Among the greatest things about Gibson electric guitars are Gibson pickups. One of the coolest things about Epiphone guitars is that they're almost all made with Gibson body styles and dimensions. That means that with out modifications you can replace your Epiphone pickups with genuine Gibson pickups. The result can be astonishing. Check out my Hands-On Review of Gibson USA-Made Pickups (see Related Links) to read how blown away I was by such magnetic monsters as the Tony Iommi, Dirty Fingers, the '57 Classic, Burstbucker Pro, and others. Each of these pickups transformed a garden-variety Epi LP Junior into a heavyweight tone machine.
Changing out your pickups is so simple you can do it yourself. All you need is a soldering iron and some rosin-core solder, a Phillips Head screwdriver, and a wire stripper. It's a fully reversible operation; I installed, extensively tested, and changed out six pickups in the same guitar in one afternoon with no mishaps. If you're solder-phobic, you can have your new pickup put in at your local guitar shop for a modest fee. But even if you've never used a soldering iron you shouldn't have any problem, it's basically just tacking a couple of wires to a pot. Now let's get down to it.
We'll use an Epiphone Les Paul as our example. Refresh your memory on the controls. Looking at the guitar held in playing position, the top row of knobs are the volume and tone controls for the rhythm (neck) pickup. The knob closest to the neck is the volume control. The lower row of knobs controls the volume and tone for the treble (bridge) pickup. First remove the strings, bridge, and tailpiece.
Then place the guitar face down on a non-scratching surface and remove the back plate behind the knobs. Don't try to use the wrong size of screwdriver, you'll strip the screws and have a bad day. Leave the round plate alone, that's just for the toggle switch, which we're not changing.
When the back plate is removed, you should see something like this (see image). If you have a digital camera, take a picture of the open cavity for future reference. The volume pots--the ones we'll be concerned with here--are the two on the left, rhythm pickup on top and treble pickup on the bottom. On the rhythm pickup volume pot, there should be a red wire with the shield connected to the back of the pot and the inside connected to the first lug on the bottom of the pot. There is a similar arrangement on the treble pickup volume pot except the wire is black. (The colors may vary depending on the guitar you're working on. The hot wire is the one connected to the lug.) These are the pickup connections.
After you install both pickups, carefully inspect your work to make sure the solder joints are clean and shiny and that there are no stray wires. Before closing the pot cavity, plug the guitar into an amp and tap the new pickup's pole pieces with a screwdriver. If the connection is right, you'll hear the tapping through the amp. Also check to be sure the volume control is working. Put your guitar back together and enjoy your wonderful new tone!
In the unlikely event that you don't dig your new tone, keep trying new pickups until tonal nirvana is achieved. If you return your new Gibson pickup within 60 days of purchase, Gibson will let you exchange it for another model.
The simple process of changing out your pickups can transform your so-so axe into a tonal titan. Musician's Friend offers the full range of fabulous USA-made Gibson pickups. Find the right model for your sound and give it a try--you won't be disappointed.
Related Links... (can be used top/bottom/side)