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MediaMan

Upgrade the pickups vs Upgrade the amp

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Not sure I will be explaining this correctly but I will give it a try

 

Like most home studio setups, I have a few 'connectivity' options ie

 

- guitar to amp ( an entry level practice roland cube amp). Clearly the amp could/should be upgraded one day

- guitar to effects processor/pedal (simulating amps) to full range stereo amp/speakers

- guitar to effects processor/pedal (simulating amps) to powered speakers (powered monitors) - (future)

- guitar to effects processpr/pedal (simulating amps) to clean setting on practice amp (in lieu of not having the powered speaker yet)

 

To date, I have NOT upgraded the amp, as I am simply playing at home, and have dozens of amp settings (albiet simulated) via the effects processors.

 

But now I face the "upgrade the pickups" vs "upgarde the amp" question...

 

There are a few threads in this forum here advising that while there is nothing wrong in changing Epi pickups for Gibson 57's (or other pickups), one needs to recoginize that the amp itself is a major factor in tone, and thus its best to first get a good amp, and later tweak the tone with better pickups ( vs the reverse, ie play on great pickups thru a crappy amp).

 

So, I am in the that scneraio now - wanting (I think) to upgrade Epi pickups on the Sheraton, and yet have an entry level practice amp.

 

Most would say thats nuts - get a real amp first before even thinking of changing pickups...but if my normal set up is say an effects pedal plus powered speakers(monitors), is it still wrong to upgrade the pickups??

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Depends on what you're trying to do, I guess. Rather than spend the money on powered speakers, why not go for a better amp that would make future gigging a little easier? I would venture to say that most of those ready this would tell you that a reasonably good amp should be you next investment. It will make a bigger impact on your overall tone than pickups will. I'm guessing that like a lot of us, money is a factor and you can't afford both at this time. Obviously upgrading pickups would cost less (I hope) than a better amp. If you can only afford the amount for the pickups right now, I would hang on to the money and save a little more for an amp that will work for you for the next few years. Do you have any amps in mind? What type of sound are you looking for?

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I changed the pickups in my G400, they sounded pretty good at lower volumes but as soon as i kranked up the gain and volume they started to squeel. A pick-up upgrade need not be expensive, and there are some great bargains to be had. So Instead of buying a set of top of the range (gibson ones for example) at $160 each many little known company's are making excellent pick-ups for quarter the price.

 

If i was in your position i would upgrade the pick-ups on a budget and keep enough left over for an amp upgrade....do both [thumbup]

 

If however, you are on a tight budget but want top quality gear then......what comes first chicken or the egg....amp or the pick-up.

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It depends whether you aspire to playing "live" gigs in the forseeable future. If home recording is your thing, I wouldn't spend a lot of money on a high quality tube amp that will never be used above number 2 on the volume control.

The amp you currently have is not a bad one for your current purposes. Unless you are planning to gig, I'd stick with the amp and get better pickups.

The other posters' comment about better pups squealing is almost certainly a case of microphonic feedback. Pups which have not been wax-potted can be prone to that at high gain/high vol settings; the poster probably picked the wrong pups for those sounds. Potting them would fix it though.

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Unless you're planning on doing gigs at some point or you've got a great space for doing your recording (soundproof room with great acoustics) I wouldn't bother with the amp. I think that some of the amp-sim boxes (Pod - Behringer etc) get close enough to the sound of a real amp without the hassle of mic-ing up. Some of the plug-ins (if you're recording on a PC/Mac) are even better plus you get to change settings or swap-out the amp even after you've recorded it if it doesn't sound right at the mixing stage.

I presume by "powered speakers" you mean powered monitiors and that's the route I'd take. The great thing about an amp-sim/plug-in and powered monitors is that what you hear is what you get, plus having the clarity of decent monitors helps you improve the whole recording. I dumped using an amp for recording years ago and I get guitar parts recorded much faster now. If you don't like the sound of your guitar I guess new PUP's would make a difference.

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I'm considering about the same options as you are, MediaMan, and for my situation, I decided to get a new FX processor (I have a Zoom G2Nu currently). What is the processor that you have? If it's descent enough, and you're not planning to gig in the nearest future, swap the pups. If you ARE planning to gig, get the amp.

But if your processor is a lower-end like mine, get an expensive and a good one. Just do not forget to make sure it has amp sims [wink]

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Great discussion guys, really appreciate the input here

 

For additional context:

 

  • I don’t gig – home use only with some buds over now and then
  • gradually exploring the home recording world
  • effects processor is also entry level – Digitech RP-155
  • have everything connected via a Tascam M-164 mixer
  • Guitars are Godin Freeway Classic, Epi 335 Dot (stock pickups), Epi Sheraton (on the way)
  • no powered monitors yet (to date the amp is used as a proxy for power monitors), as the effects pedal gives me any sound I want for now).
  • tastes are mainly clean, smooth jazz, and blues ( nothing in the realm of metal, hard rock etc)
  • money as always is an object, but over time, I manage to squeeze in a few items here and there with no objections from the wife (the life is short argument goes a long way!)
  • I have a second roland micro cube practice amp as well ( good for going up to the friends cottage)

 

So the burning question for me was, for a given amp (be it entry level or awesome), I want the Epi Sheraton and Dots to have distinctive sounds – and it was the Sheraton I was toying with upgrading the pickups on. This alone I thought (and still think) is a good reason to consider the pickup upgrade.

 

True, with my current amp, that difference may be subtle, with a better amp more noticeable --- but I hadn’t really thought of upgrading the amp….as I don’t really use the amp as an amp….rather I instead use an effects processor and an run it thru the amp clean ( ie using the amp as a poor-mans powered monitor). With that in mind, I struggle with the need to upgrade the amp ahead of upgrading the pickups.

 

I find myself asking do I even need a conventional amp if I have an effects processor, mixer and powered monitors? Perhaps that the crux of the question,and I the anwer seems to be :

 

- NO if you are NOT planning to gig – get good pickups and good effects processors, monitors etc.

- YES if you ARE planning to gig. – get a good amp first, ahread of better pickups

 

I am therefore concluding that perhaps it’s a reasonable strategy, for me, to:

 


  1.  
  2. upgrade the Sheraton pickups ( to higher quality than stock, and to distinguish it frim stock pups in Dot) . Upgrade other electronic on the Sheraton at that time as well. The unit is on hold at the dealer, I figured heck, avoid the hassle and just get it done now. I wouldn’t bother doing this with budget pickups (as thats kinda what in there now),so it would definitely be the Gibson 57 variety, If I wanted to know what stock Epi pickups sounds like, just plug in the Dot.
  3. upgrade :”the equivalent of” the amp ( ie get powered monitors and if needed a better effects processor
  4. don’t upgrade of an amp (at leat not until gigging/live performance becomes something I would consider.

 

Make sense?.. or am I still missing the mark??

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I don't know jack about effects processors and the like, but I do have something for you to consider regarding your desire to differentiate the Sheraton and the Dot, and that is P90 pickups in one of them. That would be a real and distinctly noticeable change, whereas different humbuckers will probably yield a much smaller, more subtle difference (and maybe not enough "improvement" to justify the cost and effort). I have GFS Mean 90s in my Dot - they are VERY different from the stock humbuckers, and to my ears they sound excellent.

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What are you actually recording onto? A hardware recorder or your PC/Mac?

 

PC/MAC. Just playing around with Garage Band, Cubase LE etc. All instuments/inputs are into the mixer ( eg guitars, loopper, keybaords, mic, media library, etc) , then 16 channels out from mixer into the DAW.

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I don't know jack about effects processors and the like, but I do have something for you to consider regarding your desire to differentiate the Sheraton and the Dot, and that is P90 pickups in one of them. That would be a real and distinctly noticeable change, whereas different humbuckers will probably yield a much smaller, more subtle difference (and maybe not enough "improvement" to justify the cost and effort). I have GFS Mean 90s in my Dot - they are VERY different from the stock humbuckers, and to my ears they sound excellent.

 

That's a very fair and valid point. To date, I have shied away from P90s due to the hum factor. Have not looked into this for a while in terms of hum-cancelling P90's.

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PC/MAC. Just playing around with Garage Band, Cubase LE etc. All instuments/inputs are into the mixer ( eg guitars, loopper, keybaords, mic, media library, etc) , then 16 channels out from mixer into the DAW.

You should take a look at the FREE Native Instruments players on this site > http://www.native-instruments.com/#/en/products/producer/komplete-7-players/ You get Guitar Rig player with a quite useful Marshall amp sim and if you fancy any of their other sims you can buy them as well. The free player will handle any of their own brand amp-sims. You can pick up some other useful stuff for free as well such as Kontakt, Kore 2 and Reaktor if you're into MIDI and stuff.

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It depends whether you aspire to playing "live" gigs in the forseeable future. If home recording is your thing, I wouldn't spend a lot of money on a high quality tube amp that will never be used above number 2 on the volume control.

The amp you currently have is not a bad one for your current purposes. Unless you are planning to gig, I'd stick with the amp and get better pickups.

The other posters' comment about better pups squealing is almost certainly a case of microphonic feedback. Pups which have not been wax-potted can be prone to that at high gain/high vol settings; the poster probably picked the wrong pups for those sounds. Potting them would fix it though.

 

 

I didn't explain properly . Sorry . the stock pickups sounded good until i tried them at higher volume and gain, and and started to squeel. I replaced the stock pickups with a set of relatively cheep ones that were an excellent upgrade for a quarter of the price of a premium quality big brand pick up. the new ones did not squeel.

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Ya know, I continue to read so many conflicting assessments on the perceived improvements in upgrading the Sheraton stock pickups, namely:

 

-no need, stocks pickups are fine

-noticable improvement ( but no more than a amp or effects pedal would produce, hence not worthwhile)

-day and night difference, totally opened up the tone.

 

I suspect all these various opinions are valid depending on the era of Sheraton at hand, the type of pickup being replaced, and the skill/experiece of the listener.

 

It makes it difficult to make informed decisions with so much variance. I was almost hoping stock pickups were absolute crap ( and hence a no-brainner to replace) but its not so simple. Neither is it so simple to A/B two sets of pickups at home ( ie intall them, try them out and return them)

 

I am wondering if its more prudent to keep things simple - purchase the Sheraton with its stock pickups, get to know the stock sound, experiment with various amp/effects settings. As well this would allow me to confirm if indeed the stock Sheraton pickups are the same as the stock Dot pickups. Then better informed, I can go for a suitable upgrade package. Not such a bad idea as the pricey pickups could easily exceed $300 installed. In the interim, I can still pursue other upgrades (effects processors, monitors, software, etc).

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You may find the stock pickups satisfactory, so at least give them a whirl before you decide. If you do decide you are unhappy or dissatisfied with the sound, I would go pickups before amp. You can dial in a lot of different tone with your amp to acommodate for tone changes, but if the sound you are getting from the guitar is crap, the amp can only do so much to tweak it. A high-end tone rolloff on the guitar doesn't usually offer enough tweaking. Just my 2 cents, but then again, I change pickups in all my guitars, it's kind of a sickness...

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I really, no, REALLY suggest thinking about upgrading the processor. You would be lucky if it's not the case for you, but I know that my Zoom eats up the tone of my Epi - I just compare the sound I get pluggin in the git without the processor and through it in the bypass mode. Go to a shop with your git and processor and compare yours with, say, Boss GT-10 or LINE6 POD HD300 (both have amp sims and I suppose are usable as external sound interfaces).

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I really, no, REALLY suggest thinking about upgrading the processor. You would be lucky if it's not the case for you, but I know that my Zoom eats up the tone of my Epi - I just compare the sound I get pluggin in the git without the processor and through it in the bypass mode. Go to a shop with your git and processor and compare yours with, say, Boss GT-10 or LINE6 POD HD300 (both have amp sims and I suppose are usable as external sound interfaces).

 

What type of upgraded processor were you considering?

 

Not sure if thw Rp-155 i have as "truw by-pass" or not, but when I switch from a say clean/reverb effect to bypass mode, the sound is what I expect to hear , ie subtle.

 

Next upgrade (other than pickups amps etc) is likely to get a set of powered monitors.

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What type of upgraded processor were you considering?

 

Not sure if thw Rp-155 i have as "truw by-pass" or not, but when I switch from a say clean/reverb effect to bypass mode, the sound is what I expect to hear , ie subtle.

 

Next upgrade (other than pickups amps etc) is likely to get a set of powered monitors.

 

I was considering mostly the two I mentioned, as I can get them from Thomann. I'm from Europe, so I'm pretty much limited in choice to a couple of online shops (Thomann being the best choice for me). The prices in my area are really unreasonable, being same or even higher in LVL than in EUR (1 EUR = 0,7 LVL).

 

As I want to see a really significant improvement, I want to get a higher-end processor straight away, not wasting money for something in between. I'm not totally unhappy with the Zoom, it's good for the price I paid (except the overdrive sounds - they just do not sound good when I try to get a bluesy sound)), but I just feel that my Epi produces a better, MUCH better and richer sound than the Zoom can handle (honestly speaking, I wasn't expecting that, as considered them to be matching in terms of their level - purchase of both was a joker in the pack, as locally I couldn't find nor my Epi, nor the processor to try them out).

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Unless you're planning on doing gigs at some point or you've got a great space for doing your recording (soundproof room with great acoustics) I wouldn't bother with the amp. I think that some of the amp-sim boxes (Pod - Behringer etc) get close enough to the sound of a real amp without the hassle of mic-ing up. Some of the plug-ins (if you're recording on a PC/Mac) are even better plus you get to change settings or swap-out the amp even after you've recorded it if it doesn't sound right at the mixing stage.

 

Ok good, So I am comfortable with holding off the upgrading the stock pickups for now,, that door is always open. And as for power monitors, I again can hold off ( there is always headphones), or go for somomething like the KRK Rokit 6.

 

But it still leaves me wanting to upgrade the overall “amplified sound” gotta play thru 'something' . Currently I am only using a rolnad cube practice amp,

 

I’ve can go two routse here and looking for speaker product suggetions.

Option 1
- SIMULATED AMP ROUTE : If I stick with the school of effects processor / amp modeler etc, what I have is this:

guitar > interface (currently an effects processor which I can upgrde later) > mixer > some sort of powered PA speaker system.

My question here is what are some good speaker products to look at? I am currently using the Roland Cube 20x. I wanna do better. It’s a small 15 x 20 room so I don’t need a whole lof of power, Was thinking of this tyoe of products, but I may be way off the mark:

 

 

Are these the type of products I should be looking at?
I guess there is also powered amps + guitar cabs, but I am likely getting way out of my price comfort zone

.

 

[

Option 2
– CONVENTIONAL TUBE AMP] : If I drop the effect processor concept, I would clearly need a amp, and there are a thousand to choose from. My setup would be

guitar > interface > mixer > conventional tube amp

This would give me the loud rig sound I want, but its kind of an odd choice as I don’t gig or play live on stage – but still, its one way achieve the loud rig sound I am looking for.

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If you go the amp route, how loud are you talking about (there is such a thing as too much) and do you have a tone preference? Basically, there are two popular power tube types, EL84/6BQ5 and 6V6/6L6 (there are others, but let's keep it simple) Peavey, Fender, Vox and Epiphone do some nice affordable amps in the first group, just about everybody else does something in the 6*6 group. IMHO, 30 tube watts will get plenty loud enough. I use an old-school Vox ToneLab as an effects/pre-amp, then either a Vox AC-4 clone (EL84) or Fender DeLuxe (6V6) clone as my power source. Both have a line out to add more options (direct into PA, recorder, mixing board, etc). Both are loud enough for group practices and small venues.

 

I'm done with 30+ watt amps. For me, anything bigger is too loud, too heavy, too hard to get to get that sweet tone spot at home. I like something that works for bedroom level playing, recording, practicing. If I need more than 25 or 30 watts, I'll mike or DI the amp. There are dozens of good amps, new and used, that can do the job for under $500. If you go this route, be sure to set aside a little money for some good tubes. The stock tubes in most amps are cheap junk. I can tell you that $75-100 worth of good tubes in a Peavey Classic20/30, Epi Jr or Vox AC4, for example, will make a huge difference. Personally, I like the EL84 sound. But only with good tubes. I've spent 5 years buying, trying and selling amps (at least 12) in this genre and there are plenty out there. You might even consider a rack mount tube power amp with your preamp/amp simulator (Peavey makes some great ones) and then get a nice 1/4 or 1/2 stack speaker cab. Don't know if this helps or even answers your questions.

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I'm in the same mode right now. I too am setting up my home studio. Recording onto my PC.

I have a passive mixer with USB out. Not the best interface. I am looking at an M-Audio, or something like it. I have a good set of powered EV 12 inch monitors, and a few mics and so on. I also have one decent small amp, and a very good larger one. That is my setup for recording.

 

If it was me I would buy the Sheraton. Play it for a while to get a feel for the sound.

If you are planning to purchase a set of decent monitors, powered or not, then that would be my next step. PA monitors are built to play very neutrally, not coloring the sound much at all.

You will get a much better picture of your sound through them, with and without your effects machine.

At that point if you are still unsatisfied with the guitar, you could do a pickup swap.

 

As far as your amp goes, that is the quickest way to get the most change in your guitar tone. But as you are not playing live that might be a waste of money at this point, and can be one of your later projects.

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Don't know if this helps or even answers your questions.

It most definitely did help. I had known that solid state amps were no match for tube amps, but had never really looked into tube amps before. Very infomrative summary - aprreciate it, as well as tip to stock up on those tubes.. Also now learning to appreciate the popularity of the Vox AC-4TV.

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MM. I was so close to buying a Vox AC-4TV, I was in the store with cash in my wallet. Not sure why I didn't, almost every review lauded it's features and sound. But I had seen a custom built AC-4 clone on eBay that used an EF86 for the preamp (like the original) rather than the 12AX7 currently used. The EF86 is a little warmer and really good ones are cheaper than really good AX7s. Both had line out, half power switches and multi ohm speaker outs. Same price. Great little bedroom/studio amps. The upside to the new Vox version is the warranty. I got the clone. For me, the Vox be on the short list with a Peavey Classic20 or 30. The only downside to the AC-4 (or Epi Jr) is they have trouble keeping up with an agressive drummer.

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I'm in the same mode right now. I too am setting up my home studio. Recording onto my PC.

I have a passive mixer with USB out. Not the best interface. I am looking at an M-Audio, or something like it. I have a good set of powered EV 12 inch monitors, and a few mics and so on. I also have one decent small amp, and a very good larger one. That is my setup for recording.

 

 

I have a similar setup. I have the little M-Audio Fast Track USB and it's pretty good for the price. I have a "stripped down" version of Pro-Tools with 16 tracks and it's more than enough for my needs. I have some powered monitors that hook up to M-Audio and a Digitech 155 effects unit. I have several amps, but honestly I never use them to record. I can get great sounds with the processor and the interface. Anyway, if you don't want to shell out a lot of money, I would recommend an M-Audio interface. The only thing I don't like about mine is that it doesn't have phantom power for condenser mics, but they have many that do.

 

Sorry to get off topic of the original post, but I had to throw in my 2 cents about that.

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If it was me I would buy the Sheraton. Play it for a while to get a feel for the sound.

If you are planning to purchase a set of decent monitors, powered or not, then that would be my next step. PA monitors are built to play very neutrally, not coloring the sound much at all.

You will get a much better picture of your sound through them, with and without your effects machine.

At that point if you are still unsatisfied with the guitar, you could do a pickup swap.

Exactly the plan. Confirmed my order yesterday, picking it up on Saturday and will decide on pikcups much later.

 

As far as your amp goes, that is the quickest way to get the most change in your guitar tone. But as you are not playing live that might be a waste of money at this point, and can be one of your later projects.

While its true I dont play live (other in my studio), an inexpensive tube amp, if it gives me biggest bang for buck, might be an interesting solution, ie replace the Roland with the VOX ( I am assuming it would provide a marked improvement in tone). At $250 CDN, its certainly something to consider.

 

Another option is the KRK Rokits as reference powered monitors.. for use with an effects processors. Cost is $458/pair CDN. I haven't quite figured out the Yorkville Wedge at $560, but I think it the same type of powered reference monitor.

 

Perhaps what I am after is not so much a choice but a combination...ie VOX AC4-TV for improved amplified sound re live studio practicing...plus the KRKs for reference monitors when recording....but to keep costs down, the VOX option alone is looking attractive ( and perhaps I sell the Roland Cube).

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