Welcome to this month’s Trade Secret, and the theme has been Hot-Rodding Your Guitar.
Hi guys, I’m Ed, and today I’m gonna share easy mods that every guitar player should know and try.
Ed note: For those of you who just want the quick answers read below. In the video I share more info on each topic plus I take you through the mods that I performed on my 1973 Gibson Les Paul.
What Does Hot-Rodding Really Mean”
But first, let’s be clear on what hot-rodding is. It’s making modifications or improvements that improve your guitar and/or playing experience in one or more of the following four areas:
- Look: This is simple, and most players first buy with their eyes. I loved the look of Les Pauls as opposed to Strats, and I thought that Teles were ugly. I’m currently in the middle of two custom builds based on the T-Style body. Go figure, right?
- Sound: We all have our favorite styles of music and lean towards a favorite sound. I prefer the warmth of humbuckers and sometimes need the classic chime of single coils. Recently, I’ve been exploring P90s because they give me the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, I see another custom build in my future.
- Feel: For me, this is the neck profile and how it feels in my hands and how comfortable the guitar sits on my body. Leo Fender once said of the Strat, “That it should fit the player like a good shirt.”
- Performance: This combines the three previous areas while adding how the guitar responds to my way of playing.
The following mods I will talk about have nothing to do with the guitar’s look. If you’re like me, you’re probably not gonna purchase a guitar that you don’t like the way it looks. That could be the paint job, the shape of the headstock, or even the body type.
Instead, I’m gonna focus on the other three.
Many of us don’t put enough thought into this. Years ago, I had a string endorsement deal with Black Diamond. I loved the tradition Black Diamond represents, and they continue to make good quality strings.
But, eventually, I was dropped.
So, I started trying every brand and ended up using DR Strings. I found that they responded best to my hands and way of playing.
Since then, I’ve developed arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, and any other “-itis” that has to do with hand and shoulder problems. The guitar has become increasingly uncomfortable to play.
So, I started going down in gauges. I began with 13s, and I’m currently using 10s. Not only do I find them comfortable for string bending, but I also find that the overall performance of the guitar feels better. So, I suggest buying a couple of different brands and gauges and feel which set works best for you.
When I moved from NYC to South America, I discovered that I didn’t have access to various string brands. It’s basically D’Addario and Ernie Ball.
So, what am I using? Currently, I’m using Ernie Ball 10s.
This is an easy one to try out and something my teacher taught me during my first or second lesson. He told me to buy a dozen different picks. Different sizes, various materials, and different thicknesses.
I started using standard-size thin picks for the first year or so. I hated the feel of the standard-size picks. They felt like I was wearing work boots too big for my feet. Then I moved to teardrop size thin picks, and the size was a little too small but felt better than standard size picks. But I kept breaking them—they were too thin.
As my playing improved, I started preferring thicker picks. But, the teardrops were too small. So, I started filing down standard-size thick picks. I didn’t think anything of it. Until one day, I was a freshman at Berklee, and a friend asked me what I was doing. I said I don’t like standard-size picks, so I’m filing them down. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a Jazz III pick. I’ve been using one ever since.
Strings and picks are largely overlooked. But they make an important difference in your comfort level. And, the more comfortable you feel when you play, the better you’re gonna play which will only improve your sound.
3. Speakers and/or Custom IRs
The third mod has nothing to do with the guitar. And I transferred this over from the analog world. I was happy with my sound while playing through my Soldano Astroverb. But, the Astroverb came in a 4 x 10 combo, and I felt I could get more growl out of it. I used the head to drive a 1 x 12 cabinet with a Celestion Vintage 60, and my jaw dropped.
I then purchased a 2 x 12 cabinet and used two different models of Eminence speakers.
But, most of you may be using virtual amps or multi-effects pedals. In that case, use IRs. Find the combination that works for you. In my Headrush, I use the custom IRs that replicate the sound of my Egnater Tourmaster.
So, if your sound is close, but you feel something missing, try switching cabinet sims.
And, if you’re still in the analog world. Try swapping out speakers. It makes a world of difference.
So, these are my three mods that many guitarists overlook:
- Speakers or custom IRs
Thanks for watching, and remember, practice smart and play from the heart. I’ll see you next time.
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