Let's face it. Every guitarist reaches a point where he/she decides that he/she must have a new guitar, or just new pickups, or a new amp. Why? They're not satisfied with their tone. Which is the cheapest upgrade? Pickups. So, our soon-to-be guitar prodigy logs onto UG and shoots out the familiar "What Pickup Is Good For So-And-So Guitar And So-And-So Music?" thread. After collecting a decent amount of suggestions and sarcastic remarks from the oh-so-helpful UG regulars, they shoot of to seymourduncan. com or dimarzio. com to check prices and whatnot. After seeing the high prices, they get sad, and then they get somewhat frustrated with their financial situation.
I'm here to bring some good news to them. First off, if you need to ask what pickups you should get, then you probably can't tell the difference. Sorry, but that's probably the truth.
Actually, a pretty well-kept secret is that you don't need to rob a bank to achieve better tone. Here's a couple ways you can improve your tone for cheap.
The materials you need for this are pretty straightforward - aluminum foil (like the kind your mom uses for cooking) and some glue. I'm pretty sure all of us have that. If you want to get fancy, get your hands on some 3M spray adhesive to speed the process up. The idea is isolating the cavity(ies) of your guitar with the aluminum foil. If you need it simpler, you cover the inside of your cavity(ies) with aluminum foil, in a continuous circuit, so that it isolates the inside of the cavity from the outside. Upon completion, any excess noise should be reduced greatly. This will, in turn allow your tone to stand out more. You're on your way to improved tone!
Potting The Pickups
Here's another technique aimed at cutting down the noise level. In my opinion, this technique and the technique above are effective at cutting noise than, say, a noise gate. Additionally, both these techniques are considerably cheaper. To pot your pickups, basically dip them in some hot paraffin wax and let them dry. If you have those humbuckers with those metallic pickup covers, dip the pickups with the covers on. If the covers are plastic, then don't bother dipping the cover in along with the pickup.
Been saving up for gear so you're reluctant to throw down a couple of bucks for new strings? Wrong idea! Strings are very important to your tone. Find you the string gauge/brand that brings out your best tone and your best playing. All that aside, however, just having fresh strings as opposed to dead strings will greatly improve your tone - unless you're into that dead sound...
It's the small things. The material and the thickness of your pick will affect your tone. The good thing is, these little things cost very little. You can go to the store and buy every single type of pick you see and go home and try every single one and find one you like.
Believe it or not, those little knobs/sliders are actually pretty important to how you sound. In my opinion, they may be more important than any pedal or gadget you can get. Now, the best way to find your own favorite EQ setting(s) is to sit down, and start with the EQ settings set so they're flat. Now, adjust each EQ knob/slider seperately to get a feel for what they do. Then, start experimenting, and seeing how they affect each other. If you're still lost, here're a couple EQ settings to get you started:
Bass: 10 Mids: 4 Treb: 6
Bass: 3 Mids: 7 Treb: 10
Bass: 10 Mids: 7 Treb: 8
My personal favorite is the second one. Here's why it works for me - my bridge pickup is a SD HotRails. These pickups have a very high bass and midrange response, but not very much treble response, so I use the EQ on my amp to adjust for that. However, I've got normal single coils in the other three positions, so when I switch to them, I get a very cutting sound that accentuates everything I do.
No, actually, I'm pretty sure you don't need more. Mine's usually around 5 (out of 10) just so I can get the sustain and the screamy sound out of my guitar. You're looking for a little grit to enhance your sound, not cover it. In short, try turning it down.
Well, that's it. Good luck and have fun!