How we turned three affordable Squier, Ibanez, and Yamaha axes into custom instruments like no other.
From YouTube to Instagram to myriad DIY forums, the internet is filled with modders showing off their latest projects. Name your flavor of guitar gluttony—from Gibsons to Fenders, offsets, and shred machines—and there's a virtual place you can go to both feed your craving and feel better about how much time you spend obsessing over how to make your axe sound and play more to your liking. "You think my tweaking tendencies are out of control? Check out this guy…."
Because there are so many places to get each other's take on which pickups or nut material will yield such-and-such sound, this year's No-Brainer Mods outing (our fourth so far) takes the same tack as last year's. As with all past NBMs, we've purchased a handful of quality affordable axes, but rather than just upgrading them with one of the innumerable sets of great pickups on the market, and maybe a fancier bridge or set of tuners, we're taking a more adventurous approach. Guitar shops the world over are full of well-made instruments you can get brand-new for $300–$500 and then turn into something you'd never be able to buy off the rack simply by investing a little more time and money. In the process, you'll have a whole lot of fun and hopefully end up with an inspiring new "custom" instrument. If something goes a little haywire or the experiment's end result isn't quite as mind-blowing as you'd hoped, at least you haven't lost a ton of dough—and unless you've really botched things, you can always try out your next great idea on the same "canvas."
Considering how many cool, well-made affordable guitars there are, what's a "no-brainer" about all this isn't so much what we do in our No-Brainer Mods series—it's that you take advantage of the waiting gold mine of possibilities to do the weird stuff that occurs to you. We're just here to stoke your imagination a little.
Last year, we had a blast walking the mod path less taken. We turned a T-style into a 12-string, gave a Squier Starcaster the Jazzmaster trem so many offset aficionados feel it needs, and made a semi-hollow Ibanez's dreams of sounding more orchestral a reality. This year, we're taking on a couple of mods that are roughly as ambitious as those, but we've also thrown in one for folks who need something a little less invasive to chew on during pandemic downtime. We've again enlisted guitar-repair guru Dave Helmer, a two-time Red Wing lutherie graduate based in Iowa City, Iowa, to carry out these glorious transformations. —Shawn Hammond
Before and After Mods Video Demo
Squier Semi-Fretless “Cabronitar”
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Squier instruments have long been a staple for modders looking for an affordable, solid-playing axe to put their own personal touch to. Beyond the brand's usual classic looks and respectable build, the Paranormal Cabronita Telecaster Thinline ($399 street) we've chosen for our first mod has a couple of additional neat things going for it. First, it's lighter than virtually any thinline/semi-hollow guitar we've encountered in this price range. Second, the fiesta red finish is so upscale looking it's easy to almost overlook the Fender-designed alnico Jazzmaster pickups. We thought about swapping them with a set of Seymour Duncan Antiquity or Curtis Novak pickups, but then we remembered our "more adventurous" MO. Besides, the pickups sound pretty good (astute JM fans are bound to note the unusual inclusion of adjustable pole pieces).
As I pondered what sort of specialized sonics might be cool to add to the Cab, I hit on the idea of turning this familiar-feeling guitar into a fretless sitar.Having done fretless conversions before, Dave called me a little after starting the project to make what ended up being a fantastic suggestion: Why not keep the frets on the lower half of the neck and ditch 'em on the upper portion? That way the "Cabronitar" could be used as both a chordal and a lead instrument. Genius! In the end, we decided on fretless past the 10th fret.
At first we thought we'd just buy one of those Gotoh sitar bridges that Danelectro uses on its Sitar and Baby Sitar instruments. However, as of publishing time, it appears Gotoh is no longer making them. This actually turned out to be a boon, though, as the Gotoh wouldn't have fit in the space between the Cabronita's bridge and bridge pickup, and would have required more drastic measures with the bridge and/or other hardware.
Even so, keep in mind that—at a quick glance—the ebony "buzz bridge" portion of this mod looks deceptively simple. Like us, you'll likely end up needing to fashion two or three bridges before you've got all the minute cuts and surface angles right. This fine-tuning by trial and error is why you'll notice successive photos below sometimes show the guitar with strings on, then unstrung with protective tape on the surface, then strung-up again. That's because the only way to know for sure if you're getting things right is to string the guitar and see how it sounds at various points throughout the process. So you'll want to have a few sets of your chosen strings on hand. Luckily, Dave did a lot of great research and built a few prototypes himself, and the lessons he learned should help you get the nuances right, regardless of the guitar model you're modding. —SH
Ibanez JEMJRSP with “Monkey Grip-u-Lator”
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Steve Vai's innovative, aesthetically vibrant signature guitars have been turning heads since his 1987 debut as Ibanez's most prominent and influential artist. The JEM777 started it all. But while Vai—then fresh off both his first tour with David Lee Roth and filming scenes as the Devil's flamboyant guitarist, Jack Butler, in Crossroads—has always put the guitar's unusual "monkey grip" feature to good use, few mortals seem to be able to pull it off with similar aplomb. So we thought we'd take advantage of the grip anatomy on the JEMJRSP ($499 street) to facilitate something more practical—yet weird enough to hopefully still meet with Vai's approval. Taking inspiration from another virtuosic experimentalist, avant dreamscapist/sound mangler /former Bowie sideman David Torn, we've decided to use the space already carved out for the monkey grip to house a circuit similar to the "Tornipulator" he's had installed in guitars by luthiers Uli Teuffel, Saul Koll, and Izzy Lugo at Ronin Stringed Instruments.
Our "monkey grip-u-lator" circuit has three momentary pushbuttons for engaging 1) a lo-fi "sampling" microphone (a Shaker-brand harmonica mic) that's been added under the guitar's pickguard, 2) a 60-cycle hum (great for conjuring anarchic/deconstructionist vibes), and 3) a 1/4" auxiliary input you can use to connect, say, your phone, an old cassette player, or another outboard device to aid in your havoc-wreaking sonic adventures.
Yamaha Revstar Mojo Pickups Dual Foil Mod
Click here to enter for a chance to win this expertly modded guitar.
For those of you who've been shaking your heads at the two previous mods, first—in the immortal words of King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail—"You make me sad." Second, thank you for sticking with us anyway. We're rewarding you for your valiance with this straightforward mod. Although the Yamaha Revstar RS320 ($399 street) comes stock with pretty respectable pickups, we've been intrigued for the last little bit by U.K. outfit Mojo Pickups' recent Dual Foil designs—which are humbucking interpretations of the unique gold-foil pickups found on old Teisco and Harmony guitars. As we can attest, the Mojos sound delicious—which is why luthiers at boutique outfits such as Abernethy Guitars, Uma Guitars, and Deimel Guitarworks have recently been gravitating toward them.
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Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Looking for a compact, “noiseless” way to plug in and play guitar? Check out the brand-new Gibson Digital Amp, available only in the Gibson App.
The new Gibson App simplifies the learning process and brings guitar playing to life for the current and next generation of guitarists in a modern, comprehensive, and intuitive way. The Gibson App is the place to take your guitar playing to the next level. New to the Gibson App is the Gibson Digital Amp, the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediate players and pros to get their sound anywhere. The Gibson Digital Amp is an accessible amplifier for both acoustic and electric guitars, and is currently available for Apple/iOS users--an Android version will debut next year.
Use the Gibson Digital Amp’s jamming guide to get started and transform your sound with built-in effects and pedals, jam to backing tracks, or use it in lessons and songs. The Gibson Digital Amp only requires your phone, and wired headphones for the best playing experience, no cables are needed. The amp features 3 acoustic mic presets, 4 electric amp presets, and 6 effects pedals.
The Gibson Digital Amp is the ultimate starting amplifier for beginners and a flexible amp on-the-go for intermediates and pros.
The Gibson App uses a unique two-way, interactive platform to teach guitar students how to do everything from playing their first note to shredding loads of songs. The Gibson App features interactive lessons with thousands of lessons and songs. Learn the songs step-by-step with video tutorials from superstar artists and pro guitarists in the “Gibson App Guide.” The Gibson App also includes the new Digital Amp, a built-in tuner, a metronome, Gibson TV, and new songs are added every week. New Gibson App Guides are added regularly and include Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer’s favorite iconic KISS guitar solos, Richie Faulkner’s (Judas Priest) “Guide to Metal,” Jared James Nichols’ “Guide to Blues,” CELISSE’s “Guide to Songwriting,” and more.
The Gibson App uses “audio augmented reality” to provide dynamic feedback to students as they learn and play. As you pluck a note or strum a chord, the Gibson App listens to your guitar and gives you real-time feedback on your playing. It also gives students a more contextual learning experience: Instead of learning chords and scales in a vacuum, you’re able to practice on a scrolling tablature that lets you hear how you sound with the backing of a virtual band. That means you can load up “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “American Girl" by Tom Petty, “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, “Where is My Mind" by Pixies, “Country Roads” by John Denver, “I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett, “Heaven” by Kane Brown, “Shape Of You” by Ed Sheeran, “Killer Queen” by Queen,“ Sweet Child O’ Mine,” by Guns ‘N Roses, “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden, “Roxanne” by The Police, and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and “Don't Look Back In Anger” by Oasis and hundreds more songs in a wide range of genres, to see how your play matches up with such seminal tracks.
As you’re playing, the Gibson App gives you feedback on timing and tone, ensuring that students are getting active input on how their play is developing. The Gibson App appeals to players of all levels, it’s not just for beginners looking to learn a few chords; the app can assist seasoned guitarists who are working their way through difficult riffs, want to learn their favorite songs, or polish their advanced techniques.
Players can also challenge themselves by speeding up or slowing the tabs. Like having a full-time guitar teacher, the Gibson App keeps track of all your progress and adjusts lesson plans accordingly. The Gibson App released a “backing track mode” which supports both lesson and song playback without headphones, so users can self-select what works best for their current environment. And that’s not all: the Gibson App also packs in a fully-featured digital tuner for guitar first-timers, there’s even a detailed lesson on how to tune your instrument, a multi-function metronome, players can connect to free one-on-one consultations with Gibson’s Virtual Guitar Tech team, and to direct links to the Gibson, Epiphone, and Kramer online stores for easy shopping for guitars, gear, apparel, and accessories.
Learn Guitar With The Gibson App
The Gibson App is more than a pocket-sized guitar teacher, it’s loaded with an archive of exclusive content and original programming from its premium and accessible award-winning online network, Gibson TV, featuring music icons telling their best guitar stories, with more episodes and installments added regularly. Users can watch Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi share insights and tales from his decades-long career on the series “Icons,” dive into Joe Bonamassa’s assortment of legendary Les Paul guitars on “The Collection,” or see how Gibson’s iconic instruments are made in their Nashville factory from body to binding on “The Process.” There’s even a series called “The Scene” that focuses on backstage stories from hallowed music venues from coast to coast like The Troubadour and Grand Ole Opry.
The Gibson App free version features a few lessons a day; the premium version of the Gibson App offers full access and a 14-day free trial, then costs $19.99/£16.49 monthly or $119.99/£98.99 yearly.
For more information, please visit gibson.com.
This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
Belltone Guitars, as part of their Custom-Select System curated offering of pickups, has partnered McNelly pickups to create a one-of-a-kind retro-vibe P-90 pickup in the standard Filtertron size format. This pickup captures the clear, bell-like single-coil chime of a classic P-90 when played clean and retains the tight mids and articulate low-end vintage growl, and smooth sustain saturation when pushed into overdrive.
The McNelly P-90 Foil-Coil comes housed in a ‘raw’ nickel outer casing with a dull nickel foil face with metal mount screw gromets to complete the ‘new-vintage’ aesthetic, making it a perfect choice for your signature Belltone custom build. Available exclusively through Belltone Guitars.
Check out the Custom-Select System belltoneguitars.com to preview the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons and all our standard and selectable components available to create your own signature Belltone. Then visit the Dream Lab on our website and select either model B-Classic ONE with its top binding or B-Classic TWO with its arm and body contours select your body color from our wide range of offerings, select your neck profile of either standard ‘C’ or thicker ’59 Round Back and either Maple or Rosewood fingerboard followed by your tuners, pickguard, and strings. Finally, review our curated custom-designed, and unique pickup selection to locate the McNelly P-90 Foil-Trons to complete your signature build.
Builds start at just over $2,300.00 with a custom case and shipping included.
For more information, please visit belltoneguitars.com.
McNelly P 90 Foil Tron video Sep27
Belltone P-90 Foil-Tron Pickup
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses.
DiMarzio, Inc. announces the release of the Relentless P (DP299), the Relentless J Bridge (DP301), Relentless J Neck (DP300), and the Relentless J Pair (DP302) for 4 string basses. The new Relentless P and Relentless J series pickups feature the Relentless cover designed in collaboration with Billy Sheehan.
As with the Relentless pickups, we removed all the hard edges from the standard P Bass and standard J Basspickups, and added an arch to the top of the pickups to bring the sensing coils and pole pieces closer to the strings. These improvements increase the dynamic range and make active circuitry unnecessary.
The Relentless P and Relentless J pickups incorporate Neodymium magnets and produce 70 percent more output than traditional passive pickups, and they’re dead quiet due to the incorporation of metal covers and foil-shielded cables. To dial in (or fine-tune) the individual string output, the Relentless P and Relentless J include eight adjustable pole pieces. These pickups also have a broad magnetic field so you can even bend notes without volume dropout.
DiMarzio’s extra shielding makes the Relentless P and Relentless J better for both recording and stage performances. We’ve mounted them onto robust .09375” thick circuit board base plates to eliminate the annoying protruding mounting screws — ultimately creating a more comfortable and consistent foundation to rest your fingers on.
The new Relentless P steps beyond the traditional P-Bass sound and can only be described as massive. It has more of everything: more volume, beefier lows, a growling midrange, and crispy highs with better individual string definition.
The Relentless J incorporates a new invention, (patent pending) parallelogram-shaped coils, offering an expanded mid-range punch, snappy highs, precise lows, and a new dimension to the sound of the Relentless series pickups.
Relentless P and Relentless J pickups will breathe new life into any bass, increase playability, and work well for any style of music from Motown to metal.
DiMarzio’s Relentless P, Relentless J Bridge, Relentless J Neck, and Relentless J pair are made in the U.S.A. and may now be ordered for immediate delivery.
Suggested List Price for the Relentless P is $169.00 (MAP $119.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Bridge and Relentless J neck is $155.00 (MAP $109.99).
Suggested List Price for the Relentless J Pair is $296.00 (MAP 209.99).
For more information, please visit our website at dimarzio.com.