Here at Leading Tone, we love to make guitars play and sound better than they do when “factory fresh.” What I mean is that almost any guitar can not only feel better than when you bought it, but they can certainly have better tone just by changing out a few key parts.
Chris, if you don’t know, works here in the shop and loves country and rockabilly music. He’s a huge fan of the good ol’ boys- Hank, Chet, Merle, Waylon, Cochran, Moore… all of ’em. He’s got a killer Telecaster that gives him all the twang he could ever ask for, but he was less-than-satisfied with his Ibanez AF75. Don’t get me wrong- these are cool guitars for the budding Jazz player- but the stock pickups leave much to be desired. These guitars tend to sound a bit muddy without the proper definition that someone like Chris would not only want, but require.
We set about changing that.
The first change made was the addition of a genuine Bigsby Trem. Chris did that on his own with great success, and although it was a step in the right direction, the feel and sound just didn’t change enough.
For playability’s sake, I addressed (and dressed) the fretboard on the whole, making sure that every note rings clearly. A coat of lemon oil on the board and polishing the frets did wonders for this one. Things were starting to shape up when Chris and I started talking about pickups.
Chris already had half of the tonal mix figured out: a Seymour Duncan ’59 in the neck position for smooth clarity. But what about the bridge? If you’re anything like me, your mind immediately goes to one name: Jason Lollar. Leading Tone is a dealer for Lollar pickups, and in our estimation he makes some of the finest coils out there. I recently replaced the pickups in my AVRI Thin-Skin Jazzmaster with his JM set in ivory. Let me tell you: a blissful tonal nirvana was attained simply by soldering four wires. I’ve never been happier!
But what would bring us that powerful one-two combination of twang and power? We arrived at the answer almost simultaneously- Lollar’s incredible P90 dogear. Influenced by Eddie Cochran and Scotty Moore, this pickup would almost certainly give us what we needed. Brilliant!
Now, this took some doing: A P90 won’t exactly drop-in when the guitar is already routed for humbuckers. Add to that the immense string height off the body for the til-back neck on this jazz box, and we had a bit of a problem on our hands.
Thankfully, Lollar rushed to the rescue with an order of his spacers. It only took a few of them to reach the desired height of the pickup, and string balance was attained from there by adjusting the pole pieces to accommodate the difference in perceived volume between each string. Just looking at the guitar, we knew we had a winner!
The only other mod we performed on this instrument was moving the pickup selector switch from the lower bout to the upper, allowing Chris to change sounds worry-free without having a Bigsby arm in the way. The hole in the lower bout was left open, in case we want to add a Varitone or anything later on.
All in all, we have a fine instrument worthy of praise and admiration. We’ve taken a sub-$400 instrument and in no time flat it rivals guitars costing four times as much. Really, this thing must be heard to be believed. Thanks to Lollar pickups, Chris’s dreams came true and left us in awe of the sonic majesty we have achieved.
If you have a candidate for “Total Conversion”, come see us! We’d be happy to talk about pickup choices, wiring- anything that will take your guitar and turn it into a beast!