Photo 17 — Although our replacement MojoAxe tailpiece fit on the SL’s existing posts, there was a gap that could cause unwanted rocking with the bridge.

The MojoAxe bridge slid right on, although the stock bridge posts left some extra wiggle room (Photo 17).

Photo 18 — A quick, easy way to rectify the rocking situation is to nab a couple of leftover pot washers, clip out a small section from each, then slide one into place on each bridge post.

One of my favorite, cheap fixes for this is to use the leftover washers that come with pots as fillers under each side of the bridge to keep it from rocking (Photos 18 and 19).

Photo 19

Use a pair of wire clippers to turn them into a C shape, push them onto the post, and—voilà!—you’ve got a tight fit (Photo 20).

Photo 20 — The clipped washers make our new compensated bridge fit snugly on the posts.

I went the extra mile and cut a fresh bone nut to replace the Epi’s original plastic one. I just couldn’t help myself! My only regret here is that I absentmindedly copied the slim string spacing of the original—I wish I’d spread it out a pinch. Ah, hindsight. For those inclined to dip their toes into the nut-making process, has some great resources for starters.

Photo 21 — To improve the Les Paul SL’s tuning stability, performance, and tone, I fashioned a new nut out of bone.

No tricked-out guitar would be complete without some thoughtfully applied shielding—your first, best defense against the sorts of unwanted noise that are more common with single-coil pickups like our new Lollars.

Photo 22 — Aluminum-foil tape in the interior cavities helps decrease extraneous noise. Before removing the tape’s backing, I unroll a length of tape to estimate how much is needed, then press my finger along the cavity edge to create a line I can follow when cutting the tape. Applying tailored pieces of foil is then much easier.

As long as it’s done right, it’s super effective. I used a roll of conductive aluminum-foil tape that I picked up at the hardware store for a scant $6. Rather than address the copper vs. aluminum debate here, I’ll simply agree that, yes, copper is the better insulator, but I’ve never found it to be so much better as to justify the added expense. No matter which material you prefer, the most crucial part of shielding is that it must be comprehensive—that no interior surface is left unlined. Continuity is also vitally important, so it’s best to use bigger pieces of tape instead of many small, overlapping bits.

Photo 23

To start, I’ll estimate the length of tape I’ll need, cut it, then gently trace the shape of the cavity with my finger to create an outline that I can cut out with a razor blade on a separate surface. Once the shape’s sorted, laying it down in the channel is a snap.

Photo 24 — Notice that little strip of foil at the far right end of the body cavity? (It looks like blue tape because of reflections from the blue wall.) That ensures that the cavity shielding connects with the pickguard shielding to create a complete barrier against unwanted noise.

For the cavity walls, I use the longest piece of tape possible and affix it vertically around the perimeter with some overlap where it meets the other pieces. Be sure to leave a small overhang onto the body to make contact with the pickguard, which I’ve already lined with foil and trimmed to fit. Boom—Faraday cage!

Post-Mod Thoughts
So, was all of that work on the crazy-affordable Epiphone Les Paul SL worth it? For sure! Thanks to the new components and fine-tuning touches, it’s a much more robust instrument but still retains its delightfully scrappy character. Especially with those Lollars, this could be the knock-around stage brawler of a post-punk rocker’s dreams. It can do subtle, don’t get me wrong, but it seems happier when it’s cranked up and thrown around.

Why Not Just Buy Better Instruments?
For a lot of players—especially those who aren’t particularly fond of projects—the most “obvious” question with all of this is, “Why not just save up a little and buy a better guitar (or bass)?” And sure, that’s valid for some people. For others, finances are simply too tight to get the combination of classic aesthetics, features, and tones they want in a higher-end instrument. Not to mention, the worth of a guitar can’t be strictly quantified in dollars and cents. Sure, you can throw down a few hundred more from the start and get a fine player, but being a musician and a tinkerer seem to go hand-in-hand. Never mind the fact that lots of us spend thousands more than we did here and still find ourselves wanting new pickups and swapping components. And, in all honesty, I’ve played instruments costing as much as four times what we spent on any one of these guitars, and I still felt like they needed many of the same mods we did for these instruments.

Just as importantly, at least for a lot of us, modifying these guitars was fun. To me, that’s priceless. Buy a cheap guitar, open it up, make some changes, and learn something along the way. Maybe you’ll find that you’re more self-sufficient on the other side.