Epi Standard Complete Electronics Overhaul (Parts review with some story)

NoNothing

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Been a while since I posted so I figured I'd come back with a bang.

If you don't care about the story, skip to the install/review, there are pretty pictures there. I'd also like to say any bragging I do about companies I've dealt with is my own opinion, I'm not affiliated with any companies I'm discussing in this post.

STORY
I've been playing a lot more often for the past few months (instead of once a week) and I've been starting to want to explore more sounds I could make with my amp and guitar. I had a little Roland Cube 20X and my stock Epi Std Plus Top. I wanted to start figuring out what those southern two knobs on my guitar did so I started messing with them. They seemed to be on/off switches and I could only get sound that did seem to be played from inside a live bison when both tone pots were around 4-5. Volume seemed to only effect the volume (as I'd expect) and no tone (what I was told).

Through plenty of discussions and reading online I found the electronics that come in a standard Epi aren't that great and the first thing I should do is upgrade my pots and caps (according to this FAQ thread). After some more research I found Martin Six String Customs/ selling completely wired pots and caps with 50s wiring. I didn't know that 50's wiring was what I wanted but I knew I'm handy enough with a soldering iron to change it if I didn't like it. So I ordered a Les Paul Wiring Harness and Switchcraft Toggle Switch w/ Jack. I went with 2 .022 NOS USA Aerovox caps as I liked the sound I heard from most reviews on youtube including the one on the order page. My order came to $135.85 with ground shipping. Could have paid less getting all the equipment myself and doing all my own soldering, but I'd rather pay the professionals to do their thing.

The timing around when I was going to order the electronics couldn't have been more perfect. Tax return season! So I decided it might be a good time to get the pickups upgraded. I haven't been able to hear for myself (assuming my electronics were causing the issue) that the stock Epi pickups are 'muddy'. Some reviews I saw online showed that and I was on the hunt for new pickups. I played and listened to a lot of different sets, finally deciding on a Seymore Duncan Alnicio II Pro set. I came close to pulling the trigger on some burstbuckers but decided against given the price and not sure on the sound. I really liked the sounds I was hearing out of the Alnico's.

I also heard here that the stock bridge and tailpiece aren't that great on the Epi and an upgrade to TonePros or Goteh was in order. I ended up ordering the Goteh Bridge and Tailpiece from Stew Mac for $48.28 shipped. Even if they didn't improve the tone of my guitar the price was pretty hard to fuss about.

I had been playing around with a Guitar Rig Mobile unit I got for free when I ordered my Guitar I was really enjoying playing around with Guitar Rig but disappointed in switching sounds with my hands (that should be on my guitar) and my amp not able to handle any kind of distortion at any volume. I had some discussions with people and while most wanted me to head to a good tube amp (Vox AC30 being the most recommended) I decided I had no idea what I really want in an amp sound and if modeling would get me even 80% towards what these amps sound like I can know what I like by trying different things out before I buy a good solid amp a few years from now. Before I start another analog vs digital argument I'd just like to say I'm a software developer by trade and what computers can do fascinates me to no end. I know you cant 100% model a physical amp but thats the route I decided to go. I ended up buying Guitar Rig 5 Kontrol and a Tech 21 Power Engine 60 to play through.



INSTALL/REVIEW
Since I'm swapping so many parts I decided to do it in stages so I could hear the difference each part made to my guitar.


Stock Guitar:
I always played with the tone pots at ~4 and volume at ~9 as anything else severely limited any sound getting out of the guitar without sounding like it was buried underground and only played after earth was no longer habitable.

I installed a Tusq nut the day I got the guitar.



Goteh Bridge/Tailpiece & Naked Strings
I needed to order new strings and was told about a company Naked Strings who winds their own strings and sells at a reasonable price. I bought a set of 10 with the same size as the Ernie Ball Regular Slinky's I've been playing on for years to give them a shot.

They arrived just as listed, naked wrapped together in like sized pairs in a bubble mailing envelope.


I couldn't tell a difference in the end wrapping between the EB's (left) and the Nakeds (right)


The Goteh Bridge/Tail were both noticeably heavier than their Epiphone counterparts. The bridge had all the same size notches and all the saddles facing the same direction. I didn't remove and try to flip the saddles as I heard the small washer behind the nut can become crushed if not installed properly, this didn't end up being an issue while intonating as the Goteh bridge is wider than the epi and as such has more movement front and back.

Goteh on the right, Epi on the left


I left the stock bushings in the guitar (removing them from the wood terrified me) but used the screws from the Goteh set. They fit like a glove, actually better than the previous screws. Not to mention they were also shinier (newness tends to help there).

The new tailpiece fit tight on the posts. The bridge had a little bit of wiggle room on it's posts. Once strings were installed I of course couldn't wiggle it anymore but I expected a more solid connection to the posts.

Goteh on the left, stock fuzzy in the background on the right


Installed, please excuse my upsidedown camera.


Now here's where I really failed. I DID record a riff of rhythm and treble pickup for each step of installation I went through. However, I didn't actually record. I hit the record button in Guitar Rig expecting it to be recording, little did I know since it's a 'tape deck' you have to also hit play with record (how is todays generation going to figure that one out?) I didn't discover this until I was all done with all the installation. I apologize that you'll have to take my ears which aren't as astute as some of yours to know the differences that I felt/heard.

The new strings felt better than the EBs, less 'rough' to glide my hands along as I played, other than that they felt identical and sounded a exactly the same to me.

The new bridge was a breeze to intonate, no little stupid wire thing. The Goteh pieces really increase the sustain of the guitar. I intended to tell you the exact duration difference I was able to get by strumming open with and without but of course I don't have recordings. It also seemed to add a lot of 'warmth' to the sound of the guitar both acoustically and through the amp.


Martin Six Strings Customs Electronics
Next to go in was the new electronics I got from Martin Six String Customs wired 50s style.

Here you can see the electronics, pickups and fancy speed knobs that will all be installed (pickups are in the next section).


First thing I had to do was get rid of the old pots. What a wiring mess. I started by desoldering the pickups and switch.




To get the new switch wired through easily I snipped the old switch wires, tapped the new switch wires to it and pulled through to the control cavity.


New switch went in flawlessly, fit right in the old hole.


The new jack on the other hand did not fit. I needed to bore that out to get the new jack in.


Once the old electronics were out the new ones needed to go in but wouldn't fit through the metric holes. The imperial pots had a shaft ~.37" and the holes were ~.34". Not close enough to force them through (would likely ruin the finish). So I took a dremel grinding bit and opened them up enough.

The new holes are on the right, old on the left.


Now I needed to get the new ones wired up. I started by wiring up the switch and the old bridge pickup. I couldn't get the neck pickup wire to reach while still attached to the plexiglass so I soldered that once I put the pots in their place.


So now everything was wired up with new CTS pots, NOS Aerovox caps, switchcraft jack and switch and the old epi pickups. Time for me to hear what the new electronics did to my sound.

HOLY CRAP, the controls WORK. I played around so much with just the tone knobs seeing how vast a different sound I could get out of the guitar with just them. Even the volume knobs had something to say about the tone. Honestly I'm blown away by the difference and would absolutely recommend it to anyone who has a stock Epiphone Les Paul still, you're seriously missing out. Plus if you can solder well and have patience it's not expensive to get all the bits and do the work yourself. Though I didn't think it was that expensive through Martin Six Strings either. I'm getting a lot more sound out of the guitar than I thought possible. Some settings sound painful to my ears (too bright on the treble) and some sounds like garbage. Most of time just playing chords and spinning the knobs I found tons of sound I didn't know existed. The switch was nice, its a much softer flip from rhythm to treble. It doesn't like to stay in the middle and gets easily bumped one way or the other.

Now to move on to new pickups and see what those'll bring to the table.


Seymore Duncan Alnicio II Pro Neck and Bridge pickups
I cut the strings I just installed off and desoldered the old pickups from the volume pots. I removed the bridge and tailpiece and put painters tape over the bridge screws so they wouldn't move around when I was flipping the guitar over.

The installation itself went quickly, I didnt snip any wires to help guide the new pickup wire through the channel as I could easily push them a few inches.

I was annoyed by the flat head screws on the Alnicio II's over the philips head screws on the stock pickups. Much more a pain in the rear to screw in. An annoyance and has no issues tonally, ha.

Once I got the new pickups installed on the body I flipped the guitar over and soldered everything together. That was easy enough even though it wasnt just a positive and ground wire. Green and bare went to ground, black to the pot and white and red get soldered together and taped off.


Playing on the new pickups was awesome. Not a huge difference but that's one of the things I liked about these pickups when reading and listening online/in store.

I didn't realize until the new pickups went in but the old ones sounded 'sloppy' where these AP2's seems to clean things up, give things a more crisp and together sound. I'm extremely happy with them right now and I'm certain Ill continue to be.

I've been absolutely floored by the difference just my guitar makes with the electronics and tail hardware swapped. I'm still getting used to adjusting my tone/volume pots for different songs to get closer to the right sound.


Guitar Rig 5 Kontrol and Tech 21 Power Engine
I've been using the sounds in Guitar Rig 5 for a while now and I've been extremely happy with them. I can try out so many different effects and play around with different amps and settings its amazing. When I was first using GR5 I only used amps and played around with those knobs and I've been slowly moving to adding a few effects here and there.

One of the big concerns I had with Guitar Rig was latency. I'm on an older laptop running a Core 2 Duo (2.2GHz) with 2GB of RAM. With the Kontroller set at 192khz and between 256-512 samples I get a registered latency of under 9ms. I can't even notice it.

The Tech 21 Sound Engine isn't so much an amp as a extension cabinet. Native Instruments recommends it for use with their Guitar Rig system as it supposedly doesn't color the sound like a normal amp might. I was debating between this and a PA system and after talking to some people the Tech 21 made more sense for my use.

I'm again floored by the difference in sound between my TINY Cube 20X and the Tech 21 SE60. The SE60 just makes so much more sound and so much more pretty sound. At all levels I could play in my basement without pissing off my neighbors I got a nice rich sound, distorted and clean. I'm finally hearing distorted sound properly (I'm assuming) as opposed to through the tiny speaker on the Cube 20X. I've not touched the equalizer and don't plan to. I plan to let Guitar Rig handle that.


At the end of the day I'm really sad I didn't make these changes sooner. I thought I wasn't 'good enough' to need any sort of electronics upgrade. Maybe I wasn't that good, nor am I amazing now, but the changes to the guitar are incredible and I wish I had been playing with this sound and this range all along.

I've spent way too much time writing this and all I want to do is go play.

Anyway, here's my baby in all her new glory with some aurally sexy new friends.


Cheers
 

youngmarine101

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Most of what you just showed is what Im buying at the end of the week.. Though I am buying Bumble bee capacitors and black speed knobs and a ton of other parts.
 

NoNothing

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Excellent! Hope it works out as well for you.

Are you also coming from stock?

What else are you getting?
 

Hack

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Damn son! Thats alot of work all in one sitting. Well done! Very well put together post as well.


Did you like the Naked Strings?
 

NoNothing

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Damn son! Thats alot of work all in one sitting. Well done! Very well put together post as well.


Did you like the Naked Strings?

It was a long day. Got out of work at 2 and cleaned up around 11. I wanted to make sure I got everything right and I spent a lot of time playing after each 'install' so I could get a feel for what the change I made did to my guitar.

I wanted to make sure the post was well detailed, I'm sure there are other people out there that want to do the same thing and might want some more information. I know a ton of MLP posts helped me make my decisions, I just wish a few of them were more detailed or the original poster responded to questions with more detail than a sentence.

I do like the Naked Strings, they 'feel' better on my fingers than the Ernie Balls, we'll see how long they last in the end.

You can get bulk pricing on Ernie Balls for 12 @ 3.74ea
Or 10 Naked @ 2.89ea
Or 20 Naked @ 2.85ea

The only issue I have with them is storage. They're loose like in the photo so I have to unwind and rewind the whole set each time I want to get at the strings. I'm not buying in enough bulk that I think the strings will go 'bad' before I use them, but I keep them sealed tightly in a ziplock baggie.

When I get them I could pull them all apart, make sets of 6 and wrap those up so I just grab one set each time I need to restring.

It is easier to just throw the pack of EBs in a box. I don't know that it's worth 90c a set if you go through strings often.

I'll definitely be ordering more Naked Strings when these are done unless I have premature snapping issues or they wont stay in tune. Nothing I've done yet (though it's only been a day) leads me to believe that they would.
 

NoNothing

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I just did the same thing with my Epi too, including a tusq nut. Is that next?

It's hidden in the wall of text but a Tusq nut was one of the first things I did to the guitar when I got it out of the box.

I debated getting a bone nut when I did all this but why change what's working well?
 

youngmarine101

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Well I am coming from a stock epiphone les paul standard plus top cherry sunburst. I am adding these.

Black Pickguard.
Black Rhythm & Treble Ring
Switchcraft short toggle switch from Martin6Strings
Black Gibson Speed Knobs
Planet Waves Locking Tuners
Gotoh Tailpiece and Bridge Tune-O-Matic
Black Backplates
Black Pickup Rings
Martin 50's wiring harness with Super pots 550K and Bumblebee Caps
Dunlop Dual Design Straplok system
Ernie Ball Cobalt Strings .11 - .48
 

archie67

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Thanks for sharing. I gutted and rewired my three and over time added new pickups and hardware. I will admit I was a little nervous the first time I desoldered all the spagetti wiring and realized there was no going back. After rewiring a couple LP's you get faster and can complete the whole operation pretty quick. Nice Job!
 

NoNothing

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Thanks for sharing. I gutted and rewired my three and over time added new pickups and hardware. I will admit I was a little nervous the first time when I desoldered all the spagetti wiring and realized there was no going back. After rewiring a couple LP's you can complete the whole operation pretty quick. Nice Job!

Thanks.

I dont know when my next one is coming but I'm sure itll go by much more quickly.
 

fancyfootwork

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Very nice job! I should probably do this to a few of my guitars laying around. Time and money.
 

NoNothing

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Very nice job! I should probably do this to a few of my guitars laying around. Time and money.

If only we had unlimited, right?

I only have the one LP so that makes it easier for me.

Its night and day though, its a whole new beast.
 

fancyfootwork

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If only we had unlimited, right?

I only have the one LP so that makes it easier for me.

Its night and day though, its a whole new beast.

Good to hear. Probably will do this to my crappy SG special that is collecting dust. Give it a complete overhaul and see what it becomes.. if anything.
 

Mr.Draned

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Good work man.
I just had the electronics upgraded in my Les Paul and its made a huge difference!
 

NoNothing

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Good work man.
I just had the electronics upgraded in my Les Paul and its made a huge difference!

Thanks.

I was worried going in with all the changes I planed to make. After doing it in steps and playing a ton between them I'm happy with the end result and would definitely do it all to any other Epi LPs I may own.
 

Cman

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Right on target. I have done this with three "cheap" guitars now and the transformation is dramatic. One Chinese LP got SD 59's , tusq nut and pots, caps. One Squire Deluxe Strat got a loaded USA pickguard with vintage wound P/U's. The latest is a ES-335 clone with Peavey on the headstock. Tonerider Classic A4's, pots, caps , nut...wow this thing is now great. Each one sucked in it's own way before the change.

Alot can be done for ~$110 or so and a bit of work...including a good setup.

Steve
 

NoNothing

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Right on target. I have done this with three "cheap" guitars now and the transformation is dramatic. One Chinese LP got SD 59's , tusq nut and pots, caps. One Squire Deluxe Strat got a loaded USA pickguard with vintage wound P/U's. The latest is a ES-335 clone with Peavey on the headstock. Tonerider Classic A4's, pots, caps , nut...wow this thing is now great. Each one sucked in it's own way before the change.

Alot can be done for ~$110 or so and a bit of work...including a good setup.

Steve

For electronics I think I spent $220 all together, could have been a lot less going with raw parts instead of preassembled and wired electronics.
 

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