Guitar Tricks Blog
Posted: February 27, 2020

Guitar Mods and Upgrades - For Tuning and Tone

Guitar mods and guitar upgrades can be difficult to pull off if you are not handy, but not all of them require a deep knowledge of the instrument. One may easily install a set of locking tuners, or check intonation, for example. Here are five tips you should consider when upgrading or modding your guitar. Please keep in mind that even though some of these are not easy, they are definitely doable! 

 

Get locking tuners

Guitar tuners or tuning pegs usually require the user to thread the string through a pole and then wind it tight. The issue with this is that strings will naturally go out of tune since any manner of bending, strumming, plucking, and picking is constantly pulling on the the tuning pole. With a locking tuner, all the user has to do is run the string through the locking tuner’s tuning pole, and then lock them into place. Once it’s locked into place, you can clip the excess string and then tune up. 

Using locking tuners makes changing strings super easy. And it’s an easy guitar mod anyone can perform with simple tools. 

 

Adjust the nut or replace it completely

The nut is where the strings sit, and the nut is that little white material between the fretboard and the headstock of a guitar. If your guitar is a bit too high, and the action does not feel right, you can take a piece of sandpaper, fold it in half and gently smooth out the slots where each string sits on the nut. This is a really easy modification but be careful because if you sand off too much, you’re going to be in trouble! 

We only recommend doing this if you know what you’re doing and if you plan to only smooth out slots. Nifty tools for this job are nut filers which you can find online fairly easily. 

 

Check intonation

Checking intonation is super important when your guitar is properly intonated, that means playing an open string results in the same note as when you play that note on the 12th fret. For example, a properly intonated guitar, when in tune, plays an E note when you play the 6th string open, as well as when you play the 12th fret of the 6th string. So how do you do this? 

The main method of adjusting intonation is by adjusting the saddles on the bridge. You can use a screwdriver to adjust the saddles so that they move toward or away from the neck. Check out the lesson below with Gary to see how you can check and adjust your intonation with the bridge saddles.

 

Change the saddles

If you want a different set of saddles, or a different bridge altogether, you can do that fairly easily. You can find entirely different bridges online and in-stores that are made from different materials. Some bridges are heavier, some have a tremolo system, some have a Floyd Rose, or bigsby system, it’s all good as long as your guitar is compatible. But why would you want to do this? 

Some bridges actually help your guitar stay in tune a bit better, while others say that a heavier bridge can help with tone, but the tonal properties of different bridges are most likely negligible or inaudible. But for the most part, bridges are about keeping your strings in tune. The next time you go in for a dive bomb, you’ll be thankful for not only having a bridge with a built-in tremolo bar, but also the fact that your strings aren’t completely out of whack before the next song. 

 

Change the pickups

These are the biggest mods you can make to a guitar but it’s not easy. Just like with adjusting or filing your own guitar nut, changing pickups can completely put your instrument out of commission if you accidentally burn a wire, or melt a piece of circuitry. For an electric guitar, the pickups are the heart and soul of the instrument’s tone. Changing these will give you the most drastic tonal upgrade, or downgrade if you’re not happy with your mod. 

Again, changing pickups is not easy, especially if you’ve never done it before. But if you are interested, you will have to know how to use a soldering iron, and understand where the wires of the pickup should connect to the rest of the guitar’s electronics. If you do not want to risk damaging something, then you can always toss out the entirety of the old pickguard, with pickups and all, then replace the entire thing with pre-wired systems. Be warned: pre-wired pickups and pickguards can be pricey and go for over $300!

While you’re digging in your guitar’s cavity, be sure to cover it all up with some aluminum foil, or copper shielding tape. Add shielding to your electric guitar’s body cavity to prevent the hum. 

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