FIF : 5 Easy Mods For Les Pauls
Article by Logan Tabor - Nov. 21, 2018
Today, we are going to talk about five easy (and cheap) mods that can be made to Les Pauls. When we are offering these ideas for modifications, we like to keep in mind your resale value -- if it should ever come to that -- as well as the option to quickly and easily reverse any modifications you’ve made, in the event you aren’t too keen on their effect(s).
These mods will either have an effect on the guitar’s playability, tone, or both; some will require base-level soldering skills, some will not. None of these mods will require the player to physically modify the guitar or spend a cringe-worthy amount of money, nor will they require the player to have any woodworking skills. Aside from the obvious mods one could make to any guitar (tone cap swapping, new pickups, etc.), here are our Five Easy Mods for Les Pauls:
Top-wrapping Your Strings
Not that the traditional way to string your Les Paul is problematic, but there is another way that may yield some cool subtle benefits. The basic idea is to lower the tailpiece until it’s down against the body of the guitar, and then insert your strings from the opposite direction (from the pickup side rather than from below the tailpiece). Once you’ve done this, you would wrap the strings around the top of the tailpiece and then continue to string the guitar exactly as you normally would.
This effectively changes the break-angle of the strings over the saddles, and as a result, many players say this makes the strings feel looser and gives them a more interactive bend. Some players will enjoy this new feel, which has been said to make heavier gauge strings feel a bit lighter, and others may not like it so much. No worries, just take the strings off and restring the guitar as you used to.
Another benefit is a bit of added sustain due to the tailpiece being butted all the way up to the body for some brilliant resonance. This can give a richer low end, added sustain (as I mentioned), and can decrease the likelihood and frequency of string breaks since the break-angle is not as harsh. And hey, all this mod costs you is a pack of strings.
Gibson started out with aluminum tailpieces on most of the original 50s Les Pauls. Eventually they made a switch over to zinc -- which is still the standard for today’s Les Pauls -- and a lot of players noticed a change in their tone when this happened.
Aluminum tailpieces were noted for having a brighter sound with better dynamic response; some say the aluminum tailpiece gave the Les Paul more of an acoustic or wooden quality. When the zinc tailpieces came into play, some players found themselves missing those brighter woodier qualities, but others enjoyed the new darkness of the zinc.
If you are looking to brighten up your guitar without breaking the bank or messing with the electronics, the tailpiece swap is great. A number of companies make repros of the aluminum tailpieces, and we even sell one on Mojotone.com that’s made right here in the USA. This mod is relatively inexpensive and can easily be reversed if you don’t care for the change.
Decoupling the Volume Pots
Gibson originally chose to wire their volume pots together in parallel, which does have some functional benefits. For instance, Les Paul players know they can dial in one tone on their bridge pickup, dial in a separate tone (perhaps a rhythm tone) on their neck pickup, leave them set exactly as they are, and then switch between the two easily. This kinda makes life easy to a certain extent; but what about when you go to use the middle position? Then the two volume controls are linked up and interact with one another making it pretty difficult to dial in that middle position on the fly, and if one of the volume controls gets rolled too far down, the whole guitar drops out.
Some players don’t consider this to be an issue, but for those who do, there is a simple solution that requires only some basic soldering skills and a good wiring diagram. Follow the diagram below, or get a local tech or nerdy friend to follow it for you, to make the volume controls independent. Here again, if you find you don’t like the mod or have no use for it, you can always reverse it; no harm done. As long as you have a soldering iron and some solder, this mod costs nothing!
The Peter Green Mod (Out Of Phase Middle Pickup)
To some, making the middle pickup position out of phase in a dual humbucker guitar might seem counterintuitive, but it can actually create some pretty unique tones. While this may not be the case for all LP players, many have complained that the middle position can be uninspiring or less lively than the neck and bridge positions. Peter Green, most notably during his Fleetwood Mac days, made the out of phase middle position a signature of his tone. This sound is often described as being quacky, but many players love the way it can scream too! This mod can be made in a number of ways…
If you want to try an out of phase/Peter Green mod on your Les Paul and your pickups have single conductor wiring with a grounded shielding, your easiest bet is to physically (and electrically) reverse the magnet on the neck pickup. Many people try to do this by simply taking the entire humbucker out and turning it around, but this doesn’t actually do what needs to be done from an electrical standpoint. The actual bar magnet on the bottom of the humbucker needs to be flipped 180 degrees so that its polarity is reversed. To do this, one just needs to remove the neck pickup, flip the orientation of the bar magnet, and reinstall.
If your Les Paul’s pickups have 2-conductor wiring, you can make this mod by simply reversing the hot and ground connections on the neck pickup (no need to remove a pickup or flip the magnet around). Just pop open the guitar’s control cavity, identify the neck pickup connections on the corresponding volume pot, and reverse them. All you need is a soldering iron and maybe a little solder...and a solder sucker if you want to get super picky with it.
This mod can also be made using a DPDT switch or just about any of our push/push pots if you want to have the option to switch between an in phase middle position and an out of phase middle position. Check out the wiring diagram below to see how it would work!
The Jimmy Page Mod
Alright, so this one is definitely the most complex of our “5 Easy Mods,” but is still manageable for those with some basic soldering skills. Jimmy Page was known for having modded the wiring in his Les Pauls to achieve single coil tones and out of phase tones with a series of push/pull knobs. If you think about it, two humbuckers actually means four single coils; and with some clever wiring, one could take advantage of all the tonal possibilities these four single coils have to offer. This mod gives guitarists a ton of options for in and out of phase, single and humbucker coil combinations, etc. And while no one has published an exact wiring diagram of what Jimmy Page himself had going on under the hood, there are a number of diagrams out there that should get the job done if you’re feeling adventurous.
Take a look at the wiring diagram below to see how this would look. If we were to list out the steps involved in this particular project, this article would be a bit long-winded. One thing to note, is that doing this mod will require pickups with multiple leads rather than those with vintage braided wire. This project will really only require you to purchase a few push/push pots (pretty much any of the push/push pots Mojotone offers will work) and, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, the time of a trusted guitar tech. And again, just as with any of these mods, if you aren’t feeling it you can always go back to the traditional wiring scheme.
We hope these 5 easy mods have given you some inspiration on ways to improve or expand your Les Paul’s tone. There are plenty more mods out there, but we will save those for another article. For now, we just want to set the fire and see where it goes. Thanks again for tuning in -- see you next time!