HowTo Instrument Build MODS

Basic Tool Kit

Every mod, repair, set-up, or build project begins with the use of tools. Some specialized some common. Here we run down the basic Luthier’s tool chest as well as additional tools required to do mods, set-ups, wiring, building and making guitars. Doing your own set-ups and seasonal adjustments requires a basic set of tools.

Most of these you may already have, some you may need to acquire before doing your own set-ups or mods. Remember to always use the correct size tools for the job. Particularly screwdrivers and hex wrenches.

Once you’ve gathered you tools, put them to use: Set-up Guide

Screwdrivers, Phillips & Standard

Mini, small, medium and large. Extra long or short shafted sizes optional.

Hex wrench/Allen Keys

These are often supplied with guitars purchased new for truss rod adjustments. Sizes most commonly found for truss rods: 3/16″, 3.5mm


24″ and 6″ recommended in both metric and imperial (inch) markings.

Feeler Gauge Set

For measuring the relief of necks, nuts, saddles and more.

String Cutter

Wire cutters work fine for this application.

String Winder

A very helpful tool for changing strings.


Used to assist when measuring neck relief.


Used to drive screws and drill holes.

Other tool guides: Wiring Mod Tools, Fretwork Tools, and Building and Assembly Tools

HowTo Instrument Build MODS

Modder's Tool Kit Essentials

Wiring and other mods require a few more tools than the basic tool kit.

Remember: Follow all manufacturers instructions when using any of the tools or materials listed here. will have no liability for injury or damage caused by the use of any of our instructions.

Soldering Iron

40 watts or an adjustable temperature model suitable for fine electronics work.


High quality non-corrosive solder for fine electrical work (preferably lead-free for health).

Hook-Up Wire

Anything from high quality cloth shielded to regular copper plastic coated wire are suitable for guitar wiring. Cost and availability vary.

Electrical Tape

For wrapping soldered connections.

Wire Stripper

Many models available vary in price and quality.

Safety Glasses/Goggles

Essential for avoiding painful and potentially blinding and/burning accidents when soldering.

Other tool guides: Wiring Mod Tools, Fretwork Tools, and Building and Assembly Tools

HowTo Tutorial

Changing Strings: String Winding/String Snapping

This tutorial covers guitars with stop tail, or fixed bridges.

String winding seems simple enough, right? Put the string through the hole in the tuner and wind it up. What could be simpler? If I had a dollar for every time someone wanted to change their tuners, switch to a different brand of strings, have a new nut installed, switch out their tremolo or even swap out the neck of their guitar – all for the sake of “Tuning Stability” I’d have at least $1000 bucks.

String winding is the kind of thing that, done right, can have a real impact on how your guitar plays, and more importantly – stays in tune.

The Theory: Tight windings tune and play better. Why? As the string wraps around the tuning post tight, even windings distribute the pull of the string as it comes to tension – while allowing a little bit of flex. Strings that are wound sloppily flex unevenly, at times abruptly losing tension or causing one string to feel tighter than the next because it can’t flex.

Part One: The Wind Up

First a note about safety. String ends are sharp, and during tuning and winding the strings ends can whip around and catch you in the face or eye, so be careful. Un trimmed wound strings can snag clothing and puncture skin or poke your face or eye. Trimmed wound strings can still have a sharp end at the tuning peg. Be careful, wear eye protection.

  1. For best tuning stability change one string at a time, especially if you are restringing a guitar with a tremolo (Tremolo specific tutorials here).
  2. Remove a string by detuning it rather than cutting. Cutting is easy, and sort of cool, like tattoos. But it also jolts the neck, trem and other strings. At least don’t come crying to the crew when it takes days for your newly strung guitar to settle and hold it’s tuning.
  3. Load up a new string, align the tuning peg’s hole straight on with the path of the string by turning the tuning key forward or back, then pull the string thru th hole until it’s taught. Place your finger on the string at the nut and pull 2-4 inches of string back from the tuning peg. Wound strings take less pulled back string, because the peg can only take so many wraps before overlapping. The idea is to have an even winding of string without overlaps that ends just before the bottom of the tuning peg when the string under full tension. You can snap fresh strings easily if you over tighten them. Leave a little slack before your final tuning.
  4. With the pulled back bit of string held at the nut, take the end of the string going thru the tuning peg and crimp it in the opposite direction of the tuning pegs rotation. Six on a side guitars the peg rotates counter clockwise, 3 on a side guitars the pegs rotate from the inside out.The kink helps the string to grab onto the peg, keeping the loose end of the string from shifting.
  5. Now use your string winder (you’ll want one if you don’t have one, they’re cheap, get one). Steadily wind the tuning peg as you guide the string making sure that as it comes around the second time it doesn’t overlap and it settles in underneath the first winding. This is important. As the string winds around and down the tuning peg the correct angle is created at the nut to minimize pings and improve tone.
  6. Now as you finish winding the fresh string around the post, use your other hand to both press the string into the nut so the string winds down the tuning peg without overlapping and take up the slack on the string so that it winds up evenly.
  7. Ideally your freshly wound string will look something like this. If you end up with too much string at the bottom of the tuning peg and it starts to overlap, you can unwind it and take up a little more slack before re-winding, or chalk it up to experience, and try again the next time you change strings.
  8. Repeat five times (remember to use less pulled back string as you go to the lighter strings). At this point your guitar should be in tune and ready to be played.
  9. You can go ahead and clip the ends of the strings with a string clipper or a pair of nipper pliers available from most hardware stores, careful for flying string ends, which can be very sharp.

Wow! A lot of steps for such a simple task. Following this step-by step method should put you on the road to great tuning stability and long string life. Moving on… For even better tuning stability learn to also ‘Snap’ your strings.

Part Two: String Snapping

The tuning tutorial goes over tuning basics, but the first time tuning up a fresh set of strings you’ll want to do what’s known as “String Snapping” which is pretty much what it sounds like. What snapping does is to jolt the individual strings in a controlled way which tightens the windings on the post and helps the stabilize the strings tension, so you have less detuning and retuning to do with a fresh set.

  1. With all the strings wound up and roughly tuned, begin with the sixth (low E) string and using a reference tone – tune it up to pitch. Now, with your finger and thumb gently lift the string away from the fretboard, about an inch or so. Then let it snap back down. Do this three or four times, you’ll notice if you pluck the string that it’s pitch goes down as you snap flexibility out of the windings.
  2. Retune the string and snap it again. Repeat the snap & retune cycle until snapping no longer causes the string to drop in pitch.
  3. Repeat with all the wound strings, and sometimes the 3rd unwound G string. Depending on the gauge your using, the unwound strings – if they are wound correctly, don’t need much snapping, if any, before they are stable.

You’ll probably notice that as you go across the wound string snapping and retuning that you need to go round-robin and again snap and tune all the strings a few times before the tuning stabilizes. With this technique coupled with a tight and even wind on the tuning pegs, you’ll notice that your guitar stays in tune better, stayed tuned longer, and holds a tune sooner with a fresh set of strings (All fresh strings stretch a little, evan after snapping them).

Conclusions: Tight string winding around the post, and carefully snapping strings at tension to remove excess slack are the best ways to change strings and keep your guitar or bass playing in tune.

HowTo Lessons Tutorial

Tuning The Guitar

Follow along and learn to tune your guitar or bass. This tutorial demonstrates various methods for tuning the guitar.
The guitar is an imperfect instrument. The frets divide the strings length into segments according to a mathematical formula devised by Pythagorus thousands of years ago. Piano tuners have developed their own means to correct for the imperfect nature of mathematical sound versus musical sound. They use a tempered, or stretch tuning to compensate for what is known as discordance. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier compositions are some of the earliest musical compositions meant to take advantage of a tuning that is altered to get the best sound.

  • What we as guitar players end up with is a compromise between perfect tuning and a more pleasing sounding instrument when played. The frets divide the strings length into 12 tones per octave. The 12th fret producing a note one octave higher than the open string note.
  • The guitar is tuned in perfect fourths, that is, each string is tuned to the fifth note on the string before it – except for the 2nd (B) string which is tuned the fourth of the 3rd (G) string.
  • The 6 strings are tuned (from the lowest wound bass string to the highest treble string) E, A, D, G, B, E. The high E string is an Octave higher than the lowest E string. On the bass, the low E string is an Octave lower than the guitar’s low E string.

A bit confusing, as the 4th note on each string is not at the 4th fret, but rather the 5th. This is due to the musical scale having 12 tones, including a natural and a perfect 4th, the later being the 5th note of the 12 tone (western music) scale. Let’s take a look at some illustrations which will make clear our understanding of guitar tuning.


Tuning From A Reference Pitch:

As the illustration shows, the bass E string is tuned to a reference note from a piano, electronic tuner, or another instrument. Then the rest of the strings beginning with the A string are tuned by playing the 5th fret note of the prior string.

Example: Fret the 6th string at the 5th fret, hold the note and pluck the 5th string open note.

Listen to the sounds, when out of tune there will be a wavering or fluttery sound as the two strings sound together. Play them both back and fourth listening closely. Now adjust the 5th string using the tuning key. If the 5th string sounds higher than the fretted 6th string note, turn the tuning key counter clockwise to tune the 5th string down. If the 5th string open note is lower than the 6th string fretted note, tune the string up, all along listening and comparing the notes until they are in unison. This may seem complex at first, but in no time you will be tuning your guitar as second nature. This the simplest way of tuning the guitar, and it works the same for the bass. For the bass guitar tune the same as the bottom four strings of the guitar but an octave lower.

With this method you can match your tuning to other instruments, recordings quickly. It is also a good method for tuning a guitar “to itself” meaning when played alone the instrument will sound good no matter how accurately the bass E string is tuned to a source note, as long as all the other strings are tuned in relation to the 6th string.


Tuning With An Electronic Tuner: Using an electronic tuner is a quick and easy way to tune the guitar. It’s always a good idea to know how to tune the traditional way as outlined above for when you don’t feel like plugging into a tuner, don’t have a tuner handy, are matching someone else’s tuning, or your batteries have gone dead. Let’s go over some electronic tuner basics.

  • Electronic tuners work best with a fresh batteries. Many models will flash “bat low” or a LED light when they are low.
  • There are a few different types of tuners, which range from under $20 to hundreds of dollars. With accuracy and features to match.
  • The basic VU meter style tuner has a needle which floats over a display to show you how in-tune your string is.
  • LED based models tend to have faster response and be slightly more accurate than Vu display tuners.

More accurate and expensive Strobe tuners use electronics to show display the tuning of your strings using a sliding bar graph. These tuners are more accurate than Vu or LED tuners. The accuracy is not as big or a deal as you might think, aside from studio players and luthiers who specialize in setting up instruments and recording their performances much of this type of accuracy is lost during play and performance for the average tuner user.

From left to right, VU style, LED, and Strobe tuner displays.

When using an electronic tuner, use your bridge pick-up with the volume turned all the way up and the tone controls wide open (no high frequency attenuation). This give the brightest and clearest signal for the tuner to “listen” to. Electronic tuners can be Chromatic (able to tune all notes of the musical scale within several octaves) Or designed specifically for bass or guitar – often limited to just the 6 open notes.

Electronic tuners are convenient and simple to use. There are a few options to look for when choosing an electronic tuner. recommends buying a simple tuner for the beginner and more advanced models for hose who want to set-up their own instruments or those wanting to be in as perfect tuning as possible for recording.


Tuning With Natural Harmonics: A well intonated guitar can be tuned using natural harmonic notes.

  • The harmonic notes at each strings 5th and 7th strings are used as reference points to tune the other strings.
  • The second string (B) is tuned to the 6th strings 7th fret harmonic.

Harmonics are played by lightly pressing the string at the nodal point and plucking. Your finger acts as a “stop” at the nodal point. Nodal points are mathematical devisions of the string. The 12th fret is the easiest harmonic to play, it is the exact halfway point along the strings length. Other nodal points occur at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th frets. In actuality there are more nodal points, but thy are not all easily played on the guitar. After the twelfth fret the nodal point continue in the same progression as they do from the nut forward. Simply think of the 12th fret as the nut or open string, an count up. You can also slide your finger along the length of the string while picking to find other nodal points. Take a look at the following diagram to see how tuning with harmonics is done.

  • Following the above illustration beginning on the 6th string at the 5th fret, play the harmonic, then play the harmonic of the 5th string at the 7th fret – compare the notes and adjust the 5th string until it matches the 6th and so on for the other strings.
  • The 2nd string is tuned by comparing the 6th string 7th fret harmonic to the 2nd string 12th fret harmonic. Then the High E string is tuned by comparing the 5th and 7th fret harmonic like the first four strings.

Tuning by natural harmonics works best for guitars where the intonation has been precisely adjusted. Harmonics are very accurate- but the guitar itself sometimes is not. For this reasons you may find differences when tuning by fretted notes compared to tuning with harmonics or electronic tuners.

Guitar Tuning, Conclusions: In many ways tuning is a balancing act. Explore the tuning methods shown in this tutorial, and decide which method works best for you. This tutorial covered the basics of tuning by fretted notes, using an electronic tuner, and using natural harmonics.

HowTo MODS Tutorial

Quick Nut Fix

Pinging And Buzzing Are The Symptoms. How To Fix It Fast.

If you’ve ever worked on your nut, you know how easy it is to go a little too far in the search of comfortable low action ending up with some string buzz. The nut can wear down in time, or you may notice a pinging sound when tuning up or playing. Fortunately, there is a quick fix that can get your guitar up and running again in just a few hours. Ideally, you would cut and shape a new nut or have your tech do it for you. On the road or on a budget, sometimes a quick fix is needed.

Here’s What You’ll Need:

  1. Cyanoacrylate glue; gel or liquid. Krazy Glue is one brand name. Follow all manufacture’s warnings and instructions when using Cyanoacrylate glues.
  2. Masking Tape. Low tack blue painters tape preferred
  3. Sand Paper: 600 grit or higher.
  4. Small files (gauged nut slotting files for the perfectionists). Your choice of files range from a fingernail file, cheap hobby shop files (as pictured) or specialized nut slotting files.
  5. Cyanoacrylate glue thinner. For clean-up of glue runs or unsticking glued fingers.


1. Loosen the strings and pull them aside. If you’re working on just a single nut slot set the string in the next slot or hang it off the fret board edge. You can use tape to anchor the string(s) to the side of the neck to keep them clear of work area.

2. Apply a small piece of tape firmly into the crevice between the front of the nut and the fingerboard. This creates a dam to hold the glue in the nut slot. The tape should come all the way up the face of the nut and can overhang the top of the nut slightly.

3. With the guitar on a stand apply a drop or two of glue in the low slot. It’s better to apply a small amount and let that layer dry, then apply more glue if you need to build up a really low slot. A pinch of baking soda can be sprinkled on the wet glue to build up the slot if it’s needed.

4. Set the guitar aside and let the glue dry for about four hours. When the chemical smell of the glue evaporating is gone, it’s dry and should be hard. If you can indent the dry glue with a screwdriver tip it still needs more time.

5. Use the small files to re-cut the nut slot. Careful you don’t go too deep this time! Use a feeler gauge to measure the relief over the 1st fret while pressing down at the second fret. Gibson and Fender specs call for between .014″ and .020″ (this amount varies for string gauge and fret style).

The animation above shows where to press the string to gauge the amount of relief over the 1st fret. The relief should be just enough to see, hear, and feel that the string can move freely over the first fret. Getting this just right is essential to a low comfortable playing action.

Use sandpaper to smooth out the repaired and re-cut nut slot.

Pencil lead rubbed into the slot helps keeps the string from binding.

Done! What once buzzed or pinged is again playable. This type of fix is permanent but not ideal. Replacing a nut with one that’s solid and cleanly cut is always the best for tone and playability.

HowTo Instrument Build

ModGuitar Custom Midi Guitar Build

Midi guitar has long been a frustrating goal of many guitarists intent on expanding their tonal options. A few consumer options exist though they tend to be subject to a new technology premium. Functional and affordable midi guitar options seem to be harder to find with fewer manufacturers devoting resources to the production of midi guitar. With that in mind we set out to design and build our own custom midi guitar.

Why A MIDI Guitar? There are a couple of different good reasons to consider a Midi guitar. There is the ability to play other instruments using the guitar as the ‘controller’, which comes in hand is you’re not proficient with a piano style keyboard. Secondly, there is the concept or recording your guitar performance as a midi file, which can be useful when it comes time to publish your musical creations. As we have discovered both of these ideas inspiring and a little disappointing given the current state of the art. With some patience, and a good system the results can be rewarding. We will take a look at getting great Midi Guitar sounds in another article, for now to get started with Midi Guitar, you’ll need an instrument…

Why A Custom Build? Here at the studio we’ve had a limited run Ibanez RG series guitar with a GK pick-up around for a few years. Coupled with a Roland GI-20 USB midi processor. This system works ok. The suggestion that a piezo based midi pick-up system might track faster and more accurately had us intrigued, so we decided to build our own midi guitar controller. We took a look at everything out there, from Roland and Casio models to Parker, Fender, Brian Moore, and even Ibanez offerings. The consensus seemed to be that while the Roland GK pick-up system works OK, and is easy to install, a custom system utilizing piezo saddles would likely track faster and more accurately due to the direct contact with the strings.

Back In The Saddle(s) Again: Graph-Tech saddles and a midi expansion for the Ghost pre-amp system offered the best look, feel and hopefully, playability. Graph-Tech is well know for it’s string saver saddles made to retrofit many bridges and it’s TUSQ bone-like synthetic nut and saddle material. The Ghost pre-amp, Hexpander midi processing add on card, and a set of Graph-Tech saddles with embedded piezo transducers were around $300 when they where ordered. The bridge itself is a custom part available from Stew Mac and other retailers. More on parts and components in a few…

The Concept: We began by considering all our options for a Midi Guitar. There are literally a dozen or more switching and tonal options that could be installed or added to a a custom midi guitar. Not to mention the standard electric guitar options. It was decided to go simple rather than complex with the on-board controls. There is always that temptation to do an “Ultimate bazzillion options” guitar. This guitar was intended to be more or less a studio instrument, so a complex control panel simply wasn’t necessary. A sequencer on the computer or a midi floor board can easily be used to control midi functions. The final configuration was set to be a single volume control, a three way switch. That’s it, simple as can be.

HowTo Instrument Build

Gibson 'EBO' Bass To 'SG' Guitar Conversion

EBO Bass To SG Style Guitar Conversion Project

Hidden away in the workshop we found a semi-vintage Gibson EBO bass. The headstock couldn’t seem to keep from snapping off. It had been repaired a few times already and was missing some parts and crucial components like the pick-up. It also just happened to not play or sound very good. Vintage SGs fetch high prices, and this SG body was still intact…so The SG BASS-GUITAR MOD is born.

It was a long and fairly involved mod involving removing the bass neck, reconfiguring the body to work as a guitar, building a new custom neck and then doing some finish matching to pull it all together.

We’re proud to say, this project was a huge success and our studio is now the proud owner of an almost vintage, almost Gibson, one of a kind SG.

Planing Stages

To determine if this project was worthwhile we spent some time laying out components and taking measurements. From our initial assessment we determined that a stop tail could be retrofitted to mount where the bass bridge had once gone. With a new tune-o-matic style bridge being added along with a pair of hum-buckers and the new neck.

Getting The Body Ready For A New Neck

Removing the old neck seemed simple enough. We were extra careful when removing material to avoid cracks or chips to the wood that was left. A hacksaw made quick work of the remainder of the bass neck, cutting through both the aged mahogany and the truss rod easily enough. Hated to do it, but the end result will prove to be worth the sacrifice. What was left of the original neck was then chiseled out of the tenon joint in the body. After that we carefully set up a router template to cleanly cut a pocket for a new neck. This was tricky, as the template needed to be angled slightly so that the new neck would tip back from the face of the guitar so that the strings would align with the top of the new bridge while still leaving room for fine tuning the string height. Too much or too little angle and the strings would ride high or low and no amount of adjustment would be able to correct it.

We turned down the original mounting screws that had held the bass bridge in place. They had gouged and jagged edges which would be uncomfortable to have your hand near while playing. With a drill press and a file, we were able to quickly round them over and then a careful cut to the top with a hacksaw made them adjustable with a screw driver. Luckily, the original bushings and screw placement worked with our new stop tail.

Here you can see the neck where it joins the body and the stop-bar tailpeice mounted were the original bass bridge once was.

For the new bridge, 2 holes were drilled just large enough to allow the larger bushing style adjustment screws to be carefully threaded into the body without the bushings. A hybrid between old and new. Templates were used to align and then route a new cavity for a bridge hum-bucker. The rhythm hum-bucker cavity was already cut from when this body was a bass. Although the cavity was a bit larger than your standard hum-bucker opening. We decided to use another hybrid approach and use a hum-bucker mounting ring for the bridge pick-up and a custom pick-guard for the rhythm pick-up. For pick-ups and electronics a set of Elitist pick-ups were found on Ebay and the other components, (switch, potentiometers, tone caps, output jack, etc) were ordered online. We’ve been impressed with the elitist pick-ups in an actual Elitist guitar, so this was a luck find. We tried to get away with a budget switch, but found that the solder tabs snapped when they were bent even slightly. So for that component we recommend a higher quality part such as Switchcraft. The pots are Alpha quality pots from Stew Mac 500k for both tone & volumes with a standard .22pf tone caps. Nothing really fancy there. Most of the time these standard quality components are just fine for a build of this type. Once it’s established that a guitar is a keeper, modding it additionally with high grade electronic components becomes an option.

With the body prepped and ready, we turn to creating a new neck to turn this ‘once a bass’ into a guitar.

We ordered a maple neck blank, and a rosewood fingerboard, pre slotted in Gibson standard 24 3/4″ scale, along with a dual adjustable truss rod, a tall and narrow vintage profile fret wire, pearloid dot inlay pieces and a bone nut from Total cost of parts was considerably less than what you will pay for a neck from any of the custom shops like Warmoth – though this is a very complex build project which takes a bit of time and experience to complete satisfactorily. So the cost/vrs end result becomes a factor in how you might decide to go about a project like this yourself.

From here on out we are designing, fabricating and assembling a custom neck. Which, aside from carving your own top on a solid body, is one of the most difficult projects to do on a solid body.

The fingerboard comes with a few extra slots, in case you want to make a 24 fret neck. We didn’t, so those are trimmed off using the band saw, cutting right down the 23rd fret slot. And then a touch-up of the edge with a file and sandpaper, leaving some material for a final fit. The fret board comes slotted and radiused, but is not tapered.

Left: The placement of the stop-tail, bridge and pick-up laid out. Right: Trimming the pre-slotted fingerboard.

Our maple neck blank is a standard plain hard maple plank long enough to get both the neck and headstock out of the single piece. We carefully traced out the fret board centered and at one end of our neck blank. From there we determined where our truss rod channel would need to be routed, the taper of the neck (matched to a favorite gibson neck in our collection), and where the headstock begins and ends.


Epiphone Elitist Les Paul Standard Plain Top

A real Les Paul, Made in Japan.

The Elitist line was manufactured by Epiphone in Japan, which include Casino, Sheraton, Rivera, 335, Brydland, Broadway, Country Deluxe, and a range of Les Paul models, are high quality counterpoints to Gibson’s American made instruments. “Made in Japan” is synonymous with high quality in the guitar world. Epiphone and may other high quality intruments are made in Korea, China, Indonesia and Japan. The Elitist line is now out of production or discontinued.

Our review guitar is a Les Paul Standard in a Honey-burst finish with a solid ‘plus’ top of book-matched flame Maple. The ‘Plus’ top designation signifies higher quality cosmetically than the plain top standard models. This particualr instrument was built in 2004 in Japan and was purchased as a special deal – Probably due to it’s ‘Plus’ top being not the most figuered. This guitar might fit the bill for those seeking traditional tones in a sturdy, high quality instrument built to vintage specs.

Figuring is the grain pattern of the wood. The more appealing the grain pattern of the Maple top, the more expensive the intrument.

Elitist Les Paul Standard Features At a glance.

  • Gibson manufactured pick-ups and USA electronic components.
  • Durable Polyurethane finish
  • Long neck tenon
  • Grover tuning machines
  • African Mahogany back (book-matched on early models according to literature)
  • Solid Book-Matched Maple top (not a veneer)
  • Vintage style hardware (American Standard Spacing & Size)
  • Matching Deluxe hard-shell case – included with original purchase.

Elitist LP Standard Review Continued…>


Agile 3000M Single Cut Electric Guitar

The Agile brand name has become synonymous with high quality imported guitars. For the price they are hard to beat.

Agile branded guitars are the import guitar to look at, particularly for Gibson inspired designs. Agile guitars peaked in popularity due to exposure and praise from message board users. In the gorilla marketing world, Agile is the 800lb silverback. Since that peak in 2006 new brands have emerged as contenders, as well as familiar brands making the changes required to compete in this new phase of imported guitar sales.

In Depth Review

The model we have in for review is an off the rack (or out of the box) 2004 Agile AL-3000M in Honey Sunburst. A transitional instrument, it has an older headstock design and a rounded lower horn. Newer Agile guitars have a more attractive redesigned headstock

The AL-3000M has a nice set of features, offering a blend of vintage styling and custom options not found in other brands at this price point.

Agile AL-3000M features at a glance

  • 3/4″ carved Maple top (solid, multi-piece)
  • Mahogany back (solid, multi-piece)
  • Mahogany neck
  • Ebony Fingerboard
  • Jumbo frets
  • Abalone Inlays (laminated)
  • Flame Maple veneer on the face
  • Slightly thinner neck width
  • Grover Tuners
  • Bone Nut
  • Vintage style pick-ups
  • Polyurethane finish.

First Impressions

Straight out of the shipping packaging this instrument is adequately set-up. The fret work is comparable to any other import we’ve played including Epiphones and Ibanez.The neck is readily adjustable via the truss rod and the supplied hex wrench. This guitar has a hex bolt at the headstock for truss rod adjustment

The 3000m features a real flame maple veneer over a solid (multi piece) Maple top. The back and neck are Mahogany.

The neck on this guitar has a fairly flat profile, and like most of the Agile line has a slightly slimmer width at the nut 1.67″/42mm compared to vintage instruments. Comfortable for younger or smaller hands. The frets are jumbo, so bending is a breeze and fretting chords are easy.

The bridge is a Tune-O-Matic style with individually adjustable saddle inserts. The stop tall is a standard design. The hardware for this guitar is Gotoh brand. The finish is blemish free, aside from a few tiny specs under the clear coat. The Honey Sunburst is more of an Amber Sunburst to our eyes. The pick-guard and truss-rod cover are both cream plastic with a pearloid top layer. The back and neck are tinted a reddish brown.

We were just a little disappointed to find that the maple top is in three pieces, clearly visible since this model has a natural maple edge binding. We’ve seen other imports with up to seven pieces making up a maple top, so this isn’t a big deal, though it’s not ideal. The neck has black binding on the fret board with white side position markers. The abalone inlays are colorful and seem to be cleanly installed without excessive filler.

We reworked the nut for a perfect custom feel and look, with optimal slot depth and a rounded and polished surface.

The Ebony fingerboard isn’t as smooth as we’d like it to be having a definite graininess that is difficult to address once the frets are installed. The fingerboard radius is 12°, a comfortable middle ground between flat shred and rounded chording profiles. The strap buttons are fairly large and can probably hold a strap almost as well as strap locks. The nut is bone, and is shaped in a traditional slanted top style. The nut slot depth was a little high from the factory making open chords a little uncomfortable to play and making the action seem stiff overall. (see note, above)

This particular model shipped with Wilkenson, vintage style Alnico magnet pick-ups with metal braided single conductor shielding. At the time this review is being written the Agile guitars are available with stock and Seymour Duncan branded pick-ups, as well as pick-ups similar to the one tested. They have a pleasant clean sound with leads and chording standing out nicely. Distorted, they tend to have mid range overtones. We found ourselves turning down the mids, and turning up the treble a bit on our test amp. The bass comes across clean but a bit muffled even under distortion. You could compare these stock pups to a Seymour Duncan Jazz/JB set with a little less sparkle. Good for clean sounds, jazzy licks, on into classic rock tones, but falling shy of modern crunch or deep metal tones. Definitely a Mod worthy guitar. In fact, we had a Jazz/JB set in this instrument for awhile and found it still lacked something, so back to stock it goes as we keep it in mind for that perfect pick-up combo to compliment this guitar’s tone. Played unplugged the tone is a little thin, probably due to the heaviness of the guitar overall. This guitar isn’t very loud acoustically.

The electronic components are of decent quality. In the years since this guitar came to the studio the three-way switch has occasionally developed intermittence, which we will eventually need to fix. The pots have worked fine, and haven’t developed any scratchiness or noise. Being standard import quality the feel isn’t the same as you would get from CTS or similar components.

Before we pass verdict on the Agile AL-3000M, let’s consider some of the reasons this particular guitar, and others like it from other brands, tend to sound – how to say it, worth their price?

  • Wood: Yes it does affect the tone of electric guitars, the weight and density of the wood, including the fingerboard affects the tone of the instrument, however subtly.
  • Finish: The thicker poly finishes found on just about every import instrument tend to act like a plastic shell which effects tone. It’s not always a bad thing, but it’s there.
  • Quality of the components: The metal parts, the material they are made out of, their weight, all these factors effect the sound. For good or bad.

We’re not out to knock the Agile AL-3000M, far from it. These guitars are great all around instruments worthy of professional use and affordable ebough to be first guitars, back-up guitars, gig, and practice instruments. They are definitely worth a look, compared to other guitars in the same price range.

Check out our youtube review-jam of the Agile 3000M

The Agile AL-3000M can stand on it’s own, delivering a tasty version of a traditional look and sound for a reasonable price – while also offering many stand out custom features. When compared to similarly priced Epiphones the competition gets stiff, the differences are cosmetic as much as anything. Compared to the premium Epis’ such as the discontinued Elitist line, the gap widens due the higher quality over all of the Epiphones.

Follow up – After the Honeymoon

We’ve had this guitar around for awhile and we’ve done a few mods to customize it to our liking.

At one point we swapped the pick-ups from the stock ones to a set of Seymour Duncan (jazz/jb), while the tone improved a little, we decided that much of the ‘character’ of this guitar was inherent in the build (a thicker dark mid-rangy tone), so the stock pups went back in, and we’ll live with it.

Please note that individual guitars vary quite a bit, and our particular reviewed instrument may not reflect the exact tone of another from the same line. Our hands on reviews are mean to reflect our general impression with one particular instrument, in comparison to others we have had access to.

The thick poly finish can hinder tone a little. One of our standard mods for imports is to thin the poly a bit by re-sanding, and then using rubbing compounds to bring up a fresh deep gloss. This can really improve the look and feel of factory poly finishes. Thinning the finish generally improve the tone of the guitar by slightly altering the resonant frequencies that are dampened as the instrument is played.

The stock nut had the vintage style long deep slot that you can find on Gibsons, which in our opinion is one of the main reasons for tuning issues. The nut was re-profiled, the nut slots adjusted and then polished.

The fret work from the factory was adequate but not ideal. We did a level, dress and polish to even things out and improve playability. We took this fret dress as an opportunity to sand down the fret board a little to get rid of some of the unsightly grain the stock ebony fingerboard had. Sanded smooth, and treated with a fingerboard finishing oil, it looks better than ever.

The pick-up covers have shown a tendency to tarnish over time, to the point of developing some pitting and stains that don’t polish out easily. We’ve settled for polishing with a modern guitar polish and just living with them showing their age. We haven’t had this problem with any other guitar, so we have to conclude that it’s an issue with the pickup’s materials.

Conclusion: If you’re looking for that Les Paul recipe at a budget price, and are willing to give an Import a try, the Agile line of guitars are worth a look. Many thousands of satisfied customers can attest to’s customer service and the Agile brand being a high quality import, suitable for just about any player looking to add another guitar to stable, or starting out with an affordable alternative.

Agile guitars are imported and sold by: Rondo Music is not affiliated with Rondo Music.

HowTo Lessons

Beginning Guitar Lesson. Fretting Notes

Ready to begin learning to play the guitar? We’ll be starting with the very basics. You’ll need a few things to get started.

A little information about the frets and what they do

The frets divide the length of each string into segments. Notice the dots on the side of the guitar neck, blocks or dot inlays on the face of the fret board. They mark the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, etc. positions. When you press a string at the 5th marker, you’re limiting the strings length to the 5th fret. The note’s pitch is higher than the sound of the string played “open”. The markers are not exactly related to the musical scale (a concept we will explore in more depth later). They are visual landmarks that you use to guide your playing.

Let’s Begin Playing

Guitar tuned and ready to start? Let’s begin… You’ve probably already strummed the strings and experimented with pressing the strings down against the frets. Let’s go through some specific exercises to begin learning to play the guitar.

The picture below shows the basic position of the thumb and fretting finger and where to press the string down. The nut is at the left which means in this example we are fretting the not at the 2nd fret.

Right or left handed it’s the same for plucking the string and fretting notes. One hand is held in position on the guitar neck, the finger presses the string down enough to touch the fret, while the other hand plucks the string to make the note ring out. It’s important to get the hang of the correct way to fret notes to avoid problems which are difficult to “unlearn” later. Pay attention the position of the fingers, thumb, and wrist angle.



What you see in the picture below is called tablature. It’s an easy way to show you what notes to play and what to practice. Tablature is an old idea, originating in use as lute music. Study this picture to learn the basics of tablature.

Zeros indicate open notes (the open string), numbers indicate fretted notes – the number is the fret that the string is pressed behind. The lines represent the six guitar strings from the thicker 6th string at the bottom; lowE. To the thinest 1st string; High E.  The notes of all the string are from bass to treble are E, A, D, G, B, E in standard tuning.

Use the tablature (Tab) examples below we’re going to start teaching the muscles in your hands to play guitar. Your mind and muscles will learn as you play so that in time this type of exercise will be easy.



Pluck the string four times for each note, then move to the next string. Count notes as you go as, 1, 2, 3, 4. Play this exercise for 2-3 minutes at a time, gradually picking up speed (tempo). Don’t practice for too long, and stop if your hand cramps or you have any pain. Continue with the other patterns as you like.


All open notes, four notes per string, work on an even tempo. This exercise uses just the strumming hand to pluck the single open string notes.


First fret, four notes per string across all six strings, even tempo. For this exercise we add in using your 1st finger to fret the note behind the first fret.

Exercises continue on the next page…


Kramer Focus 1000 Review

The Kramer name is still in production as a brand owned by Gibson. The Kramer name is synonymous with Neptune New Jersey, a certain 80s guitar star, and high quality import guitars. Take a look at this near vintage mid-80s Japanese (built by ESP) solid body electric guitar.

Kramer Focus 1000

Kramer® branded instruments have been spotted in limited production runs on various big music retailer websites, while previusly having been distributed through the musicyo web site. It’s nice to see the brand in production. It’s easy to confuse the current Focus line with the series by the same name released in the 80s. The models of today really don’t compare to the import models of the past. This review features a candy apple red Focus 1000 in good condition. The original Focus series also included the two pick-up 2000, the three pick-up 3000 and the 5000 “Vanguard” three hum-bucker model, as well as bass instruments. Th vintage Kramers featured a comfortable, slim taper neck, jumbo frets and a thin fingerboard. The Focus line was Kramer’s lower priced offering with Berettas and Pacers costing much more.

This prized used find has cool 80s styling complete with matching head stock, comes equipped with an Original Floyd Rose® Locking tremolo – stock. The finish has taken a beating in almost twenty years. We were able to polish out most of the minor blemishes, the rest are “character”. The candy apple red still looks good. The original finish is a tough urethane and tough as nails to remove (something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of refinishing one of these bad boys). The body is most likely made of Poplar, a light resonant wood with a tonal quality somewhere between Swamp Ask and Alder. The fingerboard is pretty chewed up. Whomever owned this guitar played hard!

Kramer Focus 1000

A real 80s work horse featuring one volume control and one slanted bridge pickup. On further inspection, the volume control has an inline resistor to allow some treble signal to pass through as the volume control is turned down. Did Eddie Van Halen use this Mod or inspire it? The stock pick-ups distort readily but aren’t really sweet sounding – even after 20 years of aging. This is one of the key differences between the import Focus line, and the USA Kramers such as the Pacer series from this time period. The Pacer’s often had Seymour Duncan pickups stock. Aside from the pick-ups, you’ll be hard pressed to find any significant differences in quality between the import 80s Focus and the USA made Pacers. The bodies are shaped the same, along with the finish, and other components being high quality. The Focus necks went through a series of changes to the head stock shape over the years. Maple fingerboards seemed to have been reserved for the Pacer line. The Focus models are sleepers, since they share so many of the high quality features as the USA made Kramers. Prices have started to rise for the Focus series as the supply of USA made vintage Kramers dries up. Sadly, many of these closet classics are being parted out to sell the Original Floyd Rose tremolo separately.

Kramer Focus 1000

Like Charvels and Jacksons from the same period these guitars were made for Rock & Roll, and they deliver! The neck profile is comfortable with the fretboard radius being fairly flat and the frets medium jumbo in size. All of our vintage Kramers have rock solid necks, that are a joy to play.

The metal parts of the trem, lock nut, and tuners needed a good polish, but were mostly good as new. The trem arm mounting nut assembly can get sloppy over the years, but aftermarket arms are available. A little modern guitar polish does wonders with the kinds of grime and tarnish that can accumulate on guitar parts.

The fingerboard and frets needed a little TLC, a light fret level and crowning, along with a good scrub got them looking almost new. A good polish overall, everything put back together, and it’s like Mr. Peabody pulled this one out of the ‘way back’ machine.