When it comes to guitar upgrades, there are countless options. Some are mechanical and make your guitar play better and more reliably. Others are electronic or focus on improving your tone. So which upgrades are right for you? Here are 10 of our favorites. They’re affordable, reversible, and easy to do. So, get out your soldering iron and let’s go.
Top 10 Guitar Upgrades
- Conversion-style pickups
- Take advantage of needed repairs
- Coil-splitting, tapping, and series/parallel switching
- Standard and ’50s wiring schemes
- Installing a treble bleed
- Upgrading pots and capacitors
- Going active (or passive)
- Eliminating microphonic pickups
- Upgrade your guitar collection
- Upgrade your tuning machines
Generally, guitarists will stick to either humbuckers or single-coil pickups. Each pickup has its own “thing” and is perfect for the music they play. But what if you’re a Strat guy who wants LP tone? Or what if you want Tele twang from your HSH Schecter?
Conversion-style pickups are the answer.
Conversion-style pickups are single-coils that fit in humbucker-size routes and humbucking pickups that fit in single-coil routes. They’re a great way to outfit your guitar with something from the other side of the tonal spectrum.
Here are a few to check out.
Take advantage of needed repairs
Things happen, and most guitars will eventually need repair. Instead of dreading the situation, think of it as a perfect time to make the upgrades you’ve had your eye on.
If you wore out your frets, try out some stainless steel frets. Did an old pickup die on you? Head to seymourduncan.com and replace it with a pickup that nails the tone in your head.
Not only will you have repaired your guitar, but you’ll have better performance, better tone, and better reliability.
Coil-splitting, tapping, and series/parallel switching
Conversion-style pickups aren’t the only way to get unexpected tones from your favorite guitar. With our Triple Shot Mounting Rings or couple push-pull pots and the right pickups, you’ll have access to multiple voices on demand. And you can get them all without damaging or changing the look of your guitar.
Coil-splitting removes one of the coils from a 4-conductor (4c) humbucker. This leaves you with true single-coil pickup performance.
Tapping differs from splitting by bypassing some of the pickup’s copper windings instead of a whole coil. This delivers a lower-output and more chiming tone with a single-coil character. It also maintains a humbucker’s hum-canceling properties.
Tech Tips: Because coil-tapping doesn’t require an extra coil, it works with both humbucking and single-coil pickups. This gives you full and half-power modes.
Like coil-tapping, upgrading your guitar with a series/parallel switch offers humbuckers a unique, single-coil-like tone. The tone is closer to a P-90 single-coil than a Tele or Strat pickup. And, it also maintains the humbucker’s hum-canceling properties.
Tech Tips: These upgrades—except coil-tapping—are specific to 4-conductor humbucking pickups. Nearly all Seymour Duncan humbuckers are available with 4-conductor lead wire.
You can find wiring diagrams for these upgrades and many more right here at Seymour Duncan.
The next three guitar upgrades are admittedly similar. Each is its own take on maximizing the musicality of your guitar’s controls through various wiring methods.
Standard and ‘50s wiring schemes
We’ll start with one of the most impactful, simple, and inexpensive upgrades you can give your guitar, rewiring your electronics from Standard wiring to ‘50s-style wiring.
You’ll find Standard wiring on most passive electric guitars currently on the market. This style of wiring is a compromise. While you may lose high end at various volume settings, your controls will work in a predictable and pleasing way.
In the 1950s, Gibson utilized a different scheme that delivered its own benefits and drawbacks. For players that demand excellent retention of high-end detail when lowering their volume control, this is the way to go.
It’s important to note, ’50s wiring can make your tone and volume controls very interactive. So, while you retain great clarity, some players find the rest of their electronics’ ever-changing action to be a bit much.
Head here for more on this classic and straightforward upgrade.
Installing a treble bleed
If you want to retain your top-end detail but aren’t ready for ’50s wiring, we suggest adding a treble bleed circuit to your guitar.
Treble bleeds are as simple as adding a capacitor or a capacitor/resistor combination to your volume pots. With some quick soldering and a few minutes work, you’ll be able to roll your volume control to any setting without losing any sonic detail.
The two most popular treble bleed circuits:
Maintains top-end while allowing lower frequencies to roll off. Offers incredible clarity but can thin your tone as you roll the volume back.
How to: Solder the capacitor of your choice between the input and output terminals of your volume pot(s).
Maintains the signal’s low frequencies as well as the highs. Offers a natural-sounding drop in output throughout the range of the pot. This method does affect the pot’s taper, however; offering precise control throughout most of the sweep, then an abrupt shut off at the end.
How to: Solder a .002 capacitor and a 100k resistor in parallel between the volume pot’s input and output terminals.
Upgrading pots and capacitors
Do you wish you could customize your pots’ taper and frequencies? You can. And it’s as inexpensive as it is easy to do.
Every potentiometer and capacitor sports a value that determines how it interacts with your guitar’s signal. And by mixing and matching these values, you can bring out more sonic detail, tame harsh frequencies, turn your tone pot into a pseudo wah, or mellow it only to take a bit off the top.
Common pot values
250k: single-coil pickups
Rounds off some high-end to control brightness
Allows a broader range of frequencies through, giving darker pickups more life in the top register.
1Meg: Jazzmaster and some Tele pickups
Very open frequency response. Perfect for some pickups, way too bright for others.
25k: Mainly used for active pickups
Tech Tips: There is a wide range of pot and capacitor values commonly used on electric guitars. In a passive circuit, they each contribute their own character and won’t damage your guitar. We recommend grabbing a handful and finding the one that delivers your perfect taper and tone.
Going active or passive
If you’re upgrading your guitar’s pickups, the first question you have to answer is, “active or passive?” Which one is best for your guitar is up to you. But, if you need a change, swapping one for the other may be the most powerful upgrade out there.
From the very first pickups ever invented, passives have delivered the goods. They are usually lower output than their active counterparts. And they’re often referred to as being more “natural” and “dynamic” sounding.
Active pickups—pickups that require an external power source such as a 9-volt battery—hit the scene in a big way in the 1980s. By combining a pickup with an onboard powered preamp, actives are capable of massive output. And, they retain their voice throughout their whole volume range. Their design also sends a naturally buffered signal that’s ideal for driving long cable runs and effect chains.
Eliminating microphonic pickups
Do your pickups seem to catch every noise in the room? Or have you ever gotten too close to your amp and received a face full of high-pitch, uncontrolled squeal? If so, there’s a good chance you have microphonic pickups.
Many vintage and vintage-correct pickups are not wax potted. While many prefer this for tonal reasons, it can lead to these microphonic issues. So if you’re tired of vintage-style pickups giving you vintage-style problems, we recommend upgrading to a pickup with a more modern design.
Seymour Duncan offers some incredible vintage-voiced pickups that address the concerns of modern players.
Here are a few of our favorites
Upgrade your guitar collection
This one is a bit more of a why upgrade than an upgrade itself. But it is a massive upgrade to your whole guitar collection nonetheless.
Many players have a guitar that doesn’t get as much love as the others. Bad tone, playability, or appearance could all be the reason. That guitar is the perfect one to upgrade!
Throw a new set of pickups in there, tweak its electronics to taste, or fix that repair you meant to get to. You may find that guitar is a level up from the rest of your arsenal.
Upgrading your tuning machines
A guitar can’t sound good if it doesn’t stay in tune. Luckily, you can find a wide range of guitar tuners that will take your guitar to the next level. From locking models to high-quality vintage designs, it’s all out there. So if it’s time to give your instrument more stability, spend the money and get a great set of rock-solid tuning machines. You’ll be glad you did.
Let’s talk tone!
Want to know more about guitar upgrades and swapping pickups? Check out the SEYMOUR DUNCAN ONLINE PICKUP CLASSES. Our expert technicians will walk you through every step of the process and teach you all you need to know to create the guitar of your dreams.
If you have any other questions about guitar upgrades or how to perform them, check out our Knowledge Base here. You can also email us here. And don’t forget to dig deeper into the Seymour Duncan blog! There’s a ton of in-depth information on all of our different designs, how-tos, tone demonstrations, and a lot more.