Alright so I've been trying to mod my guitar for about a month or so now, and though I've had some success I'm still fiddling around with it, and I have to say I'm pretty frustrated by the inconsistency of information about guitar modding online. Most of the explanations I've come across are so superficial and don't ever get down to the way the wiring actually works, which leads me to believe that these people don't understand how it all works themselves. It's mostly just "solder this here, solder that there, this will give you a brighter tone, this will give you a warmer tone".

But that's not really the point, just venting a bit of frustration there lol; the point is that I feel like I'm on the brink of understanding exactly how an electric guitar works, but I'm really baffled by the way that people use the term "grounding" to describe the return path electricity takes. The problem is that I don't know if this is due to my own ignorance or if it's maybe due to everyone on the entire Internet using the term "grounding" wrongly, and that it's one of those things that is simply accepted as the norm because a large number of people made the same mistake too many times.

The way I see it (and I may well be completely wrong but that's why I'm posting this in the first place, to find out if I'm wrong and what's right) is like this: the "ground wires" that everyone is talking about, on the pickups, on one end of the capacitor on the tone pot etc. are not ground wires at all - they're the neutral wires that serve to complete the circuit. There is no physical connection from a guitar to the Earth so I really don't see how it can be correctly called grounding in any way.

In other words, when you hit the strings, the free electrons in the pickups start traveling through the hot wire of the pickups themselves, then through the hot wires of all the components in between, out the hot wire of the output jack and to the amplifier. The signal then goes through the amplifier and is sent back through the neutral wire of the output jack, to the place where all the other "ground" (but really, neutral) wires are connected like the back of the volume pot, and then they get sent back to the pickups where they originated, forming a closed circuit.

The only real "ground" that I see happening here is the wire that connects the neutral wires to the bridge of the guitar itself, and that's still a big mystery to me on how that works.

Once again, this thread is not about me trying to say how people that make guitar tutorials on the Internet are stupid, I just want to figure this stuff out and I just can't find the right information online for all the pieces to fall into place. So can anyone explain this stuff to me a bit better, or if I'm by any chance correct with this little theory of mine, let me know? It would really be a big help. Sorry for the long post, I'm just really frustrated with this sh*t lol
Last edited by Dzamija at Mar 31, 2017,
You could start here.  But basically, in electrical terms "ground" is just a reference point, usually with the lowest potential (possibly zero), from which the rest of the circuit can be measured.

The "ground" in the guitar circuit is connected to the bridge, which in turn is connected to the strings, which (when you touch them) are connected to you, which is connected to the physical earth.  This is why in some particularly noisy guitars touching the strings reduces the hum - it is making a physical connection to earth.

But you are right, it is basically just two sides of the same circuit, and to confuse matters even more, the current in the guitar circuit is alternating, so the electrons are just sloshing backwards and forwards through the wires.  The reason one pickup wire is called "hot" and the other "ground" is simply a convention to help you wire them up the same way around (or in phase), but as you probably know, reversing the phase/polarity is sometimes done deliberately for its special tonal quality.

Volume potentiometers (pots) are variable resistors that allow a certain amount of the signal to "leak" to "ground", thus reducing its intensity.  A capacitor only lets certain frequencies of signal pass through it, so putting one of these in the path to ground that comes from your potentiometer allows you to control the amount of certain frequencies that leak to ground, thus affecting the tone; i.e. a tone pot.

And that's about all there is to know about a basic electric guitar circuit.  Everything else is pretty much variations on this.  Although I'm sure there are far more electrically knowledgeable people than me around here that can help you out.
Quote by sashki
The input jack sleeve on your amplifier is connected to ground, so your guitar's "neutral" connections are grounded when it is plugged in (but don't quote me on that)

That's a good point, that could be where the usage of the phrase "grounding" in this kind of context originated. Thanks for the replies guys, I really appreciate it!