What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

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BugBrand
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What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by BugBrand » Tue Mar 10, 2020 5:01 am

I'm not much of a guitarist (whatever that means!) though have played on & off for years. Recently I treated myself to a new Epiphone 339 which I've been really enjoying. But -- tuning & tuning stability aren't perfect so I began wondering.. Probably I need to visit a guitar tech but I thought I'd ask what sorts of approaches one might consider for quite simple upgrades to an electric guitar?

Simple things like new strings & a general setup for improved intonation - for sure.
But how about items like the tuning pegs and/or how about the nut guide (is that the right name? the little bit of plastic the strings go through between the main neck & the tuners).
Dunno if I want to get tempted down the road of pickups etc but maybe I can be convinced - I'm currently only playing with headphones via a nice Strymon Iridium.

Any ideas or comments? I am curious!

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by Jason Brock » Tue Mar 10, 2020 6:02 am

In general I wouldn't spend much money on upgrades unless you absolutely love this particular guitar already. Hardware upgrades are like the last 10% if you like 90% of the guitar already, if that makes sense. If you ask a tech or a salesperson, they will be eager to sell you all kinds of things - new tuners, new pickups, a new bridge...might as well have put that money into buying a different guitar in the first place, since you won't get that investment back if you decide to sell it.

New Epiphones are pretty good to start out with, so you made a great choice there already. The Gibson and Epiphone headstock is know for tuning issues because of the angle created over the nut. The path of the string is not straight, and sideways tension at the nut means the strings will bind, causing it to go out of tune as the strings stretch over time. A nut replacement to a higher quality material might be relatively cheap, and help a bit. But I would try lube first. This stuff is basically graphite dust that you can apply where the strings slot into the nut. It helps prevent binding, and it is cheap so worth a try.
Big Bends Nut Sauce
https://www.musiciansfriend.com/accesso ... 0000000000

Pickups - if you like the sound already, stick with the stock ones.
Also, when you put new strings on, they need time to stretch before they will stay in tune. Pulling on them gently after installed can help speed up the stretching.

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by forestcaver » Tue Mar 10, 2020 6:10 am

You can just scrape a pencil lead into the nut grooves.... (saves ordering lube) - it’s what I use on my homemade guitars as well as bought ones....

(If the nut has been poorly cut, relieving the back of it with a nut file/fine wet and dry can help)

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BugBrand
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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by BugBrand » Tue Mar 10, 2020 6:55 am

Good tips - thanks - especially the depth of your reply, Jason!
Lube it is... ordered some already before the pencil approach suggestion came!
Will have a little tweak when I put some new strings on & check intonation up the neck.
Think I'll try some slightly heavier gauge stings.

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by deltaphoenix » Tue Mar 10, 2020 7:09 am

I like Jason’s reply, the main thing that I will add is that lower end/mid tier Guitars and Basses are made at a much higher quality than they were several years ago. Indonesian instruments have especially become better than they were.

I think switching out a little bit of hardware can get you more bang for buck than in the past - it is less like putting lipstick on a pig. A new nut is cheap and if the graphite doesn’t work, go ahead and grab one.

If you really like the way the guitar plays and the general tone, I would invest in new tuners, pickups and maybe a bridge if the intonation still seems a bit off. The caveat to all of this is that I would be looking to get all of this used since it is a mid tier guitar.

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by polyroy » Tue Mar 10, 2020 7:34 am

Don't know if they still do, but some Epiphones used to come with Grover tuners, which are a pretty solid choice.

Definitely recommend graphite in the nut as others have mentioned and perhaps if you do put heavier strings on you'll find once properly stretched and bedded in that the tuning should be pretty solid.

I've got an Epiphone Les Paul that I play more than my high end Ibanez/Jackson guitars - think you've made a good choice!

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by BugBrand » Tue Mar 10, 2020 3:33 pm

Thumbsup - thanks.
Yeah, in general very happy with it already - great to get back to playing more, will just be good to try to dial in the tuning stability a bit more for now. And maybe get lost in a looper...
Thanks for the tips & comments!

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by smetak » Tue Mar 10, 2020 3:34 pm

From the headstock, suffers from the same tuning issues all Gibsons have - the friggin' G string.

I got this a while back:

https://www.string-butler.com/

Although it doesn't fully resolve the problem, it greatly enhances tuning and eliminates the annoying "jump" when attempting to ace the string's pitch.

Quick easy to install and doesn't ask for holes or drills raping your beloved instrument.

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by GuyaGuy » Tue Mar 10, 2020 7:29 pm

I’d suggest getting Dan Erlewine’s Guitar Player Repair Guide over new hardware. For new and newish guitars, the setup is usually the cause of issues, not hardware. And most things like intonation and string slipping are simple things you can do yourself, which not only is not only cheaper but also lets you play the guitar sooner.

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by sduck » Tue Mar 10, 2020 10:54 pm

As has been said, the headstock design is the bane of this type of guitar. I'd try the nut sauce first, that seems to do the trick with my (real) Les Paul. If there aren't already locking tuners on there, I'd install them - I have them on all of my guitars. I have one of the string butlers linked above on my korean les paul copy, and it works well. A Graph Tech nut is a great upgrade, but you'll need to get someone to do it, they're hard to do right yourself unless you already have skills in that department. Graph Tech also makes bridge replacements for some guitars of this type - the one I have on my Les Paul is great.
I'm not a big fan of modern gibson or epiphone pickups, but if you like them, leave them be. If not, try Seymour Duncan - a JB in the bridge and a Jazz in the neck is one of the great pickup setups.
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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by Christopher Winkels » Wed Mar 11, 2020 5:08 am

sduck wrote:
Tue Mar 10, 2020 10:54 pm
If not, try Seymour Duncan - a JB in the bridge and a Jazz in the neck is one of the great pickup setups.
^This.

And look into coil splitting for one or both to increase the tonal palette.

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by forestcaver » Wed Mar 11, 2020 5:59 am

As you’re in the UK, check out Bare Knuckle pickups.... (loverly! i’ve got some Seymour Duncans and some BKP.... both are great)

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by beyourdog » Wed Mar 11, 2020 6:07 am

The first upgrade is for you to learn how to play...gear comes second, player first...do you know how to change strings properly?

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by BugBrand » Wed Mar 11, 2020 6:32 am

Hehe - yeah, well I've got some strange playing style after years of diddling! I am very aware not to go overboard and ensure to KISS (keep it simple) and not drown in overthinking/adding effects/ changing parts. The core is already good, just curious..
I would certainly think I know how to change strings though perhaps there is some learning there -- remembering always the saying 'the more you learn, the less you know'. Again, a focus is to keep things simple & ensure I stay playing not dreaming of upgrades.

The ES339 already comes with both pickups having coil splitting (i think) via push-pull volume controls. Plenty to explore there already.

Loving the responses & thoughts it all brings!

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by naturligfunktion » Wed Mar 11, 2020 7:23 am

forestcaver wrote:
Wed Mar 11, 2020 5:59 am
As you’re in the UK, check out Bare Knuckle pickups.... (loverly! i’ve got some Seymour Duncans and some BKP.... both are great)
Oh yes those pickups sound GREAT :sb:

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by Savage » Wed Mar 11, 2020 11:59 am

Is this a brand-spanking new guitar we're talking about? One thing I'd check is whether the truss rod in the neck is adjusted correctly. I bought a Rickenbacker from a friend who played it for a number of years in Byrds cover bands, and when he sold it to me, he told me he didn't like the action and that it would never stay in tune. It had a pretty lousy action, but the price was really good. I checked out the truss rods because Ricks have two, and I just wanted to see them. They were completely loose! He bought the guitar new, and the truss rods were loosened for shipping and had never been adjusted properly! The result was that it was like the guitar had a rubber neck! I recently bought an Ibanez Prestige, and though it wasn't as bad, it's truss rod was way too loose, too. The nephew who bought it purchased it new, too. You can check the action by pressing the first fret at the nut and the last fret at the end of the fingerboard. (It's easier if you use a capo at one or the other.) Then look to see if there is a space between the strings and the fret at the seventh or ninth frets. There should be a space there of about a half a millimeter, maybe just a tad more depending on how good the neck is. If there is a large space there, or even no space at all, then the truss rod probably needs adjusting. If it's a very large space, the truss rod could be the cause of your tuning problems. While you can check this out yourself, if you consider yourself a n00b at setting up guitars, it would probably be best to get a tech to do the adjusting if you think it needs it. A little bit of adjustment goes a very long way! And one can break a truss rod if care is not taken.

A good nut, as previously mentioned, is definitely a must. I've gone to the extreme of carving nuts out of bone on my favorite guitars, but it is a bit extreme. One of my guitars came with a graphite nut, and I've never had a tuning problem with it.

The stringing issue that often causes tuning problems is putting too many windings on the tuner posts. A lot of windings gives a lot of opportunities for 'play' in the string tension, and if your tuner post looks like a high-voltage transformer, that could be at least part of your problem. I use an old stringing trick that makes the string hold itself in place. It's best described with a picture, so I drew one. Please forgive the quality as I kind of rushed it. Also, I don't know how to insert an image anymore! So I hope it shows up...
Tuning.jpg
After you push the string through the post hole, you then bring the 'free' end back under the 'working' end of the string, like in Fig. 1. Then you tighten everything up so it looks like Fig. 2. When it's tuned up, the 'working' end of the string clamps down on the 'free' end to keep the string from slipping. I've had only two or three windings on the post doing it this way and never had a problem. Get someone familiar with stringing guitars, and they probably know how to do this.

Tuning machines are typically geared to something like 16:1. You should need a tractor to cause a modern tuning machine to slip! Bad (or old) ones can have backlash in them, but I usually take care of any backlash by always tuning up to a pitch, never tuning down. If I go too high while tuning, I'll tune down below the desired pitch and tune back up. Regardless of the guitar I'm playing, I've just made this a habit. It's a good practice to follow.

If you just can't seem to get the guitar tuned up properly, that is, you can get the strings to stay put but you can't get them to play in tune, then the issue could be intonation. But what you're describing doesn't sound like it's intonation.

I'm gonna try to submit this. If the image doesn't make it, I apologize.
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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by sduck » Wed Mar 11, 2020 12:45 pm

^this^ is some great advise! Getting the neck and string height correct is the key to happiness.

Check out this guy -


...watch a bunch of his videos, and you'll get a good idea of the basics of guitar setup, and can probably figure out what stuff you can do yourself, and what stuff to offload to an expert. I subscribe to his channel - he posts almost all the same video - him setting up guitars and basses, but he does it in an interesting way (at least to me).
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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by naturligfunktion » Thu Mar 12, 2020 6:39 am

sduck wrote:
Wed Mar 11, 2020 12:45 pm
^this^ is some great advise! Getting the neck and string height correct is the key to happiness.

Check out this guy -

...watch a bunch of his videos, and you'll get a good idea of the basics of guitar setup, and can probably figure out what stuff you can do yourself, and what stuff to offload to an expert. I subscribe to his channel - he posts almost all the same video - him setting up guitars and basses, but he does it in an interesting way (at least to me).
That channel just got a new subscriber :)

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by Hermetech Mastering » Mon Mar 30, 2020 12:46 pm

First thing to do with a new electric is take it straight to a luthier for assessment and do whatever they recommend to get it up to scratch. If you're lucky it might only need a basic setup, fairly quick and not too expensive, but if you really want it to play its best they might recommend full fretwork, which is more expensive, but will allow the guitar to play at its absolute best. After that then you can think about swapping out the hardware. A good setup starts with great fretwork, so it will never play its best without it.

I bought my Tele new in 2007, and have since replaced the tuners, saddles, string trees, knobs and all the electrics, but these were things I could do myself, as well as basic setups (I set all my guitars up twice a year with the change of seasons, truss rod, action/string radius, intonation, and pickup heights if needed). But frets is where it's at really, and for that I always go to a pro!

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by Revok » Mon Mar 30, 2020 4:52 pm

The stock Epiphone tuning keys are often crappy. This can be a simple easy to do upgrade if you get drop in replacements. A professionally cut nut or even just a proper filing of the stock nut can be helpful too. The bridge and tailpiece are probably ok. A proper setup is definitely a good idea.

Down the road some, definitely change out the pickups. The stock Epiphone pickups are pretty rough. Some people like them though!

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by Power Mic 3K » Tue Mar 31, 2020 9:57 am

Hermetech Mastering wrote:
Mon Mar 30, 2020 12:46 pm
First thing to do with a new electric is take it straight to a luthier for assessment and do whatever they recommend to get it up to scratch.
This is great advice for both new and secondhand guitars, and is well worth your :75:

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Re: What upgrades for a regular new guitar?

Post by hex » Sat Apr 04, 2020 3:12 pm

smetak wrote:
Tue Mar 10, 2020 3:34 pm
From the headstock, suffers from the same tuning issues all Gibsons have - the friggin' G string.

I got this a while back:

https://www.string-butler.com/

Although it doesn't fully resolve the problem, it greatly enhances tuning and eliminates the annoying "jump" when attempting to ace the string's pitch.

Quick easy to install and doesn't ask for holes or drills raping your beloved instrument.
Ugh I love gibsons but my sg has had worsening tuning problems in recent years, especially the g string. After 5-10 minutes of playing it I have to tune it. I was going to try big bends nut sauce but I never got around to ordering it.

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