At some point in any guitarist’s journey, they start thinking about upgrading their gear, particularly if they’ve started on an entry level guitar. So, when the time comes to upgrade what are your options? Upgrade your guitar or buy a new one? Both are excellent options, and this blog will help you decide what’s best for you!
Upgrading your Guitar
If you’ve become attached to your guitar or particularly like the feel, but you’re looking for a new sound, then modifying it may be the way to go. There are many ways you can modify your electric guitar to create your own custom sound, that you can’t necessarily find in a new guitar off the shelf.
Perhaps the biggest modification you can make to your guitar tonally is to change the pickups – and it’s probably the most popular modification too. Most budget guitars will come equipped with ceramic pickups which have a reputation for being powerful and bright. Whilst most higher end guitars use Alnico pickups, which are renowned for having a warmer, clearer, and more dynamic tone. This choice is entirely down to personal preference, but generally players prefer the sound of Alnico pickups because they sound closer to those classic guitar tones that we’ve all heard from our favourite music, from warm, clear Strat clean tones (à la Jimi Hendrix, Nile Rodgers, or John Mayer) to punchy open sounding Les Paul tones (like Jimmy Page or Slash). First, let me explain the two most common styles of pickups…
Single coils vs Humbuckers
Without going into too much detail, as the name suggests, a single coil comprises of a single coil of wire wrapped around a magnet. Humbuckers are two sets of wire wrapped around two sets of magnets in opposite directions. This opposition cancels out (or “bucks”) the hum that single coils produce when exposed to electrical energy.
Characteristics of a single coil
- Low Output – Generally single coil pickups are lower output than humbuckers (typically 5k-7k Ohms), meaning that they will drive less signal do the amp and are therefore cleaner than a humbucker (will produce less distortion), which is perfect for lower gain genres like blues, pop, indie, funk or country.
- Bright – single coils produce more treble and clarity than humbuckers, meaning that the can produce rich sounding chords with plenty of note separation and definition. Single coils are often described as “chimey”, “glassy”, or “bell-like”.
- Dynamic – Because of their lower output, single coils retain more dynamic range, meaning that the difference in volume between picking lightly and heavily produces a more appreciable difference in volume. Picking dynamics can add a lot of texture to a rhythm part, or produce a greater variety of lead tones, as you can produce a cleaner or more overdriven sound based on how hard you play.