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Guitar Mods for the Discerning Player

Guitar modding rose to popularity in the 1970s as guitarist began swapping components in and out of their instruments in search of new sonic pastures. These days there are so many third-party components on offer that it's never been easier to tweak your guitar's configuration until you're sitting in your own private tonal Nirvana. We answer some common questions and look at options for giving your collection a personal touch. If you have any specific questions, give our friendly guitar experts a call and they can walk you through a personalised solution to your modding vision.

Tone knob

What Is Guitar Modding?

Simply put, guitar modding is changing the components of your instrument to alter its sound, looks, and/or functionality. Modifications can range from a simple pickguard swap, to adding extra knobs/switches, to Frankenstein-esque creations made from spare parts (AKA Partscasters).

With so many options available, the growing library of online guides, and the support of stores like Mannys, the mod(ern) guitarist is really only limited by their imagination.

Is It Worth Modding a Cheap Guitar?

This is really going to depend on your desired outcomes. Do you love the idea of tinkering? Then a cheap guitar is the perfect place to start. Do you really like your instrument but want to upgrade a few key features for improved tone and reliability? Modding is an effective way to achieve that goal. Do you wish your cheap guitar was a different axe entirely? In this case, you're probably better off simply buying the configuration you're dreaming of.

One caveat with modding is that it may affect your resale value. Most buyers want original components and aren't willing to part with more money for 'upgrades' that may not match their tonal vision. Guitar modification isn't cheap compared to the efficiencies of scale you find in a factory, so it makes more sense to refine something you already like than try to reinvent the wheel.

Of course, an easy solution to this problem is to simply save your original parts and swap them back if you ever decide to sell. You can then use the spare upgrades on a future project, slowly adding to your collection of tonal tweaks as you grow your GuitArsenal. Even easier still, is to call our guitar experts. They can help you find an upgrade that matches your budget and vision.

Tuner on the headstock of a guitar
Guitar tuners sitting on a Stratocaster body

Is It Worth Upgrading Guitar Pickups?

This will depend on the pickups you're upgrading from and to, not to mention the guitar they're in. You'll generally find the best return on your investment by upgrading your pickups to the tier above the rest of your instrument. Not to say that you shouldn't drop top-shelf pups in an entry-level shredder, it'll sound great, but a mid-tier set will probably get you 90% of the way there at half the price.

Once you hit the upper echelons of a manufacturer's guitar range, it's more of a matter of personal preference than anything else -- changing the timbre, gain structure, or sustain to suit your tastes. It's also good to remember that any concept of value is going to largely depend on your budget and goals. If a new set of pickups helps you achieve divine tonal majesty and you can still afford to eat, then any price is going to be worth it.

How Can I Make My Guitar Sound Better for Cheap?

There are three main things you can do to make your electric guitar sound better without breaking the bank. The first is your strings. Old strings sound dull, and if they came with your entry-level guitar, they probably weren't very good to begin with. The difference between cheap-and-cheerful and premium strings is immediately noticeable, and as long as you look after them, your strings should last long enough that you don't notice the difference in price. Each set of strings will have unique tonal characteristics as well, so try a few, or look up your favourite guitarists' strings for inspiration. If you're simply seeking an upgrade, our friendly experts can recommend high-quality sets that will give you more of what you already love.

The second thing we'd recommend is adjusting the height of your pickups. Depending on the age, condition, and previous owners of your guitar, the magnets in the pickup housing could well be a suboptimal distance from the strings.

Too far and your pickups will sound weak, too close and they'll howl with competing harmonics. While a full guide is beyond the scope of this article, an online search and a screwdriver should be all you need to get started.

The last thing we suggest is cleaning your electronics. If you hear scratching, loud humming, or an intermittent signal when you connect your guitar to an amp then you probably have a mix of grit, grime, and corrosion around your potentiometers, switches, and/or output jack. Cleaning your instrument's electronics will require a few basic tools, some specialised cleaning products, and a bit of time, but the investment is totally worth it if you're experiencing any of the issues above.

Again, this isn't a guitar cleaning guide, but there are plenty of great guides online that will walk you through the process.

Seymour Duncan pickup on a Gibson guitar

What Should I Upgrade on My Guitar?

Upgrade priority should generally be based on need. An upgrade should either solve a problem or offer objectively improved sound or functionality. Anything else is a customisation, which we'll cover below.

Old and/or cheap wiring can cause a lot of issues with electric guitars. If you've tried cleaning your electronics as above and are still experiencing unwanted noise, then it could be time to start upgrading. The main components worth swapping out here will be the wiring itself, the potentiometers, the switches, and the output jack.

Do you find your strings are constantly going out-of-tune? Cheap tuners, a worn nut, or an old bridge could be creating the issue. Upgrading a cheap nut and bridge should also yield sonic gains as the higher-quality parts allow the strings to resonate more freely.

For those looking to get out of their seat and jump around, a straplock system is a sensible upgrade as well.

Upgrading generic pickups for those of a well-respected brand should provide a large and relatively-seamless performance boost. Matching like for like should net you more of the same tones you already enjoy, while choosing more boutique parts will take your guitar's output in more specific tonal directions. Third party pickup manufacturers such as Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio make pickups with a kaleidoscope of tonal characteristics, output levels, and other little details that can really fine-tune the sound you get from your axe.

Talk to our in-store pickup gurus to discover what's possible.

How Can I Customise My Guitar?

The key to customisation is finding a selection of parts that work well together to create a look that reflects your character as a guitarist. On the most basic level, customisation is swapping the pickguard, knobs, switch tips, pickup covers, truss rod cover, and/or backplate to make your investment more period accurate, or to simply flex your style with a look you can't buy off the rack. More adventurous customisations could involve replacing necks, and even bodies for a fully-custom setup. Beyond this we get into the realm of adding things that the manufacturer probably never even dreamed of. Killswitches, passive overdrives, and full-fat, battery-powered effects units are all fair game once the drilling and routing starts.

Selection of Fender parts
Les Pual Guitar

We Are the Mods

As you can see, with a little planning you can take your instrument from factory standard to something completely unique that reflects who you are as a guitarist. Are you the refined player just looking to tweak a few things? Or are you the flamboyant virtuoso who needs an axe as wild as their solos? Your guitar, your rules.

Check out our range of guitar parts and accessories in store or online, and be sure to chat to our resident modding experts about the next step in your tonal journey. If you're just chasing sonic gains without the time commitment, we have in-house and preferred luthiers ready to remake your instrument to your specifications.

Check out our range of guitar parts and accessories in store or online!

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