Electric Guitar Modification Research

Discussion in 'Luthier's Guitar & Bass Technical Discussion' started by AmpleI, May 2, 2015.

  1. AmpleI

    AmpleI Member

    May 2, 2015

    My name is Iain, I am studying Music at University and I am currently working on my final year dissertation.

    My topic is ‘Electric Guitar Modification’ and my main focus is understanding and explaining why players modify their instruments.

    To make things clearer I am stating that many things can count as a modification, from the heavy routing of material to install various mechanisms, to much simpler mods, such as changing a string tree. I am also paying attention to aesthetic changes, whether that’s applying a sticker to the guitar, or even the slightly controversial subject of relic-ing.

    So far I have covered most of the areas I hoped to look at, from the history of the guitar and its predecessors, to the psychological reasons behind a player wanting to change the function/aesthetics of the instrument they are so attached to.

    However, for my final section I would like to hear from some players out there who have experience in modifying their instruments, or even the instruments of others.

    So if you are one and would be happy to explain why and how you have gone about these changes to your/others instruments, I would be grateful if I could quote you within my work. I have mainly focused upon Modifications made to Fender and Gibson guitars, but would be interested to hear stories and reasons for changes made to any other makes.

    I am also really keen to hear people’s views on modification, maybe some of you would consider yourself a purist? As in you see no reason to even touch a guitar, especially a vintage one.

    Or do you disagree entirely with modification and believe people modifying should simply look into the custom guitar industry?

    Thank you for your time and your help, I look forward to hearing your responses and shall keep in touch.


  2. Tone_Terrific

    Tone_Terrific Member

    Dec 26, 2004
    Subcategory 3: physically to improve playability eg. fret size
    4: to improve mechanical function or reliablilty of moving parts or points of wear eg. roller nut

    5: colour/paint, shape, weight/balance
    6: electrically, signal modification or shielding, pickups, onboard tone control

    And so forth.
    You can find an endless supply of opinion and often redundant info on this site, alone
  3. Ulug

    Ulug Member

    Feb 6, 2013
    Istanbul, Turkey
    Iain, I think you might categorize the topic into reversible mods (i.e. a simple change of a replaceable component or wiring, etc.) vs. irreversible mods (i.e. re-radiusing the fretboard, re-shaping the headstock or re-routing the body, etc.) as well.

    Outlining the rationale of musicians that tend to go with either type could yield some interesting outcomes.

    Very interesting research... I'd love to read your findings once you're done.

    Good luck.
  4. David Collins

    David Collins Member

    Feb 10, 2007
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Iain - what field is your dissertation focused in - business and marketing, phsychology, music?
    *edit - never mind, I missed the answer to this in your original post.

    I realize you already have the structure of your work established and are looking for specific examples, so my apologies in advance, but I think the breakdown needs to be clarified first, as this is a very, very broad topic.

    Everyone has their own categories, but I tend to view them most simply in three main headings - restorative, functional, and aesthetic.

    Restorative is likely of least interest to you, as the priority tends to lie in preserving and restoring to original function and aesthetic.

    Aesthetic is also rather simple, encompassing any alteration to personalize the instruments to one's aesthetic preferences.

    Functional however, can be broken down to many subcategories. There is subjective ergonomic alterations or improvements (fret size, string spacing, control knob shapes, etc). There is objective durability and reliability (replacing cheap electronics or hardware with more durable parts). There are objective functional upgrades (replacing nut or hardware for tuning stability, or replacing any and every part of anything made by Rickenbacker). There are subjective tonal alterations (changing or adding pickups, pot and cap values, wiring arrangements, sometimes hardware). There are personally subjective utility improvements (different pot tapers, strap locks, tuning machine ratio or locking tuners, adding a tremolo).

    Of course within each of these categories there is a very high rate of alterations being made with intentions which do not directly affect intended results. Tuners or string trees are often changed with intentions improve tuning stability, while the entire cause of the problem lies in the nut or bridge or method of stringing. Electronic components are often changed to a different brand with identical values/properties in attempts to alter tone, which may not affect any change whatsoever, but are both intended and perceived to nonetheless. Often times modifications can amount to nothing more than competing for perceived status among peers, or personal peace of mind.

    I know you come here seeking specific examples, and again I apologize, but this broad survey tends to invite equally broad responses like mine and others.

    If you are seeking more specific examples, and you have the luxury of time (not sure when your dissertation is due), might I suggest narrowing your survey. What modifications do you most often seek for issues of basic function and reliability? What aesthetic customizations have you recently invested in? What mods have brought you the most effective changes in tone? What parts have you upgraded by choice while original parts were still functional, vs parts you may upgrade only when original components fail?

    I think more focused surveys such as these (or whatever questions best match your outline) will help generate much more useful data.

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