Share your stories: Good pickups added to inexpensive guitars...


Silver Supporting Member
Tri Sonic and Slipbeer want to start some new threads with general gear appeal, so ...

Tell us about your experiences with putting good pickups into inexpensive guitars. Did you create a bigger bang for the buck? Was it worth it?

The acid test: Still got that guitar?

My history:

1) Bought a Gibson ES-333, the made in Memphis ones, a couple years ago because the price was right, the playability was good and the look was smoove. The tone? Well, a little raspy, but that was surely because of the cheap hi-output pickups, right? So I got a pair of Classic 57s (used $100/pair) and dropped them in.

The result was not ES335 on a budget. The raspy sound was still there. I still heard it when a REALLY good player picked it up and went to town on it. Nasty edge to the tone, to my ears anyway. Sold it for what I had in it (the appeal of the Classic 57s greased the sale, I'm sure) and the new owner wrote me that he was very happy with it.

2) Bought an Ibanez Artcore AFS75T, a Chinese-made true hollowbody with a Bigsby. Sounded, looked, and played nice already, but as it happened, I had a pair of PRS Hollowbody II (Archtop) pickups available to install. Again, bought them used $100/pair from a guy here at TGP.

The result is a winner - crystalline, shimmering warmth and clarity. It'll feed back eventually, but quite workable. A buddy installed the pups and played it for a couple days. Said it smoked his gigworthy Epiphones, for about half the bones.

3) Bought a Jay Turser copy of the ES-336 as a gig axe, $200 used. Stock it sounded surprisingly good and played really well, and most importantly on stage it looked good. :) The pickups were sort of weak but for clean rhythm guitar that wasn't all bad.

Could I leave well enough alone? Ahhh, you know the answer.

Scouted around here and got a pair of gold Classic 57s (you know, $100/pair used) and had them put in. I also had the frets leveled and polished (dem grooves, from da cowboy chords). The improvement in playability and sound was not all that dramatic, but noticeable to me anyway for having played the "old" version a lot. It's a great sit-around-the-studio guitar and I'll take it out anywhere.

I've got several really good guitars, and these low-budget guys are not going to put them out of work. Then again, they're clocking in at about a third to a fourth of the Big Boyz' cost.

My experience: For guitarists on a budget - yeah, there may be one or two here :) - the new crop of low-end guitars from China are amazingly good values. Add good pickups, and go spend the rest of your money on a really good amp.



Funny you should bring it up...I have an Ibanez artcore 335 that I bought off the 'bay used and put in PUPs from a Les paul that I had; a JB and a '59; good combo...this guitar sounds great! Very lively....

I now have a beater Squire MIK anniversary model that I got for 130 dollars with some just marginal duncan PUPS in it and I'm thinking about dropping a set of Fralin Vintage Hots into it...I love them and I'm guessing this axe will sound great with them....



Gold Supporting Member
Two years ago, I bought a Squier Bullet Special for $99. I replaced its stock pickup with a Duncan Distortion, which really woke up the sound of this cheapie. I still use it as my "basement beater" - it's the guitar I keep handy when inspiration strikes while I'm outside doing yardwork! Seriously, it's good for testing stuff, like when tools and parts are all over the place and I don't want one of my good guitars getting in the way.

AJ Love

Senior Member
I had a Fender MIM P bass once that was really just so-so... put a pickup in it from the Fender Custom Shop and did some very extensive set-up work on it and it became a really great sounding and playing instrument

A/B'ed it with a buddies real '64 P bass and while it didn't quite stack up tonewise it was suprisingly close


Hey, good thread, Kiwi!
The only thing I can add right now is to do with the "accursed" Fender "Texas Specials". I was given a "SRV" by, at that time, my fiance. It was one of the first batch and apart from the P'ups was/is a lovely Strat (mine has a nicely figured body (which "experts" have actually deemd to be Ash and not the advertized Alder) and fingerboard. I lived with the Texas Specials for ten years by cranking them down very low - at which point they sounded reasonable!
Then I met and heard Tomo - he had basically the same guitar but had fitted Fralin Vintage Hots - the guitar sounded great! So, got off my big fat arse and got Jimmy Somma to fit the same and change the dreaded scratchplate (no offence to SRV but it's ugly) rewire the thing to cut the tone control from the middle and move it to the bridge with a push/pull pot to bring in the neck P'up at any position of the blade (I got this wiring idea from Bill Chapin).
Result: A decent guitar now is great.

Best, Pete.


1. The goldtop flying telecaster...

Was an Alvarez 'tele' w/ contours and a middle pickup... both the neck and middle pickups were chrome covered 'tele-style' neck pickups... they were okay, but weren't 'WOW'

I put 3 rio grandes innit (and a new neck) and it's been at or near the top of the heap since... played out with it and nothing else for a year or so...

2. Epiphone Korina Vee... put seth lovers innit... helped quite a bit - not as much as the Alvarez, but didn't have as far to go...

3. Odd Ibanez LP Custom fretless wonder thang... ebay find, didn't have any pickups - and I found a pair of antiquities... while it doesn't fit my style terribly well, that is a great classic-rock power chords guitar...


I've got an American Standard Tele that I put a Callaham bridge and Fender Texas Special into. Works great. Always loved the neck pup but the bridge could hurt people. Not now.

My primary axe in my cover gig is a $330 MIM Strat that I put Kinman pickups in. Cost almost as much as the guitar. :) Actually, with the frets, Callaham trem block, shield plate and pickups, I've got more into it that it costs. But the net result is better than any number of $1-2K Strats I've played, and cheaper too. And I've got it exactly how I want it.

Only issue, is that it's not easily replaced. 12 years ago my house got cleaned out and the insurance company would only replace the original thing, not all the customizations or work I put into them. I told myself that I'd never do that again, anything I got would be off the shelf, and replaceable off the shelf. Well, I guess time heals all wounds, and I'm back to customizing things and saving money.


I took the stock Gibson pickups from my LP Custom and put them in a red sparkle top Epiphone LP Standard. I use the Epiphone for low tuning (C or D) and it sounds great. I have no idea what kind of wood it is made out of but it's a pretty heavy chunk and the guitar was always kind of dull (even with EMGs) but the Gibson pickups really brought it to life.


Tradition MTQ (LP DC)...
thick mahogany body and quilt maple cap...
actually a pretty nice guitar which i got used and already customized....Earvana nut, tonepros type bridge mod, push-pull coil split pot, neck sanded to satin finish, and JB/Jazz pups....
you'd think the JB was designed for this guitar cuz it just sounds great...benefits from all that mahogany...

i just traded it and another guitar for a great Strat....but i WILL miss it....not having it will force me to play my LP Custom and other twin bucker axes more....especially the LP....which is a good thing and one of the reasons i let it go...
new owner loves it...


I've got a ten year old Washburn HB-30 (335 knock off) that I recently put Seymour Duncan '59s in. The PUs cost more that the giutar is worth (probably). What a change! The guitar always played pretty well and now it just sounds incredible! I guess the PUs that were in it were just crap. I was thinking about springing for a new Heritage 535, but now I feel very happy with this budget-friendly semi-HB.

I just picked up a slightly used Epiphone 1956 Goldtop Reissue model with P-90s. It has a great action and the fit and finish are really nice for a sub-$500 guitar. I'm thinking about putting some Jason Lollar P-90s in this one... what d'yall think??

Donn Rowe

I have a nice Sonic Blue 96' MIJ Fender Strat that I put some Suhr's and CTS pots in..Now its a very nice guitar I could play without want for a "better" guit.:AOK


1) Put Mastertone pickups into a Fenix LP Custom copy. One of my favorite guitars now..not that the originals were that bad, just that I had already ordered the Mastertones when I was waiting for the guitar.

2) Changed the pickups on my 1989 Ibanez RG550. Put a Seymour Duncan '59 Model (SH-1) into the neck position and the bridge got a SD Original Parallel Axis Trembucker (PATB-1). Kept the stock singlecoil because I couldn't afford a third pickup. This has propably been the best pickup replacement I've ever done, it really made the guitar sound so much better. IMO nearly all Ibanez pickups are some of the worst on the market. They're either thin and shrill or muddy and indistinct. They really need to fire whoever comes up with their pickup designs..even those DiMarzio/IBZ and Duncan/IBZ pickups suck compared to the real things.

Still have those two guitars, even though the Ibanez has seen little action because I no longer like superstrats that much. Other than those two, I've stuck with stock pickups (Duncans on some). If it sounds good, why change it?


Velocity Town Angel
Double Platinum Member
Bought a Yamaha Pafica a couple weeks back. Sounds killer with a Duncan SH6. I switched it out for a WCR Fillmore. Not right for the guitar at all. I'm trying a Gibson Dirty Fingers circa 1980. The output is 16k like the SH6. If that doesn't cut it back to the SH6. I generally prefer lower output p/u's but for the Pacifica the higher ones just kill. I might go with an RS wiring kit too. Haven't decided though.


I put WCRs into an inexpensive guitar, and while it helped a lot, turning a boring, lifeless guitar into a very decent sounding axe, giggable but not noteworthy, it didn't do it enough for me to keep it. I think the wood just wasn't there.


while I think the guitar can hold it's own, my '81 Ibanez AS50 w/ Voodoo 59's is one of the best tones I've ever used, truly outstanding!



Yep. I'm a big fan of this practice.

I got an Epi ES295 for cheap b/c it was a floor model with a teeny tiny mark on the back. Put some Lollar P90s in it and have a killer rock-a-billy box...still have it, played it this morning.

The other example is my ESP PC2 with High Order pickups. My el cheapo rock guitar.


Highway 1 Strat I loaded with Duncan Antiquity singles. One of the nastiest (in a good way) strats I have ever heard.


Silver Supporting Member
I've done a lot of experimenting with Strats over the years and have come to the conclusion that if the wood is bad, pickups won't fix the tone. And, while pickups will affect (filter) the tone to a degree, the wood has an inherent basic voice that can't be changed with pickups. I equate this to a singer singing through different microphones. The singer will sound a bit different through each one but that same basic sound is still there. However, having said that, when the right neck meets the right body, meets the right pickups, meets the right player, magic can happen. So, IMO, pickups are only part of the tone equation....and I think there's a bit of luck involved with everything coming together just right in a particular guitar. Persoanlly, I've never had a dog Strat become a gem just by swapping pickups....but I suppose it could happen with just the right combination.


Gold Supporting Member
I replaced the stock humbuckers in a MIJ 84 Charvel 3A with Duncans. A JB Junior neck and Hot Rails bridge with a Vintage Rail in the middle. I also added series-single-parallel switches for the bumbuckers and replaced the pickguard. All done while my wrists were recovering from an repetitive strain injury in 95. The guitar simply cooks now - is MUCH more versatile - and I still have it. I strung it as a baritone for awhile, now it has .012-.056 tuned in DADGAD. Behold:


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