurbing a mixer right now and using my trusty Deoxit pen. I haven't used Deoxit Gold though, more interested in the cleaning function. I think a followup application of Deoxit Gold after using Deoxit for cleaning is a good idea- if I remember the web site correctly (but they're trying to sell product!). I think it's the gentlest checmical cleaner I've ever used (man, I remember WAY back in the day when we'd wash down huge circuit boards with Freon, best stuff ever- cleaned everything, reacted with nothing. Who knew it was bad for the environment?)

GitarGr8 (author)2010-09-16

Oh I love you instructables! I have an old Peavey amp that pretty much stopped working, and was about to throw it out. I'll give this a shot and maybe I won't have to buy a replacement. Thanks!

zerotechnologies (author)2010-09-16

Thanks Teslaphonics! I have an old amp that I've tried everything (sprays and whatnot) short of taking the pots apart and nothing worked. Now that I see it's possible, I'm going to try your detailed method. Thanks again, friend.

Makescreenname (author)2010-09-16

Thanks for the great instructable. Photos are outstanding!

I'm currently going through the exercise of finding one of those one-of-a-kind pots with an unusual resistance, unknown taper, and attached AC switch for my old reverb unit--one of the best arguments there is for the method you so clearly show here, rather than "simply" replacing the pots.

I have used spray contact cleaner on my old Fender amp with mixed results--as I recall, the pots are not soldered to a PC board, so eliminating the de-soldering/re-soldering steps should make it a whole lot easier. I've also run across some pots that don't have much of an opening anywhere to spray in the cleaner, even with the little red straw.

Comments about the jack also seem right on target to me, also. The guy I bought my amp from said it had been in a basement (dampness) for a while and the jacks seemed "dirty", (noisy), so he "cleaned" them up by sticking in a fine rat-tail file into the jack holes !! (Takes all kinds). I'm trying to find some gold-plated replacements, if I can afford them, which should take care of any future worries about corrosion on the jack contact surfaces. I also need to deal with the "death-cap", which I might post as an instructable, if nobody else has yet.

Thanks for sharing this. I never thought about disassembling the pots, but it looks pretty do-able.

Bandaids (author)2010-09-05

I just used the contact cleaner i got at auto zone works just as well xD.. ecpt its for car

themensch (author)Bandaids2010-09-16

If you use too much contact cleaner, you can cause shorts.

Roland54 (author)2010-09-16

Maybe easier to replace the pots when you decided to remove them

fun2fix (author)2010-09-14

On this step: If you can afford a solder sucker (ie; Solder Pullit) It saves a lot of time. If done correctly, it will keep you from lifting pads and etches. It does a great job of evacuating the solder from a thru-hole. Using solder wick works great for surface mount components and some through-hole but you will end up leaving heat on the pads longer than needed. I use both and each do their job in the right places.

I wouldn't use the side-load ones, just the top-load ones like this one:

Teslaphonics (author)fun2fix2010-09-14

Yes, I agree they work well also. My basic point is not to trust the old solder, and to inspect around the pads because you can't always see a crack in the trace at the edge of a pad.

fun2fix (author)Teslaphonics2010-09-14

Absolutely! If you don't have the luxury of an inspection light (with lens) or an eye loupe you have to use the best technique you have.

Another idea is to use q-tips (or paper towel) with 93% Isopropyl Alcohol
(off the shelf) to clean away the flux residue left over from desoldering. That
will help immensely in your visual inspection.

I used to fix Fender amps back in the 90's. The small solid-state practice amps
were notorious for "intermittent" connections at the board. They were used by
kids who's cords were proverbially short....

fun2fix (author)fun2fix2010-09-14

Since I can't re-edit what I said, You already mentioned the alcohol... :-)

fdmundo (author)fun2fix2010-09-14

I totally agree with fun2fix -- I never got the hang of solder wick and ruined many a PCB with it. Solder-suckers work consistently well for me. Just put a little container under the bench to catch the expelled solder when you "reload."

Also, a case can be made that it's a "greener" method since you're not using up and discarding copper wick. OK, it's a trivial amount, but still...

mmbutler (author)2010-09-13

If you're going to go all the way down inside the pots, I don't recommend using a regular pink rubber pencil eraser -- they can leave sulfur contamination behind. A better option is the tubular white eraser elements that are designed for use with some mechanical pencils like the Pentel Side FX.

Teslaphonics (author)mmbutler2010-09-14

That's an interesting point. I usually use the white ones on larger contacts like model train track rails because it's denser. I didn't know about the sulfur issue. Doing a quick internet search leads me to believe that all erasers may leave some chemical residues, so make sure to wipe off anything left behind. I've used small alcohol pads (or some alcohol on a q-tip) to clean up also.

uncle frogy (author)2010-09-06

If using a spray is not good enough and the pots are just too dirty and/or worn and scratched to need go through that much trouble I would just replace them with new ones which are not that expensive and have the advantage of having a much longer useful life.
in a pinch to get through the weekend would be an OK gamble but I would not want to rely on it to be a long term fix.
Murphy's law lives on stage
I repaired a power amp for a musician long thin wood shavings from a cut off saw had gotten in and under the slider it was more reliable to replace

good skill and patience

Teslaphonics (author)uncle frogy2010-09-14

These particular pots were heavily oxidized, but not all that worn. They also weren't marked as to linear vs audio taper and two had custom switches built into them - not easy to find unless you have the schematics and part numbers.

noirengineer (author)2010-09-13

i think opening the pot is going to far.
I mean. for the purposes of illustration and context of understanding
the wiper mechanism of a potentiometer; no it’s quite relevant. That said;
I truly believe a bit of DeOxit (my pref. contact spray) and some air in a can
can clean the pot indefinitely. If it’s an issue with a contact - re-solder joint.
I’ve never found it necessary to open a potentiometer wide open in any circumstance! Thanks for sharing though!

In some cases there's no need to open the pots, however in this case there was a need. This amp was stored outside for a period of time (we bought it used), and there was quite a bit of oxidation on the center poles that a spray cleaner wouldn't remove.

Aud1073cH (author)2010-09-06

Great how-to for getting inside the pots.

     This is a bit of work, so I usually try a cleaner/lubricant first.  A plain cleaner may remove the carbon and change the value of the pot or destroy (cheap) pots.  I use plastic safe cleaner/lube so I don't have to worry about over spray eating the other parts.
     Radioshack had some stuff called TV-Tuner/Control Cleaner & Lubricant  cat no. 64-4315 ($10) but I use the equivalent CRC 2-26 Plastic Safe Multipurpose Precision Lubricant -you can get it at many hardware stores. (Home Depot - $3/can)
     I use the plastic straw to spray just a little into the little hole at the back of most pots - the opposite end from the solder terminals.  I don't usually clean/lube the pot shafts unless they are too hard to turn. Cleaner in the shaft will remove some of the grease that's in there.
Then when the cleaner/lube doesn't work, I follow this instructable.  :)

For step 2, I usually mark the pot and the PC board with a permanent marker with numbers so I can keep them separate. Or mark them with their function (vol, tone, etc.)

iamtoats (author)2010-09-05

Nice! I'll have to try this on my Mesa V-Twin. It's popping like mad, and the headphone jack doesn't work nicely anymore.... (comes out in only the left ear %90 of the time...)

bigredlevy (author)iamtoats2010-09-06

you should fix the jack first and see if that fixes your problem. it's much less work and much lower probability of stuffing it up. this is a lot of effort to go to.

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