Photo by Perry Bean

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Sometimes you don’t want to throw down a couple thousand dollars on a guitar. Hell, for the large majority of players, that never has been nor ever will be an option. Once upon a time, that was a pretty big conundrum for hardcore guitarists—an existential crisis, really. Thankfully, well-dialed CNC machines and a whole host of production and OEM-parts refinements over the past few years have been obliterating those old worries about not being able to sound and look good (or play comfortably) without decimating your savings account or making credit-card bandits giggle with glee.

PG has long celebrated this fortunate new reality. For years now we’ve invested a lot of time, effort, and money in cooking up DIY mod projects that show you how to get more out of your existing guitars. And May 2018 marked our first foray into an annual feature that ups the ante considerably by helping you suss out inexpensive new guitars that are hiding in plain sight, just waiting for anyone who can wield a soldering iron without burning down the house to turn them into killer gigging and recording machines.

For this year’s no-brainer mods installment, we’ve assembled a diverse trio of guitars that make stellar “canvases” for upgrades that take them to a whole new level.

For many players—whether relative newcomers or mod-savvy mad scientists prowling for the victim of their next tonal heresy—the realm of worthwhile entry-level instruments rarely extends beyond brands such as Squier, Epiphone, and perhaps lower-priced Gretsch or Ibanez guitars. And with good reason: These companies have a long, laudable track record of serving up instruments that look like what our heroes play, and sound and play fairly close, too. All for just a couple hundred bucks and some change.

But there are many other solid contenders for the hard-earned dollars of the DIY addicted, too. For this year’s no-brainer mods installment, we’ve assembled a diverse trio of guitars that make stellar “canvases” for upgrades that take them to a whole new level. The instruments and parts were purchased online, which means they were subject to the same rigors and dice rolls as most web buys—particularly those that aren’t from the handful of retailers notable for their pre-purchase guitar setups. (Plus, you never know what havoc will be wrought going through a half-dozen climes and the hands of at least a couple of careless delivery people.) Given this, it should come as no surprise that a few performance tweaks were necessary here and there, too.

New to modding? Check out this DIY article for a comprehensive guide on soldering techniques and tips.