It is a fact of life that, like all commercial product, gear is now more than ever before made to a price point exactingly dictated by those twin pillars of the corporate business world the lifestyle consultants (ie marketing) and the accountants. Well, okay, it may mean gear is more affordable than it otherwise might be, and there has certainly never been more choice.
Actually of course, much of that choice is about teasing more money out of us for some extra features or perceived quality, or aspects of niche branding, at a more expensive price point. Bought a digital modeling amp? Deffo go on-line to the forums and check it out – you may well find it has extra but hidden features buried in the menus that are supposedly only available from the more expensive models in the line. And under the scratchplate of your guitar it’s possible you have already-routed cavities that can make different form-factor pickup changes relatively painless, eg on many current production Strat bodies.
Alternatively, you may consider upgrades to the gear you already have. For example: here is my diminutive Roland Micro Cube practice amp. For the price of ten packs of strings (and taking up not much more room), its always surprisingly good-sounding amp models together with the ability to run on a few small batteries for aeons makes it truly a wonderful thing – a real bedside table/go anywhere dedicated guitar amp:
However as stock it comes with a rather limiting speaker (economising on quality of the speakers fitted does seem to be one of the main production cost-saving measures often taken with combo amps – of all sizes). So I replaced it with a suitable bigger (from 4 inch up to 6 inch) Weber-built Alnico magnet speaker, and it really opened it up, both in tone and volume (this little 2 watt amp can hurt my ears now). Received wisdom is you’ve got to use full-frequency range speakers in digital modelling amps, but this is an actual guitar speaker. It has a much higher power handling capability than the stock one, is way more efficient, and the cone is specifically designed for late breakup so it doesn’t go ‘flubby’ in the bass like the original did on some of the amp sims (eg Twin Reverb and Jazz Chorus).
The amp now sounds much better from moving more air, and from the silencing of the audible ‘tizzy’ artifacts arising from its digital processing on the higher-gain amp models. And playing mp3s through it now makes the guitar tracks jump right out of the mix, making it better for jamming along with. (I broke it in with ‘Appetite for Destruction’ on repeat play for a couple of hours, and it made me realise how much more is going on in there guitar-wise than I’d ever thought from more conventional listening.)
This speaker is about as large as you can practically go with a Micro Cube, and it needs a bigger aperture cutting out of the baffle and relieving of the cabinet edges a bit for the speaker to fit, but hey, this Cube was out of its warranty period.
Interestingly, the Twin Reverb sim on this amp sounds so much like my own Fender Twin did before I fixed it up – which just goes to show that any amp sim can only be as good as the actual example of the gear they modelled it off was.
Okay, so if you want help or advice regarding mods or upgrades to gear to improve or change the voicing, sound or playability – whether for amps, speaker cabs, or axes – please do feel free to give me a shout. Other than your dime for the call it’s free!
(Unfortunately I’ve only ever known the wooden box in the pic to be full of ‘vintage’ C90 cassette tapes, rather than good French wine…)