DIY Guitar Mods

Kevin Ott
DIY guitar modification

As every guitar lover knows, one of the most enjoyable aspects of playing guitar, besides learning to play it well, is shaping the sound of your guitar the way you want it. These five fun DIY guitar modifications will help you carve out that unique identity and improve your playing experience.

1. Treble Bleed Circuit (for Fender Stratocaster or Fender-Styled Guitars)

This mod allows you to adjust your guitar volume to a lower level without losing the bright, full-bodied quality of your tone. Guitarists invented this trick when they noticed how their sparkling guitar tone vanished and became muted when they adjusted their volume.

Tools/Parts Needed

  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Soldering iron
  • Cloth
  • Fender Tone Saver 500k if your Stratocaster has two humbuckers
  • Or a Fender Tone Saver 250k if your guitar only has a single coil humbucker
  • Wire clippers
  • Heat shrink tubing
  • Heat gun

Steps

Follow these steps to complete this mod:

  1. Remover the pick guard using a screwdriver.
  2. Place a cloth over the exposed hole where the pick guard used to be.
  3. Set a pick guard on the cloth so the wiring is facing up.
  4. Clip the two wires coming out of the Tone Saver so each one measures a little less than an inch.
  5. Place heat shrink tubing on the Tone Saver wires so the tubing covers most of the wire, leaving a small amount of the tip exposed.
  6. Use the heat gun to heat and shrink the tubing on each wire.
  7. Solder the solid blue lined wire of the Tone Saver to the outer right tab of the master volume pot of the guitar.
  8. Solder the other wire to the center tab of the master volume pot.
  9. Flip the pick guard over and screw it back into the guitar.

Result

After the Tone Saver is installed, your bright, crunchy tone will remain even when you reduce your volume.

2. Brighten a Guitar With a Humbucker

This simple mod allows you to brighten the sound of a guitar that uses humbucker pickups (i.e. Les Paul or Les Paul-styled guitars).

Tools/Parts Needed

  • Phillips screwdriver

Steps

Follow these steps to complete this mod:

  1. Locate the humbucker pickup closest to the neck of the guitar.
  2. Using your screwdriver, screw each of the six pole pieces (the screws directly under each of the six strings) in a counterclockwise direction so the humbucker is moved away from the strings.

Result

The result is a brighter sound that can clear up any muddiness that sometimes comes with humbuckers. You can experiment with the distance between the humbucker and the strings to get the sound you want.

3. Upgrade Your String Trees (or String Guides or String Retainers)

The string tree is the small metal post that keeps your strings in place next to the tuning pegs at the top of the guitar. In this mod, you will remove the clip-style string trees that come with most guitars and replace them with roller string trees. This keeps bad intonation out of your performance.

Tools/Parts Needed

Steps

Follow these steps to complete this mod:

  1. Unscrew the clip-style string trees.
  2. Place the new roller string trees in the spots where the old ones were located.
  3. Use the new screws that came with the roller string trees and screw them in.

Result

Roller string trees keep strings in place more securely and do not cause tuning problems that standard clip-style string trees cause.

4. Turn Your Guitar Head Stock Into a Handy Tool Holder

This mod allows you to keep Allen wrenches (hex keys) within hand's reach at all times, which is especially handy if you have a Floyd Rose set-up or if you often perform other guitar adjustments that require Allen wrenches.

Tools/Parts Needed

Steps

Follow these steps to complete this mod:

  1. Place a strip or two of masking tape on the back of the head stock until the tape covers the entire area below the tuning pegs. This protects the guitar's finish while you make holes for the wrench holder.
  2. Place the wrench holder where you want it.
  3. Use the wrench holder's screws to screw the holder into place.
  4. Unscrew the wrench holder and remove it.
  5. Remove the tape.
  6. Rescrew the wrench holder in the two holes that were made.

Result

By placing tape down first, it allows you to find the right location for the wrench holder and pre-drill the holes without scratching the guitar's finish.

5. Block off a Tremolo

If you don't like the tremolo set-up on your guitar, this handy mod allows you to perform what is called a "hardtail" operation on the tremolo. This eliminates the tremolo function in a non-destructive way so you can easily reverse it later if necessary.

Tools/Parts Needed

  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Tuning peg spinner (the spinny tool that allows you to tighten tuning pegs quickly without having to turn them manually with your fingers)
  • Sandpaper
  • Plank of wood
  • Hand saw
  • Wire clippers
  • Ruler

Steps

Follow these steps to complete this mod:

  1. Loosen the strings from your guitar using the tuning peg spinner.
  2. Clip the tops of the strings with the curled ends so that the curled ends are removed and don't catch on anything when you pull the strings out.
  3. Pull the strings out by pulling on their ends on the back of the guitar until the strings are completely removed.
  4. Unscrew the tremolo bar so it doesn't get in the way. (You can unscrew it by hand. No tools needed.)
  5. Use your screwdriver to remove the plastic piece covering the back of the guitar.
  6. Loosen the two screws in top corners of the cavity that you uncovered. These two screws keep the coils in the cavity tight. Unscrew them until the coils are slack.
  7. Measure the depth, width, and length of the area behind the metal bar that holds the coils in place.
  8. Cut out a small piece of wood using those measurements.
  9. Place the wood in the area behind the base of the coils where you measured.
  10. Screw plastic cover back on.
  11. Restring the guitar with new strings.

Result

This will allow you to do things like string bends and other more demanding guitar licks without experiencing intonation problems caused by tremolos. It will give you an even, solid tone quality during guitar solos.

Make It Your Own

Modifying and customizing your guitar is how some of the most famous guitarists--i.e. Joan Jett or Heart's Nancy Wilson--have created recognizable sounds. Whether you master the five modifications above or create your own modifications, the objective is the same: shape your guitar sound and customize your playing experience as you see fit.

DIY Guitar Mods