Hey guys. I've decided recently that I want my next guitar to be a real metal monster. I have a plan in mind, so I'll go ahead and lay it out for you before I get to my questions.

I play mostly progressive metal in a sort of thrashy/deathy vein. Major influences for me are Cynic (newer and older), Mastodon, Gojira, Lamb of God, Protest the Hero, Between the Buried & Me, Death, Machine Head (circa The Blackening) and bands in a similar vein.

I'm not especially into djent-y metal, but I've really been digging the new Periphery albums, particularly the guitar tones on it, which are very versatile and really run the gamut of metal tones as far as I'm concerned.

I want to start out with something like this, an Ibanez SA120. Two humbuckers, hardtail bridge, pretty bare-bones.

I want to put new pickups in, and I'm on the fence between Bare Knuckle Juggernauts and DiMarzio Titans. I know I said that I'm not into djent much, but I've heard a whole bunch of tone tests 'round the Internet and I love the way they both sound.

I'm a bit concerned because this is a relatively cheap/low end guitar, so if there's any chance that you think that the guitar will not be able to perform well enough to justify the new pickups, please say so.

If not, which would you recommend? I'm currently leaning toward the Titans because they're MUCH cheaper but could potentially be swayed either way.

Also, I'm wanting to make a pretty significant modification to the headstock of the guitar. Obviously, it'll come with a stock Ibanez headstock, like this:

What I want is something a la BlackMachine, like this:

Will this modification be possible given the material of the Ibanez headstock/neck, or should I be concerned about compromising the integrity of the wood?

Thanks for your time, guys, and sorry for the long read.
I'm no expert, but I'll give you some thoughts. First of all, killer taste in music.

About the pickups, are you aware of the specifics when it comes to the build and the tone of the pickups? Like the juggernaut having both Ceramic and Alnico V magnets, resulting in the lower strings having the tight, percussive attack of the ceramics while still maintaining much of the touch response and dynamics of a pure Alnico V pickup? While the Titan has ceramic magnets only if I recall correctly. And taking into consideration the voicings of the pickups, you probably should pick the one that ultimately sounds like a better fit to your style. I think that it's clear that they're both top of the line pickups.

And if you know how to play it, the guitar should be just fine. You can generally trust that Ibanez isn't scamming everyone with their specs, so even the cheap guitars will probably feel solid. The real problem might be the bridge and the nut since they affect the action and the playability of the guitar. A nut swap is simple enough, but if the bridge is crap (like it often is in cheap ibanezes) it might significantly impact the stability and the feel of the guitar.

And the headstock. How many pieces is the neck? If it's a three piece neck, you should pay close attention to the seams of the parts as well as tuners to make sure that you're not putting too much pressure on a weak spot, for example a seam between two pieces of wood. But I am in no way a skilled carpenter, so I can't really say if it's a good idea.

So, here's a post that has probably zero useful information. In the end it comes down to your preferences and your skill. Just don't try anything that might go horribly wrong if you're unsure about it.
The only thing I would be worried primarily about is intonation/feel. Those Ibanez SA's seem to be a somewhat moderate-low range guitar. As long as the guitar can be set up properly, everything else should work fine. With lower tunings, you can have a lot of nasty buzzing and slap-back. Except for those issues of playability, everything should be okay presuming you know how to wire things up.

For the neck carpentry, you could just get a new neck of the same scale length. If the current neck in the guitar is crap, you might want to get a new neck anyway. Make sure your drill holes line up, or you get a set in neck without holes pre-drilled.

The Juggernauts are for 7-string guitars. I'm not entirely sure how that could work for a 6-string, you could just route in some extra space and have an empty pole piece.

Another facet is how Misha gets his tone: through Axe-FX. I'm not saying that you can't emulate his tone through conventional guitar amps, but you might have some trouble without such a modeler. I think he used to use a 6505 with a conventional set up back in the day. Not sure about speakers for that time. They use a V30/Creamback loaded cab for stage volume, the Creamback seeming to have a bit more bass response.
Last edited by Will Lane at May 9, 2015,
^^The Juggernaut is available as a six string also

And TS, you said that you wanted the ultimate metal guitar. Did you have any other mods in mind? Maybe a kill switch? Or fitting and setting up the guitar for thicker strings? You could even get some of the higher frets scalloped if you're into the shreds.
Hey guys. Sorry that I took so long to get back to this thread. I appreciate your well-thought responses.

I have given some thought to the specifics of the pickups when it comes to build and tone. At this point, I've heard enough from both of them to believe that I'd be pretty happy with either, which means that I'll most likely choose the Titans to save some money, since they're quite a lot cheaper than the BKPs.

I am planning to swap the nut out for certain, and I'l going to decide on the fly about the bridge. I know that cheaper Ibanez guitars often don't have the best bridges, so I'm going to have to take a look at that and decide what I want to do with it.

The necks were made in three pieces and in one piece, depending on the year of production. I'll definitely have to do some further consultation (perhaps with a luthier) before I start chopping chunks of wood off, haha. I did consider getting a new neck of the same scale, and if it comes to that I'm willing to give it a shot also.

You're definitely correct about the Axe-FX being an integral part of Misha's tone. Honestly, I'm not TOO concerned about that, because I'm not all that interested in emulating his tone as much as I am interested in the tonal versatility that these pickups offer.

They both seem to sound great everywhere from completely clean to really saturated with gain, and they have enough mid-range punch that chords ring through clearly instead of being muddy and gross, even with a lot of distortion. That's what I want most.

As far as other modifications go, I'm honestly not all that interested in them. I do want this to be an excellent metal guitar, but I mostly say that from a tone and playability perspective.

Basically, what I'm after is a guitar with the tonal versatility to run the gamut of progressive metal sounds that's simple enough that I can just dig in and play. I don't want a double-locking trem since I already have a quality guitar with one, and I'm not big on other frills or effects. I've played scalloped necks a little bit before and I wasn't really a fan, so I probably won't be doing that either.
If I were going to do that headstock design with a low end (okay, cheap) guitar, I'd suggest modifying it, and rather than chewing all that much wood outa there, I'd sculpt it and maybe do it graphically. Fake it, ala the Brian Moore headstock:

I see where you're coming from, and I like the way that looks quite a bit, but I REALLY like the visual effect of the strings going across that chasm of empty space. Blackmachine pulls it off successfully and so do Skervesen, so I know it can be done theoretically. I'm just not sure how it'd work with a neck like this one. I'd hate to cut it too thin, put strings on it, and have it snap like a toothpick.
good choice with an ibanez guitar without a pickguard and it's hard tailed. You'd be surprised what your hands and amplifier / settings can do for the guitar. See what your guitar gods are using that you prefer over others there is a world outside of pickups to contribute to their sound. I have guys all the time even swap capacitors to like paper in oil ones for a superior sound.

At the end of the day high end parts in a cheap guitar don't let marketing get to you. What I mean by this is like I've played lots of cheap guitars that sounded great and deserved the parts. I've played lots of expensive guitars that I didn't care for too. If the parts don't suit the guitar to get the tones you're after put them in other guitars. I had this one pickup in a Hamer , than a PRS and maybe even my personal guitar when I decided to try a few pickups I was selling to at least have an idea what I was selling as it wasn't a big company.

I can see the headstock going badly to be honest, like it's close to the shape but it's your guitar so try it out and prove us wrong. I would practice on a really cheap guitar like a 50$ neck off of ebay with a blank paddle headstock if you're comfortable with power tools. Just make sure you do all the measurements necessary to make it happen.

I'd have fun with this though. Adding push pull pots, a super 5 way or something to get some extra tones to be truly versatile. Guess it depends on what you want. Usually I re-wire a tone to a bass cut (fender greasebucket) to clear pickups up at very high amounts of gain and distortion and go with B500k volume pots.
Last edited by Tallwood13 at May 12, 2015,
Thanks for the insight, Tallwood. One of my good friends is quite involved with carpentry and finish work, so I plan to talk to him about the neck modification. I also sent a message to a luthier asking him what he thought about it, so we'll have to see what he has to say.