Everybody wants to have new and cool gear, but sometimes musicians don’t have the cash for a brand new guitar! Saving up money to get a new axe can take a while, and maybe upgrading your amp rig for shows is more important right now, or you need to fund some studio time. Even worse, many players are too afraid to try to modify their guitars themselves. Nobody wants to damage their pride and joy!

However, many awesome modifications are very easy, and can definitely hold you over while waiting to get something brand new. Today, I’m going to show you 3 easy guitar mods that can breathe new life into an old guitar!

1) Locking Tuners

Locking tuners are one of those things that are just completely better in every way. There’s nothing wrong with high quality traditional tuners, but locking tuners can make your life a lot easier.

The key features of these is that you don’t have to rely on getting perfect wraps around the peg for tuning stability; you just pull the string through, tighten, and bring up to pitch! This means that you get a clean looking, perfectly stable string change every time, and the locking mechanism itself contributes a little extra stability as well. Restrings are also much faster! This benefit is a little less pronounced, but many locking tuners are also larger and heavier than normal tuners, and this increase in mass can actually lead to a small sustain improvement.

Installing these is a totally pain free job. You just google your guitar, and find out which brands and types are drop-in for your guitar! At worst you’ll have to drill small holes in the headstock for pins to mount to, but many require absolutely no modifications at all!

I frequently use Hipshot, Schaller, Gotoh, and Sperzel tuners. Some even automatically trim the string for you, like Planet Waves locking tuners! If you’re really attached to your brand, many companies like Fender release their own locking tuners as well.

Cost: $40-90
Benefit: Faster/easy restrings, slightly better stability, sometimes an increase in sustain.
Labor: Removing old tuners, possibly drilling small holes, installing new tuners.

2) Swap your pots….or remove some of them

Potentiometers are the actual electronics under those knobs on your guitar. They control volume, tone, and sometimes many other things. These are an important part of your guitar’s electrical circuit that is frequently overlooked, and can make a huge difference to your overall tone.

Many manufacturers use inexpensive pots at the factory on their cheaper guitars, and this can lead to scratching sounds, a decrease in clarity, or even loss of signal. A really cheap and easy way to remedy this is to get some brand name pots! Bourns, Dimarzio, CTS, and Bare Knuckle Pickups all make some fantastic pots. Some pots, like the EVH-branded Bourns low-friction pot that can be rolled up and down very quickly, actually change the feel of your playing experience.

As far as different kinds of potentiometers go, The 250K, 500K, etc. numbers are a measure of resistance. The higher the resistance, the more treble is retained in your signal. 250K is frequently used with single coils to tame their high end, and 500k is frequently used with humbuckers to brighten them up a bit. However, there are no rules, and if you’re looking for a brighter or darker sound, definitely consider changing to a different resistance value on your pots! 1Meg (1000K) pots even exist, for a super bright tone!

It’s important to note that even when fully rolled up, pots still affect your sound. So if you don’t use your tone knob often, removing it from the circuit will lead to a brighter and more open sounding tone! You can also purchase no-load tone pots that will allow you to still have a tone knob, but when rolled all the way to maximum, it has no effect on the circuit whatsoever! This keeps your tone nice and punchy.

This isn’t a hard job at all for someone with a soldering iron and a little patience, and will go much faster than a pickup swap. You simply need to access your guitar cavity, desolder everything from the back of your existing pots, install the new one, and resolder! Soldering can be a bit difficult at first, and if you don’t feel confident definitely take it to a tech, but anyone can learn with a little patience! Check out our guide to soldering here!

Cost: $10-$50, depending on how many pots you’re swapping and whether or not you’re buying a soldering iron.
Benefit: Overall cleaner signal, can change the overall brightness/darkness of your tone, new feel.
Labor: Minor soldering job, good practice if you want to do pickup swaps eventually.

3) Swapping your trem block

This one is for all of our tremolo users out there, but I promise we’ll have something for you hardtail guys in the next article. Different tremolo bridges can actually sound very different, due to their mass, construction, and how much wood was routed out of the body. However, a huge part of this tone that you can actually change is the block on the trem! The size obviously affects sustain, and different materials produce different tones as well!

The majority of blocks are already going to be bigger for more added mass, and are generally better machined than the kind that come on many guitars from the factory, so you don’t have anything to worry about there, just look up what size your tremolo needs! Common sizes include, 32mm, 37mm, and 42mm, and choosing the proper one simply ensures that it doesn’t stick out of the rear cavity of your guitar.

The two most popular materials are steel and brass, and each have their own costs and benefits. Steel blocks are really bright, and are associated with classic Stratocaster snap, but can sometimes make for thin rhythms or shrill leads. Brass blocks have a really fat tone, with a bit more sustain, which is awesome for soloing, but can sometimes lead to heavily distorted rhythm tones being muddy.

Personally, I’m a huge brass fan, and don’t think the low end is a big enough difference to negatively affect most people. Brass blocks became hugely popular among ‘80s shredders and have maintained their popularity to this day because they sound great for leads and it’s good to fatten up the tone of a guitar that’s already had a lot of wood routed out for a tremolo. Vintage tone lovers should definitely take a look at steel, though, especially because compared to most stock steel blocks, aftermarket ones will have a purer grade of steel that better transfers vibration.

There are more materials, like titanium, stainless steel, and even stone, but they are all much more expensive and aren’t as widely used. Copper is in the same price range as brass and steel, but is relatively new to the playing field. Some cheap tremolos even have zinc blocks, which should always be replaced immediately. I like to order brass blocks from FU-Tone.

This is a rather easy mod that just entails unscrewing the existing block from your tremolo’s baseplate, and screwing in a new one! Different trems will require different levels of disassembly to do this, but you will need to remove the strings and springs. This is also a good opportunity to fully take apart your tremolo to learn more about it and give it a proper cleaning! Just write down where everything goes for when you’re putting it back together!

Cost: $30-$80
Benefit: More sustain and a pretty meaningful change to your guitar’s EQ curve.
Labor: Removing old trem block, screwing in new trem block.

Not so hard, right? These are surefire ways to improve your guitar without breaking the bank. Definitely check back in the future for more budget-savvy reads, and continue reading here if you want some more technical articles.

We are also authorized dealers for some of the biggest and best guitar companies, and have a wide selection of inexpensive guitars that can be upgraded, as well as premium guitars that already have the highest quality features.

This article was written by Kyle Karich, our editor located in Florida.

 

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