My custom Les Paul
I decided to finally learn to play the guitar this week, after coming back from MAGFest and feeling pretty left out in the jam space. I tried to learn when I was 15 or so, which resulted in an acoustic guitar that I initially began this task with; however, the guitar flexes when tuned and the strings get really tight and hard to hold down. After a play on my dad’s Teisco E-110, I decided to get an electric guitar; the Guitar Hero 3 controller inspired me to shoot for a Les Paul.
I sought after a cheap guitar; after all, as a beginner it makes little sense to run out and grab a $3,795 Gibson Les Paul and a $2000 amp and $700 effects pedals and any array of expensive things. This search proved interesting, but not exactly fruitful; you can find good quality cheap guitars, but they have their own issues. Eventually I just decided to custom-build a better instrument from a solid base model.
I started out with a black Epiphone Les Paul Special II, found on Amazon, a cute $250 guitar for $150. Reviews boast major strengths in all areas from sound to construction. The two rough spots I’ve seen noted most often on various sites include the tuning pegs and the pickups; I decided to address those right off.
The tuning pegs apparently don’t hold well enough. They contain no locking mechanism and can’t handle heavy use without losing their tune in short order. I went with some Sperzel tuning machines, sealed units with a locking mechanism to keep them in tune, costing me about $50 on Amazon. The Sperzels only have a 12:1 gear ratio, rather than 14:1 or 18:1 for more fine tuning; but I’ll live.
Reviews say the pickups work quite well for their price, and sound very nice; but they have been sited as basic models, with a good clean sound but not really higher quality performance grade. Currently I plan to grab two black DiMarzio DP161 pickups, again off Amazon or possibly Guitar Center or elsewhere. These come at $70 each; putting the two together almost tops the price of the base model guitar itself. I will pick these up later; the current ones should work well enough for now, since I’m just getting started and I don’t plan to perform anywhere aside from maybe screwing around in the jam space next year.
So to recap the price of the guitar:
I also went with a $40 Stack-in-a-Box for personal practice, acting as the amp and the distortion or overdrive effect; a Korg GA-40 guitar tuner for $40; and about $30 of Dunlop Turtex medium and heavy picks and some spare steel strings. All in all, I think I managed to make myself a nice little deal for learning the instrument.