#1
Hi guys,

A while ago, I bought an (almost new) RG321MH (http://ibanez.wikia.com/wiki/RG321MH) HH configuration, solid mahogany body, maple neck, rosewood fingerboard, 25.5in scale and 24 frets; it looks great, it plays great and it sounds great. The reasons that I bought this guitar were because a needed a guitar with 24 frets and a fixed bridge (I had an old Rocket Special HSS with 21 frets and 6-point tremolo). Another reason to buy it was in order to have a guitar to play while I was modifying one of the two. I have been experimenting with wiring and pickups on the old Rocket and now I feel confident to open the Ibanez up. The guitar feels great and very solid; comfortable neck, thick and slick, good sustain and mass, yet not too heavy. So no mods on the body or even considering buying another guitar instead. The pickups sound ok clean but get quite muddy under gain, so the difference between bridge and neck are not as noticeable as I would like. Therefore, I want to upgrade the pickups and while at it also the wiring.
These are the ideas I have in mind and where I need your advice:

1. New pickups:

Here is where I need you the most. The pickups sound muddy at mid-high gain and there is not much difference between all positions. I do not know if this is because they are ceramic magnets instead of AlNiCo or if because they are stock (RG Standard Series – Inf3 & Inf4) pickups; I thinks is because of the latter. First thing I did is check out the pickups on the current HH Ibanez models and found the following:

· Bare Knuckle Aftermath (neck & bridge) i.e. FR6UCS
· DiMarzio Air Norton (neck) & The Tone Zone (bridge) i.e RG652FX
· EMG 60 (neck) & 81 (bridge) i.e. RGIT20FE
· DiMarzio Fusion Edge (neck & bridge) i.e. RGAIX6FM

I looked on the Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio sites and found the Alpha Omega set, the Steve Morse neck & bridge pickups, Steve Vai Evolution and Gravity Storm sets and John Petrucci Liquifire and Crunch lab pickups. I would not go for the Bare Knuckle, as they are insanely expensive. I like Tonerider as they are great bang for buck, but I think their humbuckers are more focused on LP/SG style guitars. There is also Irongear and Viking as “affordable” options but I have no idea if they are good. I am not very keen on active pickups, I tried a Jackson Soloist HH 24 frets and felt that all the dynamic of playing and picking disappear with the active pickups. I do not need the pickups to be too hot, I want them to be even with one another; in fact, I would prefer medium-vintage output pickups so I can crank the amp more. Also for playing hard rock and progressive (nothing too heavy), would it be better to have AlNiCo or ceramic magnets? Maybe an AlNiCo 2 on the neck and AlNiCo 5 on the bridge?  What do you think?


2. Rewire pickups

Since I have to solder the new pickups anyway, I might as well rewire the switch to give it more versatility. Right now, the stock switching goes as follows: 

1. Neck humbucker in series
2. Neck humbucker in parallel
3. Both humbuckers in parallel
4. Inner coils in parallel
5. Bridge humbucker in series

I don’t really like the sound of two humbucker together, as four coils at the same time gives a lot of sound, which is neither bridge nor neck; again this could be the current pickups, on the Rocket that I rewire I DO notice a difference, but that has AlNiCo magnets. I want to keep positions 1 & 5 as they are, as I use these to solo and like to have higher output than on the other positions. I am thinking about filling the remaining positions with the following options.

· Pos. 2 & 4 with humbuckers in parallel to reduce output, hopefully volume and gain. I will use this for riffs or chord where I need lower output than positions 1 & 5
· Pos. 2 & 4 with only one coil (inner or outer?) to reduce output, hopefully volume and gain. Same use as above.
· Pos. 3 with both inner coils. Ideally, I would get the lowest volume and gain of all positions; I will use this for strumming and chords.
· Pos. 3 with both humbucker in parallel, as it now and hopefully with the new “better” pickups the sound will improve. Same use as above.

The Ibanez FR6UCS already has a similar wiring:

1. Neck humbucker in series
2. Neck inner coil
3. Both inner coils
4. Bridge inner coil
5. Bridge humbucker in series

However, I cannot find the schematics nor sound samples of all positions. I would appreciate your input on the different switch positions that I have in mind as well as a wiring diagram for the FR6UCS (I’ll keep looking and also try to figure it out myself) and if I need a normal 5-pos switch or a Super/Mega switch. What is your advice?

3. Change capacitor and add “treble bleed”?

This last one is optional, right now, I feel the controls work fine although at high volume, the tone does not do much, but that happens to every guitar. I thought that if I am putting in new pickups I might need to change the capacitor of the tone and/or add a “treble bleed” to the volume to prevent loss of highs. I put a Kinman style on my Rocket (capacitor + resistor in series) and it’s ok, the Seymour Duncan or Fender style didn’t work well. However, on some Ibanez the bleed is just a capacitor. Any thoughts on that?

Thanks a lot for reading and for your advice,

Cheers,
Walter

P.S. If you live in Zürich and want to get together and jam, send me a PM.
#2
Hi guys,

I've been think that before changing the pickups I could rewire them to see if the tone changes; like you said, make one mod at the time.

Since reducing pickup output / volume / gain with just the switch can be quite tricky and not the best solution I was thinking of the following:

Replace the 5-way switch with a standard "tele" 3-way blade for neck-both-bridge (or toggle, but it would require drilling)
Replace the 1-tone & 1-vol pots with concentric pots to get 2-tones & 2-vols (adding 2 additional pots would be best but would also require drilling)

This way if I want one pickup louder or the other treblier I can adjust that independently instead of going crazy with switches and coil spliting.

What do you think?

If I like the flexibility that I get but still the tone doesn't do it I can put som Duncans in, like JB, 59 or Custom 5; something in the line of AlNiCo 2 on the neck and AlNiCo 5 on the bridge.
#3
Lots to read. You should check out reverb , look up used pickup sets . Lots of times they're priced half off the new price .

I don't have experience with alnico 2 pickups. But they're supposed to be a little sweeter sounding , not as hot . Ceramics usually are more aggressive , better for hard rock and metal . Alnico 5 I guess is the right balance for most people . You could try a tone zone in the bridge I always hear good things about it. Paul Gilbert loves that pickup in his Ibanez' .