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Some advice - budget guitars and upgrades ...

Updated: May 5, 2023

Guitars are three things - they are wood, pickups and hardware. Forget everything else. It has since been semi proven that your 'tone wood'; whether it's Honduran Mahogany or ply wood...doesn't actually matter that much. Unless we are talking about weight and balance - which is a matter of comfort. You want a guitar to be balanced - so when you're stood up it doesn't 'neck dive'. You also want it to be a comfortable weight, so you don't feel like it's a chore to play. Unsurprisingly, it's your pickups that either sound good or bad. You can drop high end pickups into a ply wood 'Argos special' guitar and the chances are you will get a decent sound from it, especially active pickups. So if you find a cheap guitar that feels really easy to play and you like it aesthetically then upgrade the pups - you are half way there.

We can't dismiss build quality though.

There are budget guitars and then there's REALLY cheap guitars that are quite frankly not fit for purpose. Does that truss rod actually work? Are those glue joints actually...glued? If it costs £70 then there's a reason. Just don't bother, it's bad for the environment.

Look at this.

I have seen some horror shows over the years so there are limits. Aspects of poor build quality will limit setup and comfort - and without them perhaps that £180 set of pups actually isn't worth it. Build quality is the foundation on which your setup relies.

Hardware The one piece of hardware I would upgrade on a budget (other than pickups) is the machine heads and nut. You don't have to spend a huge amount (although you certainly can). £40-60 will get you a reliable set of machine heads. You want them to have a good weight, made from good quality metal and to be smooth when you tune (well made gears). If they skip, rattle and feel loose. Upgrade them, they will do you no favours. Plastic nuts - as discussed in a previous article, are not great for a number of reasons. Upgrade to graphite or bone for better tuning stability and operation. Frets The final and perhaps best upgrade for any guitar is getting a fret dress. The act of levelling all frets equally and crowing them to a point - will ensure your guitar plays and intonates extremely well. Even £1,000 guitars straight out of the factory benefit from a fret dress. They are never perfect from new in my experience.

So to summarize Your guitar is worth the upgrade if you think it meets some of the factors mentioned above. There are limits - but if you buy mid price range (£200-400) and upgrade those key elements you are almost guaranteed to have a guitar that will setup well, play comfortably and sound great. I am always happy to have a look over a guitar and recommend what might be worth it/what might not be worth it. There's a lot of choice out there and it can be confusing - which is why I hope this article simplifies some elements.

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