Pine Body: CHECK.
All-maple neck: CHECK.
Genuine Fender brand: CHECK.
Big discount making it dirt cheap: SOLD!
I’ve always wanted a telecaster, for its elegant utilitarian simplicity. There’s beauty in non-embelishment in my opinion. And thanks to Musician’s Friend’s heavily discounted used gear, i scored a honeyburst for far less than retail. I’ve already demo’d it when one of my buddies bought a transparent charcoal-colored Modern Player Tele (as pictured on the left on the second picture below), and it sounded great as is!
But i like my telecaster a bit more traditional. So i made some changes, i.e., back to vintage specs!
Thanks to the super-low price i got the tele for, it allowed me to get the necessary parts for the project, and still be well below my tele budget. A genuine fender tele stamped ashtray bridge, 3 brass saddles, and a set of Fender Original Vintage ’52 reissue pickups (the one with AlNiCo III magnets). To round up the purchases, i got a BAKELITE pickguard, what the original telecaster in the 50’s had before switching to plastic.
the Modern Player had a tele chrome neck pickup, a strat middle pickup, and a humbucker with a coil-tap. GONE! well, except for the middle pickup which i have on now, but that will have to go as well (more on that later). The hardtail bridge, GONE! The plastic pickguard, GONE!
Although i like my teles traditonal, i always have to have some twist. I was enamored by a Nashville-style tele when i saw one- theres a middle pickup! Though it wont equate it to a strat sound, it will give it some extra tones. Ive learned that only a strat will ever sound like a strat from years of experience. You can get something close to a strat sound, but why do that when you can simply get a strat and be done with it, you know? With this tele, its more to add a few more versatile sounds for it. Long story short, i went to town with this tele to bring it back to a somewhat traditional look: two pickups.
Notice i said ‘LOOK’, i didnt say anything about getting exactly to vintage form. Remember the twist? in this case TWISTS! It already had the middle route with the middle pickup, might as well use it. i HID the middle pickup under the bakelite pickguard. i lowered the pickup enough to get it under the pickguard. This works, albeit not to my liking (more on that later).
I also turned the control plate around, making the toggle switch further back, and the tone knob now works as the volume knob- this makes the volume swell trick easier to pull off (one strat design i’m pretty impressed with, accidental or not).
One thing i did have some difficulty with is fitting the bridge pickup where the humbucker used to be. I had to make a bigger cavity to make it fit. Dremel to the rescue! I WAS able to fit the pickup in it, but it also shows a bit of the hole where the humbucker use to be on the side of the stamped bridge. It looks odd up close with the “wing cavity”, but i got used to it. The “imperfect” look does not bother me anymore.Once i pick it up and play it, it’s golden!
Another thing that posed a dilemma was when i overlayed the stamped bridge over where the hardtail bridge once sat. it lines up nicely with the string-thru holes, but there’s also the scale length itself i had to make sure i get correctly, or it’s going to sound out of tune. Bring out the scale ruler! 25 1/2 inches, and it was up to how far the 3 brass saddles can screw back. It was a bit close, but i got it precisely where they needed to be. Harmonics and intonation are in perfect order!
And for the wiring, i ended up keeping the stock 5-way switch, pots, and capacitor. I had an itch to change them to CTS pots and a Paper-in-oil cap, but thats for later. Get this up and running first! I also kept the mini-toggle switch. Instead of a coil tap, ill use it to get the 6th and 7th sound. Basically, the wiring is that for a strat (5 sounds). But with the toggle switch, i have the option to get the traditional middle setting of a tele, PLUS an all-on setting. SEVEN sounds!
i had already mentioned i turned around the control plate, this meant rewiring the whole assembly to make the leads reach. Online comments are correct: fender didnt put too much wire length in the OV set. no big deal- extension wires!
one thing about the middle pickup: it will be changed to a more powerful one. hidden underneath the pickguard, its too low to provide a decent output. I tried to lower the neck and bridge pickup to match the volume, but it only made the neck and bridge pickups muddy-sounding. The OV set is already “relatively” weak (7k ohm -ish), and coupled with a ‘weaker’ magnet in the AlNiCo III, it’s not the loudest pickups around. Time to rummage through my pickup stash, see if we have anything stronger (although i may opt for a GFS pickup that’s 8.7k thats reverse wound, made to hum-cancel when wired in a strat).
Some notes about the use of a bakelite pickguard. 1) it’s what was used in the 50’s teles 2) more than cosmetic and getting that traditional look, it’s static free! unlike the plastic that retains a static charge that you can hear thru the amp crackling (annoying and distracting!), the bakelite eliminates this issue 3) the black matte look at first looks odd, but in context, it looks good (to me anyway) against the high-gloss body. Plus i dont have to worry about smudges that a glossy pickguard always gets.
After making adjustments between the neck and bridge pickup height to juuuuust get the volume level for both about the same, and to get the true tone of the OV set, i am done! ANd wow! the set did NOT disappoint! The tone has a more focused cleanness to it. The neck pickup feels warm, while the bridge pickup just has that quite-right tele chime!