To swap or not to swap? Let’s explore some situations when it makes sense to replace hardware … and instances when it doesn’t.
Welcome back to Mod Garage. This month I want to give you some insight into putting vintage parts into new electric guitars and explore why so many people are doing this.
The trend to put old vintage parts into electric guitars started years ago and it’s still in vogue today. But besides the hip factor, is it reasonable to do so? What can you expect, and are there specific situations where this makes sense for a new electric guitar? In this column, we’ll have to face some sad and unpopular facts (and myths) about vintage guitars and vintage parts, so not everyone will be happy about this.
In general, the vintage world is not limited to guitars or instruments. The scene includes a lot of categories, such as cars, watches, clothing, furniture, books, electric devices, and much more. But the basic principles are always the same and there are many reasons why someone decides to jump on that wagon.
We don’t have to discuss putting vintage parts on vintage guitars, which seems logical and natural. On a vintage guitar, it’s all about stock condition and authenticity, like on every vintage collector’s item, no matter what it is.
Let’s start with sad vintage “truth” number one:
Today we can build much better electric guitars than ever before.
That’s not really bad news, if you’re not a vintage guitar seller. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the old vintage guitars are obsolete or bad in comparison with the ones we can build today. But with today’s high-tech equipment, the level of consistent quality is outstanding and close to perfect. All instruments produced that way are more or less completely identical. Vintage guitars, even if built from the same persons on the same day, are virtually all individual items, which for sure is one of the main keys to their magic. And naturally everyone wants to own an individual item rather than an industrial, mass-produced object.
Today we can build tuners that are far ahead of what was possible in the ’50s and ’60s, as well as bridges and tremolos that are little mechanical pieces of art regarding precision and accuracy. So, does it make sense to put vintage hardware on a new electric guitar?
Regarding quality and performance, it’s a clear NO! I have numerous customers doing exactly the opposite, no matter if it’s sacrilege or not. They want to play their vintage guitars but with today’s highest possible performance, so they take out the vintage parts, carefully storing them away, replacing them with modern 1:1 copies to spruce up the old guitars. This is often the case with tuners, string trees, tremolos, and the like, and it’s important that the new parts will fit 1:1 so no new holes need to be drilled to make them fit.
Sometimes imperfection to a certain degree can be exactly the thing you’re looking for regarding tone.
Old and brittle plastic parts like pickguards and pickup covers are also stored away. You can buy modern plastic lookalikes easily and so the old parts are ready to drop in again when you want to sell the guitar someday. Vintage amp players are taking out the original speakers to protect and store them away. This way you can have both: Play your vintage guitar and amp with the highest possible performance, plus keep their value alive because you can always swap parts back to stock condition. I have quite a few customers who take out the complete electronics along with the pickguard, playing a modern substitute under the hood because they don’t want to risk damage to the original. And, believe it or not, a lot of them say the new pickups and electronics sound better than the originals, but compared to the originals, they are worthless. In general, this applies to all vintage items. For example, today it’s possible to build better cars and watches than ever before ... but they don’t make them like they used to, which is one of the number one pro-vintage arguments.
Naturally, there could be other reasons—including emotional ones—to put vintage hardware on a new electric guitar. This is highly individual. Maybe it’s just for fun because it was already lying around, or it looks cooler because it’s used and beaten up. But this can be had cheaper—the market for aged guitar parts is huge. Or maybe one of your favorite artists did something that you want to copy. This also applies to a lot of other vintage stuff like cars and watches—who doesn’t want to drive a Porsche 550 Spyder model like James Dean or wear the same Rolex Submariner 6538 that James Bond wore in 1962 during his first appearance in Dr. No?
But maybe it’s because people think putting vintage parts into a new guitar will increase its value. This leads us straight to sad vintage “truth” number two:
A new electric guitar with vintage parts fetches more money than it does in stock condition.
This is simply not true, at least when sold as one piece with the vintage parts built into the guitar. Like any modification, this will not increase the value of a new guitar—time and being witness to countless auctions has proven this.
But this is the perfect transition to sad “truth” number three:
A vintage guitar makes the most profit when sold completely intact.
Exactly the opposite is true. If you want to make the most profit, nothing beats completely disassembling a vintage guitar and selling it in pieces. I know some vintage parts dealers in Europe and the U.S.—I’ve worked with some of them for over two decades—and they’re all doing the same thing: finding vintage guitars that are for sale, disassembling them, and selling off the individual parts.
One dealer told me this: If you can sell a vintage guitar for $10k, take it all apart and you can make $15k with the individual parts. So, if you put vintage parts on a new guitar that you want to sell, take out the vintage parts and sell them off individually to make top dollar. (It’s not a bad idea to store away any hardware you remove from your guitars, because you might need to put it back in later.)
So, are there any instances where it does make sense to put vintage parts in a new guitar? I would say yes, and I can think of two good considerations:
1. Putting vintage pickups into a new electric guitar.
Putting vintage switches, pots, output jacks, and wires into a new guitar is not reasonable. The pickup-selector switches are still made the same way now as they were in the past. Only the materials have changed a bit, enhancing reliability and longevity. So why spend $600 for a vintage CRL 3-way switch when you can get much better performance for $30? A switch has no tone, so leave the vintage switch for a vintage guitar. Same with pots: They don’t have a tone and modern pots are much more reliable. Companies spent years researching the taper and action of vintage pots and you can buy exact vintage copies for only a few bucks. You get the idea.
With a faithful recreation of a vintage pickup plus a vintage tone cap, you can come very close to the magical sound, so investing in a tested NOS tone cap can make a big tonal difference, whereas a new cap can’t.
However, if you fall in love with a set of vintage pickups, it can make sense to put them into your modern guitar. There is no financial risk. They will increase in value, so if you ever want to sell them again you will get more than you paid, enjoying their tone in the meantime. Keep in mind that companies also spent years to analyze, research, and re-engineer vintage pickups and today you can buy almost every given pickup you’re looking for and as close as possible to its original. Such pickups are a lot cheaper compared to a vintage set, but naturally this is no investment.
2. Putting vintage tone caps into a new electric guitar.
This is for sure a reasonable procedure to quickly enhance the tone of a new electric guitar. Installing a vintage tone cap into a guitar is also done easily because it’s a simple 1:1 swap with the original tone cap. It’s still possible to find NOS vintage tone caps today, but prices are rising while supplies are running out. Why is this an improvement in tone? The tone of vintage guitars is often described as detailed, harmonically rich, and open. Part of this tone is from the tone cap. Today capacitors are built to perfection and with very low tolerances so they will do a perfect job. In our electric guitars we use them to only short out the highs against ground, leaving the bass untouched ... in very simple words.
Production processes to build capacitors in the ’50s and ’60s were far from perfect, and besides high tolerances in capacitance, certain caps (depending on the dielectric inside) tend to be kind of “leaky” regarding overtones. A modern cap will do a perfect job, filtering out all overtones that it’s supposed to. Most vintage caps will do a lousy job, still letting some overtones through, especially the harmonic ones. This is what makes the tone so rich and detailed, and, by the way, it’s the same situation with tube amps.
With a faithful recreation of a vintage pickup plus a vintage tone cap, you can come very close to the magical sound, so investing in a tested NOS tone cap can make a big tonal difference, whereas a new cap can’t. Sometimes imperfection to a certain degree can be exactly the thing you’re looking for regarding tone. Back in the golden guitar days, no one really cared about such odd details, and even if they did ... it was state of the art and all new technologies were still science-fiction at that time. Today we know better and can use old technology for certain tasks.That’s it for now.
Next month we’ll explore our next guitar mod, so stay tuned. Until then ... keep on modding!
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Which one do you prefer?
Rhett and Zach unpack the big news for secondhand guitar sellers and buyers: Sweetwater has launched their new Gear Exchange. How does it compare to Reverb, Craigslist, and Marketplace? To find out, Zach takes the site for a spin and buys a pedal. He calls the process both “very easy” and “normal.” They discuss the pros and cons of the various used-gear outlets and share tips for not getting got when buying gear. Plus, Zach grew a mustache, Mythos Pedals is moving, and he talks about his forthcoming line of Strat pickups inspired by Hendrix’s reverse-stagger setup.
Sweetwater vs. Reverb
Get 10% off from StewMac when you visit stewmac.com/dippedintone
A highly versatile sonic tool, the pedal can deliver a broad range of tones – everything from mild, wonderfully organic overdrive to medium-gain crunch with a richly satisfying midrange kick.
The pedal is a collaboration between Shnobel Tone and guitarist, songwriter, composer, and record producer Frank Simes. Based in Hollywood, Simes‘ long list of credits includes work with A-list artists such as Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon, RodStewart, Roger Waters, Roger Daltrey, and Martha Davis from The Motels. Additionally, Simes was the musical director for The Who for many years.
Its touch sensitivity makes it a perfect choice for guitarists who rely on precise right-hand technique, and it cleans up nicely when you roll back your guitar's volume knob.
Frank Simes Overdrive features include:
- Three knobs: Volume, Gain, and Tone controls
- True bypass foot switch
- Top mounted power and in/out jacks
- Hand-built with through-hole components
- Crinkle-coated diecast aluminum enclosure, dimensions 4.7 x 3.7 Inches
- Standard 9v center negative power – no battery compartment
Frank Simes Signature Overdrive
Shnobel Tone’s Frank Simes Overdrive has a suggested retail price and MAP of $249.
For more information, please visit shnobeltone.com.
The Reference II Series 112 and new 115 feature a new look, ceramic magnets, and Poplar ply shells.
With gigging musicians in mind, portability was paramount to the design of these cabinets, which still feature all of the power that you expect from Bergantino. Using a lightweight Poplarply shell and Baltic Birch baffles to encase the ceramic-based speakers, these cabinets are extremely easy to transport, while still packing all of the low-end presence and warmth that is required for professional bassists in any genre of music. Covered with rugged tolex finishes and cloth grills, these cabinets look as good as they sound and provide long-term durability that is required for the wear and tear of touring and gigging musicians.
The Reference II Series utilize ceramic magnets with vented pole pieces for the fullest and roundest low-end possible. Along with their high-power handling capability, the Reference II Series cabinets boast versatility fit for players who utilize fingerstyle, pick, slapping, and tapping techniques. Their presence and punch matches their low-end output and produce an accurate, full-bodied, and authentic representation of your bass guitar in both live and studio settings.
Reference II Series 112
The Reference II Series 112 is new and improved, featuring the tone that bass purists love, but in a lighter package without sacrificing any of the full-bodied, robust properties that have made this a favorite. The 112 can achieve any sonic palette you desire while faithfully reproducing the natural tone that comes directly from your bass and your fingers. Many bassists love the Reference II Series 112 because of the “blank canvas” it provides the player seeking a solid, no-frills bass tone, and this updated edition upholds that, but with noticeable improvements. Seamless, tight, quick, and responsive, this cabinet is the right choice for players of all levels.
Reference II Series 115
After receiving many requests to bring back our 115 cabinets, lovers of rumbling low-end can rejoice, as the latest edition to our lineup is here to maximize your bottom end with a responsiveness second to none. We’ve taken everything our players loved about our previous15” offering, shaved some weight, and updated its design to fit our high standards of the Reference II Series. With our proprietary speaker curves, it can be made to sound full and modern or vintage and rolled off, but never dry. The 115 cabinet provides a massive sound in a lightweight, easily transportable package that is ready for small venues, arenas, and everything in between.
Reference II Series 112: $1059.00
Reference II Series 115: $1099.00
These Cabinets Currently Shipping in the USA. For more information, please visit bergantino.com.
The Royale was designed to deliver loud and vivid clean tone with a responsive, tactile low end.
Designed to offer massive headroom, the 50-watt Royale Head lets you indulge in smooth clean tones at even higher volumes on stage without any breakup. Select between class A and class AB modes, with its variable mode switch, so you can choose between gushing Supro tone or a punchier, tight midrange response.
Introducing the Royale Head & Extension Cabinet | Supro
The Royale 1x12 Extension Cabinet features the custom Supro BD12 high-power driver, offering the same mid-range punch and clean articulation as the Royale combo but with additional stage volume. More info: suprousa.com.
Royale Head | $1,499.99
Royale Cab | $669.99