Categories
Music

Can you make a cheap electric guitar good by switching the pickups for good ones? What else can you do to it to make it sound better?

Yes but there are a few upgrades that you can do to keep improving it. In order, I think these are the tone upgrades you should be looking for.

  1. Adjust your bridge saddles, pickup heights, action, and intonation – this costs 0$ and will improve the sound of your guitar greatly. Also if you have a strat, take off the back tremolo cover. This is a simple thing that Eric Johnson, John Mayer, SRV etc all did because it improves your tone and it takes like 1 minute to do.
  2. Pickup swap – pickups are the most significant guitar hardware upgrade you can do, and this can cost anywhere between $30 for GFS pickups to $1000+ for Seymour Duncan Zephyr, Abigail Ybarra or Tom Holmes pickups, pickups makers can really run the gamut and there’s a whole cottage industry out there. Also keep in mind you are using the correct pots and cap values, and with Fenders you should keep your volume and tone at full unless you have a treble bleed circuit or ‘Greasebucket’ circuit that correctly balances the treble/bass with the volume.
  3. Strings. Upgrade your strings, I’ve used Elixir coated strings for many years, but some people may prefer the traditional pure nickel strings, or nickel plated steel or some of Ernie Ball or D’addario’s or Dean Markley Blue Steel or DR Veritas new strings.
  4. Cables. If you are using a longer cable, try using a shorter one. The longer the cable length, the more highs you will lose from your tone.
  5. Pick. You can change out your picks, and Dunlop has virtually every pick type covered, different picks will produce different tone
  6. Tremolo / bridge / springs – you can swap out the bridge saddles for titanium ones (ie. KTS), add a brass sustain block (Schaller, KGC etc), and change out the springs (i.e Raw Vintage )
  7. Nut. You can change out the nut to get better tuning stability and a minor improvement in tone (i.e Graphtech)
  8. If you are using a few pedals, getting true bypass ones are fine but if you have many, make sure you put at least one buffered bypass pedal in your chain to offset the treble loss

There’s also other upgrades you can make to improve convenience and playability (locking tuners, different bridge types, neck radius, locking straps etc) but these won’t generally improve your tone.

Categories
General

I’m an “audiophile”… and no one needs ultra HD displays

I play music for a hobby; I am a musician part time. As of now I have about 270 guitar/piano videos on my Youtube (which you can check on the media page on the side). So yeah, I care about audio alot and audio tone. The irony is that I care about audio more than I care about video. Mainstream consumers are the opposite. They love their 4K super high resolution displays and stuff, but for me, video quality has always been secondary to audio quality.

I remember when HD first came out (720p / 1080p) I couldn’t see much of a difference between that and 480p DVD quality videos. But maybe my eyes are just used to 240p/480p VHS/VCD/DVDs. All my computer resolutions have been 720p (that is, 1366×768) and lower, until this year. That’s right! It took me until 2015 to get a computer with a full HD resolution! so yeah no 4K for me for a while. I also don’t like 4K because I would have to redownload all my movies and tv shows and anime in 4K which takes up a ton of space. I would prefer just a FHD OLED display instead.

Now we have smartphones rocking 4K resolution. Which is absolutely ridiculous because 4K is questionable even on a flat screen TV. At the distance we sit from the TV I doubt many people notice the difference in resolution. Having super high resolution also impacts another big factor in battery life. I like my stuff with good battery life thats why I chose a regular 720p laptop which gets me 20 hours of battery life (thanks to the dual batteries in the Thinkpad X240!) and a regular 720p phone as well, the Sony Xperia Z3C which gets me 2 days of battery life. For my 17 inch gaming laptop I “only” have a full HD resolution. Having Ultra HD 3200×1800 resolution on a laptop will both kill the battery life and alot of windows apps don’t scale well beyond FHD anyways.

Anyways for me audio quality has always been more important, thats why I own tube amps and a record player and 180gram vinyl LPs. I listen to FLACs (lossless) whenever possible (My Sony Xperia Z3C has a built in walkman and support for high res and lossless audio), and have owned countless pairs of headphones and earphones. The irony is the average consumer doesn’t really care about audio that much. They are happy listening to their lossy MP3s, listening on their Mac or PC with a terrible built in DAC, or using cheap quality iPod or Beats headphones.

Let me take a head count here. How many of you have heard of these audio companies: Bose, Sennheiser, Fender, Marshall, IK Multimedia, Apogee, AKG, Beyerdynamic, Shure, Etymotic, Ultimate Ears, JBL, Altec Lansing, Cambridge Audio, Boston Acoustics, Polk Audio, Klipsch, Onkyo, Dynaudio, Denon, Pioneer, Philips, Creative Labs, Monster, Beats, Hifiman, Woo Audio, Linn Audio, Meridian Audio, Apple, Audioquest, Focusrite, M-Audio, SRS Labs, Jays, Dolby, DTS, Audyssey, Wave Audio, Grado Labs, Audeze, THX, Grain Audio, Audioengine, Master & Dynamic, Audio Technica, Skullcandy, Sony, Samsung, LG, Harmon Kardon, Bowers and Wilkins, Bang and Olufsen, Infinity, Sol Republic, Yamaha.

I even know most of the various amp, effects, and guitar pickup makers: Fender, ESP, Gibson, Jackson, Ibanez, Dean Martin, Epiphone, G&L, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Kramer, Vox, Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Dr Z, Two Rock, Victoria Amps, Tone King, Line 6, Digitech, Orange, Crate, Boss, Behringer, BBE, Korg, Roland, Maxon, Dunlop, MXR, Way Huge, Xotic, Lovepedals, Keeley, Dimarzio, Seymour Duncan, Lace, Lindy Fralin, Bill Lawrence, TV Jones, Fishman, Electro Harmonix, Visual Sound, Teese, Fulltone, Analog Man, I could go on and on….

That’s a wide range of audio companies, from mainstream to boutique, from headphone makers to DSP and effects makers. But anyways you get my point; I know all these companies because I care alot about audio. I even made an article about the best portable bluetooth speakers, and the Best over ear headphones.

Here’s the audio gear I currently use:

Guitar equipment:
Swart Atomic Jr (Tube Amp)
Fender 60s Strat relic w/ handwound Alnico III/V single coil pickups
Martin OMJM acoustic guitar
Boho Moonshine guitar
Boss Looper
Digitech Trio
Lovepedals Dover drive
RambleFX Plexi Drive
Xotic compressor
Xotic booster
Maxon TBO9
Seymour Duncan 805
Keeley magnetic echo
Keeley Oxblood
BBE Wah

Audio recording equipment:
Shure MV88 iphone mic
Shure MV51 computer mic
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB interface
IK Multimedia iRig 2
MXL 770 Condenser Mic
Shure SM58 Dynamic mic
Behringer XENYX502 Mixer

Listening equipment:
Philips Fidelio X2 open back headphones/monitors
Sennheiser Momentum closed back headphones
Master & Dynamic ME03 Earphones
Bose Quietcomfort 25 Noise-cancelling headphones
Creative Soundblaster E5 USB DAC/Amp
Creative Soundblaster Roar 2 bluetooth speaker
Audio Technica LP60 Turntable
Creative T4W Speakers (for connecting to anything including record players)
Klipsch R10B Soundbar

Not a bad setup. Unlike some people, I don’t have particular brand devotion to anything. Some people like to have all their equipment the same brand, but I actually embrace diversity of brands. I like experiencing difference. My TV is Panasonic. My phone is Sony and Apple. My tablet is Apple and Nvidia. My computer is Asus and Lenovo. My keyboard is Aorus. My mouse is Logitech. My microphones are Shure. My speakers are Creative and Klipsch. My headphones are Sennheiser, Philips, and Bose. My camera is Nikon and Canon. So yeah I am not a ‘fanboy’ of anything although you could say the closest I come to that is Sony. I have a Sony phone, Sony camera, Sony UMPC, Sony PS4 and Sony PS Vita. But even then.. I like to diversify.

Categories
General Music

Guitar pickup makers / manufacturers

I’m a huge guitar geek, since I first started playing guitar at 15 so.. its natural for me to care about “guitar tone”, or the sound that the guitar makes. Most guitarists are very picky about their tone, and what kind of sound they can get out of their guitar. For me, I like very beautiful, smooth sounds, so I’ve always searched for the best tone. Of course the thing that affects tone the most is the amplifier. A tube amplifier especially makes a huge difference. Followed by guitar pedals, then the type of guitar itself, then guitar pickups.

Of course, for guitar pickups, a lot of people believe that handwound guitar pickups, just like hand-wired guitar amps/pedals, produce better sound. And I’ve done a lot of research in my 10 years of guitar playing so I’ve gathered the guitar pickup makers in one place here so that its easy to find :). I personally use a set of Rumpelstiltskin pickups in my Fender Stratocaster:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iK2OngQy1jI
httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUVP17Y30ws

Big / medium sized pickup makers
DiMarzio
Fender
Seymour Duncan
EMG Pickups
Lace Music
Fralin Pickups
Bare Knuckle Pickups
TV Jones pickups
Harmonic Design pickups
Gemini pickups
Tonerider pickups

Small or independent pickup winders
Smits Pickups
SD Pickups
Lollar pickups
Joe Barden pickups
OC Duff pickups
Kinman pickups
Amalfitano Pickups
Skatterbrane Pickups
Klein Pickups
Porter Pickups
Leosounds
Harrison pickups
BG Pups
Bill Lawrence pickups
Throbak pickups
High order pickups
JWP Pickups
Voodoo Pickups
Bullock Guitar Pickups
Reilander pickups
Arnsparger Pickups
Curtis Novak pickups
SK guitar pickups
J S Moore guitar pickups
Rumpelstiltskin pickups
Rock monkey pickups
Cats whisker pickups
Wolfetone pickups
Shed pickups
Don Mare pickups
JC Vintage pickups
Electric City Pickups