Modding a 7-string Ibanez Guitar - Part 3

Ibanez 7-string guitar GRG7221M

At the end of my previous post, I finished replacing the bridge and tuners of my Ibanez GRG7221M. I was anxious to get in and replace all of the electronics, too, but no one had the pickups I wanted in stock. I finally got all of the parts I needed in hand, so now I can document the rest of my guitar modding story. Spoiler alert, this part was a little more complicated than my previous posts, but I’m totally satisfied with the results. Here’s what happened.

First, a brief overview of the parts I chose: The pickups are Seymour Duncans. There’s a ‘59 in the neck position and a Duncan Custom in the bridge position. The switch is an Oak-Grigsby 3-way, and the volume pot is a 250k Short-Shaft Mojo Tone Push-Pull Pot. The push-pull action on the new tone pot is key because I’m using it for coil split which lets me replace the old 5-way switch with the new and simpler 3-way.

First up, since I don’t have a proper knob pulling tool, I wound some string underneath the volume pot’s knob, then more or less gently pulled up on it until it popped off. I pulled the knob off of the selector switch with just the application of a little elbow grease. You have to remove the knobs before you can pull the components out of the back of the guitar, and I wanted to be careful with them because I planned to reuse these knobs on my new components.

guitar with the control knobs removed
Step 1: Remove the control knobs

For the next step, I flipped the guitar over and used a screwdriver to remove the cover. This exposed the components and the pretty clean factory wiring job.

guitar with the control cavity opened
Step 2: Remove the back cover

Only the jack and tone pot (and most of the wires connecting to them) could stay where they were. Everything else (both pickups, the volume pot, and the selector switch) had to go. So I broke out the soldering iron, desoldered the connections, then used a screwdriver and a wrench to remove everything.

Image of using a soldering iron to disconnect wiring
Step 3: Desolder components
mostly empty control cavity
Step 4: Yank out the disconnected components

Once the old parts were out, I could stop and check the fit of the new parts. I threaded the wiring for the new pickups into the cavity and then tried to mount the new pot. This is where I hit my first problem. The shaft of the new pickup was wider than the old one. But that wasn’t a big problem. I just found a drill bit that matched the diameter of the new pot’s shaft and used it to enlarge the hole. After that, the new pot fit like it had always been there. The new selector switch slid into its spot with no problems at all, so now it was time for some serious soldering.

new potentiometer and switch
The new pot and switch waiting to be installed

First, I soldered all the corresponding wires onto the volume pot, then pulled out the wrench to lock it in place. Then I screwed the selector switch in place and started soldering leads to it. This is where I hit the next problem. One of the leads from the neck pickup wasn’t long enough, so I had to solder a connecting wire to it and cover it with a bit of heat-shrink tubing. Once that was done, it was easy to connect the new longer lead to the selector switch. Then I just had to finish reconnecting the jack and the tone pot, and the soldering work was done. And as you can see from the picture, my soldering skills can’t really be described as skills. Actually, this was only the second time I had used one. That’s okay. It’s not pretty, but everything works.

The much messier new wiring
Step 5: Wire everything up

All that was left to do was mount and adjust the pickups, pop the control knobs back on, restring it, plug it in, and test it out… or so I thought. This is where I ran into the biggest problem yet. The original pickups mounted to a frame with machine screws that passed through the frame, through springs, and then into threaded holes in the tabs at the base of the pickup. Tightening the screws will raise the height of the pickup, while loosening the screws lowers it. The springs keep the pickup under tension so it doesn’t flop around. I dropped the neck pickup in, mounted it to its frame and screwed it down. Done! Only then did I notice the problem with the bridge pickup. The holes in the tabs on its base were larger than my old mounting screws and they weren’t tapped (meaning they weren’t threaded to receive a screw). Since it was 2AM at this point, I wasn’t mentally prepared to deal with this unexpected challenge, so I decided to go to bed.

How the pickups mount to the frame
How the pickups mount to the frame

In the light of a new day, the problem wasn’t so bad. I had a tap for a machine screw size one larger than my existing mounting screws, so I used that to tap the new pickups tabs. I even had the right size screws in the right length, so after slightly enlarging the holes in the frame to match, I was able to finally mount the bridge pickup. Maybe someday I’ll order some screws with smaller heads so they look a little prettier, but in the meantime, they work just fine. The control knobs were a little tight on the new components, but I shoved a little harder and managed to get them in place. So my mod is done! Now, instead of a 5-way selector switch and lower-end Ibanez pickups (Infinity set), my “new” guitar has a custom set of Seymour Duncans and a 3-way selector switch with a push-pull pot wired for a coil split. In short, it’s a much more versatile guitar. Oh, and it sounds great!

new components installed in the guitar
New components with pot pulled up (coil split action)
new components installed with the pot in the down position
New components with pot pushed down (regular old humbuckers)

As mods go, this one was pretty extensive, but it’s a good example of why you might want to mod an instrument. In the end, I stayed within my budget and still got a guitar with all of the features I wanted for a fraction of what it would have cost to order one custom. It was even less expensive than trying to buy something off the shelf that didn’t meet all of my wants but would at least have had quality pickups and wiring that met my specs. If you’ve never modded a guitar before, it might seem kind of daunting, but it’s really not that hard, and the reward is getting exactly what you want in your instrument. I highly recommend modding for anyone looking to get more out of an instrument they already own.

Intro - Why Mod a Perfectly Good Instrument?
Part 1 - The Plan
Part 2 - Modding the Bridge and Tuners
Part 3 - Replacing the Electronics (You are here)

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