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TL:DR version: cheap guitar needs work. Fix it or replace it?

Hi - After many years of wishing I could just magically be able to do it, I've finally decided it's time to learn to play guitar. Around 18 months ago someone bought me an electric strat-style guitar so this week I hit youtube fairly intensively and got the truss rod adjusted, the action set, the pickup heights set, etc etc. After all that (and bear in mind I can play at most 5 chords, 6 if you gimme a minute to get the F) it sounds.... ok'ish.

It's really rather noisy (not the good noise, the bad noise) with the volume / gain turned up, and awfully 'twangy' sounding. Furthermore I've found that I have a couple of high spots on some higher frets (same note across multiple frets), and one of the bridge pickup height adjustment screws doesn't - half the pickup appears to be floating. To be fair a bit of research indicates that it's a £70 guitar - I'm not fussed about price but thats just to indicate the components probably arn't top notch. Don't misunderstand - it actually doesn't sound half bad if I get the knobs in the right place but I'd like to know that as I learn I can make it sound good, rather than be hampered by equipment from the get go. I'm sticking it through a Vox Amplug2 AC30 or my PC running Guitar Rig 5 (it came with an amp - that just appears to be a box that only makes a 'brrrrrpppppppt' noise).

So, the question. I need to spend some money but I'm not willing to splurge. Should I level the frets, put some decent (budget) pickups in (Ironstone? Wilkinson?), add some shielding, maybe change the pots and caps, or should I just go get a new guitar? The latter option would ideally be something like the Epiphone Les Paul Special II - only £140 but with excellent reviews and apparently a great starter. If I can make my cheapy-strat into something I'll enjoy playing I'll do the work (assuming I don't arse it up) but I don't want to buy pickups, a crowning file, pots etc only to find it still sounds like crap no matter how much I improve. However, I don't want to blow more money than necessary on something that I may well give up on in 2 months.

Sorry this is a bit long but I really would value the opinion of folks who actually know what they are talking about!

Thanks!

Edit: I'm not trying to get to professional level equipment - I just want a beginner plank that doesn't handicap be by being partially broken. I'm really looking to know if the improvements I've listed will a). do the job, and b). are doable for someone with no real experience.

marked as duplicate by Doktor Mayhem Apr 26 '16 at 9:20

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  • Do you have any sentimental connection with this axe?. I still have the first axe I bought and have upgraded it a few times even though it probably would have been cheaper just to buy something new. – Neil Meyer Apr 22 '16 at 13:21
  • No real sentimentality. Can't get enough of a tune out of it currently to get all misty eyed! – MyHatIsBread Apr 22 '16 at 13:43
  • Are you insterested in learning more about modifying, making, or fixing guitars? If yes, then you might keep it as something to do some learning on. If you don't want to DIY, then replacing it will keep your sanity intact better and for longer. – Todd Wilcox Apr 22 '16 at 13:51
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    The edit to your question makes it opinion based and therefore outside the guidelines for questions on this site. Which guitar is best for you is very subjective and I would encourage you to play several to see which one you like best overall. I would also encourage you to edit the question again and remove the question about specific equipment recommendations. Good luck. – Rockin Cowboy Apr 22 '16 at 13:55
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You might find that the faulty spots on the high frets don't impede your practice very much. After all, there are plenty of notes that work, which you can use to practice most pieces of music. :)
Since you set up the truss rod, you probably checked the intonation.

One major difference between Strat and Tele on the one hand, and Les Paul on the other is the scale. Les Paul has a shorter scale than Strat and Tele. Because of the difference in scale, the string widths and/or tensions are also different. They play differently and sound differently.

About the twang, my suggestion is to first try and see if you can cheaply get your current setup to a decent level that will allow you to practice effectively.
As @Andy suggested, plug your guitar into a setup that works. If you don't know a player that has such a setup, another way would be to take your guitar to your local music store, pick up a guitar from the store that works well (for example a regular Fender American Strat for a thousand dollars), plug it into a couple of amps for 100 or 150 dollars, and find the amps that work ok. Then, into the same amp and the same cable, plug your guitar.
If it sounds decent, then your guitar is not responsible for the twang. If it does not, then:
- There might be a ground connection problem in your guitar. This is fixable with a bit of soldering. (Some people solder, I don't.)
- If your guitar has some exotic brand name that no one has heard of, it might have an unusual impedance. In this case it will not work well with regular guitar amps (which have "Hi-Z" inputs for regular electric guitars). But it might work well if you directly plug it into a "line" input in a mixer (as opposed to a Hi-Z input - many mixers have both), a line input in an active speaker like those used for keyboards, or a guitar amp for electroacoustic guitars. (However, in this case, most electric guitar effects pedals, which have Hi-Z inputs, might not work properly well your guitar. Do you plan on using effects pedals?)

If you find that your guitar works well with some Hi-Z setups OR Line setups (only in the case you don't need effects pedals), then you can use your guitar for practice.

Selecting what amp / mixer / computer interface to buy (how do you currently connect your guitar to your computer?) / how expensive / fixing your current setup / just buying a new cable, is a different issue. You can still buy something wrong.

There is nothing wrong about playing a cheap neck and body and a cheap pickup, as long as the quality is sufficient, the intonation is ok, your overall setup works fine etc. Buying expensive pickups for a cheap guitar is a bit of a gamble though, in my opinion, because you might find afterwards that what you actually wanted was better neck and body. And even if you "recycle" your new pickups later when you buy a new guitar, expensive guitars already come with expensive pickups, so you would have two pairs.

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However, I don't want to blow more money than necessary on something that I may well give up on in 2 months.

Hmmm. Sounds like my first electric guitar apart from the high frets. (An Epiphone Strat copy from the 1980s, funnily enough. Weedy single coil pickups and a trebly bridge humbucker.)

I'd suggest:

  • fix the pickup height with blutak or tape. (The uglier it looks the better.)
  • if the high frets are near the top of the neck (above say the 15th fret?) see if raising the action a bit fixes it. (You don't need a super-low action... in my amateur opinion.)
  • You've only been practicing seriously for a week? I'd say stick with it for at least a month of regular practice before you commit to buying the new guitar.

Possibly try tapping the high frets down with a hammer, it might just work if you're lucky. (You must have a block of wood between!)

Final point: if you do decide your existing guitar is that cr*p, keep it cheap without upgrades as a "second guitar". Then at the end of your first public gig, destroy it thoroughly and comprehensively. I can guarantee the people there will turn up for your second!

Edit: oh and bear in mind the current amplification arrangements may be a major cause of the sound problems. If you happen to know a player with a decent amp with a nice big speaker, you might find it sounds better... then you'll know something else useful.

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You can end up spending a great deal of money upgrading the components of your entry level guitar. Fret work is expensive, the tuning gears may not be the best quality, the pickups may not be first class and more. But no matter how much you spend, it will still have a neck that might not be perfectly straight (could be twisted or bowed), and the finish may not be the highest quality. And just because you spend a ton of money upgrading the parts, the value of the guitar will not go up nearly as much as what you spend!

So I would either keep your current guitar as a backup/practice guitar and spend the money on a new guitar that is already set up to play optimally and sounds the way you want it to.

Learning to play guitar can be challenging and frustrating. Having a guitar that you enjoy playing because it feels comfortable to play and sounds good to your ears will make a huge difference in terms of providing encouragement in the face of the pain and frustration. It sounds like you are not happy with your current guitar and I don't know if new components will change that as much as a new guitar.

Once you get a new guitar, you can sell your current guitar or keep it as a practice guitar - or just hang it on the wall in your music room for decoration. I like having a beater guitar that I can use for practicing mundane drills such as scales - or when I'm simply trying to master a particular lick. That way I'm not always wearing down the frets on my better guitar.

As you shop for a new guitar, be sure to try out several different models to see which one feels and sounds best to you. What you like may be completely different than what I like. Every guitarist has a different opinion on what feels best to them in terms of the neck, type frets, nut width, location of controls etc. Every guitarist has a different opinion on what sounds best to them depending on their playing style and the type of music they play. Every guitarist has a different opinion on what looks best to them. Be sure you find a guitar you are happy with in terms of feel, playability, visual appeal, and sound.

Good luck with your new purchase and have fun on your journey towards becoming an expert guitarist ;-)!

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A lot of guitarists fall into either the Strat. camp or the Les Paul camp. It's interesting that you have a Strat type of guitar already, but would prefer to maybe get a new Les Paul type. The two are very different in many ways, which is why some prefer one over the other - none is superior, just different. So my reasoning is that if you really liked the style and playability of the original 'Strat', why would you want to replace it with a Les Paul?

As Rockin says, go ahead and purchase the new instrument, at least then you can get on with learning to play. After a while, dust off the original, and fettle it, armed then with more knowledge of what you actually want from a guitar. Or, just hang it on the wall - they look good there, even if they don't play well!

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