If you're like me you still have your first electric guitar. However, also like me, you've probably progressed a good bit and have rewarded yourself with a much more expessive and higher quality ax. But that doesn't mean you have to abandon the instrument that you got your chops on. While it's true that you typically get what you pay for, some improvements to your first guitar can give it a new sound and years of enjoyment-along with a serious improvement to the quality of the guitar.
The following tips are intended to help you upgrade a low-cost electric guitars. Most entry-level guitar makers use cheap overseas labor. This cannot be corrected but the replacement of cheap parts and hardware can greatly improve the guitar.
Lots of companies fit guitars with cheap tuning machines-made of cheap pot metal and low gear ratios which can break easily and make tuning difficult.
Replacement tuners are made usually made of a tougher material like steel which do not break as easily. Look for tuning machines that have gear ratios of at LEAST 14:1. Such tuning machines are offered by Grover, Planet Waves, and other companies and cost around $50. Be sure to check for your local music shop to make sure that your guitar is properly fitted to the new tuners as one size does NOT fit all.
-----A Bridge Too Far-----
Low quality bridges can cause serious problems with intonation and sound distrobution. Depending on what style of bridge your guitar has will depend on what to replace with. Some times only certain parts need to be replaced such as the tailpiece. Many times however it's a good go ahead and replace the whole thing. Many high quality replacement bridges are offered by Floyd Rose, Bigsby, Fender, and others. An experienced guitar tech can advise you on what bridge is best for your ax. If you choose to replace your bridge with a more elaborate one such one from Floyd Rose, it's best to allow a professional to outfit the guitar to the bridge.
The nut transfers the energy to the strings to the neck and headstock, allowing for sustain and resonation to be picked up by the-well pickups. However if the nut is made of cheap, soft plastic it may much of the resonation may be muffled and absorbed resulting in a dull, dead sound. Replacement of this all important piece is very important to the quality of your guitar. Your local pro can advise on what nut to get. A wide selection of materials, such as bone or brass, is out there so be sure to experiment. However to job of installing is best left to a pro.
If you are still using factory stings.....you have my sympathies. Factory strings straight up suck! Most of the time they aren't even to proper gauge for the instrument. A fresh set of strings will do a world of good. Some brands to look into are Ernie Ball, GHS, DR, Fender, and RotoSound. Due to the wide variety of strings out there be sure to experiment with different brands to find the perfect set for you. Typically the lighter gauge the string is the greater the shredability but by no means should you buy any set that is not the proper gauge for your guitar. For ideas on what strings to pick research what your favorite guitarists use
-----Set 'Er Up-----
A good set-up adjustment can make a world of diference. Truss rod adjustments are the most common, but sometimes things like inconsistant fret, incorrectly placed frets, and other issues must be addressed before your baby is good to do.
-----Pick Up the Pieces-----
In the case of electrics the resonation of the strings is captured by the pickups and transmitted to the amp via audio cable or wireless connection where it is released as sound. Many entry level guitars have cheap, poorly wired pickups that result in crapy tone to say the least. a fresh set of pickups will create a wonderful tone for your ax. Before you go out and buy a pickup set, be sure that you know whether your guitar is fitted for single or dual coil (humbucking) pickups (if you don't know that stop reading this and forget you ever tried to paly guitar.) Since many sets from reputable companies such as EMG, Seymore Duncan, and DiMarzio are too expensive to experiment with, try to base your choice on the sounds you know that the pickups create, such what professionals like Kirk Hammet use.