The guitar I want most doesn’t exist. Apparently no one ever thought the tight, guttural chime of a Fender Mustang deserved to be wedded with the sustain of a long scale neck with a heavy maple body.
I could build this guitar – there are many sites, like warmoth.com, that make custom guitar building a real option. But budget concerns preclude this possibility for most, and besides, having such a fancy-shmancy guitar could destroy your Daniel Johnston-esque demeanor.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to your Squire or Epiphone to make it sound awesome, or if not awesome, at least different.
The first, possibly irresponsible, modification I ever undertook was in honor of the late Jaco Pastorius, the twentieth century’s greatest bass player. I, like he who came before me, took a pair of pliers to the fretboard of my Mexican Jazz Bass and ripped out each and every one of the frets, creating a monstrosity of a fretless bass. It was a little rough, but some wood putty, polyurethane, and sanding smoothed it out and converted it from a disappointing knockoff into a decent sounding fretless.
Sometimes cheap imitation models can lack some luster in terms of fullness and sustain. Adding weight to the guitar can really help. Replacing your bridge with a heavy Bigsby tremolo and your tuning machines with a beefier model will help a lot. I’ve even seen people just glue metal weights onto the body and headstock, though I can’t vouch for the method’s effectiveness. Looks pretty DIY and awesome though.
If you’re willing to really take a risk, you could emulate the Beatles and sand off the finish of your guitar. Or rip off the plastic coating if it’s just that cheap. Either way, leaving it bare will make the natural sound of the wood pop out more, though it’ll leave it much more vulnerable to moisture and weather. Ambitious proto-luthiers could replace the finish with a blend of their own.
One thing I’ve always wanted to try, but never have, is to spray polyurethane onto the inside of a hollowbody, creating a much more reflective surface in the sound chamber. I have no idea what this will do (maybe make it brighter?) but if anyone out there tries it, send a letter to the editor and tell me how it goes. At any rate, never let a cheap sound get you down again — just channel the power of Dr. Frankenstein and attack that axe.