Orange Drop Capacitors

When you hear the words “Bumblebee,” “Orange Drop” and “Black Beauty” associated with guitars, chances are the conversation isn’t about insects, candy or drugs. It’s about tone. Unless, of course, it’s about Les Paul Customs, but that’s literally another story. For our purposes, those are three common slang terms for types of tone capacitors — the tiny but potent sound-coloring electronic devices that store energy in the electric field between conductors within the body of your guitar.

Capacitors are essentially storage devices, but can also be used in an electrical circuit to differentiate between high- and low-frequency signals. That makes them useful in electronic filters, such as the tone pots within electric guitars. As you know, rolling back on your Les Paul’s, SG’s or whatever model’s tone pot dampens the high frequencies in your guitar’s tone, reducing the treble portion of the signal and providing a more mellow or throaty voice. Leaving the pot wide-open lets the highs spike out, giving your guitar more edge.

In general, bigger capacitors help create a darker tone. And no matter where the tone pot is on your instrument – wide open, rolled all the way down or somewhere in between – the capacitor is always storing energy and coloring that tone.

Which is why tone capacitors are an important part of the Holy Grail sound of classic Gibson guitars, and the reason that Gibson went to Orange Drop caps for some of its coolest guitars beginning in 2014. Capacitors not only have their own character, they are reactive to conditions like hot temperatures and crappy voltage flow, and better capacitors like Orange Drops, Bumblebees and Black Beauties are better at holding their own in the face of such adversities. So there’s a good reason for using high quality caps.

There are many different types of capacitors used in guitar electronics, some with equally charming names, like “Tropical Fish” and “Mustard” – but Orange Drops, Black Beauties and Bumblebees all play a role in the lexicon of classic Gibson Les Paul and SG tones, so it’s worth understanding the distinctive character of each of those:

• Orange Drops: With Orange Drops, it’s all about the bite and mid-range clarity. Like Bumblebees and Black Beauties, they came to fame in the 1950s, but have a slightly higher voltage value. They provide a lovely transparent and natural sound, and do an especially good job of packing articulate punch into the mids, which helps guitars cut through mixes and hold their own in loud groups. The Gibson Custom Shop’s Gary Moore Les Paul Standard is a great example of a truly singing Orange Drop-equipped six-string.

• Bumblebees: With their black, yellow and red striped exterior, these capacitors look the coolest. They are also the best known among vintage guitar freaks. They first appeared in guitars during the late ’50s and early ’60s, including 1958 and 1959 Les Pauls. Together with Gibson’s cloth wiring from the era, they produced a tonal spell that still holds the world of guitar in its thrall. Bumblebees tend to mellow-out highs and bass frequencies to produce a rich, midrange concentrated tone. Two perfect examples of Bumblebee-equipped historic Les Pauls are Peter Green's Holy Grail sunburst and Billy Gibbons’ Pearly Gates.

• Black Beauties: These little pill-like black cylinders are, like Bumblebees, highly prized for their role in the creation of classic Les Paul and SG tones, and were used in many vintage Les Paul ’Bursts – mostly in 600 or 400 volt ratings. And they share the some high and low dampening character as Bumblebee caps, doing their part to produce super-sweet tones.