• Adam North

Upgrading your Guitar/Bass

Updated: Aug 15, 2019

This article informs of modifications can be done to your instrument. I have modified my American Standard Fender Stratocaster using parts from Tonetech Luthier Supplies, which can be applied to your own instrument.


The American Standard Stratocaster is a 2016 model. I was and still am very happy with the Pickups, I felt the tuners were and still are top quality. The guitar had standard electrical components (CTS Pots) and a standard Jack socket, the neck and body were bolted together the same way as most bolt-on neck guitars and the guitar hardware like the saddles were getting grooves from the strings.


Potentiometers:

Volume and Tone potentiometers for musical instruments have remained relatively unchanged. CTS pots are most commonly asked for, but they were not designed for the use in instruments, instead to be used in telephones. The input can be quite large to get a noticeable response from all types of standard potentiometers I have found.


This is where this new potentiometer radically changes this standard form. It has a choice of 4 different capacitors from a deep to a very bright sound, but you can combine and change this to suit your sound. A smaller input gives a much more significant difference and a lot more tonal versatility. It is also available for volume pots with a treble bleed feature with the same format of a small input making a big difference to your sound.


For Single coil guitars this option is available as they tend to use 250k pots. For your standard Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster this is one of my reccomended upgrades.


A new type of Potentiometer

The Jack Socket:

The Jack Socket is a great part to upgrade especially on beginner instruments. This is a part that is one of the guitars cheaper components, but one I get most repair requests for. This part connects your guitar to your amplifier via the Jack lead, this is the only part of your guitar making contact with the lead so I reccomend it being the highest quality.

Upgrading to a Switchcraft Jack Socket is a substantial improvement in terms of longevity of this part. The Jack socket from Tone-up is one I personally use on my instruments and is very popular with gigging musicians upgrading their instruments. It is made from Spring Bronze, which will maintain grip on the jack lead for many more years than a standard nickel coated jack socket. Gold plating gives the best contact between the socket and the lead, for maximum signal transfer.


The Tone Up, Gold plated socket, is available in many different forms is this style of Jack Socket to fit all guitar types and my top reccomendation for jack socket upgrades.

The Tone-Up Jack Socket available for all guitar types.

The Neck Plate:

The neck plate joins the neck and the body of a 'bolt-on' guitar/bass. The part can be upgraded to help sustain and even out pressure applied to the neck. On Precision and Jazz style bass', the neck plate used as standard, doesn't match the size of the neck pocket. This means an uneven pressure is being applied to this crucial joint of the instrument. The enlarged neck plate matches this neck pocket area meaning an even pressure is being applied across this join.


This part can also be applied to a bolt on guitar as well, as I have done with my Stratocaster. The neck plate extends to the body of the instrument, applying pressure evenly to the back of the guitar rather than just the neck pocket area. This helps with sustain also as the plate connects to the body over a greater surface area.


It is constructed from stainless steel and is available in the Satin finish as seen below and also the standard polished finish. Each neck plate comes with its own unique serial number. Aesthetically I personally find it more pleasing than the standard plate as well as the technical benefits.



Stainless steel neck plate, helps improve the crucial join on bass/guitar and increases sustain

Bridge Saddles:

Always worth considering for change is the saddles, bridge and tailpiece for all types of stringed instrument. This can alter the tone, sustain and tuning stability drastically.


First of all here is a brief overview of the importance of this part.


The saddle on a guitar helps form the 'break angle'. In short a lower saddle usually creates a shallower break angle and a higher saddle creates a greater breaker angle. Too shallow or too great of an angle will cause issues with numerous aspects of your guitars playability and tuning.


Too shallow of a break angle will not allow the string to transfer vibration to the guitar. On an electric guitar/bass this will result in considerably less sustain. On an acoustic it won't transfer vibration to the top of the guitar, meaning the sound board wont be able to do its job effectively. If there is an under saddle pickup, like in most Electro-Acoustic guitars, the string vibration will not transfer to the pickup causing a lack of volume.


Too shallow of a break angle can be potentially diagnosed with:

  1. The string is near enough flat from the bridge/tailpiece/bridge pins to the saddle

  2. The string moves/slips on the saddle when played

  3. The action of the instrument is very low

  4. The saddle is as low as it can go


Too great of a break angle will result in excessive force being put upon the saddle and strings. As this is beyond what it was designed, the string height above the fretboard (action) may be noticeably high, meaning its difficult to play. The strings may be more prone to breaking, if strings keep snapping, see if they break at this point in particular. The string will put excessive force on points it is not designed to cope with. The saddle will receive much more pressure and sit at an un-natural angle, it should be perpendicular, but most often leans forwards slightly. This leaning causes an excessive force on the saddle slot causing longer term issues.


Too great of a break angle can be potentially diagnosed with

  1. A high action

  2. The saddle leans forward slightly (Acoustic Instruments)

  3. Strings are breaking at this point

In each case a setup is most likely needed. These are guidelines to use as a test, if you have any queries please just contact for extra assistance.


With this knowledge, a judgement can be made on if a new saddle is warranted. On an acoustic a Bone nut saddle is a great replacement.


On an electric there are many options regarding saddle material. Brass, Nickel and Nylon are good choices for a hardtail design. For a guitar with a vibrato system similar to a Bigsby style system, the same saddles and bridge are used as on a hardtail. The bridge posts, saddles and string all receive considerable tension in this design when the vibrato system is used, so I recommend a roller bridge system. This means less friction and less stress on these parts, whilst maintaining the all important break angle.


Stratocasters (or Strat style guitars) tend to have nickel saddles. On other models around £100-£200 (new) the saddles are not the best quality and an upgrade of these can really alter your instruments performance. Stainless Steel saddles are a great upgrade from nickel saddles, which is why they are fitted on Fender's Elite range of guitars. They increase sustain and as they are made from stainless steel they will not rust, so the saddle will work as required for a guitar undertaking heavy use, with much less maintenance compared to nickel saddles. The saddles seen in the image below are from Tone-up, these specific ones have been used for upgrading my American Standard Stratocaster and customer guitars due to its great design. The springs are elliptical at the ends spreading an even pressure, the screws are enclosed so no catching of your hand on sharp edges and the break angle has been considered with a more curved saddle edge, with groove for the string to sit so the string spacing is even across the width of the neck.

Stainless Steel saddles last a lifetime

This article is to be used as a guide in potential instrument upgrades. There are more alterations that can be undertaken to a guitar, every part has the potential to be changed to suit individual wants and needs. I have passed these upgrade tips onto customers, receiving great feedback. Please feel free to contact if you want any further advice (Advice is free!) on what would be a benefical upgrade for yourself.








Adam North Guitars

Lomax Close, Great Harwood, BB6 7TA

Tel: 07388558216

Email: adam@adamnorthguitars.co.uk

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