I just want to warn you, this post is about recent modifications I made to a guitar – if you’re not interested in such subject matter, you can choose whether to read on

[and if you choose to do so, you absolutely cannot call me a geek/nerd by the end – I gave you fair warning!]

Around Christmas 2006, I bought my Gibson Les Paul Standard Faded. It was, and still is, a quite beautiful guitar to look at:

2006 GIbson Les Paul Standard Faded

and, more importantly, to play.

Now, I’m a very lucky boy, and I have the luxury of playing a number of beautiful instruments – and will tend to record the most appropriate guitar for any given song. Live, however, I prefer to stick to one guitar for a set and so, while the Les Paul is beautiful, it is still a Les Paul – without the flexibility of a Stratocaster say, or the bite of a Telecaster.

Everything changed when I got my Music-Man Reflex

Music-Man Reflex

which is beautiful to look at, beautiful to play AND has a wide palette of tones. Basically, a 5-way pickup selector:

  1. Bridge humbucker
  2. Outer coils of both pickups (the Telecaster middle setting)
  3. Both humbuckers
  4. Inner coils of both pickups
  5. Neck humbucker

with an additional Series/Parallel switch, giving me 10 sounds in total. I’m a pretty intuitive

[for which, the less charitable might read ‘lazy’]

player, and don’t have a preconceived setting per song – I tweak in the moment to bring in bass or treble, thin things out or fatten things up, using drive pedals to dirty the sound, or the volume and tone pots to calm things down. Bottom line, the configuration of the Reflex means I can dial in pretty much whichever tone the muse calls for in the moment. I won’t go on much more about the Reflex, as I already did that here.

What I do know, though, is that having the Reflex pushed my Les Paul further from the stage. And that just didn’t feel right. So I spent some time these past few weeks thinking on why that might be. Along the way, I installed some new Seymour Duncan pickups in my old Starfield Cabriolet:

Starfield Cabriolet

and enjoyed the tone I was getting there. It got me wondering about the Les Paul – and I realized that for a long time, I’d been thinking that it didn’t sound like a Les Paul should. What I’d been hearing – and wanted to hear – was the sound of vintage Les Pauls, not the more modern, compressed sound of the Burstbuckers fitted as standard. Sure, it sounded great, but…

Then there was Peter Green. As always, Peter Green.

If Stevie Ray is everything I ever wished/hoped I could do on a Stratocaster, then Peter Green is everything I ever wished/hoped I could do on a Les Paul. And, of course, he’s famous for his out-of-phase tone – which is actually the result of a physical change to the neck pickup

[moving magnets, etc.]

and I began to wonder whether I should make the mod to my Les Paul…

But, as I was watching vids of Green, Michael Bloomfield, Clapton, Gary Moore, and many, many others – and reading about vintage Les Pauls – for some reason I keyed in on the ‘zebra’ pickup covers on my Les Paul, and how I really would prefer nickel covers

[and to add the scratch plate, which I hadn’t to this point]

both for the natural aging and, well, just because I preferred them…

All of which got me thinking:

  • Vintage sound
  • Coil splits
  • Series/Parallel
  • Flexibility of switching
  • Out-of-phase

and I knew I was going to be doing some surgery.

I ordered up a matched set of Seymour Duncan ’59s and a couple of push-pull pots from StewMac, planning on doing phase and series/parallel mods. But then, as I was researching the wiring diagram

[thanks, Seymour Duncan User Forum!]

and thinking about the coil splits I get on the Reflex

[particularly the outer coils of both, which is essentially the telecaster middle setting]

I came across the Seymour Duncan Triple Shots – which, in a nutshell, enable each humbucker to be split either way, or wired together in series/parallel, all by way of a couple of little switches in the pickup mounting. So I ordered those and held back on making any mods until they got here.

Which they did yesterday lunchtime.

[fast forward past an intense afternoon of furious soldering]

It’s done. And it sounds AMAZING. Basically, I now have any combination of any coil from the two humbuckers, with the blend position being able to be series/parallel (neck tone push-pull)

[louder, fuller]

and/or out-of-phase (bridge tone push-pull)

[a very, very odd tone – Peter Green – yet SO good for blues]

It’s so flexible, a tweaker’s delight

[If I count right, there are 64 combinations in total?]

It can hit a lot of tones from strats and teles, even coming close to Rickenbacker and Gretsch hollow bodies – all that while still, those Seymour Duncan ’59s – my Les Paul sounds like a Les Paul does in my head.

I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it until I’m in the ground – I am profoundly lucky and thankful to be able to play such beautiful instruments – I think I’ll be playing this one at a gig in the very near future; go on, ask me what it can do!

Here she is as of this morning…

My 2006 Les Paul Standard Faded

[And remember, you don’t get to call me a geek]