Principles of Guitar
There are several general
that inform my "style" of guitar modifications. I don't
follow these; they simply emerge from the process. I've generated
list because I think it might help others to develop their approach to
modifying guitars. You are free to add to these in your craft
reject the ones that don't suit you. This just happens to be how
play the game, and even then there are exceptions, depending on the
However, think these
over. I notice a lot of people send me designs to review where
the wiring scheme might be error-free, but I can see they haven't
really thought things through about the design itself.
Optimization. If it's a
Strat, then I'm going to make it the best Strat possible. If it's
a speed metal machine, then I'm going to give it the best options for
that role. It's all about casting. I'm not going to try to
turn a Strat into a 335 or a Les Paul into a rockabilly
instrument. If I am working on a Telecaster, then I'm going to
give it the best Tele pickups I can find and work with those. A
guitar should be the best version of itself it can be. It
shouldn't pretend to be something else.
try to turn your guitar into a different model. Don't sacrifice
what you already have by giving up stock features or sounds such as
dumping your original pickups for something not suited to the
instrument. Primum non nocere: "First, do no harm."
make your guitar into a better version of what it already is. Get
pickups with the desired output and voicing. If there's a choice
between a two-conductor model and one with four-conductors, go with the
latter so you will have the freedom to pursue additional mods.
Invisibility. No matter
the number or nature of the electronic mods I include in an instrument,
I do my best to keep it looking 100% stock. I try to avoid
drilling into the face of a guitar to add any new switches. Most
mods can be accomplished using push-pull pots that keep the guitar
looking completely stock. Many interesting coil combinations can
be achieved using multi-pole 5-way switches (aka "super-switches") or
rotary switches (e.g., found on some PRS guitars). Drilling into
the guitar to add toggle switches is something that should only be
undertaken if there is no better way to include mods or, conversely, if
the mods you want to make absolutely require such alterations to the
make your guitar ugly with switches and extra knobs you could hide
unless there is 1) no better way or 2) you actually want that as your
consolidate controls so that they're out of the way. As a rule,
the fewer controls you can see on the face of the guitar, the less
cluttered it will be. In general, that will allow you to switch
between them more efficiently.
Reversibility. In all my
guitars, the electronic mods start with the stock configuration as the
default. For example, humbuckers get tapped or switched to
parallel, but when the push-pull switch is down (i.e., the default
position), the pickup is back to stock. I don't start with exotic
combinations; that's what you should be able to dial in, not what you
are stuck with until you say otherwise.
sacrifice a standard selection for a weird combination you might not
use. For example, maybe your 5-way selects outside coils in the
middle position instead of the middle pickup. You gave up a stock
combination you might otherwise have used.
find ways to expand out from the stock configurations. In the
5-way example, you could have used a pickup
add-in switch and accomplished the same without losing the middle
pickup (and thus other combinations that used the middle pickup).
Versatility. I try to
include combinations that offer selections from several groups of
sounds. Although I don't expect any guitar to perfectly emulate
any other, I try to add to the palette of what it's capable of.
For example, I want Strat-like sounds (via single coils if I can keep
them quiet; parallel hum-cancelling pairs if not) and thick LP-like
sounds (via series connections) and even a few weird sounds if
possible, usually via a phase switch. Lately I've been trying to
include the "Tele sound" of two single coils at the extremes of the
guitar wherever possible.
make your guitar a one-trick pony unless you are committed to playing
only one style of music or running everything though one tone.
think in terms of what other types of music you might want to call out
of your guitar. I often switch between styles when playing live,
so I need whatever guitar I'm playing at the time to be able to
accommodate the required tone in addition to whatever I've optimized it
Silence. Unless I have
silent single coils installed (such as EMG or AGI Lace pickups), I
employ as few single-coil combinations as possible to avoid introducing
the 60Hz hum into combinations that are usually humbucking (or
hum-cancelling, since that's a more general term). For example, I
won't do a configuration where I have an odd number of coils such that
each coil doesn't have another oppositely-wound coil to cancel
against. In fact, given the choice, I rarely use coil taps.
I prefer instead to have opposing coils in parallel. In fact,
these usually sound better.
add coil taps if they cannot be kept silent. The hum is not worth
pair any single coils so that they are hum-cancelling. Use coils
taps only where you have configurations that pair the tapped humbuckers
to cancel the hum of the remaining coils against one another (e.g.,
North coil from the neck humbucker against the South coil from the
bridge pickup or using auto-tapping
to pair the resulting single with the middle pickup on a HSH
guitar). (See the "outside-coil" configurations in the HH guitars
by PRS or auto-tapping on HSH guitars such as those by Ibanez.)
Intuition. I like the
layout of the controls to be really intuitive to me. For example,
I always put the phase switch of Strats on the middle knob since it
affects the middle pickup. That just makes sense to me. My
most-used combinations are placed at the distal ends of the selector
switch (i.e., positions 1 or 5 = neck or bridge pickup, respectively)
with lesser-used or more exotic combinations (e.g., parallel coils,
out-of-phase sounds, etc.) in the middle positions. This means I
can concentrate on playing rather than getting the sound I want to play
make your guitar overly complicated by adding more controls than you
can handle. You shouldn't have to consult a crib sheet every time
you want to switch to a another pickup.
arrange the controls in a way that makes the most sense to you so that they require as little
thinking as possible to dial in what you want at the moment you want it.
Practicality. Mods have
to made sense. They can't just be to increase the number of
combinations/options. After all, they aren't options if you will
never use them as a guitar player. For example, I don't include
an excessive number of phase switches on my guitars. One phase
switch is usually enough to give one or two interesting combinations
(or more, depending on what other mods are present on the guitar), and
any more than that would simply be overwhelming (see "Intuition" above)
while not especially useful musically.
add new combinations and other options just to break your record.
I've designed guitars like that for fun, but I would never build them
simply because they're impractical to play.
focus on what you want and the simplest, most-direct ways to achieve