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To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade: That’s the Question for Guitarists!

As a guitar player, you may have pondered whether upgrading your instrument with new parts like pickups, tuners, bridge parts, and more is worth it. In this blog post, I can help you determine whether upgrading your guitar is smart. There are some essential factors to remember before making a choice, and I can guide you through them.

My Experience with Upgrades

I’ve constantly tinkered with altering guitars, with good results for the most part. One specific example was when I owned a 1998 Made in Mexico (MIM) Fender Stratocaster in a lovely black finish. The neck on the guitar was fantastic, but the pickups were ice-picky to my ears. It was a solid guitar with some ugly, bulky tuners that made the guitar feel cheap.

I always had my eye on the EMG David Gilmour DG-20 Pickup replacement set, the one with the pickups already mounted in the pickguard. After some debate, I decided to go ahead and make the purchase, swapping out the Fender pickups with the loaded pickguard, which was a breeze.  

Blue Strat” by captain.orange is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

For those who need to become more familiar with these pickups, they are fantastic. That guitar instantly became my favorite daily player. The only thing is those ugly tuners bothered me, even though they were fully functional and held tune. In my mind, I couldn’t get over the fact that they were there, and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of replacing them, so I eventually sold the guitar, opting for an American Professional Stratocaster.

I spent approximately USD 225 to upgrade the DG-20 pickups on my guitar. Although I was able to recoup the cost when I sold it, I now realize I should have also upgraded the tuners and kept the guitar. I miss that black beauty and am contemplating upgrading another guitar with DG-20 pickups. These pickups offer excellent clarity, and they perform well with distortion. They are also quiet and articulate, making them a highly recommended choice.

I mentioned in another post about Hollow Boday Guitars that I upgraded an Alvarez AAT-33, going for Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups instead of the standard Duncan Designed ones that it came with. That was a $400 investment, but I have no plans to sell the guitar, it plays and looks fantastic, and the tone is to die for.

The point here is that if you spend money on an upgrade, consider your goals, why you are doing it, and how long you plan to own the guitar. In addition, if you sell the guitar after upgrading it, you will rarely get back what you put into it.

4 Factors You Should Consider

Upgrading a guitar can have many benefits, such as improving your instrument’s sound quality, playability, appearance, and reliability. However, upgrading a guitar can also have some drawbacks, such as costing money, time, and effort, voiding the warranty, or altering the original character of your guitar. 

The first factor to consider is the quality of your guitar. If you have a cheap or low-quality guitar, upgrading it might make little difference in your instrument’s overall performance or sound. It might be more cost-effective to save up for a better guitar than to spend money upgrading a poor one. For example, if you have a $100 guitar with poor craftsmanship and low-quality materials, spending $200 on new pickups might not improve its tone or sustain significantly. 

On the other hand, if you have a high-quality guitar that you love and want to keep for a long time, upgrading it might be an excellent way to enhance its features and customize it to your preferences. For example, if you have a $1000 guitar with superior craftsmanship and high-quality materials, spending $200 on new pickups might make it sound even better and suit your style more.

The second factor to consider is the purpose of your guitar. If you are a beginner or a hobbyist who plays guitar for fun or personal enjoyment, upgrading your guitar may not be worth the investment. You might be better off focusing on improving your skills and learning new songs than tweaking your gear. 

However, suppose you are a professional or an advanced player who performs or records with your guitar. In that case, upgrading your guitar is wise to achieve the best possible sound and feel for your music. For example, if you play guitar on stage or in the studio regularly, upgrading your guitar might help you stand out from the crowd and impress your audience or clients.

Strat Pickguard (Bottom)” by Tim Patterson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The third factor to consider is the type of upgrade that you want to do. Some upgrades are more straightforward and cheaper than others, and some have more impact and value. For example, changing the strings, the strap buttons, or the knobs on your guitar is relatively simple and inexpensive and can make a noticeable difference in the tone and comfort of your instrument. 

Minor improvements such as changing the strings can affect the brightness, warmth, and tension of your sound; changing the strap buttons can prevent your strap from slipping off; changing the knobs can give you more control over your volume and tone. However, changing the pickups, the tuners, or the bridge parts on your guitar is more complex and costly and can require professional installation and adjustment.

Moreover, some upgrades might suit your style and taste better than others. For instance, if you play metal or rock music, consider upgrading your pickups to ones with more output and distortion. But if you play jazz or blues music, consider upgrading your pickups to ones with more clarity and warmth.

The final factor to consider is your budget and expectations. Upgrading your guitar can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience if you have realistic goals and a reasonable budget. Research and compare different options before buying parts or hiring any services. You should also test and evaluate your upgrade results and see if they match your expectations. If you are happy with the outcome, then congratulations! You have successfully upgraded your guitar. But if you are not satisfied with the result, then don’t worry. You can always undo or change your upgrade later.


Upgrading your guitar can be a wise decision depending on several factors, such as the quality of your guitar, the purpose of your guitar, the type of upgrade you want to do, and your budget and expectations. It would be best to carefully weigh the pros and cons of upgrading your guitar before choosing one. Remember that upgrading your guitar is not mandatory or essential for playing music. Most importantly, you enjoy playing your guitar and express yourself through it. As many guitarists point out, the tone comes from the fingers, and you already have those at your disposal:)

Please share your experience with upgrading your guitar by leaving a comment below.

Bob Brozowski

I am the founder of dawtopia.com.  I love music and music gear/production. I've been playing guitar for quite a while and am still learning. I use several DAWs, too many to be honest. If I had to choose one, it would be Logic Pro; It just suits my style and workflow best.  I want to thank you for participating in the discussion.

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