Guitarists have been tinkering with their electric guitars as long as they’ve been playing them – and, rightly so. Where would we be without the mods and innovations of Eddie Van Halen, or Les Paul?
However, you don’t have to go full Frankenstein guitar to make a change to your instrument. There are some mods you can make yourself with relatively little outlay and without causing any irreversible damage to your electric.
From switching-up your stock tuners and nut, to getting busy with the shielding tape, here are six common mods that could improve the playing and tonal performance of your guitar.
1. Tuning improvements
Budget hardware on your axe? Try a set of uprated tuners from Grover, Sperzel, Schaller (and more) for improved tuning.
A synthetic or bone nut is an improvement over cheapo plastic, too. Get your guitar checked by a tech first to eliminate other potential tuning issues such as worn/wonky frets, poor intonation, and neck relief.
2. Shield your single-coil guitar
Banish interference noise by lining your guitar’s electronics cavities with shielding tape. On a Strat, line the back of the pickguard too.
The secret? All your shielding needs to be joined together electrically to create a circuit (called a Faraday cage), then connected to your guitar’s ground. Finally, make a connection from your shield to the bridge.
3. Improve bolt-on neck angle
Duff neck angle? A wedge-shaped shim placed in your guitar’s neck pocket could set it right, helping get your string action just so.
Make sure to use a shim that fills the neck pocket – introduce gaps and you’ll sap sustain, and worse: you risk damaging the neck over time as screws and string tension pull unevenly on it. If in any doubt, consult a tech.
4. De-gloss your neck
Ever noticed how a high-gloss neck finish can feel grippy in general, but also, conversely, slippy if you sweat? It can impede movement around the fretboard, stymieing all attempts at shred!
Solve this by using 800 grit wet/dry abrasive paper to gently sand down the finish. #0000 grade wire wool works for thinner finishes, but be sure to mask the hardware. A strip of tape around the headstock/heel while you work ensures a straight line where your sanded area meets gloss.
5. Look after your fretboard
Okay, so it’s not exactly a mod but removing the gunk that builds up on the fretboard is definitely essential maintenance. Leave it be and it’ll speed up the corrosion of strings and frets, and, if a rosewood ’board gets too dry it can even shrink.
Remove the strings and rub in some lemon oil – this usually does the trick. In extreme cases, a rub with wire wool may be needed, but make sure to mask pickups etc. For lacquered maple ’boards, a wipe down with Servisol Foam Cleaner is all that’s needed.
6. Strat tone mod
If your Strat features the classic tone control wiring, your tone pot won’t affect the bridge pickup. There’s an easy, free and reversible way to remedy this. The back of your pickup selector switch will have three wires going to the two tone pots and volume pot.
De-solder the wire in the middle and move it to the empty tag next to it. Alternatively, solder the piece of wire between the original wire position and the tag next to it as a ‘jumper’ to give you control over both pups.