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Old 05-14-2013, 01:01 PM
jlipoth jlipoth is offline
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Default simple upgrades for cheap guitars: strings, saddles, bridge pins etc.

I am trying a cheap Epiphone AJ220s (round shoulder style guitar), and have started experimenting with parts to enhance/customize the tone. My goal is to help the guitar get a certain type of "Gibson" sound I've heard on higher end round shoulder guitars. A compressed attack and lots of sustain....almost electric like, but not thin in any manner. I put D'Addario 12 guage nickel electrics (with a wound G) on it against the advice of the guy at my local guitar store. I can't believe how much better the guitar sounds! I don't think I'd do this on my rosewood martin, but a heavier gauge nickel string can really sound nice on the right guitar. Next up: I'm going to replace the saddle and bridge pins. Any recommendations? I've got a bone saddle and will be getting a tusq one too. For bridge pins I will try bone, ebony, rosewood, brass, and plastic (but better quality ones than the playskool junk they put on it)
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Old 05-14-2013, 01:05 PM
PTC Bernie PTC Bernie is offline
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Default Saddle and pins

I might as well throw Bob Colosi's name out now.

Give him a call, he's the best.
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Old 05-14-2013, 01:10 PM
mustache79 mustache79 is offline
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Welcome to the forum! You might want to swap the nut out as well, but I doubt you'll be able to reproduce the sounds of a high end Gibson on a $200 solid top. Not to say it's can't be a great playing/sounding axe, as I have an inexpensive Alvarez I believe sounds as good as any guitar I've played under $1000. I would use all bone on the upgrades. Good luck.

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Old 05-14-2013, 01:22 PM
Goswo Goswo is offline
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yes talk to Bob, he can advice you. It will for sure change the tone, but don't expect a miracle. I would go for bone...
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Old 05-14-2013, 01:34 PM
painasusual painasusual is offline
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Bone is the way to go for nuts and saddles. Bridge pins don't make a difference for me.
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Old 05-14-2013, 01:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jlipoth View Post
I am trying a cheap Epiphone AJ220s (round shoulder style guitar), and have started experimenting with parts to enhance/customize the tone. My goal is to help the guitar get a certain type of "Gibson" sound I've heard on higher end round shoulder guitars. A compressed attack and lots of sustain....almost electric like, but not thin in any manner. I put D'Addario 12 guage nickel electrics (with a wound G) on it against the advice of the guy at my local guitar store. I can't believe how much better the guitar sounds! I don't think I'd do this on my rosewood martin, but a heavier gauge nickel string can really sound nice on the right guitar. Next up: I'm going to replace the saddle and bridge pins. Any recommendations? I've got a bone saddle and will be getting a tusq one too. For bridge pins I will try bone, ebony, rosewood, brass, and plastic (but better quality ones than the playskool junk they put on it)
Hi Jlipoth...


Hello and welcome to the forum! Sounds like you are asking what many of us have - how to optimize my guitars sound (and look)

I hear big improvements with bone saddles, and Bob Colosi (CLICK) runs Guitar Saddles dot com. He has the best products in stock and wonderful advice on how to implement them.

Glad to have you aboard!


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Old 05-14-2013, 01:46 PM
JLed79 JLed79 is offline
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Without a doubt bone. The order of sonic improvement upgrades I THINK are as follows:
1) Saddle
2) Pins
3) Nut
Whether pins and nut make a discernable difference is definitely a subject of debate, but from where I sit they are both a relatively inexpensive upgrade and they certainly can't hurt. Also, as far as the nut goes, bone will definitely last much longer and won't need to be fixed or filed as it won't ever develop sharp spots.
I'd say got for them all! You won't break the bank and they can only help so why not?
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Old 05-14-2013, 01:53 PM
Misty44 Misty44 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jlipoth View Post
I am trying a cheap Epiphone AJ220s (round shoulder style guitar), and have started experimenting with parts to enhance/customize the tone. My goal is to help the guitar get a certain type of "Gibson" sound I've heard on higher end round shoulder guitars. A compressed attack and lots of sustain....almost electric like, but not thin in any manner. I put D'Addario 12 guage nickel electrics (with a wound G) on it against the advice of the guy at my local guitar store. I can't believe how much better the guitar sounds! I don't think I'd do this on my rosewood martin, but a heavier gauge nickel string can really sound nice on the right guitar. Next up: I'm going to replace the saddle and bridge pins. Any recommendations? I've got a bone saddle and will be getting a tusq one too. For bridge pins I will try bone, ebony, rosewood, brass, and plastic (but better quality ones than the playskool junk they put on it)
My experience with laminated guitars (back and sides) is that they pretty much maintain their basic voice no matter what exchanges one makes. The most notable sound change will come from strings as you've noted. A bone saddle may add some tone shading. As for pins, I've found very little variation to the baseline voice on lower-end models, and therefore stick with less expensive bone or ebony (as I do even on my higher-end boxes).

I have a 40-year old Sigma (solid spruce top, laminated b&s) that I've been trying to morph into a D-18. Haven't succeeded yet, and that includes scalloping braces, adding tone bars, and enlarging the sound hole in addition to various strings and saddles and pins. Sounds better (mainly do to internal surgery), but it's still got its baseline Sigma voice.

Have fun experimenting, I would ditch anything plastic, but be prepared to hear basically the same voice coming out when through...but also be happy if you hear a new, substantially better one! Let us know.
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Old 05-14-2013, 02:01 PM
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Jim Owen Jim Owen is offline
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Hi Jlipoth,
Welcome to the forum (thanks for joining the circus). It sounds to me as if you're on the right path. Saddles make a difference, and bone seems to work best for most of us.

I note that you changed to electric nickel strings--for me, electric strings have never gotten on well with acoustic guitars. For your next string change, check out a set of John Pearse Pure Nickels.

As Misty44 points out, strings often make the most notable differences.
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Old 05-14-2013, 02:14 PM
GuitarLight GuitarLight is offline
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I have a 2011... AJ-220sce just like your guitar but a cutaway electric w solid top. Bone saddle made a noticeable nice difference in open sound and sustain. Stock plastic pins sounds dim at best. High quality Graphteck TUSK pins...were HORRIBLE on this guitar and did NOT sound good, causing it to be so unfocused I couldn't play it for 10 minutes without removing them...then Ebony pins..they were the best and give it a deeper stable tone, while the bone saddle keeps notes clear and clean. It is my little beater guitar and it plays excellent with very long sustain and focused clarity of every note now all the way up and down the neck, zero buzz. It may be slightly thinner in resonance and tone than my high end guitars, but its tone is amazing for the price range, and it sound is pure and clean, and quite pleasurable to play. Its utterly flawless vintage sunburst finish...as well as the entire finish front back and sides is as beautiful as my $3500 Martin...and this guitar cost only $299. !!! I get a heart burn thinking of it. In fact, I took a poll of 20 friends and asked them to look at both guitars side by side, head stocks covered to hide the maker, and asked them which guitar they preferred for LOOKS ALONE. 100% of them chose the $299 Epi over my $3500 Martin! ...More heart burn..!! And of those, the people who were NOT guitar players...but audience LISTENERS...could not tell the difference in sound between the two...more heart burn still! I ran for the Rolaids immediately. ...Well... I could tell the difference, the Martin sounded better to me..!!!! So how you fix that little Epi puppy up, what you replace in it..like...saddles, nuts, pins, strings, even guitar polish, has everything to do with how happy you will be with it. As well as what others who hear it...will think of it....although I warn you...that may may give you heart burn!! Good luck.

Last edited by GuitarLight; 05-14-2013 at 02:31 PM.
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Old 05-14-2013, 02:18 PM
Aaron Smith Aaron Smith is offline
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Again, welcome to the forum! There are a number of things that you can do to your guitar, but understand that it won't fundamentally change the way the guitar sounds all that much. You might gain a 10% improvement, but you're not going to gain a 50% improvement.

In my experience of tinkering with guitars, here is a list of things you can do to improve the sound of your guitar. The list goes from highest impact per dollar/hour of work, to lowest.

1) Proper setup with a GOOD tech/luthier. Please note that they're not all good. Once you've found a good one, pay what it requires to make the guitar really right. It might be a simple truss rod tweak. It might be a full level/crown/polish of the frets, or even more work than that. Typically cheaper guitars require more work. It is usually worth it.
2) Experimentation with strings. Manufacturer and weight (light/heavy). The aforementioned setup should be done with the strings you plan to stick with.
3) Saddle replacement. Many prefer bone, and I do too. However, I think that a well-made saddle that fits the bridge properly is the biggest improvement, regardless of material.
4) Tuning machines. In addition to the obvious benefits of easier tuning, going to a lighter weight machine will make the guitar less neck-heavy and may have an audible effect.
5) Nut replacement. Most folks say that this doesn't make much of a difference; my experience has been that it can be at least as important as the bridge saddle, although I'm not exactly sure why.
6) bridge pins, etc. I've never noticed an audible difference, but other claim to. Fancy ones are purtier though.

When it comes to replacement parts... I have noticed very little correlation between the cost of the part and the improvement in sound. I have noticed a strong correlation between the care that is taken in fitting the part to the guitar, and the improvement in sound. So while money is important, time is really the asset that yields the most improvements.

By the time you're done with all this, you may be out $400-500. Your guitar is still probably not going to sound as nice as a J-45. So maybe a better plan is to just save up for the guitar you really want.
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Old 05-15-2013, 03:25 AM
Old flat top Old flat top is offline
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The advice here is excellent, especially Aaron Smith's post.

But I do not hear any difference in sound from changing the nut though. I changed the bone nut on my HD 28 to FWI and I couldn't hear any tonal difference. I also changed the Micarta nut on a 90's D-18 to bone a few years ago and couldn't tell any difference either. I was a little disappointed in both cases, because I usually hear the difference with saddles and pins, but not with nuts.

I don't know why that is? Maybe it's the guitars? Maybe I don't play enough open chords? (Wouldn't the nut specifically affect open strings?)

I always hear a big difference when I change pin material. Bone sounds different to Buffalo Horn, Buffalo Horn sounds different to Ivory, ect. I notice these differences straight away, and all though some of it is can be just our own perception, I don't see how I can imagine more or less sustain...

Upgrading the nut is a good idea regardless, a bone or ivory nut will last a lot longer than plastic, and I believe replacing as much of the plastic that comes stock with many cheaper guitars will get them sounding and playing at their best.
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Old 05-15-2013, 09:15 AM
nycbeijinger nycbeijinger is offline
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I'd just save what you were going to spend on upgrades and instead buy a better guitar. The upgrades won't make THAT much of a difference on a cheap guitar, sort of like putting earrings on a pig -
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Old 05-15-2013, 09:44 AM
brad4d8 brad4d8 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jlipoth View Post
I put D'Addario 12 guage nickel electrics (with a wound G) on it against the advice of the guy at my local guitar store. I can't believe how much better the guitar sounds!
I think if you went to 12 gauge 80/20 or Phosphor bronze (with a wound 'G') you'd notice an even better sound.
Brad
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Old 05-15-2013, 11:08 AM
mustache79 mustache79 is offline
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Some of you guys are getting carried away here. With a little know how and less than $100 you could put on Grover tuning machines, a new bone saddle, nut, and bridge pins and still have cash left over for strings and a Subway sandwich. I did this with my inexpensive Alvarez solid top. Look on ebay and you can find bone saddles pre compensated and radius, bone nuts pre slotted, and bridge pins of all different sizes. These upgrades are not rocket science.

Tools needed: Sandpaper, small Phillips screwdriver, possibly some welding tip files for nut slots http://www.amazon.com/Hobart-770085-.../dp/B0017Z04Q2

Tuning machines $50
Bone saddle $11
Bone Pins $13
Bone nut $10

$84


Saddle Height by Bohdan79, on Flickr


5/64 Action by Bohdan79, on Flickr


B Stock Crew by Bohdan79, on Flickr
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