Every electric guitar player understands the intrinsic connection between their instrument and the music it produces. While a standard electric guitar might suffice, there comes a point in a musician's journey when the desire for a richer, more unique sound takes hold. This is where guitar upgrades and mods come into play.
Upgrading your electric guitar can be a transformative experience, allowing you to unlock new tonal possibilities, improve playability, and tailor your instrument to match your musical vision.
In this blog post, we will delve into some of the most effective and popular ways to upgrade your electric guitar.
From swapping out pickups to enhancing hardware components, we'll explore how each upgrade can impact your sound and overall playing experience.
Whether you're a seasoned guitarist looking to fine-tune your signature tone or a beginner seeking to take your playing to the next level, these upgrades offer a world of sonic possibilities that can truly elevate your musical journey.
Best Ways To Upgrade An Electric Guitar
Here's a list of the 25 best ways to upgrade an electric guitar:
- Pickups: Upgrade to high-quality pickups for improved tone.
- Tuners: Install better tuners for enhanced tuning stability.
- Nut: Opt for a well-cut nut to improve tuning and string action.
- Bridge: Upgrade the bridge for better sustain and intonation.
- Saddles: Improve intonation and tone transfer with upgraded saddles.
- Electronics: Replace pots, switches, and wiring to eliminate noise.
- Capacitors: Upgrade capacitors to impact the guitar's tone.
- Output Jack: Enhance connectivity and reduce signal loss with a better jack.
- Fretwork: Professional fret leveling enhances playability.
- Frets: Install higher quality frets for longevity and playability.
- Neck: Swap to a better neck for improved feel and stability.
- Bridge Pickup Mod: Add coil split or series/parallel switch for tonal options.
- Shielding: Reduce interference with conductive shielding.
- Strap Locks: Improve standing play security with quality strap locks.
- Pickguard: Enhance aesthetics and tone with an upgraded pickguard.
- Knobs and Switches: Upgrade knobs and switches for durability.
- Control Plate: Enhance appearance with a better control plate.
- String Trees: Improve tuning stability and glide with roller trees.
- Tremolo System: Install high-quality tremolo for stability.
- Tailpiece: Upgrade to improve sustain and tone.
- Neck Plate: Enhance aesthetics with a better neck plate.
- Pickup Covers: Alter style with new pickup covers.
- Bridge Pins: Upgrade bridge pins for better resonance.
- Finish: Refinish for improved aesthetics and protection.
- Strap: Opt for a comfortable and high-quality strap.
Upgrading the pickups of your electric guitar to high-quality ones can significantly enhance your tone. Consider options from reputable manufacturers like Seymour Duncan, DiMarzio, or EMG. Different pickups offer distinct tonal characteristics, so choose based on your musical preferences. Single-coil pickups provide a clear and bright tone, while humbuckers deliver a thicker and warmer sound, ideal for rock and metal genres.
Installing high-quality tuners improves tuning stability, keeping your guitar in tune for longer periods. Brands like Grover, Schaller, and Hipshot offer reliable and precise tuning machines. Look for locking tuners, which securely hold the strings in place and prevent slipping during intense playing or heavy tremolo use.
Opting for a well-cut nut is essential for accurate tuning and proper string action. A bone or synthetic nut can improve sustain and resonance. A professional setup or replacement nut from manufacturers like Graphtech or Fender can make a noticeable difference in playability.
Upgrading your guitar's bridge enhances sustain and intonation. Consider a fixed bridge for simplicity and tuning stability, or a floating tremolo system for added expression. Brands like Gotoh and Wilkinson offer high-quality bridges that can improve your playing experience.
Upgraded saddles can improve intonation and tone transfer. Materials like brass, steel, or titanium can enhance sustain and clarity. Look for options with adjustable saddles, allowing for precise setup adjustments.
Explore saddle options at StewMac, a popular resource for guitar parts.
Replacing pots, switches, and wiring can eliminate unwanted noise and improve signal quality. High-quality components from brands like CTS and Switchcraft can lead to a cleaner signal path and smoother control.
Upgrading capacitors can impact the guitar's tone by affecting the tone control's responsiveness. High-quality capacitors like Sprague Orange Drops or PIO (Paper in Oil) capacitors can add warmth and clarity to your sound.
8. Output Jack
Enhance connectivity and reduce signal loss by installing a high-quality output jack. Switchcraft output jacks are known for their durability and reliable signal transfer.
Explore options at Stewart-MacDonald.
Professional fret leveling enhances playability by ensuring even fret height across the fretboard. A well-leveled fretboard reduces buzzing and allows for comfortable playing.
For professional fretwork services, consult a local luthier or guitar technician.
Installing higher quality frets, such as stainless steel frets, can increase longevity and playability. Stainless steel frets are durable, smooth, and less prone to wear, ensuring consistent tone and feel.
For fret replacement, consult a skilled luthier or guitar technician.
Swapping to a better neck can improve the overall feel and stability of your guitar. A well-crafted neck with the right profile and wood choice can enhance comfort and playability.
12. Bridge Pickup Mod
Adding a coil split or series/parallel switch to your bridge pickup can provide tonal versatility. Coil splitting allows you to switch between single-coil and humbucking modes, while series/parallel switching offers a different tonal character.
Consult with a guitar technician or use resources like Seymour Duncan's wiring diagrams for guidance.
Reducing interference and noise is crucial for achieving a clean signal. Applying conductive shielding inside the guitar's control cavity and pickup routes can minimize unwanted electronic noise.
For shielding materials and guides, visit Stewart-MacDonald.
14. Strap Locks
Improve standing play security by using quality strap locks. These locks ensure that your guitar strap stays securely attached to the guitar, preventing accidental drops.
Enhance aesthetics and potentially affect tone by upgrading your pickguard. Different materials can slightly alter the resonance of your guitar.
Custom pickguards are available from various sources, including Pickguardian.
16. Knobs and Switches
Upgrading knobs and switches can improve durability and feel. Look for quality replacements that match the aesthetics of your guitar.
Find replacement knobs and switches at Allparts.
17. Control Plate
Enhance the appearance of your guitar by upgrading the control plate. Choose from various materials like metal or custom designs to match your guitar's style.
Custom control plates can be found at places like Warmoth.
18. String Trees
Improve tuning stability and string glide by using roller string trees. These reduce friction on the strings, allowing for smoother tremolo use and string bending.
Explore roller string trees at GuitarFetish.
19. Tremolo System
Installing a high-quality tremolo system can improve stability during whammy bar usage. Look for options with hardened steel components for durability and tuning stability.
Upgrading the tailpiece can impact sustain and tonal characteristics. Consider options made from materials like aluminum, brass, or titanium for improved resonance.
Explore tailpiece options at StewMac.
21. Neck Plate
Enhance aesthetics with a better neck plate. While this upgrade is mostly cosmetic, it can add a unique touch to your guitar's appearance.
Custom neck plates can be found at Personalized Neck Plates.
22. Pickup Covers
Alter the style of your guitar with new pickup covers. Different colors and designs can give your guitar a fresh look.
Pickup covers are available from various suppliers, including GuitarFetish.
23. Bridge Pins
Upgrade bridge pins to improve string resonance and sustain. Materials like bone or brass can contribute to a more balanced tone.
Explore bridge pin options at Stewart-MacDonald.
Refinishing your guitar can improve its aesthetics and protection. A new finish can also affect the guitar's resonance and feel.
For refinishing services, consult experienced luthiers or guitar restoration specialists.
Opt for a comfortable and high-quality strap to improve your playing experience. Padded straps with adjustable length can help reduce fatigue during long playing sessions.
Remember that each upgrade should be carefully considered based on your guitar's current state, your playing style, and your desired tonal improvements. It's recommended to consult with experienced guitar technicians or luthiers before making significant modifications to your instrument.
How do you upgrade an old electric guitar?
Upgrading an old electric guitar can breathe new life into it and enhance its playability and tone. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to approach upgrading an old electric guitar:
- Evaluate the current condition of your guitar. Check for any structural issues, wear and tear, and functionality of the electronics.
- Consider what aspects you want to improve, such as tone, playability, aesthetics, or a combination of these.
- Set a Budget:
- Determine how much you're willing to invest in upgrades. This will help you make decisions about which upgrades to prioritize.
- Research and Planning:
- Identify the specific upgrades you want to make. Research different options for pickups, tuning machines, electronics, bridges, and other components.
- Consider how each upgrade will affect your guitar's overall sound, playability, and aesthetics.
- Select Components:
- Choose components that match your desired outcome. For example, if you're looking for a brighter tone, select pickups known for that characteristic.
- Ensure the components are compatible with your guitar's design and dimensions.
- Gather Tools and Supplies:
- Depending on the upgrades you're making, you may need tools such as screwdrivers, soldering iron, solder, wrenches, and other basic guitar maintenance tools.
- Perform Upgrades:
- Here are some common upgrades you can perform on an old electric guitar:
- Pickups: Swap out old pickups for new ones that match your desired tone. This can be one of the most impactful upgrades.
- Electronics: Upgrade pots, switches, capacitors, and wiring for improved signal quality and reduced noise.
- Tuning Machines: Replace old, unreliable tuning machines with higher-quality ones to improve tuning stability.
- Bridge and Tailpiece: Upgrade to a higher-quality bridge and tailpiece for improved sustain, intonation, and tuning stability.
- Nut: Install a new nut made from bone or synthetic materials to enhance tuning stability and sustain.
- Frets: If your guitar has worn frets, consider a professional fret leveling and crowning for better playability.
- Cosmetic Upgrades: Change control knobs, pickguards, or other cosmetic elements for a fresh look.
- Here are some common upgrades you can perform on an old electric guitar:
- Professional Help:
- If you're not confident in performing upgrades yourself, seek the assistance of a professional guitar technician. They can ensure the upgrades are done correctly and safely.
- Setup and Testing:
- After the upgrades are complete, perform a thorough setup. Adjust the neck relief, action, and intonation to optimize playability and tone.
- Test your guitar's new components to ensure they're functioning as intended and achieving the desired results.
- Play and Enjoy:
- Once your old electric guitar has been upgraded, take some time to play and enjoy the improvements you've made. You'll likely notice a positive difference in its sound and feel.
Remember that upgrading an old electric guitar and doing guitar mods is a process that requires careful consideration and attention to detail. Each upgrade should align with your goals and preferences, and it's okay to prioritize certain upgrades over others based on your budget and needs.
Is it worth upgrading guitar electronics?
Upgrading guitar electronics can be worth it in many cases, as it can significantly impact your guitar's tone, playability, and overall performance. However, whether it's worth it for you depends on a few factors:
- Current State of Electronics: If your guitar's electronics are causing issues like static noise, poor signal quality, or intermittent connections, upgrading them can make a substantial improvement in sound clarity and reliability.
- Desired Tone: Upgrading your pickups, pots, switches, and wiring can allow you to tailor your guitar's tone to your preferences. Different pickups and electronics configurations can result in brighter, warmer, punchier, or more versatile sounds.
- Instrument Quality: While upgrading electronics can enhance your guitar's tone, it won't necessarily turn a low-quality guitar into a high-quality one. If your guitar has fundamental structural or build issues, electronics upgrades might not yield the desired results.
- Playability: Upgrading components like pots and switches can improve the overall feel and usability of your guitar. Smooth volume and tone controls and reliable switches can make playing more enjoyable.
- Customization: Upgrading electronics gives you the opportunity to customize your guitar's sound. If you have a unique vision for your instrument's tone, upgrading electronics can help you achieve that.
- Budget: Consider the cost of the electronics upgrades and whether it aligns with your budget. Keep in mind that you'll also need to factor in the cost of professional installation if you're not comfortable doing it yourself.
- Long-Term Investment: Upgrading your guitar's electronics can potentially increase its resale value if done well. However, keep in mind that personal modifications might not appeal to all potential buyers.
If you're considering upgrading your guitar's electronics, it's a good idea to do thorough research on the components you're interested in. Understand how different pickups, pots, capacitors, and wiring can affect your guitar's tone and playability. If you're not comfortable performing the upgrades yourself, consult a professional guitar technician. They can guide you in selecting the right components and ensure the upgrades are done correctly.
Ultimately, upgrading guitar electronics can be a worthwhile investment if you're seeking to improve your playing experience and achieve a specific tone that aligns with your musical style and preferences.
What should I upgrade on a guitar?
The specific upgrades you should consider for your guitar depend on your goals, playing style, and the current state of your instrument. Here are some common areas to consider upgrading:
- Pickups: Upgrading your pickups can have a significant impact on your guitar's tone. Different pickups offer different characteristics, such as increased output, clarity, warmth, or versatility. Choose pickups that align with your musical preferences.
- Tuning Machines: High-quality tuning machines improve tuning stability and make string changes smoother. This upgrade is especially important if you find your guitar struggles with staying in tune.
- Nut: A well-cut nut can enhance tuning stability, sustain, and playability. Upgrading to a bone or synthetic nut can make a noticeable difference.
- Bridge and Tailpiece: A better-quality bridge and tailpiece can improve intonation, sustain, and overall resonance. If you're experiencing issues with these components, upgrading them can be beneficial.
- Electronics: Upgrading pots, switches, and wiring can reduce noise and improve signal clarity. If your guitar's electronics are causing issues like scratchy pots or intermittent connections, an electronics upgrade could be helpful.
- Frets: If your guitar has uneven or worn frets, a professional fret leveling and crowning can improve playability and intonation.
- Strings: Don't underestimate the impact of good-quality strings. Experiment with different string gauges and materials to find the ones that best suit your playing style and desired tone.
- Strap Locks: If you play standing up, upgrading to strap locks can prevent your guitar from accidentally falling off the strap.
- Control Knobs and Covers: Swapping out control knobs, pickup covers, and switch tips can give your guitar a fresh look.
- Bridge Saddles: Adjustable bridge saddles can allow for fine-tuning intonation and action.
- Pickguard: Changing the pickguard can alter the visual appearance of your guitar and give it a unique touch.
- Finish and Cosmetics: If you're interested in changing the appearance of your guitar, refinishing or adding new cosmetic elements can give it a fresh and personalized look.
Before proceeding with any upgrades, it's a good idea to assess your guitar's overall condition and determine which areas could benefit the most. Additionally, consider your budget for upgrades and whether the potential improvements align with your expectations. If you're not comfortable performing these upgrades yourself, consult a professional guitar technician to ensure the upgrades are done correctly and safely. Keep in mind that while upgrades can enhance your guitar, they won't turn a low-quality instrument into a top-tier one – the foundation of the guitar's construction still matters.
Can you turn a cheap guitar into a good one?
Absolutely, it's possible to turn a cheap guitar into a good one through a combination of careful upgrades and adjustments. While a budget guitar might not have the same build quality and premium components as a high-end model, there are several steps you can take to enhance its playability, tone, and overall performance. Here are some approaches to consider:
- Setup and Maintenance: A proper setup is crucial for any guitar's playability. Adjust the neck relief, action, and intonation to ensure comfortable fretting and accurate tuning. Regular maintenance like cleaning, polishing, and lubricating the hardware can also greatly improve the guitar's overall feel and longevity.
- Upgrade the Tuning Machines: Swapping out the stock tuning machines for higher-quality ones can improve tuning stability and make restringing easier. This simple upgrade can have a significant impact on your playing experience.
- Replace the Nut: Upgrading to a well-cut bone or synthetic nut can enhance sustain, resonance, and tuning stability. A properly fitted nut can also improve the guitar's intonation.
- Upgrade the Pickups: One of the most noticeable upgrades is changing the pickups. Swapping out the stock pickups for higher-quality ones can transform the guitar's tone, providing more clarity, dynamics, and versatility. Choose pickups that match your desired sound and playing style.
- Electronics Upgrade: Upgrading the guitar's electronics, such as the pots, switches, and wiring, can reduce noise and improve the overall signal quality. This can have a positive impact on tone and playability.
- Bridge and Tailpiece: If the stock bridge and tailpiece are causing intonation issues or affecting sustain, consider upgrading to higher-quality components. A well-constructed bridge can enhance tuning stability and sustain.
- Upgrade the Nut: Upgrading to a well-cut bone or synthetic nut can enhance sustain, resonance, and tuning stability. A properly fitted nut can also improve the guitar's intonation.
- Fretwork: If the frets are uneven or have sharp edges, a professional fret leveling and crowning can greatly improve playability and intonation.
- Finish and Cosmetics: While not directly related to sound and playability, refinishing or cosmetically enhancing the guitar can give it a more professional and personalized appearance.
- Strings and Accessories: Don't underestimate the impact of quality strings. Opt for strings that match your playing style and preferences. Additionally, investing in a good strap, case, and other accessories can contribute to the overall feel and presentation of the instrument.
While these upgrades can undoubtedly enhance a cheap guitar, it's important to note that there may be limitations based on the initial build quality of the instrument. Consider your budget and the potential costs of upgrades before diving in. Consulting with a professional guitar technician can also help you make informed decisions about which upgrades will yield the best results for your specific guitar model.
FAQs About Ways To Easily Upgrade Electric Guitars (Guitar Mods)
What is the lifespan of an electric guitar?
The lifespan of an electric guitar can vary significantly depending on factors such as the quality of construction, how well it's maintained, and how often it's played. With proper care and maintenance, a well-made electric guitar can last for several decades or even a lifetime.
Do electric guitars play better with age?
Electric guitars don't necessarily play better with age like some acoustic instruments do. However, some players believe that vintage guitars can develop a unique tonal character as they age, which can be appealing to certain musicians. It's important to note that playability and performance can be influenced by factors like setup, maintenance, and modifications rather than just the guitar's age.
What is the oldest playable electric guitar?
The "Frying Pan," created by Rickenbacker in 1931, is often considered the first commercially successful electric guitar. This instrument resembles a frying pan in shape and was designed with a magnetic pickup and solid body. While there are older experimental electric guitars, the Frying Pan is one of the earliest playable models.
Is changing the pickups on a cheap guitar worth it?
Changing pickups on a cheap guitar can often be a worthwhile upgrade if you're looking to improve its tone. Pickups play a significant role in shaping the sound of an electric guitar, and upgrading to higher-quality pickups can result in a noticeable improvement in tone and versatility. However, the overall value of the guitar and your playing preferences should be considered before making the investment.
Do expensive electric guitars sound better?
Expensive electric guitars can offer higher-quality materials, craftsmanship, and components, which can contribute to improved tone, playability, and overall performance. Whether they sound "better" is subjective and depends on personal preference. A more expensive guitar might offer finer details in sound, but it doesn't guarantee a universally superior sound compared to mid-range or budget guitars.
What makes an expensive electric guitar better?
Expensive electric guitars often feature premium materials such as exotic woods, superior craftsmanship, and attention to detail in design and construction. They might also have advanced electronics, higher-quality hardware, and meticulous setup. These factors can collectively contribute to improved playability, tone, and aesthetics.
When should I upgrade my electric guitar?
You should consider upgrading your electric guitar when you've outgrown its capabilities or when you're looking for specific improvements in tone, playability, or features. Upgrading can also make sense if you're performing regularly and need a more reliable or versatile instrument. However, it's essential to balance your skill level and needs against the cost of upgrading.
How many guitars should a guitarist have?
The number of guitars a guitarist should have is a matter of personal preference and practicality. Some players are content with just one, while others collect numerous guitars for different playing styles and tonal options. It's advisable to strike a balance between having guitars that serve different purposes and not acquiring more than you can reasonably use and maintain.
What makes a guitar go up in value?
Several factors can contribute to a guitar's increase in value over time. These include the instrument's historical significance, limited production runs, iconic design, association with famous musicians, and overall rarity. Vintage instruments in good condition, particularly from well-regarded brands, tend to appreciate in value more consistently.
How can I make my guitar sound more powerful?
To make your electric guitar sound more powerful, you can experiment with higher-output pickups, heavier gauge strings, and increasing your amplifier's gain or volume settings. Additionally, using effects pedals like overdrive or distortion can add more drive and intensity to your sound. Remember that balance in tone is crucial, so be mindful of not sacrificing clarity for sheer volume.
Do all guitars get better with age?
While some acoustic guitars can develop richer tones over time due to the aging of the wood, not all guitars necessarily get better with age. Electric guitars, in particular, might not experience the same tonal changes as their acoustic counterparts. However, some players appreciate the unique character that vintage electric guitars can acquire over the years.
What are most guitars tuned to?
Most guitars are tuned to standard tuning, which is E-A-D-G-B-E from the lowest to the highest string. However, guitars can be tuned to various alternate tunings to achieve different chord voicings, open chords, or unique sounds depending on the style of music you're playing.
What should I upgrade my first guitar?
For your first guitar, consider upgrading components that directly affect playability and tuning stability. These can include replacing the stock tuners with higher-quality ones, upgrading the nut and saddle, and ensuring proper setup by a professional. These improvements can enhance your playing experience without breaking the bank.
Do I own too many guitars?
Whether you own too many guitars is subjective and depends on your personal circumstances, playing style, and needs. If you find that you're not using all your guitars regularly or that they're becoming difficult to maintain, you might have more than you need. It's essential to strike a balance between enjoyment and practicality.
Is it OK to have multiple guitars?
Yes, it's perfectly fine to have multiple guitars if you enjoy playing and collecting them. Many guitarists have different guitars for various musical styles, tunings, and tonal options. Just be mindful of your available space, budget, and the effort required to keep your guitars in good condition.
Is it OK to just change one guitar string?
While it's technically possible to change just one string on your guitar, it's generally recommended to change the entire set of strings. This ensures consistent tension and tone across all strings. Changing only one string could result in an imbalance of tone and tension, affecting the overall playability and sound of the instrument.
Do cheap guitars go out of tune?
Cheap guitars can be more prone to going out of tune compared to higher-quality instruments. This is often due to lower-quality hardware and components. However, regular maintenance, proper string stretching, and using well-made strings can help mitigate tuning stability issues on any guitar.
How can I make my electric guitar sound more rock?
To make your electric guitar sound more rock, you can use distortion or overdrive pedals to add grit and sustain to your tone. Opt for higher-gain amplifier settings and consider using thicker gauge strings for added punch. Experiment with techniques like palm muting and power chords to achieve that classic rock sound.
How can I make my electric guitar sound cool?
Making your electric guitar sound "cool" is subjective and depends on the style you're aiming for. You can explore different effects pedals, such as chorus, delay, or reverb, to add depth and ambiance to your sound. Additionally, experimenting with techniques like slides, bends, and harmonics can add unique textures to your playing.