5 Easy Guitar Mods You Can Pull Off at Home

If you’ve owned your guitar for more than a few months, there’s a good chance you’ve found something you’d like to improve by now. Maybe there’s a hum you just can’t shake or perhaps you’re feeling trapped by the confines of your controls. Whatever it is, there are several quick and simple things that you can do to improve your tone without breaking the bank. So long as you’ve got a screwdriver, a soldering iron and a search engine, it’s time to get started on a custom job you can really be proud of.

Before we get into it, there are a few things to note:

Soldering: If you’re not familiar with soldering, there are many great resources online that’ll help get you started. Remember that solder is attracted to heat. So when you make connections, don’t try to heat the solder itself – heat the element that you want the solder to stick to.There you go, saved you 2 dodgy projects and a probable burn.

Resale Value: As soon as you decide to modify any part of your guitar, there’s a good chance that the resale value is going to drop as it’s no longer ‘original’. Personally, I’d rather have a workhorse guitar that is perfectly suited to my needs than an original issue for the sake of a hypothetical check, but it depends on the guitar itself and your desire to sell down the road. That said, if you have a '59 Les Paul, maybe don’t modify it unless you have a backup.

Human Error: As with all things, there’s a chance to mess things up here. However, with these mods, you’re generally not looking at irreparable damage. Just take it slowly, do your research – you’ve got just as good a chance at success as any of us.

Keep in mind, these are not meant as instructions on how to complete each mod, but rather just outlines of what you might want to research more and try out. With those warnings out of the way: you got this.

Shielding

Got some hum there buddy? Don’t we all. Here’s the thing about guitar cavities: most of the time they’re left defenseless against electrical interference. This means that instead of hearing your own unadulterated musical genius come through your amp, you may also hear stray signals from the electronics around you. But don’t worry, you can fix this.

To shield your guitar, you need to cover the inside of your control cavity and the back of your pickguard with either shielding paint, copper tape, or aluminum foil. I recommend using shielding paint (as your elementary school certificate basically qualifies you to install it). Alternatively, sticking down copper tape or gluing down foil will work just fine. Watch your fingers on the copper though. Instructables has a pretty good shielding ‘how to’, as do the folks at Seymour Duncan.

There is some argument about whether or not you should ground your electronics to the shielded cavity once you’re done, but many believe it’s not really necessary. I’ll let you run a search and make up your own mind.

Upgrading Saddles & Nuts

This may seem like a pretty basic move, but you would be astounded by the difference materials can make when it comes to your string-bearing bits. Self-lubricating saddles like String Savers will offer better tuning stability, less string breakage and additional sustain. If you want to go deeper – a bone, fossilized ivory (never new ivory), or graphite nut will also make a noticeable difference to your open string tone and tuning stability.

Coil Splitting

Those with no soldering experience may want to work up to this one, but giving your humbuckers a single coil switching option is a fantastic way to open up your tonal possibilities. The process of splitting your humbuckers will require some (very gentle) unwrapping and soldering, along with the installation of a push-pull pot or switch to control your new pickup configuration.

Using a push-pull pot is going to be a little easier, but if you’re soldering to the back of it with a 35-45 watt iron, you’re going to want to get in and out of there quickly – too much heat on the back of the pot will burn it out and render it useless. If you do burn it out, don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. Just see if your guitar tech will use his mega iron to make the join quickly – if you’re nice about it they might even do it for free!

Onboard Effects

If you’re anything like me, your stage performance and tone isn’t pedal reliant, but you still want a little variation. Luckily, there are some pretty incredible options out there for adding basic effects to your guitar’s circuit. If you just want some extra kick, it can be as simple as adding overdrive to your existing tone knob using a Black Ice in place of your tone cap.

If you’re looking for more complex effects, you’re going to need to work a battery in there somewhere, but it’s still doable for most guitars. MODboards are a good example of onboard circuits powered by a 9v battery, with chorus, delay, wah, tremolo and distortion offerings.

Control Mods

If you start researching your guitar’s wiring mod options, you’ll quickly find yourself down the rabbit hole. I’m just going to cover a couple options that will impact two big pools of guitarists: Strat players and Les Paul players.

Strat Pickup Selection & Tone Mods

Early on, Fender Stratocasters were used by a bunch of treble-totin’ rock’n’roll players who really didn’t have a need to roll back the wail on that bridge pickup. A lot of players these days really need the ability to use their bridge and neck pickups in tandem and want a tone control for that bridge pickup.

You can pop in a push-pull pot to activate your bridge pickup in any configuration, giving you the ability to use bridge/neck and all three pickups at once. YES!

While you’re in there, soldering a little piece of wire between terminals in your 5-way switch will give you the option to use your tone knob for the bridge pickup as well as your neck and middle. Yes, it’s that easy. Consider that bratty little pickup tamed.

Les Paul Coupled Volume Mod

If you’re a Les Paul player, you’ve either been living with the limitations of coupled volume pots for some time, or you’ve already modified it. The problem is that volume knobs on a Les Paul are wired to work together, causing headaches when you’re in the middle pickup position and want to adjust pickup volume independently.

There are a few ways to fix this, but the easiest is to just wire the pots backwards to decouple them. Switching to active circuitry is also a good option if you’re likely to head down that road anyway.

Now get out there and make that guitar sing just the way you like it. Your tech skills will soar and you’ll feel a mother’s pride every time you play that axe that you so carefully sculpted. And stay tuned, we'll have more post forthcoming that go into more details about how to accomplish these mods.

Have you completed any of these mods? Have some advice? Something to add? Let us know in the comments below.

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