Gear Ov Hell: The Upgrade

Out with the old, in with the soon-to-be-old.

There comes a time in every musician’s life when that crummy little Hello Kitty starter guitar pack just doesn’t cut it anymore. Either you’ve improved your abilities to the point where you need a higher-quality piece of equipment, you’ve destroyed your current gear through endless touring, smashing and beer-drenching, or you simply can’t exist any longer without owning that shiny, sexy new model. Whatever your reason, the end result is the same: you need new shit to replace your old shit. Time to upgrade.

The act of the upgrade itself is glorious. Part with [amount of money] in order to receive kickass new [instrument/gear item], which allows you to [“opening new doors” analogy], [“wow your friends” analogy] and [“take over the world” analogy] to embrace your rightful status as a [“metal god” description pulled straight from the back of a Guitar Hero disc case]. See? It’s a simple equation that starts with you spending money and eventually ruling the fucking world because you can weedly deedly real durn good, and everyone obviously will love your music and there won’t be any differences in musical taste due to language, culture or accessibility of said music media. All because you got yourself some cool new shit!

burned_guitarEhhh, I suppose I could start shopping around

My upgrade story: a few years ago I was in need of a second bass and picked up an Ibanez BTB 575 for an amazing price (I’d been playing an earlier BTB model for many years and had gotten so used to the unique string spacing that everything else either felt too narrow or too wide). When compared to my earlier bolt-on model, the new neck-thru model has a thinner neck, a drop in weight and a cleaner, flatter body topography, in addition to a full-instrument dark stain finish. No bare maple color to be found anywhere. The difference in pickup sound is worlds better as well – a heavier midrange, a higher output that sounds better with my pedals, and a slight rollback of both the super lows and super highs from my older, cheaper pickups. “Cutting through the mix” is a clichéd music magazine way of putting it, but this bass does it and does it well. Damn well.

Was it worth dropping some cash for? Absolutely. The only downside of it is that, due to the thinner neck, the action on the new bass gets a little fussy when I use higher gauge strings. Not a big deal really, but I also keep finding little hints of evidence that someone didn’t take great care of this bass to begin with, like a poorly filed nut slot (heh, nut slot) and a holy-fuck-how-did-you-not-burn-your-house-down soldering job in the battery compartment.

burned_bassDramatic reenactment of original owner

I reached out to a buddy of mine (with a killer screen name) who recently upgraded his guitar amp. Here’s his experience:

Smashmouth Can Have A Music Career Why Can’t I
I’m self-taught, about as casual musician as it gets, and I never needed or pressed for much. I could hardly tell you the hard specs on my equipment. Shopping or researching new gear was completely disinteresting until something broke. It took 17 years, elbows from my wife and bandmates, and my amp going weak and eating it during a live performance, but I switched up from my old Crate combo to a big ass Peavey XXX half stack. You know these right? I had jammed on one years ago, and any metalhead will tell you it’s just going to crush it. And really, it didn’t require much research into the specs and hard facts of each amplifier; you know that sound when you hear it. I went in with several brands and models in mind, and my ears told me it was this one. Now, it’s worth noting I had a hand from the guys at the local music store, who could lend their expertise to fill in the rest. Their knowledge was invaluable. That was the best part of the experience, hanging out and getting to know the local musicians better. Even if we had different approaches to our art, we shared the same passion for it.

And here are some additional accounts from our esteemed TovH authors who also like to make with the rock.

With Dischordia, I had a bass upgrade about a year ago from an Ibanez SR505 to a Warwick Thumb 5 (bolt on). The tone is worlds better, with a much smoother and fuller midrange and a beefy bass tone. My side project/personal recording sounds like absolute garbage by intention, so my upgrade to a Zoom H2N mic is probably getting too fancy.

Joe Thrashnkill
I bought a really fancy delay pedal to provide a simple slap-back effect and it makes everything I play sound so much more full and lush.

Boss the Ross
Awhile back I was growing weary with the Mexican Stratocaster I had. It was my first good guitar that I bought and I loved it dearly but I needed a change. The only problem was I didn’t have much money to play with, so a new guitar was out of the question. Then I looked into upgrades, anything that would change the sound and aesthetic of this guitar. Scouring thru websites and guitar stores, I soon found a Lace Blue-Silver-Red Strat Pack on sale for a mere $75. I grabbed them up along with a black pickguard and learned how to rewire my guitar. During the new pickup installation I had the bright idea of stripping the paint off of the body to stain the wood underneath. One heat gun and an hour later, I was looking at seven pieces of wood glued together with a top and bottom plate. Not exactly what I was expecting. Far too late to turn back I continued staining – a nice deep walnut and cherry mix. After all was said and done the guitar turned out pretty cool looking. The glue I thought I’d removed completely was still there, but it stained nice and dark along the edges giving the body an interesting patina-type look. I coated it with polyurethane laquer and called it a day. So for maybe $150, I had what appeared to be and what sounded like a new guitar.

Hessian Hunter
I’ve been playing with standard-size Ludwig Vistalite drums for years, and recently I spent a bunch of money I didn’t really have on a set of obscenely big fiberglass Tempus drums (15×14 rack tom, 18×18 floor tom, 26×20 kick). It’s way harder to play fast rolls on these things but they boom like nothing I’ve ever played. They’re perfect for doom metal but pretty silly when used for anything else, so they’ll just have to be part of a stable I keep, not my full-time kit for all projects.

365 Days of Horror
I yell into a microphone stuck in the oxygen tube of a World War 2 soviet tank driver gas mask. (365 said this was a downgrade. I think it’s a damn fine upgrade. – Cyborg)

Got a gear upgrade (or downgrade) story? Share in the comments below.

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Published on: June 16, 2016

Filled Under: Nerd Shit

Views: 997

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  • Lacertilian

    Through upgrading my house from a rental to a mortgage I’ve lost:
    – My dedicated jam room.
    – My multi-effects pedal during the move.
    – My meagre disposable income.
    – My will to live.

    • CyberneticOrganism
    • you son of a b**ch, is this your grand scheme to get more upvotes? well it’s working

    • Elegant Gazing Globe

      you’re gonna be a dad soon too huh?

    • Waynecro

      Congrats on becoming a homeowner! You can get back some of your disposable income by refinancing when interest rates plummet. The will to live is much more difficult to regain, but at least self-harming enables you to feel something again.

  • Mother Shabubu

    Gear upgrade: I bought a nice Gretsch kit in spring of 2014. Had some unknown kit from 2003 until then.

    Gear downgrade: I beat the living shit out of it in November of 2014. I haven’t drummed since.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Beat the shit out of it by playing it, or just trashed it at the end of a bad day?

      • Mother Shabubu

        Trashed it. It’s still operable, I just haven’t felt like buying new heads or hardware .

  • Elegant Gazing Globe

    Just got this in my email from MF if anyone wants to use it
    20% OFF


    Valid thru 6/23/2016

    Use Code: t955bsxwjxpx

    • CyberneticOrganism

      I’m gonna buy me one of those lame-ass Fender barstools

  • brokensnow

    I’m a vox. I dont buy anything or know anything.

  • Elegant Gazing Globe

    finally got some new tubes in that Sunn amp.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      How does it sound?

      • Elegant Gazing Globe

        like my hot rod deville but with some a dat ass Fender does not know how to put in their amps

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa


  • Abradolf Lincler

    my downgrade story is that i now no longer own any of the shit i used to

  • Pentagram Sam

    Cool stories dudes! I’m glad to know I’m not the only tinkererererer.

    First sign of the grateness of upgrayding was a cheap ass Ibanez RX something or another. Green guitar, white pickguard, two humbuckers. Got it when I was 13, learned the intro to One by Metallica and Iron Man and then thought “this is hard, play video games instead”

    In 2008 when I came back to playing, I had Seymour Duncans put in the guitar. Pearly Gates bridge humbucker, and Jazz in the neck. This made a world of difference and started me on the path of OCD attention to the minutia on the guitar.

    Currently I have a Schecter Tempest Custom, Gibson LP Classic Custom 2, and a Gibson Dove.

    The shit I’ve had done to the guitars themselves is insane.

    Tempest Custom: Bone nut, routed the body for middle pickup, replaced pickups with uncovered DiMarzio Air Nortons in neck and middle, and an uncovered DiMarzio PAF 36th Anniversary in bridge, replaced the wiring with vintage Gibson style braided wire and removed the “push pull” pot to simplify the wiring.

    Les Paul: Routed for middle pickup (490R), bone nut, TonePros locking bridge, replaced the PCB board with a wiring harness and caps from RS Guitarworks, then replaced the wiring itself with the vintage Gibson braided wire,

    Dove: removed the electronics and heavy ass fuckin battery (this took off over a pound of weight), bone nut, bone saddle, had the ramps filed a bit for better break angle, bone bridge pins.

    Not gonna get another guitar for a good long while, but when I do, I always know there’s gonna be an assload of changes right outta the box.

    EDIT: Gear Downgrade, lost a great Strat, and currently renting a sweet ass Hughs N Kettner Amp with a Traynor cab that has a Celestion.

    • Hubert

      “This is hard, play video games instead” is a comprehensive summary of my life.

    • Elegant Gazing Globe

      You like the duncans or the dimarzio better?
      I;ve only ever done EMG upgrades…in my Ibanez and my Flying V. But want to do some upgrades on my 12 string Les Paul, the stockers are too tinny

      • Pentagram Sam

        I like both the Duncans and DiMarzios about equally. Haven’t ventured into super boo-teek land with Bare Knuckle and Lollar pickups. I’ve never had active pickups in guitars, mainly cos I’m a sucker for older style stuff.

        About the only thing that I think really gives an “edge” to DiMarzio is that they don’t plaster their logo on the pickups. Don’t really like how Duncan has “Seymour Duncan” on alot of theirs. Hell, if you’ve got three pickups and they all say “Seymour Duncan” it just looks cluttered to me. Or it’s OCD

        12 string LP? Wooaaah.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Notice any difference in changing out your nut (heh)? I need to get mine replaced; there’s a great luthier in town but I’m just worried about fucking up the way it plays.

      • Pentagram Sam

        Honestly, the reason I go with bone is tradition. Guitars wayyyyy back in the day all used bone so I figure why not. There’s the whole “It only affects open notes” debate in nut material so that aspect is a big YMMV deal.

        HOWEVER! Getting a nut that is properly cut and slotted by a great luthier who is taking his TIME to ensure correct string spacing makes a world of difference than factory default settings that get shit out and shoved out the door.

        I’m no Gibson apologist, I love them, but especially with bigger companies like them and Fender, some personal attention time is almost required.

        • CyberneticOrganism

          Good to know, I’ll probably end up doing that. Don’t think my specific nut (heh) is sold via the replacement parts website, and if it was, it’d be insanely overpriced.

          • Pentagram Sam

            Hell yea man! I was driving around and thought of something. One of the factual benefits of bone is that it’s self lubricating (huehue) and I think people like to use brass cos it’s “brighter”

            When it comes to stuff on acoustics and soundwaves and vibrations are all integral, I just think something organic like bone for nuts and saddles and ebony or bone for bridge pins do a better job of conducting than cheap plastic. Again, no soundwaveologist but the tradition of bone and ebony (and formerly ivory) goes way back to ancient times. Hell, Tusq is a synthetic bone-like material anyway and Taylor guitars go from Tusq to bone on their super fancy 900 models.

            What kind of nut do you use?

            Since I don’t have a Floyd Rose, I’m no real expert on them but for them it seems that the benefit of them is whammy bar pyrotechnics without going out of tune. Message boards blow up with stuff like “they’re sterile” but I haven’t spent enough time with a FR guitar to really tell. When i get my hands on one I just yank away on the whammy bar and giggle.

          • Stockhausen

            I went with a bone nut (heh) on my Warwick a few months ago, and it was a great choice. Warwick had some fancy, overly complicated one on there and of course it was having problems. Go simple, go bone (heh).

          • CyberneticOrganism

            Thanks, that cements my decision then. I looked into getting a brass nut awhile ago and just about had a stroke when I saw the price of those adjustable Warwick nuts.

  • I don’t play very much anymore, but I have a mexican-made Fender Jazz, an Ibanez SR505 and an Acoustic 200W head with an Acoustic 410 cab.

  • When I was actually playing bass years ago, my buddy worked at a Guitar Center and told me that a nice used 5 string ESP had just come in. He said if I wanted it, I should come grab it right away. I headed over and picked it up for way less than one would expect to pay for something like that. It was in a real good condition too. Turns out the bass was stolen and a kid came in with his mother looking for it. GC employees denied having seen it and the bass stayed with me. I found out about the criminal element weeks later. I ended up selling it a few years later and never played a show with it.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Yikes, not something you want to get involved in.

      • Yeah, looking back the whole “too good to be true” thing comea into play.

      • Ernest Goes To The Toilet

        Yep! One of my friends got tossed in the pokey for something like that involving computers. He bought a bunch of them cheap and under the table, and turned out they were stolen. He ended up with trafficking charges and several thousand dollars worth of stolen gear. Thankfully the charges got dropped after they investigated and found out he had no idea what he was getting into, but he still spent 6 months in prison in the meantime.

  • BobLoblaw

    Learned bass on a 5 string ibanez gio then upgraded to a Spectre 6. Feel like i wasnt even playing bass before.

    • Stockhausen

      Spector basses rule my butt. If I didn’t love my Warwick so much, I’d play one.

      • BobLoblaw

        I was really impressed with the Legend Classic 6, especially for it being around $725 new. Would have loved to have grabbed one a few years prior when they still had the burl tops as an option though.

  • Ernest Goes To The Toilet

    This’ll probably be on the flip side of things, especially considering I quit playing guitar years ago: anyone know any good synth programs I can DL free or on the cheap? Preferably analog synth.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      This site has a lot of synth artist interviews, don’t know of anything specific but you might want to start here:

      • Ernest Goes To The Toilet

        Awesome, thanks! I had a bunch of programs on my PC back home, but of course couldn’t bring that along on my way over. Probably spending the next couple of days getting those programs again (especially the Korg Legends program), if I remember.

  • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

    Retrograde: Picked up a 1975 fender P bass for my 50th bday just because it was old and I am old. I call him Papa Bear.

    • more beer

      You are only as old as you act and feel y friend.

      • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

        Right on dude!

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Fucking nice.

      • TrickleDownOvTacoKvltRiff

        Disclaimer; I dont play out much (ever really-lol) and I’m not much of a gear head but I have a 250 watt Behrigner head and what looks like a Gallien-Krueger 400RB Mark-IV 2×10 combo. I picked up the amp used along with a like new Fender Mexican Pbass for 250 bucks off Craig’s list. They sound purty when I doom jam in my music room when the wife’s out of the house. My bulldog doesn’t approve tho! The 1975 Pbass has a real nice growl to it and the neck is smooth like butta!

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa


  • Waynecro

    The instrument I purchased most recently is a Gibson SG Robot Guitar. The guitar’s artificial intelligence is pretty impressive. Since I bought the guitar, it has learned to repair and update itself. It’s like getting a new guitar every few weeks. I just wish the guitar would quit taking screws from all my IKEA furniture whenever it decides to trick itself out. Also, it did a really sloppy job when it airbrushed flames on its spoiler.

    • Dubbbz


      • Waynecro

        I had to start vaping, because cigarette smoke kept setting off all the smoke detectors the guitar installed on itself.

      • CyberneticOrganism

        *hears someone vaping, also vapes*

    • Ernest Goes To The Toilet

      Sounds like the guitar got possessed by CyberneticOrganism and Xzibit.

      • Waynecro

        Maybe my guitar and CyberneticOrganism are nodes in the same network.

        • Ernest Goes To The Toilet

          “Yo dog, I heard you like guitar upgrades. Fuck what you want, I’m doing them myself. Nyeah, neener neener!” -Wayne’s guitar

          • Waynecro

            The guitar often talks to me in binary, which it knows I can’t understand. The Guitar thinks it’s being funny, but I’m going to have the last laugh: I’m using all those ones and zeros to compose a djent album that will make me hundreds of dollars.

          • CyberneticOrganism

            *tens of dollars

    • CyberneticOrganism
      • Ernest Goes To The Toilet

        Things have definitely gone downhill for Number Five since he couldn’t find work after Short Circuit 2. ^^^^^^

  • Thanks for this recount, I’m always interested in instrument shenanigans 😛

    Also, Tovarish>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

  • I need a new bass. I was set on one model, but now I’m more interested in something brand new. Haven’t really started looking, but anything is better than my current Ibanez Gio.

    • EsusMoose

      I remember from an interview with Brett Bamberger where he talked about a GIo he owned and said it mostly isn’t good but the boom he can get out of it is great or something positive about it

      • It does provide a very fine low end tone. no grit, just bass

  • EsusMoose

    Last year I finally bought a 5 string bass, was a used warwick and it sounded great. As it was at Guitar Center I couldn’t hear super well and later learned the A string was dead for the first 6 frets, I hadn’t dealt with that problem before so I panicked. I sat on it cause I liked the bass too much, eventually restrung it and the dead sound went away. I’d then learn overtime that my hands aren’t big enough to play the same way as I did on my old fender p bass (I dig playing chords so I’m not as easily able to fret at times.
    Now I’m looking into getting a small wattage tube amp for my apartment and then pedals. Loads of those things.

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Cool, buying pedals is fun.

  • Max

    I’ve done several upgrades across different artistic and technological platforms:

    1) From second-hand no-name Strat copy to brand new Ibanez S-470 in 2000.

    2) From second-hand no-name 4-string bass to brand new Ibanez SG 5-string that same year.

    3) From Boss Dr Rhythm 220-A drum machine, to 550 mk II in about 1996, to 660 in 1999, to Alesis DD-4 electronic drumkit in 2007, slowly replaced bit by bit with a 6-piece Roland electronic drumkit featuring a TD-12 brain since that time.

    4) Second-hand Tama Rockstar 5-piece acoustic kit bought in 2006, massively (and continuously since) modified with extra pieces (Superstar floor tom and kick drums), Pearl snare, Axis longboards, Trick longboards, and too many hardware revisions to mention.

    5) Yamaha 4-track cassette recorder bought in 1994, to Roland VS-840 digital 8-track in 1998, to second-hand desktop PC with RME soundcard in about 2009, to customized lap-top with RME interface running Reaper in 2013.

    I’m not any more famous, though.

    • Señor Jefe El Rosa

      Yeah but you FEEL way cooler, don’t you?

      • Max

        Well, I certainly feel a lot lighter in the wallet department; so there’s that.

        • CyberneticOrganism

          More mobility to practice the Weirding Way

  • Dave Vincent’s Perm

    I upgraded my sound by forgetting where I put the metal zone.

    • Dave Vincent’s Perm

      Also from a low-end ibanez to a black as fuck Jackson, so I can act like Randy Rhoads when I sloppily play Order from Chaos riffs in my bedroom

    • CyberneticOrganism

      The metal zone jokes never get old.