[Guide/Build Log] Epiphone LP Modifications

Discussion in 'Epiphone Les Pauls' started by TehAndrewRyan, Sep 8, 2012.

  1. TehAndrewRyan

    TehAndrewRyan Member

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    Epiphone Les Paul Standard mods

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    So I bought my Epi Les Paul Std in April this year, and while I definitely liked it when I got it, I later realised that it could use some modifications. It's my most modified guitar at the moment and while I'm not done modding it just yet, I definitely think it's already a lot better than when I bought it. So if you're considering modifying your Epiphone Les Paul, keep reading.

    So let's start with the list of mods;

    Sound-related mods

    1. Removing the pickup covers
    Difficulty: Easy
    Est. Time: 30-45 Min

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    This may not really be a mod, 'cause it's completly free if you have the stuff to do it. Quote from Barcham regarding the guitar body; "Yes, they do have a maple cap covered with a veneer". The Epiphone cap however isn't as big as the Gibson one, which affects the tone slightly. Epiphones are slightly thinner than Gibsons because of this.

    Since the veneer isn't really there other than for visuals (since Epiphone doesn't choose wood after the flame, they put a veneer on top of it to make it look good), the Epi Les Paul is a pretty dull sounding guitar compared to a Gibson LP Std. It also comes equipped with pickup covers. These are said to slightly darken the sound of the pickups, which is why some people buy pickup covers to cover their open-coil pickups when they believe their tone is too bright.

    Removing those covers seemed to brighten up the tone of the guitar a bit, at least I was able to notice it (I guess this part depends on how well trained your ears are). I personally also like the look of uncovered humbuckers. This is both a sound-related and a visual mod.

    Instructions:
    Start off by either loosening or removing the strings. Unscrew the pickup ring and then the pickup of the pickup you want to begin with. At least in my case, there was enough slack on the pickup wiring to pull the pickup away from the body to prevent wax from spilling on it. Now, there are two solder joints on the back of the pickup that keep the cover in place. The way I did this was I gently cut through them with a razor blade, make sure you're VERY careful with what you do, as slipping with it might ruin the entire pickup. Once you've gotten through the solder joints, you should be able to pull the cover off the pickup (you might need to heat it up slightly with a blow dryer first). Now you should see a pickup covered in wax, which is used to prevent microphonic feedback when the cover is on. As it doesn't look very good with it on there, you can use a blow dryer to melt the wax until it becomes liquid, and then wipe it off with a cloth/paper. (CAREFUL: The pickup gets HOT) To really get all the wax out from places where you can't wipe, you can use a plastic tool of some kind (make sure it's not sharp and cuts through the pickup wiring).

    Repeat this procedure with the second pickup.

    2. Changing the nut
    Difficulty: Fairly Easy - Moderate
    Est. Time: 10-20 Min

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    As you may have noticed, the stock Epiphone nut doesn't make the guitar stay in tune very well, especially the G-string which tends to get stuck a lot. It is also made in plastic, which doesn't transfer the vibrations as well as other materials do.

    The nut material is obviously chosen after your liking, but I bought a pre-slotted GraphTech TusQ XL Nut, which works perfectly (make sure you get the Epiphone model of it). The nut has permanent lubing in the slots, which will prevent the strings from getting stuck in the slots when you bend or tune. This modification definitely improved the guitar!

    Instructions:
    Get a razor blade/X-acto knife and gently score the edges around the nut. This is done to scrape the paint away from the nut so that it doesn't chip when you knock it out. Once you've scored all the edges, get a flat surface (example a piece of wood) and put it against the fretboard side of the nut. Get a hammer and lightly tap until you see the nut moving. Knock it back into place and then gently tap again until it comes out. Now you should (hopefully) be left with a clean nut slot, however you do need to clean it from old glue. For that you can use a needle file (you don't need to file it a whole lot). I found that the TusQ nut had pretty much a perfect height, so I just sanded the edges down a bit to make it fit flush. Now the slighty tricky part starts as you have to make sure you get the right height, and also that you center the nut. To glue it back in, you don't want to use super glue as this might make the wood chip if you ever need to replace the nut again. Instead, use a small amount of wooden glue, position the nut correctly and get a set of strings on. The pressure of the strings should be plenty to keep the nut down while the glue dries.

    3. The neck
    Difficulty: Moderate
    Est. Time: 1+ Hour

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    As I didn't try every Epiphone before I bought mine, I can't say if this applies to all of them. However, at least on my LP, the frets were very poorly polished when I got it, and bends felt a bit rough. I was at least lucky enough to get a properly leveled fretboard. If your frets happen to be poorly leveled, either follow a fret leveling tutorial or get a professional to set up your guitar. Also, if you take a look at the Epiphone's fretboard, the wood doesn't quite look like wood. It's missing a lot of contrast and wood grain. We're about to solve these things.

    Instructions (fretboard):
    Remove the strings. Get a razor blade (and only a razor blade, you want a somewhat thick one), keep it completly straight and begin to scrape the fretboard back and forth, one fret at a time. You should see the fretboard lighten up as you do this, and make sure it gets evenly scraped. Do all the frets 1-2 times. This will also even out any inlays sticking out (I feel like mine look a lot more flush to the surface than they did before). Clean the fretboard from dirt with a brush or similar and make sure it's completly clean before you move on. Now, you need some kind of oil (what type of oil depends, but do NOT use anything that contains wax of any kind). I used Dunlop Lemon Oil, which basically is mineral oil with a lemon scent. Dampen a paper or a cloth with the oil, and wipe down each fret thoroughly. Let the oil sit for about 10 minutes before you wipe off any excess. This procedure made the wood grain way more visible in my case, and it also cleaned away dirt from the fretboard.

    Instructions (frets):
    Before you start, put tape over your pickups as they would want to pick up all the metal accumulated from this. This part can be a bit tricky, as you want to be very careful with what you do, or you might have to get a refret. I played a couple of $2000 Gibsons, and noticed that they had very smooth and square frets which I really liked. My Epiphone on the other hand, while having somewhat flat fret tops, they were very uneven and poorly polished from factory. So, to get rid of the largest imperfections, run a razor blade across the frets. This process alone made the frets a bit more shiny and a lot more even. Then I moved on to fine grit sandpaper (and since I didn't have any at the time, what I did was I sanded two 200 papers against each other to make them finer) which I put on a flat piece of wood. Do about 3 frets at a time. Pull the sandpaper from fret end to fret end, not over the fretboard (from headstock to pickups). Just let the weight of the wooden piece alone do the job, don't apply any pressure or you'll take off too much material. Once all the frets were shiny and even, I moved on to something called Autosol (which basically is a metal polish) which I put on a big piece of paper and put on a larger flat piece of wood. To prevent this polish from getting on the fretboard, you can put masking tape or similar over (something that doesn't leave residue). I ran this across all the frets until they were completly polished. The result? Just as smooth bends as on the $2000 Gibsons!

    4. Volume Pots and capacitors
    Difficulty: Easy
    Est. Time: 15-20 Min

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    The reason it looks brown'ish is because of solder grease. The solders themselves work perfect

    I didn't like the way the stock Epiphone pots felt when used, I had to turn them down really low for it to decrease the volume the way I wanted. I bought a pair of Gibson 500k volume pots and replaced them with the stock pots. Also, the stock tone controls make the sound very dull once used. I bought a few .22 uF Orange Drops capacitors (pick whatever you want) and replaced them with the stock ones. These were definitely a lot bigger, and I found that they made the tone a bit warmer.

    Instructions (volume pots):
    Get a pair of volume pots of your liking. I got two Gibson 500k pots. Since the US-made pots have a slightly larger shaft diameter they wouldn't fit without enlarging the holes a bit. I just used a Dremel with a round sanding tool on low speed until they fit (be careful that you don't make them too big). I just soldered these pots in the same way the old ones were soldered.

    Instructions (caps):
    I bought a pair of Orange Drops after reading good reviews. I don't usually use the tone controls, but it happens. I haven't yet changed the tone controls themselves, because I find that the new caps alone give me the tone I want. To make this procedure easier you can unscrew the tone pots from the guitar. Then just desolder the old caps, bend the legs of the new caps to fit (make sure they don't touch somewhere where they shouldn't) and then solder them back in. As with all solderings made on this kind of equipment, make sure you heat the solder enough and keep it completly still as it cools. Not doing this might result in weird noises when you play your guitar.

    5. Pickups
    I haven't yet performed this mod myself, but eventually I might fill this section.

    6. Bridge
    I haven't yet performed this mod myself, but eventually I might fill this section. I do need to change the bridge though, as you don't have a lot of room for adjustment on the stock bridge. In my case, the G-string isn't properly intonated. A better bridge can also affect your tone and sustain.

    Visual-related mods

    1. Volume/Tone knobs

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    I found that the stock Epiphone knobs had digits that were hard to see, due to them being the same colour as the rest of the knob. Instead, I got a set of golden knobs that also matched the colour of my flame top better (Heritage Cherry Sunburst).

    2. Pickup Selector Knob

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    This is solely a visual modification. I didn't like the look of the stock cream pickup selector knob, as the rest of my guitar had a different colour scheme (I'm trying to get details to match the yellow/orange'ish flame) so I bought an Amber knob. However, I realised that as well as with the pot shafts being different, the pickup selector threads were as well. The US-made knob wouldn't fit. I ended up painting the stock Epiphone knob with golden nail polish.

    Conclusion:

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    I had no plans of buying a Gibson when I got my Epiphone, I just did not have enough money at the time. I often read a lot of people asking "Is it worth modding my Epiphone?", and in my honest opinion YES it is. I compare my Les Paul to a cheaper Strat copy that I have, and the difference is like night and day (and these guitars felt somewhat similar when I first got the Epiphone). I believe that you definitely can get an Epiphone to sound and play just as good, if not better than a Gibson if you put down enough work into it. Epiphones are well-made guitars, they're just poorly set up.

    There's just thing one thing you can't really get away from. Some people want Gibsons just because of the name itself, which is understandable. Just the feeling of owning "the real thing" might be appealing to many. I am myself not a huge fan of the modern Epiphone headstock style, and I bet many people agree with me. I am probably going to get a Gibson at some point, but for now, I'm gonna make the best possible out of my Epiphone.

    Please give me your opinion on this thread, and tell me if you think I've missed something, or if the information is wrong!
     
  2. Lizzy4Life

    Lizzy4Life Senior Member

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    What do you want to say? Epiphones are made of sh*t, look like sh*t and play like sh*t but they can have a decent tone if you mod the sh*t out of them and even then they are not really the real thing?
    Is that all? :hmm:
    BTW pickup covers are a visual mod, soundwise it changes close to nothing.
    The nut only needs some filing to work properly, even a brand new Gibson needs this done.
    And the Alpha pots don't have an all or nothing feel to them, they actually have a decent linear taper, opposed to the Gibson pots with their audio taper which decreases gain with over 50% after turning it down to 8 (good or not is subjective, I have them in my LP and like it that way)
     
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  3. goldtop56

    goldtop56 Senior Member

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    not a bad little thread mate. i have started modding my 56GT rather than banging a set of new pups in like so many tend to do i started with the little things so far i have re-wired her to 50s spec, i have also replaced the caps to PIOs on is a .022 the other a .015 i think that this mod alone has greatly increased the potential of my epi (i didnt change the pots as once i did the wiring and caps the stock pots arent actually to bad) the stock P90s now have a new lease of life and have a lovely bite to them i have also put gold reflector knobs on her and set her up to a good standard (im no pro)

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    By sbray83 at 2012-04-27

    i also had a second 56GT which i changed the plastics on

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    By sbray83 at 2012-03-19

    sadly she has now gone and has been replaced with my standard plus in vintage sunburst she cam with a few mods already

    seymour duncan sh2 and sh4 pickups
    new nut
    new bridge
    push pull tone pots for coil splitting
    kluson deluxe tuners
    black switch tips

    and i have to say she sings!!!! the only thing im a bit mythed by is why the previous owner did not replace the stock wiring and caps........

    so this is my first job to get on with

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    By sbray83 at 2012-08-30
     
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  4. TehAndrewRyan

    TehAndrewRyan Member

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    I'm not saying either of that.

    I do think they are poorly set up from factory though, just a simple thing as polishing the frets should be done on every guitar, because there really is a massive difference. And well, an Epiphone can never be a Gibson, right? I think a lot of people refer to Gibsons as "the real Les Paul", even though Epiphone indeed has that name on their guitars too. Would you rather pick an Epiphone if you had the option to pick either of them?

    For the visuals; I said I DIDN'T like the look of the factory parts, which is why I changed them. This thread is both a guide and a log where I pretty much wrote everything I've done, and why I did it. It's subjective whether you actually like it or not.

    The pickup covers do affect the tone. Noticable or not, it does, and to some people even a slight change may be enough. Many small mods make a bigger difference in the end.
     
  5. goldtop56

    goldtop56 Senior Member

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    i didnt think the covers made a bling bit of difference to the sound!
     
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  6. TehAndrewRyan

    TehAndrewRyan Member

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    They do make a difference, but yeah it's very small.
     
  7. goldtop56

    goldtop56 Senior Member

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    hmmmmm im skeptical at the very least about this statment
    :hmm:
     
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  8. TehAndrewRyan

    TehAndrewRyan Member

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    I keep reading this, covers do take away some of the presence from the pickups. It all depends on whether you can hear it or not.
     
  9. goldtop56

    goldtop56 Senior Member

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    so you are assuming your ears are better than mine then? :naughty:
     
  10. TehAndrewRyan

    TehAndrewRyan Member

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    Who knows ;) I was at least able to hear a slight difference.
     
  11. goldtop56

    goldtop56 Senior Member

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    could you though or was it because you thought it would make a difference that you thought you heard a difference:hmm: the mind works in strange ways my friend:)
     
  12. TehAndrewRyan

    TehAndrewRyan Member

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    No, I'm sure it did make a difference. I had another guitar as a reference point.
     
  13. goldtop56

    goldtop56 Senior Member

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    hmmmmmmm im still not convinced to be honest with you and will remain so maybe some of the other members could shed some light on this
     
  14. qpHalcy0n

    qpHalcy0n Senior Member

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    Conductive pickup cover materials offer stray capacitance between the coil and the cover itself.

    In this application, there is a high frequency roll off. Albeit not too much of one.

    There's a difference, it's just a question of whether or not your geared up or if your ears are in fine enough shape to hear it.
     
  15. CharlyG

    CharlyG Member

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    this
     
  16. msvsdoj

    msvsdoj Senior Member

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    From Sweetwater....

    When it comes to humbucking guitar pickups, we were wondering whether there was a tonal difference between covered pickups and open coil pickups. A quick cruise through the Internet revealed that opinions vary. Some said there was a definite difference between open and covered pickups, while others said there was no difference. We decided to conduct our own experiment, and report the results in InSync.

    We recorded a semi-hollowbody guitar with covered humbuckers and new strings to have a point of reference. After the recording, we removed the strings, popped the bridge pickup out, and removed the chrome cover being careful not to damage the windings. We replaced the pickup sans cover, put strings on, plugged into the same amp with the volumes set the same, and recorded using the same microphone.

    The uncovered pickup, to our ears, had a brighter, more open sound than the same pickup with the cover in place. Just for fun, we switched to the neck pickup (which still had a cover), and in comparison to the uncovered bridge pickup, it had a nasal quality. Prior to removing the bridge pickup cover, we had never noticed a nasal tone when using the neck humbucker, but in comparison to the open coil's clarity and brightness, it did sound inferior.

    According to statements we've seen by pickup manufacturer/guru Seymour Duncan, there are differences between covered and uncovered pickups:

    Covers may cause feedback problems with high-powered amps
    The pickup's magnetic field may be affected by the cover's plating materials; brightness may be reduced by nickel, chrome, or gold plating
    Electrical interference may be picked up by uncovered pickup coils
    Covers may reduce 60-cycle hum
    A nickel-silver cover may have less capacitance, which can affect brightness
    Now, we're not suggesting that you rip the covers off your humbuckers. We are simply stating what our ears heard during our experiment. The good news is that pickups are easy to pop in and out of a guitar, as long as you don't disconnect the wires, which requires soldering to remedy.

    So if you feel frisky, try removing the cover from a humbucker and do an A/B comparison of the covered and uncovered tones. In our case, removing the cover from pickup we used involved breaking the solder that held the cover to the base of the pickup, and since we've decided to leave the bridge pickup uncovered, clearing out some of the wax potting that surrounded the coils.

    As always, if you don't feel comfortable doing work of this nature, please refer the job to a trusted guitar repair specialist.
     
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  17. Barcham

    Barcham Elitist Club Member

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    The only way testing could be considered unbiased would be if the testing was done blind. As long as someone is aware which is which, their final opinions can be tainted.
     
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  18. goldtop56

    goldtop56 Senior Member

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    yeah this was my concern if you know that the covers your mind might tell you that you are hearing a difference
     
  19. Firedrake

    Firedrake Member

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    great post my friend and some good tips that I am going to use in a full out upgrade that I am about to start on my beloved Standard. Thanks for sharing.
     
  20. paruwi

    paruwi Kraut-Rocker Super Mod Premium Member

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    What amp do you use...?

    and

    do you have pics of the control cavity - before modding ?
    and
    a pic of the back of the headstock would be nice, too

    :wave:
     

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