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Just added: advanced mods for Strat, Tele, and Les Paul

I know guitar players of all kinds: bedroom shredders, hobbyists, semi-pros, and pro players, and they all have something in common: They all have more than one guitar. With that in mind, we're presenting three mods—divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels—for three common guitars: Telecaster, Stratocaster, and Les Paul.

These three circuits are very different and require very different work to mod them. But they are versatile, and once you get the basic knowledge down, you can apply it to other guitars. For example, you can use the Telecaster circuit mods for all electric guitars with two pickups and a master volume/master tone configuration. The Les Paul circuit can also be used for SG, 335, 339, and many more guitars with two pickups with a volume and tone control for each pickup.

We'll kick this off with beginner mods, requiring only some basic soldering skills (click here if you need a primer on this). Vintage wiring, or '50s-style wiring, is a good starting place for anyone interested in dipping their toes into DIY modding. Parts-wise you'll only require some basic soldering equipment and some small pieces of wire. Let's get started!

The Mod: '50s Wiring
The Gibson '50s wiring is sometimes also called "Vintage Wiring" or even "'50s Vintage Wiring," but it all refers to the same thing—the way Gibson wired up their electric guitars in the late '50s, including the legendary 'Burst Les Paul guitars as well as SGs and 335s of the era. Though it was forgotten for many decades, the method seems more popular now than ever before, garnering a lot of attention in forums and with plenty of myths and urban legends surrounding it.

Electronically, there is nothing too special about this wiring. It simply connects the tone pot to the output of the volume pot (middle lug) instead of the input. So what is so special about it then, you ask? The '50s wiring will have three major influences on your tone:

1. The overall tone gets stronger and more transparent. It's difficult to describe, but it's more “in your face." The tone of late-'50s 'Burst Les Pauls has been described as having a “bloom"—the way the notes open up after leaving the guitar—that is hard to achieve without this wiring.
2. The typical treble loss that occurs when rolling back the volume is lessened and both the volume and tone controls react smoother and more evenly, without the typical hot spots. As a result, it's easier to clean up an overdriven amp by simply rolling back the volume on your guitar a bit.
3. The tone and the volume controls interact with each other in a way similar to some Fender tube amps. When you change the volume, the tone changes a little bit as well, and vice versa. It may feel strange in the beginning, but it doesn't take long to get used to.

As with any of the mods we'll be doing, it's a matter of personal preference, but this one is easy to do—and invisibly reverse—so it's worth a try. Though the wiring is based off of vintage Gibsons, you can rewire any guitar this way to similar effect.

Telecaster(click for standard Tele original wiring diagram)
This is, by far, the simplest mod I can imagine—swap one wire and you are done! If you've never worked in your guitar before, this is a great place to start. There are no special considerations or quirks, just swap the wire marked in red below and your Tele is converted to '50s wiring.


Wiring diagram courtesy of Seymour Duncan Pickups and used by permission. Seymour Duncan and the stylized S are registered trademarks of Seymour Duncan Pickups, with which Premier Guitar magazine is not affiliated.

Stratocaster(click for standard Strat original wiring diagram)
Setting up the '50s wiring on a Stratocaster is not much more complicated than on a Telecaster, but because of the somewhat special arrangement of a master volume plus two tone controls, it requires changing an additional wire. Again, there are no special considerations, so solder along and enjoy the new tones from your Strat.


Wiring diagram courtesy of Seymour Duncan Pickups and used by permission. Seymour Duncan and the stylized S are registered trademarks of Seymour Duncan Pickups, with which Premier Guitar magazine is not affiliated.

Les Paul (also SG or ES-335) - Click for standard Les Paul wiring diagram
The original '50s wiring on a Les Paul is basically identical to the Telecaster mod, with each pickup sporting a volume and a tone control. Because you have two pickups with this arrangement, you'll have to swap two wires instead of one, but it's still pretty simple. Most Les Paul, SG, and 335 players with PAF or PAF-flavored pickups prefer this wiring because it gives a more vintage tone and it is one of the key components for the so-called "bloom" we talked about earlier. Give it a try: I wouldn't be surprised if you never converted back to the modern wiring you had before.


Diagram by Nick Boogers

I hope you were able to test the modding waters successfully and unlock some new tones from your favorite axe. Check back next week for our intermediate mods for Tele, Strat, and Les Paul. We'll be setting up an additional “out of phase" pickup setting, so stay tuned!

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In the spirit of Eddie Van Halen, some tips on creating your own unique tone monster (but with more trial and less error).

Everyone knows he changed the way we play the instrument. But it’s less celebrated that Eddie Van Halen first changed the instrument itself. By cobbling together the limbs and innards of dead gear, he gave the Strat new life, turning it into a fire-breathing metal monster—a new species, known as the FatStrat. He dared to tinker. And in doing so, he revealed that the wizard behind the pickguard is merely a few wires and solder—not so mysterious after all. Today, Van Halen’s “Frankenstein” is a representation of his ascendancy into rock stardom, and subsequent transformation into a brand, with replicas fetching more than $20,000. It’s a testament to the power of trial and error (not to mention the failure of metalheads to grasp the concept of irony).

But even though Ed did it with trial and error, it doesn’t mean we can’t refine the process. Here are 20 tinkering tidbits I’ve learned so far, with the burn scars to prove it. I hope you find this helpful as you make your own monster to unleash on an unsuspecting audience without breaking the bank. Feel free to leave your own nuggets of DIY wisdom and survival stories in the comments section.

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