If you really stop and think about it, an electric guitar is a lot like an automobile; with most models, there are plenty of companies out there flooding the market with endless accessories and spare parts that if any of us wanted to drastically change the look, feel and sound of our axe, it’s as easy as simply going on the internet and shopping around for a few minutes. And also, much like a car, guitars require moderate care to perform at their best. Sometimes this can mean something as easy and straight forward as changing old strings or making sure that you don’t store it anywhere too hot or humid. Then there are other kinds of upkeep that many may not realize should be done, mainly because it might take something as drastic as an obvious problem with sound or mechanics before we even know something should have been done – much like changing the oil on a car every 3,000 miles, although not as obvious. With that said, there are plenty of little easy to do modifications and tricks out there that can either fine tune the tone of the guitar or even drastically change the entire feel! So, for those of you that are a little bored with their current rig or simply want to take advantage of what some of these tricks offer, read on and take a look at some of these easy-to-accomplish guitar modifications!
The Common Tin Foil Trick
Alright, it comes as no surprise that since the invention of the pickup, manufacturers have been trying to get rid of that annoying hum that is a result of the general principles of electronics. Since we can’t change the rules of electricity, manufacturers had to use those very same principles for their benefit, which gave us the humbucker but the only problem is, one humbucker is actually two single coil pickups placed next to each other making the size of it twice as large. May not sound like a problem for Les Paul players but what about all of us Fender fans that use guitars made for single coils like most Telecasters and Stratocasters? Sure, we can cut away a hole large enough to fit a humbucker or buy a select kind of model that happens to be able to fit a humbucker, but all that requires major work or a new guitar – which isn’t going to help your old Telecaster any time soon, but what if I were to say you can cancel out that hum using something that most of us have lying in our house or can buy from the grocery store for a couple of bucks? Well, if you haven’t sensed it by now, I’m talking about tin foil. That’s right, plain old tin foil! Technically speaking, if single coil guitar manufacturers wanted to cancel the hum of all of their guitars, they can easily implement this little trick at the factory but the reality is, they probably won’t ever simply because of the added time involved – luckily it isn’t all that hard to do on your own. Alright, before you get started, there are a few things you will definitely need:
- 1. Aluminum Foil
- 2. Soldering Equipment
- 3. 3M General Purpose Spray Adhesive
- 4. Philips Head Screwdriver
Essentially, you will be applying a layer of tin foil on the underside of the pickguard that houses the pickups, creating a shield that will help block the outside electrical interferences that cause hum from your signal. This means removing the strings, pickguard and input jack. You will have to desolder the connection between the input jack and the pickguard in order to be able to entirely remove the pickguard. Once you have that done, spray the exposed cavity of the guitar with a light coat of the adhesive. While that’s drying, you can remove all of the electronics connected to the pickguard. Once your pickguard is free, spray the underside of it with the adhesive as well and apply the tin foil, making sure you cover its entirety. The reason you want to spray BOTH the cavity and the underside of the pickguard is so that when the two meet, a nice tight seal will be formed. Once you have all that done, you can put everything back together, including (of course) resoldering the connection between the pickguard and the input jack. Once that’s done, your guitar will have the proper shielding necessary to cancel out the hum!
Scalloping Your Frets
This one is a bit more of a personal modification than it is an upgrade as some players prefer their frets as is while others swear by the feel of the scalloped fret. Also, both have their advantages and disadvantages beyond look and feel alone. Although scalloped frets help promote good technique and allow for much better vibrato, it can cause less experienced players to have problems trying to play in tune. Also, you won’t be able to feel the wood underneath your finger as you hold down a fret – something that again differs from player to player as far as which is better. Suffice it to say that this is a pretty controversial modification that in the end comes down to what you’re willing to deal with. Either way, it is still a popular modification that is used by several pros such as Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen.
PC: HIROSHI; Scalloped guitar fretboard
All you will need is pretty much two different kinds of sand paper. 80 and 150 grit sandpaper is a good choice as you basically need something that can dig in deep and then a finer paper to smooth it all out once you’re done. Also, is should be obvious that this is a permanent modification and you will not be able to go back, so just a heads up. After you remove the strings, you may want to apply masking tape on the fret pegs themselves so that you won’t damage them while sanding the neck – trust me, sometimes even a small scratch on the fret can cause a string to stick while trying to bend, killing your vibrato. You can start off by sanding the fret down about 1/16 of an inch. You are basically trying to sand down each fret deep enough so that it enhances your vibrato and your fingers don’t hit the wood. Remember to be conservative at first since there is no going back. If you need a little more, try another 1/32 of an inch with the finer sand paper. Again, don’t go too deep too fast – you don’t want to go all the way into the truss rod, believe me. Do the same with all of the frets; use the higher grit paper until you get in to the proper depth and then use the finer paper to smooth it out. The neck will look like freshly exposed wood so if you want to bring the color back to its normal finish, add some oil to that fretboard but even if you don’t the natural oils from your hand will restore the color with enough play.
Adjusting the Height of Your Pickups
Why would I even want to do this, you ask? For better tone, of course! This is one of the easiest adjustments that can be made to a guitar that can actually have an impact of the sound of your guitar. Essentially, by adjusting the height of the pickup you will be able to increase or decrease the output of your guitar as well as reduce muddiness in the sound simply because the amount of space between the pickup and the strings directly changes the strength and tone of the signal. All you will need is your standard Philips-head screwdriver and maybe a ruler if you have one lying around, but it’s not required. It should be said that this won’t drastically change the sound of your guitar by any stretch of the imagination as it is more like a fine tuning of the subtleties of the tone. On most guitars, the pickups are held in place by screws and springs, so just adjust these to either increase or decrease the height.
Fig A; PC: Marshall Amps
The first thing you’re going to want to do is fret every string on the last fret of you electric (see fig A). Have your guitar connected to an amp so that you can hear the change in tone and eventually settle on what sounds best. You can start by adjusting the height of the pickup so that every string is about 3/16 of an inch away from the pickup and since all strings are not the same girth, the pickup itself should be slanted to make up for the lower strings added thickness. Once that’s done, you can play your guitar to hear how it sounds. Pretty much, you will be adjusting the height while listening to the tonal variations until you find the one that you most prefer. Do this to all of your pickups and your set! Not too hard and not all that drastic, but definitely worth it if you want to make sure your entire guitar is at its optimal shape!