So… You want to make your acoustic guitar sound better? You got to the right place. Any of the following guitar upgrades can improve your guitar tone relatively easily. And I made sure that everything here is super cost-effective. I am a broke musician too, you know…
In this post, I’m going to share with you a few tricks I picked up over the years. They helped me upgrade the low-budget acoustic I bought as a teen. So, even if this is your first budget guitar – there’s no reason to not give it some well-deserved treatment. I avoided obvious things like replacing the strings or using different picks because there’s nothing new there. Anyway, here we go:
Table of Contents
1. Upgrade the nut
The nut (and the bridge saddle, for that matter) are two of the most under-rated guitar parts when it comes to tone. People will think about the wood at the back of the guitar before they’ll consider upgrading them. Even though they are the only part of your guitar that comes in direct contact with the vibrating part of the strings.
Most budget acoustic guitars come with a plastic nut. This is absolutely fine, but we’re not aiming for fine – we’re aiming for excellent! A simple nut upgrade can have a big impact on your tone. Especially on your open strings sustain. There are a few different materials guitar nuts are made of and each of them has a different characteristic. But other than the material, the quality of the nut slots themselves can make or break an acoustic guitar sound. Here are a few examples of different materials used for guitar nuts, with a few of each material’s properties.
By far, my favorite material for a nut. Its hardness, lightweight, and density allow it to absorb as little of the string’s vibrations as possible. The tuning stability is superb, it is reliable and super resonant. The only downside bone nuts have is that they require lubrication every once in a while (a little drop every time you change the strings will do, and the tube will last for years). A set of 2 nuts and 2 bridge saddles will cost you around $10 and you can buy them on Amazon by clicking here.
Graphite (Tusq) nut
Graphite nuts are getting very popular in the past years, especially due to the fact that graphite is a self-lubricating material. This results in very low friction against the strings (which makes them last longer), and amazing tuning stability. Unfortunately, these advantages do not depend solely on the material. To enjoy the full potential graphite has to offer, the nut needs to be shaped at a very high level. This is the one I’m using. If you’re looking for a set, the same brand makes saddles and bridge pins too. The nut alone will cost around $14, and the whole set will cost about $50.
The main selling point of a brass nut is its extreme durability. This nut will last for a long long time and will require almost no maintenance. One thing to consider is that it’s relatively hard to sand it down to modify the action. So if you’re up for it, this set of bridge saddle and nut is a great guitar upgrade. But if you’re not, you better go for a different option.
The softest and my least favorite of the 4 materials I’ll cover here. It’s not that an Ebony nut is not a huge upgrade from a plastic set – it is. It’s just that its softness makes it less durable and less stable than other materials I featured here. It is, by far, the best-looking one though. I didn’t include a link to an ebony nut because I don’t use any at the moment, and therefore can’t vouch for any specific one. If you have one that you recommend I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
2. Upgrade the bridge saddle
Very similar to the nut, except the saddle will directly impact the sound of every note you play, and not just open strings. The shape of the saddles also has a big impact on the intonation, so if you decide to invest only in one of the things I mentioned in the article – make sure it’s the saddle. Thankfully, 2 of the nuts I mentioned earlier already come with a matching saddle, and you can buy a graphite saddle from here.
3. Upgrade the bridge pins
A bridge pin is an often-underestimated upgrade for an acoustic guitar. It secures the strings to their place and makes sure they don’t move. It makes the bridge pin responsible a lot for the tuning stability you’ll have. The bridge pins also transfer the vibrations from the string directly into the body of the guitar, so they have big importance when it comes to tone.
When buying a set of bridge pins, it’s important to make sure their diameter matches your guitar. You can sand most types down with 200-400 grit sandpaper, but if you’re looking for a brass one – you better get the right size. There are 2 different types of bridge pins: slotted and unslotted. Each of them will work, but if you have the option to go for a slotted one, it’s better. Here are some options for bridge pins I’m using or have used in the past: Ebony/Bone pins by Crosby, Cocobolo/Bone pins by Donner, and Graphite (Tusq) pins by Graphtech.
4. D’Addario O-Port
This one really took me by surprise. I’ve had it for quite some time now (it used to be sold under the Planet Waves brand until recently). It really made an impact on my sound both in volume and it made the guitar sound much better. I know that “sound better” is fairly subjective, but in this case, I think this is the only appropriate term because it just checks every box. You can see it here on Amazon, and there are some helpful videos there, too. What I really liked about the O-Port, is that it works great on a nylon strings guitar too.
5. Bridge Beads (for nylon strings acoustic guitars)
I have them on all of my nylon string guitars. This simple guitar upgrade saves a lot of time when restringing, looks a lot better than the regular knots, and most importantly, increases the area of contact between the strings and the bridge. It reduces the amount of string vibration lost, which adds a lot of clarity and volume.
There are many different materials and shapes, I found that I liked the barrel and square ones the most. In terms of materials, there is a huge variety. But each of them will improve your acoustic guitar sound in a very similar way. When it comes to bridge beads, there’s one company that I really like called Rosette, and here are some of my favorites of their designs: Diamond Black, Black with Gold Inlay, and Diamond White.
Upgrading an acoustic guitar sounded to me a lot more complicated and costly than I thought it would be before I decided to try it. It’s super cost-effective and can easily make a $150 acoustic sound like a high-end one. If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!