I’m gonna start with a bit of background leading to the purchase of the guitar. Scroll down to go directly to the customization part.
Last year, in 2014, I bought my first Gibson guitar. As you may know, buying a Gibson guitar is kind of a big deal because they’re expensive. They’re really good but not cheap. They’re made in the USA, partly by hand and it’s a legendary brand, used by players like Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, Guns & Roses’ Slash or AC/DC’s Angus Young.
My first guitar was a really cheap asian Les Paul clone that I sold within a year after I got it to buy an Epiphone G400, the asian-made version of a Gibson SG. So, I mostly learned to play the guitar on an SG-like guitar. I later bought a US Fender Stratocaster and an emulation guitar built by Line 6.
So, last year, I finally got the budget to buy my first real Gibson. So, I started research on Gibson Les Pauls. I mean if you want to buy a Gibson, your instinct is to go for the flagship, the Les Paul. Based on my budget, I decided I’d buy an 2014 LPM. I went to a shop to try it and it was a major disappointment, the sound was dull, a bit mushy and the finish was not really good. Right next to it was a 2014 SG Special. It’s one step up in the range, the equivalent of the Les Paul Studio. But SGs are cheaper than Les Pauls so the SG Special was only a bit more expensive than the LPM. And, OMG, the sound was 10 times better. It has proper covered humbuckers instead of zebras. It has 24 accessible frets and on top of that, it has coil-splits. I’m pretty sure that the SG Special had the most value of all the Gibson 2014 range. In 2015, they changed the pickups to zebras and removed the coil-splits, making it a lot less interesting IMO. Also, I’d like to thank GuitarShop for selling me the guitar at the price they bought it and not the price it was on the catalog (Gibson prices went up during 2014, at least in France).
So I bought a Gibson SG Special 2014 in the Walnut finish. The only thing I dislike about the SG Special/LP Studio is that “Dark Cream” color they have for the hardware. So, last month, for a small price, I bought black hardware, official Gibson parts and installed them.
It’s quite easy to do if you take some precautions. First, I used a yoga mat under the guitar (that red/pink color you see in the picture above). I also used a piece of cloth to put on the table of the guitar when I worked on the pickups to avoid scratches.
Then I started by removing the strings and unscrewed the 4 corner screws of the neck pickup. I also decided to take pictures of how everything was for future reference.
As you can see in this image, the pickup is fixed to the pickup ring with 2 screws and springs. Before touching those, I used some cutouts from the parts packaging to mark the pickup height setting:
Putting back the screws with the springs is the hardest part of this customization, it’s a bit tricky, especially on the neck pickup where the lead to the pots doesn’t leave a lot for room to work with. That’s where the piece of cloth I mentioned comes handy. Otherwise, I would have scratched the finish of the guitar. Using the cutouts, I set the pickup height where it was and used the black screws coming with the new rings to put the 2 pickups in place. Those screws were a bit longer but they worked just fine. Also, don’t mix up the rings. Due to the neck angle, the bridge pickup ring is higher than the neck one.
For the pickup selector ring, you need to remove the electronics plate behind because you want to hold the internal part while you unscrew the ring. Otherwise you might break a solder point.
For the knobs, you can remove them by hand. If you don’t have enough space or it’s hard to remove, you can wrap a piece of cloth under the knob and pull the cloth. Try to pull it straight up otherwise you might damage the knob if you want to reuse it later. Also, if the new knobs don’t stay in place, you can use a large screw driver to widen the space between the pegs of the pot.
My next customization project is bit more ambitious. I’m gonna install noiseless pickups on my US Strat.