Leo Fender invented the solid body electric guitar. Eventually, his invention became the legendary Fender Telecaster®. This basic guitar: withstood the test of time; exudes versatility; sounds great; and most importantly — proves fun to play.
I tried out a number of Fender Telecasters at local music stores and 1 stood out. A blue American Special Telecaster®. This particular guitar sounded great acoustically and the neck felt great under my fingers. I play jazz fusion, or clean-only, jazz chord style blues on mostly the front pick up.
While rolling the guitar tone knob back about 50% provided a decent jazz tone, the 60 hertz hum plus the front pick’s thin sound left me wanting to place humbucking pickups in this axe.
I ‘ve replaced a lot of pickups over the decades and the aftermarket choices today seems incredible. Still, too, I tend to go with what I know. I bought a pair of Seymour Duncan hot rails for tele pups and mounted them. Click for a link to those pickups on the Seymour Duncan web site.
Above — The stock Telecaster® pickup just sitting in its cavity. The protective cellophane still lies in-situ.
This guitar came stock with Texas Special™ Single-Coil Tele pickups. They sound good and would likely work well for the classic rock, blues and country player. When I removed the pick guard, I felt surprised to see the guitar body was already routed for a full size humbucker pickup, although the routing seemed more shallow than standard.
Above — The new Duncan humbucker sitting in the neck cavity.
Above — Alternate view of Duncan humbucker just sitting in the neck cavity. I removed the bridge pickup. You can see the black ground wire I added to ground the bridge since the Duncan pickup lacks the classic Telecaster brass grounding backing plate used with stock Tele single coil pickups.
Above — The front pickup screwed into the guitar wood. I lacked the hardware to mount it in the pickguard and so just screwed it to the guitar. In my 22 fret telecaster, in order to put the pick guard back on, I had to remove the neck. I also had to sand my pickguard’s front pickup slot a little to better fit the pickup width. You can see, that an early attempt to place the pickup in the pickguard shaved off a little of the tape that covers the pickguard front.
Above — To unsolder and solder new pickups, the tele’s control plate gets removed and set on a towel to avoid scratching the guitar.
Above 3 photographs — Control panel, switch, and the deep control cavity. Wiring guitars seems so simple compared to the microwave circuitry I’ve toiled with lately.
I also changed the stock Fender tone circuit to my preferred tone circuit: that used by Gibson® guitars in the 1950s.
Above — The bridge pickup mounted in the vintage style Fender bridge.
Above — Both pickups installed and the bridge screwed in and grounded with my new ground wire. I then temporarily set the pickguard and neck on top plus fitted the E string shown to determine the ideal front pickup height. The tele rails pickups feature a strong ceramic magnet so I opted to keep the front pickup low to avoid decreasing string vibration. Once the neck pickup height seemed correct, I re-attached the neck and, screwed down the pickguard.
I played this guitar for about 2 weeks, and while I loved the sound of the bridge pickup, I only liked the neck pickup for my particular playing style. So, then, I ordered my all-time favorite neck pickup: The Duncan 59. Click for link.
I ordered a new aftermarket Tele pickguard cut for a pickguard mounted humbucker and waited for parts to arrive.
Further, I got some Bourns 500K panel potentiometers specified and distributed by Seymour Duncan and their dealers.
Above — (Bourns) Seymour Duncan pots that turn like butter. For me, the most important determinants in the guitar/amp system = the guitar’s volume and tone pots.
Above — A rear view of the Duncan 59 neck humbucker. It gives that old PAF sound with some tweaks: slightly scooped mids + peaked highs on an ALNICO ( aluminum – nickel – cobalt ) 5 magnet. Sweetness indeed.
Above — The 59 pickup mounted in a new aftermarket pick guard.
Above — Because the factory carved front pickup cavity loomed shallow, I got in there with a spade bit and created room for the Duncan 59 pickup mounting plate and screws.
Above — Testing to ensure that my spade drill bit holes were deep enough to allow the pickup hardware to clear and not bottom out. After a couple of gentle drillings, It fit perfectly.
Above — Time to bolt on the neck and secure the new pickguard.
Above — I soldered the control panel in reverse fashion. I prefer the switch at the back and pots up front. This gives easier access to the volume pot since I employ a lot of volume swells and mostly just play on the front pick up so the switch is much less important. I oriented the switch so it points to the chosen pickup per normal.
I ran (black) shielded RG-174 wire to connect the switch output to the 500K volume pot. The tone capacitor value = 0.018 µF per my personal specification.
Above — You can see the reversed Tele control plate well in the photo. I’ll enjoy boosted access to the volume pot.
Above —Guitar strung and tuned. I’m not into hyperbole: it sounds great and noise free. The pots turn easily and I’ve got a new toy to enjoy.