Guitar Modifications and Customisation

Now we’ve got the guitar playing to your liking, on to the fun part – modification and customisation of your guitar to create your signature tone and sound.

Pick-up Replacement

There is a massive array of pickups available and I have absolutely no bias towards any particular brand. I’ll fit whatever you want (or think you want!) and if need guidance to choose an electronics set-up that nails ‘that’ sound then I have tried a lot of pickups and can advice you according to your budget. I also have picked up a lot of little tricks along the way. Les Paul Players - ask me about my no switch coil-tap trick! Click here to get my thoughts on replacement pickups.

I will charge you only for fitting the pickups, I will buy them for you and pass on any discount I get straight to you or you can buy your own and then I will fit them for you.

A fresh set of pickups will revitalise your guitar and there are some really great sounding electronics out there – and the great news is that you do not need to spend a fortune to nail your dream sound. Talk to me about what you are looking for and together we’ll seek out the right pickup and amp combination.

There’s also a bunch of fun stuff we can do without replacing your pickups if you are happy with them – we can also re-wire your beloved guitar to meet your tonal needs or your wildest imagination – or sometimes both!

Most Popular Wiring Customisations

Coil Tap Switch

This is suitable for any guitars fitted with one or more humbuckers and is probably one of the most popular and effective customising mods that I perform. The idea is very simple – I simply install a switch that switches a humbucking pickup between full-on humbucking mode to single coil. It never ceases to amaze me, but many Super-Strat type guitars have a bridge humbucker but do not put the switching in to really make the best use of the HSS configuration. When I bought my Charvel in the early 80s I had to do this mod – turned a beautiful playing guitar into a versatile tone-monster – and I still get proposals of both a decent and indecent nature whenever I dust it off and play it in front of people!

I prefer do this mod on pickups that have a 4-wire hook-up (like most after-market replacement pickups) and I recommend it as standard if I am retrofitting this type of pickup for you.

It can be done on the braided single core plus screen connection, but this does involve dismantling the pickup and I will not be tempted to do it on anything old so please do not ask. There is also a cost implication and if you are doing it on an Epiphone for example it may be cheaper to replace the original pickups for something better anyway.

I can also set up coil taps in many other configurations. So for example you get one switch for coil-tapping both pickups simultaneously and then another one for series/parallel/phase reversal. Talk to me about the options here they are many and varied and some will suit your playing style and some won’t.

The No-Switch Les Paul Coil Tap

I love the idea of coil tapping humbuckers but I loved my Les Paul so much that I could not bring myself to drill holes in the front to put in the mini-toggle switches to do this. And I actually do not like push-pull controls – tried it once and didn’t like it – it’s a personal thing and I accept that many people are OK with them.

Many years ago I bumped into a guitarist, on the same bill as my band, who was getting some amazing sounds that had no right coming from a stock-looking Les Paul. I approached him and asked him how he was doing it and he passed on this little secret to me that allows me to coil tap both pickups on a Les Paul without drilling a hole. It renders the tone controls useless but then I have never ever used the tone controls on a Les Paul. Anyway the mod definitely compensates for this slight inconvenience! Ever heard Little Wing played on a Les Paul sounding like Jimi (close on tone but obviously miles away in talent)? Its my party piece and always gets really quizzical looks from other guitarists - it nails that thin spanky sound perfectly!

I can also do it on SuperStrats with either the HSS configuration or HSH (provided there are 2 tone controls) so you again end up with a stock-looking Strat with some great tones.

4 Way Switch on Teles

The stock arrangement on Tele-type guitars is the familiar 3 way switch which gives you bridge on its own, neck on its own and then both pickups in parallel. Nice - but my problem with the Tele has always been that the neck pickup is rather dull and weedy. However, if you put a 4 way switch in, it puts both pickups in series – humbucking mode if you like. This is a great mod which gives you significantly more grunt.

Bridge Pickup Tone Control on Strats

The stock arrangement on Strat-type guitars is the top tone control is connected to the neck pickup, and the bottom tone control to the mid pickup. I have never worked out why they do this – you never need to adjust the tone of these 2 pickups but sometimes, and especially when you are swapping between guitars (with humbuckers for example) you need to tame the bridge pickup. So I always have my tone pots wired to control the mid and bridge pickups and only ever use the one at the bridge!

Independent Pickup Switches for Strats

This is a very nice mod, especially for a Strat, as it adds an enormous range of sounds to the existing ones – which lets face it, aren’t that bad anyway! You will get at your fingertips 13 different (and all useful) configurations, by replacing the normal 5-way switch with three separate mini-toggle switches.

This will involve drilling some holes in your instrument's pickguard, or fitting a new one plus some tricky wiring, but it really does open up your guitar with a great range of new tonal options.

Series/Parallel switch

Whilst the tonal difference between a humbucker in series configuration and parallel is not as striking as that obtained by coil tapping a humbucker, it does have one big advantage. Its fully humbucking in both positions and the output level drop between humbucking mode and ‘single coil’ mode is not quite so pronounced.

Its pretty effective on those mini-humbucker pickups designed to go into Strats without changing the pick guard. The parallel configuration gives quite good "Tele" sound in the bridge position with this style of pickup or a hot-rails type and is certainly convincing enough for live work.

Again, it can be done on the braided single core plus screen connection, but this does involve dismantling the pickup and there is also the cost implication.

Phase Reverse Switch

This works best on a guitar with 2 pickups as it works by reinforcing and cancelling frequencies and you need 2 pickups with different frequency profiles, such as you get from being spaced apart, for it to work properly.

What most guitarists think of as out of phase, for examples positions 2 and 4 on a 5 way Strat switch is actually "IN phase". It’s that sweet, percussive tone that we call "quack" and a good Strat has it in abundance.

"OUT of phase" is a trick that gets you a very bright, thin tone out of a pair of pickups. When one pickup is connected out of phase with another, and both are played together, lot of frequencies from one pickup are cancelled out by those from the other and vice versa.

What is happening is that the positive voltage one pickup generates is neutralised by the negative voltage from the other one. This means that the only tones that can be heard are the tones that are harmonically different between the two pickups – what you get as a result is thin and scooped.