Cheap Guitar Mod Project 1: Ibanez GRX70QA

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It was getting dark and I had just laid out all the cheap guitar mods on my kitchen table. But as I turned to get a flashlight, I heard a knock at the door. “Who is it?” I shouted. 

No answer came back so I quickly grabbed my phone and went to meet whoever was there outside of my house. Just before opening the door, someone banged loudly against it from the other side three times in quick succession like they were trying to break it down.

“I’m coming!” I called out as I fumbled with my keys, finally getting them into the lock and turning it before throwing open the door.

My eyes blinked rapidly at what they saw – a dark night sky dotted with stars overhead that looked close enough to touch but nothing else except for a single row of light from the living room. 

The lights are all off, no one is home, but there’s someone here – I can sense him. “What do you want?”

Not really. But doesn’t this seem like a good way to retain readers?

Ibanez GRX70QA

My life is incomplete without my electric guitars. I want one that looks great, but without sacrificing quality. This blue-bodied beauty has the look of a champion; however, it’s not nearly as flashy as in the picture.

There are some things about this Ibanez GRX70QA that I don’t love: like the chrome hardware and exposed pickups which cheapen its appearance for me. 

It also lacks locking tuners and a thick tremolo block – two crucial features in my opinion! That said, I’m sure this guitar has something special to offer me. I require the best! 

I was stoked when I opened the box and found a guitar that sounded decent right out of the gate. I didn’t need to adjust the action or intonation, which is rare! It’s not perfect though, so I added some finishing touches by filing down a couple of frets and smoothing the neck with 1000-grit sandpaper.

The stock pickups are not bad, but the dynamic range is limited. I cannot live like this. I only accept the highest quality pickups.

The time to execute cheap guitar mods is at hand. A Da Vinci-esque transformation from the mundane to the divine is underway. 

Cheap Guitar Mods

Once I go through the mods, I will post an ‘after’ video of the guitar played through a Boss Katana-50 MK II.  I didn’t think of creating this site before I disassembled the guitar, so I don’t have a ‘before’ video. Please calm down. Future projects will include a ‘before’ video. 

The pickups I procured are the Bare Knuckle Emerald (Neck), Dimarzio SDS1 (Middle), and Dimarzio Tone Zone (Bridge).

You may be thinking, “wow Matt, those pickups aren’t cheap. Haven’t you already spent more than you paid for the guitar?”

I don’t know. Maybe. That’s not the point. It’s about enjoying the process and effecting a radical transformation.

This reminds me, don’t build an elaborately modified guitar with the goal of reselling it for profit. This never works. No one knows how talented you are with mods, and they’re not going to pay a premium to find out. Keep the original hardware and reinstall it if you’re planning to sell

****If you’re looking for parts and equipment to mod your cheap guitar, please check out my store page.****

The first photo shows the new bridge in place and the pickup removal beginning. The new bridge is a huge improvement. It’s much heavier and more substantial. It will be interesting to see if it has an impact on sustain. You can see the metal “abalone” knobs in place, as well. 

There is a piece of foam in each pickup cavity. Pretty standard budget guitar stuff. The second picture shows the original Ibanez wiringIf you think it’s crowded in there now, wait until you see my result. The pots and switch are the standard low-grade items you expect to see during cheap guitar mods. 

The third picture shows both humbuckers removed and the ground wire running through to a ground point on the bridge claw.  Like the kids on Growing Pains, everything metal must be grounded.

The first photo shows the copper shielding tape applied to the pickup cavities. Shielding protects the electronics from electromagnetic and radio frequency interference.

This inference can cause annoying buzzing. People are all over the map regarding the necessity (if any) of shielding.

Unshielded single coils amplify 60-cycle hum. This is the one piece of shielding knowledge most people agree on. The shielding tape also needs to be grounded.  I soldered a wire to the neck pickup cavity shielding, ran the wire through the remaining pickup cavities (creating a solder point in each) before terminating at the main ground point in the control cavity. 

I applied a custom vinyl decal and added several coats of clear coat. It’s very important that everyone knows I built this guitar!

The first picture shows the control cavity cleared out and the new pots and switch installed. Uh-oh! It’s getting snug in there.  The comparison with the original hardware in the second photo illustrates the flimsiness of the original pots and switch. I think replacing these is the most important modification. 

A normal move is to make the bottom of a pot a common ground point. For these CTS push-pulls, however, you can see that the bottom is plastic, and soldering to the side of the pot doesn’t seem stable. Luckily, I was struck with one of the MMMs (Matt’s Masterful Motivations) for which I am famous. 

I tapped a small nail through a piece of shielding tape and the shielding paint. I made this the central ground point. You can kind of see the blob of solder in the upper-right of picture three. 

Some purists reading this are probably getting angry. But if there is one thing you need to know about this site, it’s this: I don’t play by the rules! 

The third picture also shows the pickup connections in progress. I’m proud of myself for not totally melting through any wires with the soldering iron.

I’m so excited to show you my latest creation. It looks insane. I love it!

The gold single coil cover is classy, and the mismatched pickups let everyone know there is a bad boy in town. There was only one wiring mistake on the switch, which is better than the baker’s dozen I anticipated. 

Everything is solid in the control cavity, but at some point I should shorten some wires and re-solder. Playing this thing live right now would make me nervous.

The pickups sound great. The Tone Zone has a nice high-output, 80s feel. The Emerald brings more low-end and creates gorgeous clean tones. The SDS1 has a great Strat/tube sound. It’s hard to describe how they sound together. 




Here are the audio demos of the new pickups. Everything is played through a Boss Katana II 50. All effects are from the amp:

Position 5 (Bare Knuckle) Clean

Position 4 (Bare Knuckle/SDS1) Clean

Position 3 (SDS1) Clean

Position 2 (SDS1/Tone Zone) Clean

Position 1 (Tone Zone) Clean

Position 5 (Bare Knuckle) Distortion

Position 4 (Bare Knuckle/SDS1) Distortion

Position 3 (SDS1) Distortion

Position 2 (SDS1/Tone Zone) Distortion

Position 1 (Tone Zone) Distortion