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Brightening a Gibson ES-135 w/ humbuckers


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A couple months ago, I picked up a 2002 Gibson ES-135 with what should be '57 Classic humbuckers.  I like this guitar quite a lot but I can't seem to dial out the dark tone of it.

It doesn't seem muddy or indistinct, but I'd like to brighten it some.  

Details:
Amp: Supro 1970 RK
Overdrive: Boss SD1, Boss Blues Driver, or none

I've changed strings 3 times - currently, I have 9-42 GHS Boomers.  I've tried 11-49 D'Addario, 10-46 D'Addario, 9-46 NYXL.
Tone pots just seem to make it darker - but they work.  I tried changing the pickup height with little joy.  I'm not certain what value caps it should have or the type of pots.

I'd thought about swapping the pickups for P-90 (in humbucker size) but that's obviously a tussle, so I'd like make that a last resort.  I'm not getting rid of the guitar (wanted one forever) so I need to solve this.

I play mostly rock and blues.   Thanks for your help.
 

es_1.jpg

Edited by Assault Bacon
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Apparently stainless steel strings can be used to brighten a guitar's sound but it always makes me wonder if they will cause excessive fret ware because stainless steel is a pretty tough togh material and I haven't tried it myself.

I find that Elixir Optiweb  are quite bright and somehow very "musical" particularly on my 335, I like them very much.   

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22 minutes ago, IanHenry said:

Apparently stainless steel strings can be used to brighten a guitar's sound but it always makes me wonder if they will cause excessive fret ware because stainless steel is a pretty tough togh material and I haven't tried it myself.

I find that Elixir Optiweb  are quite bright and somehow very "musical" particularly on my 335, I like them very much.   

I'm not fond of stainless strings for that very reason, but I'll try the Optiweb strings for certain.  Thank you!

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On 12/13/2019 at 5:26 PM, alphasports said:

FWIW I put Elixir Nano 9-42's on my ES137, ok not the same guitar, but I like the tone. It is a bit dark but I like it as it offsets my various PRS. When I crave Bright I switch on my MXR EQ pedal!


I hadn't considered an EQ pedal.  That may be my ticket right there - both the Mesa and MXR act as a gain boost to begin with.  Might be able to drop the DS-1, etc.  Thanks very much!

On 12/14/2019 at 12:40 AM, Larsongs said:

Have you adjusted Pole Screws on the Pickups? Your Treble Pole Screws may be too low or your Bass String Pole Screws may be too high. Or a little of both...

Gibson Brite Wire Strings might also help.

Good Luck!


I did adjust pole screws.  Thank you.  And I'll look into the strings.

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AB.. I have one exactly like yours, not sure of the year, I can check  but it's very close in age.  mine could be a 2000/2001  and yes, those are classic 57s.  I bought mine new. I'm the only owner.  The pickups are bit dark, I agree.  But if I had to guess on this one, that trapeze tail piece is the thing robs a lot of that guitars tone potential.    FWIW, I put a B7 on mine, and that axe literally came to life.  Seriously, it's a tone machine.  

 

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13 hours ago, kidblast said:

AB.. I have one exactly like yours, not sure of the year, I can check  but it's very close in age.  mine could be a 2000/2001  and yes, those are classic 57s.  I bought mine new. I'm the only owner.  The pickups are bit dark, I agree.  But if I had to guess on this one, that trapeze tail piece is the thing robs a lot of that guitars tone potential.    FWIW, I put a B7 on mine, and that axe literally came to life.  Seriously, it's a tone machine.  

 

B7 - is that a tailpiece of some sort?  

Nevermind.  I was able to find the Bigsby B7.   Thank you.

Edited by Assault Bacon
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On 12/18/2019 at 9:16 PM, gnappi said:

Forget hacking the 135, get a Gretsch, they're bright and already have a Bigsby... and I'll take those nasty 57's off your hands 🙂

 

 

hacking?  meh.. not so much..  It took me 20 minutes to install it.   And it was a game changer tonewise.  I do like the mid range gretch's though, and man, what I wouldn't do for a white falcon...

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My buddy loves Bigsby's and installs them on any electric he owns he can. I know he has one on his LP studio and his Epi 355 and I think his G & L Tele.

Edited by Sgt. Pepper
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Elixir strings might brighten it up a bit - they are pretty bright.  The '57 Classic pick-ups shouldn't be too bassy or mid-range and should have plenty of high end.  It is probably more the nature of the semi hollow body and the tone-woods.  I may be wrong, but I believe that model is made from the Maple/Poplar/Maple sandwich like a 335 has and they also have a distinctive tone that is not real bright to my ear.  If simple solutions like different strings, or an EQ pedal don't correct it then you're pretty much down to changing pickups.  The 490 and 498 have different magnets than the '57 Classic and are quite a bit hotter pickups that might get the tone your after.  Or just try some different amplifiers (although most Supros I've hears were plenty bright).

I guess what I'm saying is that the guitar that you chose and love so much, may never get as bright or trebly as you want it to be.  I mean it's never going to sound like a Telecaster.

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  • 5 weeks later...

So, here's what I did and it made a profound difference.  

First, I never wanted it to sound like a telecaster, but it was pretty muddy.  With the existing pickup rings (these were 3/8" at the neck and even deeper at the bridge, I could only get a certain amount of distance from the strings (adjusting pickup height) without having to raise the action.  I didn't want to do that.  I like the action where it is.

So, I bought pickup rings for a Les Paul (1/8" at the neck and 3/8" at the bridge,) installed them, and moved the pickups.  It made a great deal of difference.  The tone is brighter, more articulate, and even when I crank it up or use an overdrive, it doesn't get muddy anymore.  Current strings are 9-42 boomers - I prefer 10-46 and may switch to that later.  The 42 set was what I had at the workbench.

Edited by Assault Bacon
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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Like you have done, lowering the pickup and rising the screw poles does improve brightness. .. especially the lower E, A, and D strings.  In addition, I've also  replaced the A2 magnet with A5. That is if you  feel it needs more treble. 

Interestingly, on a stock ES-339 (also '57 Classic) the pickups sounded nice and clearly not dark at all.

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