#1
So I'm planning on changing my "Fender 57 Reissue Maple Neck Stratocaster Made In Japan Since 1993"'s original pickup to "Lindy Fralin's Blues Special" pickup. And I'm not sure even if let's say I'm playing on a Marshall tube amp, is the sound difference/improvement going to be huge/obvious or not by swapping the pickup? I mean, for an experienced player who have been playing for a long time it might easily sound very different and much better to them. But for a beginner or the audience in general, is swapping the pickup going to sound so different that they're going to notice the sound difference/improvement if they heard the before and after? If the audience just wants to enjoy music and majority of them probably doesn't know much about guitar and doesn't pay so much attention on the sound quality or overall it just sounds the same to them. Then what's the point of swapping the pickup? Yea maybe it matters if you're an experienced player and looking for getting the exact perfect tone? But for an almost intermediate player like me, perhaps it's better to save the money and invest on an effect pedal / multi-effect first if I don't have one yet? And think about swapping pickup when I'm better and start to seek for a particular / better tone in the future? Also, I use a Roland Micro Cube amp for practice and I don't see why I need to invest on a tube amp if I'm just practicing on my own in a dorm of university where usually I can't play at loud volume and not doing any record at the moment? Also, they already got great tube amps on stage or band practice room. Besides, isn't it hard to carry a huge tube amp around.

Furthermore, I often hear people say "I would recommend a better amp before you invest much in pickups." or "A good amp can make a bad guitar sound good. But a good guitar cannot make a bad amp sound good." With that said, if a guitarist is seeking for a better or different tone. What would you invest first for the most obvious improvement or change in sound? Pickup / Amp / Perhaps Multi-Effect which would give you many types of tone to choose from? In my case, maybe investing on an effect pedal / multi-effect first would be the best way to go for now?

My apologize for the long thread...
#2
Amp is always the first port of call, unless it's already pretty good.
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#3
I'm entirely in agreement about the possible improvement a pickup can do, the only situation were changing pickups makes an appreciable difference is were a lower end instrument is involved i.e. cheap ass guitars with dirt cheap contruction usually coming from korea, were the guitars fine but the pickups suck then I think its worth an upgrade, but as I haven't played a MIJ strat I don't know but I would guess the pickups are fairly good quality. I also think the difference between good single coils and bad single coils is much narrower than with humbuckers so the chance of improving the sound by a large amount is slim, while there is a real possibility of making it worse (for worse read, less suitable).

That's my two cents anyway, effects are always nice to have to play around with a couple of pedals can vastly increase you ability to make interesting noises especially if you go with a multi effects which are fairly cheap and advanced these days, an acoustic guitar maybe a good investment, depending on what your play and will help keep practise noise down. Also you might want to consider there maybe a situation were an amp isn't supplied so that maybe a better investment before the effects as you could have perfect sounds set up on you multi effects that sound great through the Roland, and will simply not sound the same in an amp you haven't seen before an a stage before a gig and you have to go through hassle of changing settings.
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Last edited by Mr.DeadDuck at Mar 5, 2012,
#4
For better tone you usually invest in a better amp.

Which most of the time is a good tube amp.

In case you really don't plan any jamming/band practicing/gigging any time soon and/or need something quiet, a really good amp modeller like the Line 6 POD HD would "replace" the tube amp, which you would play through a good set of speakers, headphones or an actual guitar amp.
In that case however a little clean tube amp (or at least good non-modelling guitar amp) isn't a bad idea since you can play louder as well, have good clean tones without the modeller/multi-FX too. And whenever you can and want to play louder, you can do it and the amp will sound good, not like your Cube which will sound worse the more you turn it up.
Furthermore once you decide to get a good tube amp anyway, you can still use it as multi-FX pedal, just for the effects, not for the modelling of course.

If you plan to get a Multi-FX for the Cube -> forget it. It won't improve much if anything at all about your tone. That's because 1) you already have a digital modelling amp with effects and 2) those tiny speakers of the Micro Cube would even make an Axe FX sound like a toy through them.
Pickups don't make much difference through a modelling amp like that either.
Your "core sound" is the thing which you have to improve. And that core sound is the amp.

Saying that every band room or stage has good amps is nonesense. What if the practice room is (as it's often the case) just a room in your drummer's garage or something?
On stage even if they have amps (which isn't really the case with most smaller stages where you are most likely to play first) those might be amps which you have no idea how to use. Imagine they have a 4-channel monster like the Marshall JVM: you have no idea which sound is good for the songs you play, you have no idea how the channel switching works, it takes a whole lot of time to set up the tones you'll use (time which you often don't have), it doesn't sound anything like your Cube, and so on...
You shouldn't rely on those "great amps everywhere"-thinking too much.

Another thing I noticed is that you might not have really developed an ear for tone yet.
Go and play some better amps, listen if you can hear the difference and decide yourself if it's worth it to you or not.
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#5
i think your answer would totally depend on what you want your tone to be. as mentioned a decent amp is always the starting point but if you like the overall sound of your amp then check other options. new pickups can certainly change your sound for the better provided you do your homework on them. if your sound is missing a little something (ie needs a bit more treble or bass for instance) then the pups can make all the difference. i wouldn't recommend trying to make a fix with fx as they should be the icing on the cake and compliment your sound not mask it.

sow what is it exactly that you want sound wise? also what amp are you using?
#6
amp. the amp and guitar (construction and basic configuration, not necessarily specifics here) define the foundation of the sound. if the basic sound isn't what you want, then there's absolutely no way smaller upgrades (multi-fx, pickups) will fix it. the amp is the cornerstone of your tone; the wrong amp will kill your tone, the right amp will make it. the guitar itself comes close, but I don't believe the guitar matters quite as much as the amp (I would've said otherwise until I bought my Mesa. all my guitars sound right through it. some are just more right).

pickups are great for fine tuning, but they simply cannot overcome the limitations of an amplifier or the construction of the guitar. FX is not a solution for anything really, its a way of broadening your rigs capacity but FX (apart from some overdrives) really cannot solve tone issues (some overdrives can help drive your amp properly- a tubescreamer in front of a 6505, for instance, helps the tone immensely- but it won't help if the amp isn't right for you to begin with)
#7
It's usually the amp you wanna change first. Get a decent tube amp - doesn't have to be huge, it could be a little 5-10 watt 1x12" combo. VHT makes a nice 6 watt combo.

On a completely unrelated note, it's an MIJ 57 reissue Strat.. Not a "Fender 57 Reissue Maple Neck Stratocaster Made In Japan Since 1993".
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You CAN play anything with anything....but some guitars sound right for some things, and not for others. Single coils sound retarded for metal, though those who are apeshit about harpsichord probably beg to differ.
#8
It depends what area of your tone you want to change.

If you're entirely unhappy with your sound in every regard, you're going to want to change your amp, guitar or both. This is usually the case with people with small solid state practise amps who are frustrated they can't get thick, valve stack amp tone, or people with basic Strats who want to have thick humbucker tone or vice-versa. In these instances what you should do is obvious.

If you just want to change one aspect of your sound then it gets a bit trickier and we have to think about how your tone is made up. Power amp, pre amp, pedals, cables, guitar wood, construction, hardware material, hardware type, mounting style, scale length, string gauge, fret size, fret material, nut material, set up, pickup wire material, pickup wire gauge, pickup magnet material, pickup magnet design, coil balance; all of these things (and many more) effect your tone and you can't say that any one aspect is the first thing you should look at when you want to change your tone.

In other words, I say you should judge everything on a case-by-case basis. There are no rules when it comes to tone. One method of adjustment is not better than another. One thing is not more effective than another. It all depends on what the person's gear currently is, what they are willing/have the means to change and where they want to end up.

The only consistent piece of advice I do have is that pickups do not define your tone anywhere near as much as people often think. Changing pickups can have a huge effect but it can also have almost no effect; more often than not a person's existing pickups are fine and it's other elements that are giving them grief, but everyone still blames their pickups anyway.
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#9
Thanks a lot for all the respond! But please excuse me. So I was thinking about it, and I agree the pickup swap should come last. Apparently majority of the people suggested that the biggest problem I have now, and before making any other changes, is to change my amp, which makes me start to regret of buying this Roland Micro Cube Amp just few weeks ago : ( I actually just bought this cube amp recently as a small practice amp since I'm going back from Bangkok to my hometown Taiwan soon for university. And in university, I'd say most of the time I will be wearing headphone, and even if not, I can't really play at loud volume. So in my situation, I don't see the point of buying a tube amp, at least not for now. It might be a waste and perhaps it's not a good idea to put such an expensive amp in the dorm. In the future, when I graduate from university and not staying in a dorm with others anymore. I think that's when I should get a decent tube amp like what almost everyone suggested, and be able to make good use of it.

I was wondering, how do you guys manage to carry these big amps around to gig room / stage / different places? Part of the reason I bought the micro cube was because I thought it's really small that I can easily carry it from school dorm to home during weekend. Anyways, I think for performance and band gig, I would just stick with whatever amp they got on stage / practice room for now due to limited budget. And invest my little money on a better practice set up, for example a pod, an interface, multi effect, or a pedal. Something to keep me interested in the dorm room through headphones. Point is, these pod / interface / multi effect / pedal, are they going to do a good job (effective) on my Roland Micro Cube amp? I think unfortunately I can't make the most out of these stuffs if it's on a Roland Micro Cube amp...? Which now it comes down to changing my amp again... sigh. I mean I just bought the cube amp, and I did a lot of research and comparison, and I thought this amp got good reviews at a cheap affordable price : (

Planning on buying a compressor pedal for now... But I heard this pedal is the worst buy and most useless pedal out of all, because it makes it sound pretty much the same and doesn't help much? BTW I play blues, jazz, funk, and rock. Other effect pedals probably won't be necessary for now since the cube amp already has many built-in effects, but then again, these pedal may not work well on my micro cube amp.... What should I do... Also, does the noise gate pedal work well on canceling the single coil hum? Because I'm worry my ears will get hurt by wearing headphone with those buzz so close to my ears, and I might find the buzz annoying and decrease my practice time as a result.
#10
Micro Cubes are fine practise amps. If you're going to be playing through headphones mostly then stick with that. Just remember that it is only a practise amp, so things like pickup swaps aren't going to do much to change its tone. It's pretty much always going to sound one way. To get different, better sounds out of it, you might want to consider having everything on the amp set to default (all EQ controls at 100%) with no distortion and then use a high-quality pedal in front of it. It does mean you've got more stuff to carry around though and one pedal alone isn't going to make you sound like a pro.

As for carrying around large amps, if I need to move one of my big amps around I get one of my friends to drive. I don't drive myself, if I did I'd do it myself. That's about all you can do. I keep intending to buy a smaller amp that I can more easily take to practises.
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#11
The Microcube is one of the best, if not THE best, small amp out there.

When I was first learning you couldn't dream of having an amp that small and that cheap sounding that good. Sure a bigger, more expensive amp is probably going to sound better, that's why they cost more, my Ashdown sounds much better than my Microcube but that cost 8 times the price and weighs about 60 lbs. 20 years ago any cheap 10 or 15 watt amp was a simple, shitty solid state combo that usualyl sounded ok clean but had the crappiest distorted tone known to man, downright soul-destroyingly bad. Modelling means it's possible for a tiny amp to make a pretty good attempt sounding like a much bigger amp, it might be hard to appreciate how good the Microcube is unless you've played on a really shitty amp like a 15 watt Squier practice amo, a Gorilla or a BB-Blaster.

But for what it is the Microcube sounds great. It does benefit from sticking an EQ pedal in front of it as granted the single tone control doesn't give you an awful lot of scope but it's still a great little amp.

Don't buy a compressor, it would indeed be a complete waste of money in your current situation.
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#12
seems like your biggest problem is not understanding that you have a practice amp. the Cube is great for this but you do have to realize that it is very limited in its capabilities. you can't expect it to deliver fantastic rock star quality sounds. it should work just fine for practice in your situation. just deal with its limitations and concentrate on playing.