Ibanez RG Upgrade
Below is list of all mods I performed on my beloved Ibanez RG2550EGK. It was a great instrument from the beginning, but these upgrades made it even better. I haven’t done all of them at the same time though, it took a couple of months between each of the steps.
Step 1: Tremol-no installation
This is relatively simple mod to perform and is 100% reversible, so it’s a good starting point. For more info read my detailed Tremol-no review.
Stage 2: Bridge pickup upgrade
After almost two years of playing with this guitar completely stock I decided to try to swap the pickups. Being a total gear slut I couldn’t resist trying out the new DiMarzio John Petrucci signature pickups. As I’m mostly using the bridge pickup it’s the one to replace first. I bought DiMarzio Crunch Lab to start with and replaced stock DiMarzio-IBZ pickup.
Don’t get me wrong, stock pickups are pretty good. Unlike some “Designed by <put brand name here>” pickups, these are actually built by DiMarzio for Ibanez Prestige models. They are designed to work good for anything between rock and metal and as such cannot be awesome for everything in between. What I wanted to change is to have tighter bass response that would work better for palm muted rhythm sections. Too much bass and it starts to sound a bit flubby. For hard rock, chords and solos stock pickups are just fine.
It turned out to be just what I hoped for. I can’t tell any significant difference in power, but it’s much clearer for rhythm parts which was my goal. Highs are about the same or just a tad hotter than stock pickups. Harmonics pop out easily. Now that the bridge pickup is swapped I will have to do neck as well. Stock neck pickup is very hot and doesn’t go too well with the Crunch Lab, so getting Liquifire or Air Norton is probably the next step for me. I’m happy that I swapped the pickup but I’m not sorry for not doing it sooner as it used to be the case for some other guitars. Stock pickups are really nice and they can provide few years of fun.
Bridge pickup alignment
It took me almost 3 years to notice that string spacing on my RG2550 is actually a bit wider than F-spaced humbuckers and that pickup is aligned slightly off axis towards controls. Below is a cropped photo from Musician’s Friend that shows the low E string barely crossing over the magnet pole.
Sound wise I can’t tell any difference, as low E appears to be just as loud as others. When swapping the other two pickups I had a chance to address this and make it at least look better. The idea is to bend base plate legs to make the whole pickup move for approx 1-1.5mm towards bass side. Pickguard hole is large enough to allow for the pickup to move around. Diagram below shows what I did.
It’s a two step process for each leg. First I bent the leg at the base plate, then bend the “heel” so that it’s still parallel with the base plate. That way there won’t be problems with pickup mounting screws.
It’s perfectly symmetrical now, but I still can’t hear any difference. At least it looks cool 🙂
Stage 3: Neck and Middle pickup upgrade
When I decided to swap the stock DiMarzio/Ibz pickup for Crunch Lab I was hoping that will keep me entertained for a while before having to change something else. But we all know that’s not how it works 🙂
Stock neck pickup was matched well with other two stock pickups, but paired with Crunch Lab it was too warm and too powerful. I read good things about new LiquiFire which should be a great match with Crunch Lab. Also, I had a brand new Dimarzio Evolution single coil pickup lying around. It’s supposed to match well with Evolutions which are much brighter than stock pickups, so it’s probably a better match with Crunch Lab/LiquiFire than stock single coil. Since I’m taking the pickguard off it’s not a bad chance to swap both neck and middle pickup at the same time. Here’s how it turned out:
I love the way LiquiFire sounds! It’s much much tighter than stock pickup and also lower output. No matter how hard I tried, it never sounds muddy, which is awesome for a neck pickup. It can even do palm muting stuff. On the other hand, it still has that “singing” quality you’d expect from a great neck pickup. Looks like they have tuned lows and low mids so that it’s warm enough but never too warm. Great job from DiMarzio and Petrucci!
Note: Liquifire is not symmetrical, i.e. it’s coils are not the same. I tried wiring it both ways and could tell the difference. I liked it more with the cable exit pointing towards controls because it has more even response. If it’s installed the other way round there’s a noticeable frequency peak somewhere in lower mids. Also, when it’s installed like that, position 4 on the switch gives middle pickup in parallel with coil closer to neck which sounds a bit different than standard RG/JEM.
As for the Evolution single, it worked out rather well. It’s much more like Strat single than the stock pickup – brighter and with a bit less output. That makes the 3rd position sound very Strat-like, nice and clean. Also, 2nd and 4th positions are a bit brighter and sound closer to single coil sound. That’s also a good thing because I like those position for clean sounds.
Here’s a clip that demonstrates volume difference between each pickup position. There’s a significant volume drop between outer positions and positions 2 and 4 end even more when switching to the middle position. That’s a nice way to add more versatility to the guitar.
This swap will definitely keep me entertained for a couple of months before thinking of changing something else on this guitar. New Petrucci signature pickups are awesome. As far as I’m concerned, this was money well spent.
Stage 4: pots, selector switch, treble bleed and tone cap
The final electronics mod I did was to swap the pots with Bourns Premium pots and switch with Oak 5-way 4 pole switch. I was curious to try Bourns pots and got the switch just for the sake of it. 4 pole switch allows many different combinations in case I want to experiment in the future. Bourns pots were almost a drop in replacement. I had to enlarge pickguard holes a bit but other than that, they fit nicely. 4-pole switch, on the other hand needs some fiddling. When pickguard is installed in place, some terminals are making contact with conductive cavity shielding which essentially mutes positions 2-3-4. I had to bend few terminals to prevent them from shorting to ground, but other than that, the switch fit well. Bourns pots are totally worth it, I’m very happy with them. For more details on Bourns pots, read my dedicated review.
Stock 330pF treble bleed cap works well for higher volume settings, but is too bright when volume pot is set low. I decided to replace it with Kinman treble bleed mod, which is basically a 130K resistor in parallel with a 1nF (paper-in-oil) cap. Having a resistor in series limits the effect of the cap, but higher cap value means that more frequencies will be passed through. That results in more subtle effect and is more consistent throughout volume pot range. Also, compared to some other treble bleed circuits that have a resistor in parallel with the cap, this one doesn’t affect pot taper noticeably.
22nF is the most common tone pot value, but for many people it’s way too much. Smaller cap values should give more usable pot range and less treble cut when pot is set to zero. I replaced mine with a 10nF Russian paper-in-oil cap. Works very well.
Stage 5: fancy pickguard
The latest mod I did was to replace a stock “smoked mirror” pickguard with a real black mirror picguard, custom made by Jeannie Pickguards. The pickguard is made flawlessly and fit the guitar perfectly. This is how 2550EGK should have looked from the factory! It much more “awesome” than the stock one and also matches cosmo black hardware much better.
Click on a thumbnail to play the video on YouTube.