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I have this Epiphone Les Paul 100 that I got probably 7-8 years ago now and it's still got its stock pickups. I was thinking maybe it's time to upgrade and wanted to get a new guitar, but I was wondering if it would be more economical to just upgrade the pickups. I could even get the coil tap ones to have both single and double pickup sounds.

My main concern though is that the rest of the guitar would hinder the improvement in sound that the pickups would bring. E.g. maybe the body is too light so it won't resonate enough to matter; maybe the fretboard or neck shape is limiting my playing ability so I'll just sound like crap in high def.

Is the Epiphone Les Paul 100 sufficient enough to thrown new pickups in? It cost about $250 and the pickups would probably cost thereabouts, which I could see as being good or bad lol. Should I just get a whole new guitar?

EDIT: It's worth adding that one thing I don't like about my guitar is the poor sustain. High notes don't last a long time at all which makes playing the solo from Money sound really bad. I'm worried that I'm working harder than I need to in order to get a good sound from the guitar which requires more force and reduces speed. It could also be a perfectly fine setup and I just need more practice but I really can't tell...

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Richard Jan 15 at 16:44
  • What's "worth it" is your subjective choice, isn't it? The poorest guitar will sound even worse though a bad pick-up and any instrument will only ever sound its best through a good pick-up. Isn't the real Question how much a better guitar costs, against how much good pick-ups and all else, including amps, desks, and speakers? When does getting the best out of a poor guitar cost more than using a better guitar in the first place? – Robbie Goodwin Jan 15 at 21:08

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You've had the guitar for 7 or 8 yrs. That means either you just put up with it and its foibles, or it's basically not a bad guitar. As in it stays in tune, isn't too bad to play, isn't falling apart, and the fittings and fixtures all work fine.

This being the case, it's probably worthwhile bastardising it with other pups. That will maybe involve different pots too, especially if you want coil taps. So, if you know what you're doing, it's worth throwing some money at the project. I had a guitar I loved, but the pups weren't what I wanted. It got equipped with a P90, a Strat and a Tele pup, and was my mainstay for a good 40 yrs. But only because it played so well. And now worth half of what an original would fetch...

On the other hand, if it's only o.k. now, it's worth looking for a pre-loved (after all, that's what you have now) guitar, all set up like you want. That will probably double, at least, your budget. But may play better than the existing one. We can't actually recommend what to do, not knowing you or the guitar.

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  • I will say my favorite thing about my guitar is it's very light, which makes playing while standing up easier I imagine (although I don't know if the extra weight on a guitar would make it a lot more stable without having to ride the strap up so high...) – rcplusplus Jan 13 at 16:30
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    @rcplusplus One thing extra weight would do is change the tone and increase sustain. Note that new pickups won't change the sustain at all. – Todd Wilcox Jan 13 at 18:30
  • @ToddWilcox - love to know the ratio. Twice the weight - 20% more sustain? – Tim Jan 13 at 18:36
  • Mechanical impedance is linear with mass (technically apparent mass, but in the case of the weight of a guitar, apparent mass = actual mass). Energy transfer is related to the ratio of impedances at the transfer point, and I don't have a source for typical impedance ratios at an electric guitar bridge but the impedance will be different and differently affected at the nut by a change in weight. I'd estimate total effect of guitar mass on sustain might be on the order of 5% either way (excluding ridiculously impractical mass changes). But it's not nothing. – Todd Wilcox Jan 13 at 18:42
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    I used to use an Echo Audiofire 8 audio interface with "Hi-Z" inputs that were actually only 102 kOhms, 1/10th of the standard 1 MOhm, and it made guitars sound like rubbish when played straight into the interface. It ate the highs and I think even some of the sustain of a single coil guitar's sound. I solved the problem with a Countryman Type-85 DI box. Nowaydays people use a lot of computer amp simulators, so a bad audio interface can sometimes be the culprit for bad sound. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jan 13 at 23:35
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I've done this before: I put Fender Custom Shop vintage Strat pickups in literally the cheapest guitar that was in the store when I bought my first guitar (a Peavey Predator Strat clone).

It definitely improved the guitar's sound, and it definitely doesn't sound or play like a Fender Custom Shop Strat. For me, it was worth it because I bought the pickups used for a really good price on e-Bay and I did my own labor putting the pickups in. If I had to buy the pickups new and pay a tech to put them in, it wouldn't have been worth it.

So if you can do a pickup upgrade yourself and find some decent pickups at a low price, used perhaps, then it's a very cost effective way to upgrade a guitar. This is assuming there are things about the guitar other than the tone that you want to hold on to.

There are no pickups in the world that will make an Epiphone Les Paul sound exactly like a Gibson USA Les Paul Standard or Custom. That said, you might be able to get very close to or even a little better than a Gibson USA Les Paul Studio sound quality, which is pretty darn good. I think only you can decide whether the pickup upgrade money would be better saved to go to a whole new guitar. One way to aid in that decision is to go to a store and play some guitars that might be in your price range after a reasonable amount of saving and see if you really like a guitar that you could afford in 6 - 18 months or if none of them are exciting enough to exercise that much patience.

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  • "See [...] if none of them are exciting enough to exercise that much patience." That great advice, more generally! :-) – jpaugh Jan 14 at 23:37
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There are several good answers here already, but I'll add a couple more considerations no one else mentioned yet:

  1. Your question seems to imply that you're okay with the tones you're getting, but want more sustain. You mentioned wanting to get incredible sustain like what Gilmour has in Money (and other pieces of his too). Technique and the guitar certainly matter, but no one has mentioned you should try a compressor! Compressor effects will allow you to get far more sustain than ANY straight signal could, but this comes with some tradeoff of dynamics. So you'll have to experiment.

  2. Have you tried adjusting the height of your existing pickups yet? You might not be able to get much change, but before dumping them, check. The pickup mounts on most pickups, especially humbuckers like yours are easily height-adjustable with a screwdriver.

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  • Indeed. Still, it wouldn't sound good even if I played Gilmour's "Black Strat" with all the correct parameters, and Gilmour could probably make OP's guitar sing. – Eric Duminil Jan 15 at 11:00
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If it's a solid body guitar then its construction likely does not contribute to the sound, other than helping with sustain. I was raised on the idea that the body was just there for cosmetics. If the neck is good, it doesn't slip out of adjustment and cause buzzing or de-tuning of the instrument and if the other mechanisms are in good shape, e.g. bridge, tuning pegs, then it is worth it. You can make a long term project out of upgrading the ax with high end parts and after a few years you'll have a race car. In contrast, there are guitars that cost $5000 and don't play half as well as a $500 guitar.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Richard Jan 14 at 14:21
  • I agree r/w to the Fender and the springs, but how is an LP not a solid body? Are you considering the cavities for the pot and pups? It certainly is not like an L5 or 335 with an all hollow or semi hollow body. – user50691 Jan 14 at 15:21
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    @cmaster-reinstatemonica, we should probably continue in "chat". – user50691 Jan 14 at 15:22
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    Sorry, you are right, the LP is indeed a solid body. Nevertheless, even solid body guitars are not just strings on a mathematically rigid body, the material, its thickness and the bridge construction play a role. I have two different strats that even sound different when they are not plugged in, mostly because of the reverb added by the bridge springs in one of them. – cmaster - reinstate monica Jan 14 at 15:51
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    But doesn't that somehow contradict with "if it's a solid body guitar then its construction likely does not contribute to the sound, other than helping with sustain"? That's your first sentence, and the reason why I commented. – cmaster - reinstate monica Jan 14 at 20:59
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Depends on what you want from it. New pickups won't make a $100 guitar worth $1000, but if you like it and want to make it suit your purposes and abilities better, or want to expand your skills in guitar building and electronics, this is a great way to go forward.

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Pickups may not be the problem

There's an interesting thing with cheap electric guitars. They rarely sound as good as more expensive ones - and it's rarely anything at all to do with the bits that most obviously make the sound.

The single biggest contributor to tone is you. And with a cheap guitar that age, I'd bet every penny I have that the frets are worn down, the truss rod is letting the neck lift, the bridge probably isn't set right, and a host of other things which stop it being such a good instrument to play. Some of these things may never have been right in the first place.

The result is that it's harder to hold a note, and your sustain is always going to suck if the note isn't firmly fretted. Pressing down harder to get that, you're likely pulling the string sharp, so that doesn't help. A good setup and probably a refret is very likely the best way to make the guitar sound better. It'll certainly feel way better to play, and then I refer you back to where tone comes from.

For one extra possibility too, consider your strings. Ultra-light strings can be way easier to play, and let you do those lovely wide bends, but the trade-off always with lighter strings is depth of sound and sustain. It's quite simple really - the fatter the string, the more energy it has to get rid of. If you're currently playing 8s or 9s, or maybe even lighter, try moving up to 10s and see how it goes. But only if the frets are decent, of course, because you don't want other things making life harder for your left hand.

And also consider your plectrum, even. I long since standardized on Jim Dunlop purple (1.14) tortex plectrums - they've got a little give in them, but they're stiff enough that they give a good firm twang and not a flabby thwip kind of noise. I use the triangle ones, because apart from having three picking points in every plectrum for triple the life (value for money!) the much larger surface area means I can keep a really solid grip on the plectrum without needing much finger pressure. If you're using a lighter plectrum (maybe 0.7 or even thinner), you should consider trying something thicker before you look at other tone problems. And like I said, if you tend to drop it (because you're used to the plectrum bending instead of taking the pressure in your fingers) then consider a triangle, shark-fin or other wider shape to help.

And when you've tried all those things, then come back to us about the pickups!

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  • I actually use 10s and a 1.14 pick :D although my pick is a tortex, I kinda pinch my fingers on it, habit i've developed that gives me a bit more precision and I've heard it's not the worst one in the world though... I coulda sworn I'd gotten my guitar adjusted before but it was probably long enough ago that it went out of adjustment. I'll look online to see what all I can do while at home :) – rcplusplus Jan 14 at 1:49
  • @rcplusplus It sounds like most of this is preaching to the converted then. Nice to hear you've nailed the obvious stuff first, because that says you do actually know what you're doing, and it's always nice to meet another musician. :) I've met way too many players who want to solve their problems with a new guitar or new pickups or whatever. The new guitar usually sounds lovely when played by someone else, but they don't sound any better! – Graham Jan 14 at 8:45
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I was thinking maybe it's time to upgrade and wanted to get a new guitar

When it comes to solid guitars my personal belief is that the pickups and their placing make much more difference to the sound than the body. As mentioned below, I like to do a blind test.

Whichever way you go, take your old guitar with you to the guitar store.** Play it against other models, see if they lack sustain when on a similar setting. Better still, get one of the assistants to do this. I did it recently. I wanted to see if I could tell the difference between a Steinberger Spirit (hardly any body at all) and an equivalent-priced Squier Strat they had in the store that was similar to mine. The assistant was very happy to participate.

Note: I did it as a blind test with my back turned to avoid the psychological effects of seeing the guitar.

This was during lockdown and I had to make an appointment.

**I hope you are near enough to a store and not restricted by Covid from going to it.


Acoustic guitars have low sustain because they suck all the energy out of the string to project the sound outwards. Solid bodies don't absorb the vibrations so much. The energy stays in the string.

P.S. Real, long sustain comes from a combination of Compressor, Reverb and Echo (Delay) pedals. Experiment with the order. There are some good quality cheapish "Amazon" brand pedals now that allow you to try out a sound before spending a lot of money on a heavy-duty one. Alternately use something like Ableton Live to simulate pedals. (P.S. I don't have Ableton so I'm not certain what is included. I'm open to correction if I'm wrong)


P.S. I bought the Steinberger and it has a very good sustain on a clean sound!

Disclaimer: I have no connection with any products I mentioned. They were included for illustration purposes only. I intend no buying advice. Use own judgement

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  • I've always wanted to get into pedals but damn are they expensive lol. I have a boss GT 6 multi effects board and it's p good but not as good as the real thing (and the octave pedal is pretty atrocious lol). I have garageband but it sounds like crap compared to the pedal board. Maybe I should just start my pedal collection one at a time, I've always wanted a jekyll and hyde... – rcplusplus Jan 14 at 22:08
  • You have to faff around with the settings on a compressor to get a good sustain. You need the sort that raises low volume as well as just lowering high volume. (Actually you can do this anyway by increasing the gain with some other pedal (e.g. distortion) before the compressor). Then the initial loud sound is compressed down but the note is allowed through more and more when it starts to get quieter. I've got a Headrush Gigboard that allows me to simulate all this stuff. It's been sitting in its box for a year and I've only just started to get to grips with it because of lockdown! – chasly - supports Monica Jan 14 at 22:22
  • problem with using distortion though is if you play diads or triads or n-ads it'll start giving you harmonics and whatnot, a good clean compression and then distortion after it would be super ideal i feel – rcplusplus Jan 14 at 22:25
  • P.S. A quick search on Amazon just now for *compressor pedal guitar came up with this amazon.co.uk/Behringer-CS400-Compressor-Sustainer-Effects/dp/… I haven't tried it but it looks interesting and is reasonably priced. – chasly - supports Monica Jan 14 at 22:26
  • The right echo/delay can theoretically keep a note going forever with the right settings - the problem is that it may continue even after you've stopped fretting the note! This can be sorted if the pedal lets you set an input threshold that also controls the repeat. – chasly - supports Monica Jan 14 at 22:31
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Lots of great answers here, so I won't repeat the many good points they make, but just say that I myself have an Epiphone 7-string Les Paul -- since the price for the Gibson is so much higher and the performance improvement is very small, if any, as long as you get one of the GOOD Epiphones. I replaced the stock pickups with Fishman Fluence pickups since I like their tone for the style of music I play, -- mostly blues and jazz with some rock as well. Kent Armstrong once told me that it is almost always cheaper and usually better just to take the stock pickups out and send them to someone like him who will rewind them and test them to make sure that they give the proper output the player needs for his style of playing. [Pickups are, after all, mostly just wire wound around magnets.] He himself greatly improved the output and sound of my Strat bridge humbucker pickup, and many other talented folks around the nation can do the same. So my advice, fwiw, is to get anew guitar if something as basic as its sustain bothers you, because pickups won't solve that problem, or if you can't get it to play well for you no matter how much you fiddle with setting it up. On the other hand, if you basically like the guitar, even, say, when you play it with NO amplification whatsoever, but don't like its current amplified sound, then, first try to find someone who will upgrade the pickups, and if you can't find anyone then go onto Reverb or ebay or facebook market etc. and find some new pickups you think will sound better and by them at a large discount used! To buy replacement pickups retail is almost never sensible since in that case you are usual better off just buying a new guitar, which if you are like me you can also find at big discounts on the web.

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You can bet your last buck that putting nice pickups in what you may consider is a mediocre guitar, will absolutely up the retail price! No, seriously though... it will absolutely make the guitar better. Think of a guitar getting new pickups as being akin to a car getting a new engine ---- even if it's a lousy car, its got a BRAND NEW engine.

Hopefully that helps sort it out. It does not matter what the make and model is. It is what the owner does with it.

:)

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    The problem with your analogy is that engines are full of critical moving parts and most of its components significantly degrade with use. Guitar pickups have NO moving parts and should retain original working condition for decades or longer, as long as they aren't physically mistreated. – ybull Jan 14 at 14:52
  • @ybull The only problem with the analogy is that the replacement engine is described as "brand new". Getting higher grade pickups is like putting in a more refined, powerful engine. The engine being replaced could be brand new, and the refined, powerful one could have some miles on it. – Kaz Jan 15 at 17:18
  • @ybull I want to make the minor point that pickups do change with age due to the loss of magnetic field strength in some materials. This is not always regarded as a degradation; it's one reason that vintage pickups are sought-after. This is not the issue in an 8 year old Epiphone. :) – Kaz Jan 15 at 17:20
  • the analogy works fine, considering pickups absolutely have moving parts. they're known as magnets and coils. – Asmartíce Woodinasck Feb 11 at 15:03
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An Epiphone is not a bad guitar. "Epiphone" is more or less a word that means "Gibson, with lower-end pickups, costing less."

I don't know if he still has it, but in the early 1990's, Alpha Yaya Diallo played gigs with what I seem to remember was an Epiphone-branded stratocaster. He's a great musician and sounded fine.

If you get new pickups, consider replacing the volume pot(s) at the same time. You're going to be opening the guitar and soldering anyway. Volume pots wear out and get scratchy and flaky. They are usually just cheap carbon-wiper (certainly in an Epiphone) and can actually become microphonic, which can wreck tone. That is to say, the vibration of the guitar can shake the carbon-wiper contact which causes artifacts that leak into the signal.

Since the guitar isn't new, one cheaper option is to get second-hand pickups. Pickups are a commonly traded item. You could easily save a hundred dollars or more, while equipping that guitar with some good Seymour Duncans or DiMarzios or whatever.

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  • Epiphones made in recent decades are more like "Gibson-shaped object made cheaply to quality standard that justifies the price of USA-made Gibsons". By the way, the Beatles played Epiphones too. At the time it was a serious competitor to Gibson who later bought them out and turned it into their budget brand. – ojs Jan 15 at 21:33
  • @ojs Likewise, we can say that Gibsons made in recent decades are "Gibson-shaped objects", right? – Kaz Jan 16 at 6:04

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