Should I Upgrade My Telecaster Bridge Pickup?

Telecaster Bridge Pickup
Should I upgrade my bridge pickup?

Thinking about upgrading your Telecaster bridge pickup? Here are a few things to consider

Telecasters are great, probably my favorite guitar of all. But when your Tele is stock, chances are that it came loaded with vintage style pickups. Depending on your rig and your style of playing, this may translate to noise (i.e. the dreaded 60-cycle hum), or in the case of the bridge pickup: a somewhat brittle tone, and few options. Here is a list of areas to think-through before you make your final decision on which Telecaster bridge pickup to choose.

Should I install a noiseless bridge pickup?

This may be the most important decision you make. The reason is that true vintage-style pickups tend to do one thing and do it really well. Noiseless pickups give you more options, but some  guitarists (and I mean serious tone snobs) feel that you lose a bit of that “vintage” charm. I think this is mostly a lot of baloney. I can tell the difference, but I’ve been playing for over 30 years, ad I can’t always tell the difference. It’s just not that big of a deal. If noise is a consideration, get a noiseless pickup. If noise is not a problem, and you really want to stay faithful to that vintage Fender Telecaster sound, then get a vintage-style model. End of conversation. Once you have spent more than 20 minutes thinking about this, you have over-thought it.

What are the best Telecaster Bridge Pickups?

Now we are of-course getting into the really subjective stuff. No one can really say which ones are the best of the best of the best, because to a large extent, it’s a matter of taste. For starters, you can check out  an earlier post about the Best Telecaster Bridge Pickups. You can also browse this site by tag or category for “pickups”, there are plenty of helpful articles. All that said, here is a general lay of the land:

The main companies out there for Telecaster pickups are Seymour Duncan, Dimarzio, Fender, and Lindy Fralin. There are a few smaller companies out there, but I’d say these are the ones to consider by default. If you are thinking right now: “…hey, what about Lollar or Joe Barden, or EMG” etc… then you clearly do not need any advice. Go out an buy whatever you want. If you are not as experienced with buying Telecaster pickups, then I’d recommend that you at least start out with the companies I suggested. They are all a bit different. Here is the high-level:

Seymour Duncan – Probably the most varied product line and appeal to players of all types. Most of their pickups are very warm, and not overly hot.

Dimarzio – They tend to be more popular with harder-edged styles like Rock. Plenty of their products are just great for lighter styles such as Blues or pop, but they tend to make slightly more aggressive models.

Fender – They have probably the most minimal product line as they are not solely a pickup maker (they are busy making of the most amazing guitars and amplifiers of all time, so you can’t blame them), but what they do they do real well: vintage.

Lindy Fralin – A real boutique shop. Lindy is super cool and makes amazing pickups. His stuff is a bit more pricey than the bigger names, but if you really know what you are looking for, he has a product line that delivers

How do I decide which Telecaster Bridge pickup is right for me?

Again, this is really a matter of opinion. But as a rule of thumb, first consider your playing style; are you a Rock player? A Jazz player? Blues? Country? The answer to this question will help you narrow it down fastest. If you play Metal or heavy Rock, you may want to consider a noiseless model, and maybe even a blade / rails type of design. If you lean towards really heavy styles like Metal, then active pickups become very appealing. But few Tele players are Metal players, although I suppose they are out there. If you play more moderate styles such as Rock, Rock & Roll, Blues, Funk, etc.. them it’s a toss-up between vintage and noiseless. Noiseless is better if you have to cover a borader range of sounds and are likely to use a lot of gain / overdrive. Vintage is better if you do not play to play extremely loud or use a lot of gain, yet want a really old-school sound. This is particularly true of Funk, where that old-school / low-fi Telecaster bridge sound is really critical (and this is one thing that high-output Tele bridge pickups do not do as well as vintage ones).

Ok, but what about installation; are replacing Telecaster bridge pickups hard?

Nah. Not at all. This is one of the really great things about the Telecaster; the bridge pickup is a very standard shape. From old-school vintage to over-the-top high-gain models, they all have that same three-screw mounting scheme and drop into place with ease. Twist, twist twist, and you are done.

What are the down-sides to vintage Telecaster bridge pickups?

Noise. That is the big issue. Once you start to play at high volumes and / or use a lot of gain, you are gonna start pulling your hair out because there will be a lot of noise that is nearly impossible to get rid of. This cab be particularly problematic in the studio. Other than that, vintage-style tele bridge pickups tend to be one-trick ponies; you get pretty much one sound.

What are the down-sides to noiseless Telecaster bridge pickups?

There are fewer down-sides here. Tone-snobs will complain about the loss of highs or in-general, how they don’t quite do the “vintage” thing as well. For the most part, you can ignore that. You’ll know when you know enough to know the difference (nice sentence huh? : – ) The only other downside is that if you want to takte advantage of the flexibility of a noiseless pickup (as some come with a four-conductor cabe for multiple wiring options), you’ll have to be prepared to cut-up your pick guard, and you have to be fairly handy with a soldering iron (or pay someone who is). This is all worth it though; you can usually get two great sounds out of one pickup. And then you have twice as many bridge-neck sounds as well.

 Summary

There are a few things to consider when upgrading your Telecaster bridge pickup. Whether to go noiseless, which company to go with and which model to choose are just a few of the high-level decisions you’ll have to make. But just be sure to ask yourself as many questions as you can; “What is my playing style?”, “Do I tend to play loud or use a lot of gain?”, Do I need to get more than one sound out of my Telecaster bridge pickup?” and so on. The better the questions you ask yourself, the better the answers will be from web pages, repair professionals or guitar players whom you ask.

What Are The Best Telecaster Bridge Pickups?

What Are The Best Telecaster Bridge Pickups?

Treat your Tele to the best bridge pickup possible

Although Telecaster bridge pickups are best known for their famous “Twang”, more and more, guitarists are looking to coax an increased array of sounds out of their instrument. If you need to extend what your Telecaster can do, you’ll need to consider upgrading your bridge and neck pickups. Even if you simply want to improve the quality of your existing sound, an upgrade is usually the best bet. Below are links for the best Telecaster Bridge pickups on the market. Which one is right for you depends mostly on your needs as well as taste.

Noiseless / Hum-Canceling

Fralin Tele Split Blade

Lindy Fralin Tele Split Blade – product page

Lindy Fralin has long been known as the go-to guy when it comes to passive / vintage replacement pickups. His reputation for craftsmanship is second to none. There was a time when he actually answered is own phone and took your order! I’m not sure if this is still the case, and if not, you can’t blame him; the guy is busy making some of the most popular replacement pickups out there!

Finally, Lindy has gone noiseless. These split blades are 100% noise-free, but come packed with all of the jaw-dropping tone that has become standard for all of his products.



FENDER N3 NOISELESS™ TELE PICKUPS

Fender’s American Deluxe Telecasters have been stocked with these pickups since 2010. These are not at all aggressive. They do a nice job of replicating vintage-style telecaster pickups and are fulling noise-cancelling.


Dimarzio Area Hot T™ Bridge DP421

This pickup offers a great blend of PAF humbucker warmth and traditional Tele Twang. This is a fairly high-output pickup, so consider this with regards to balance with your neck pickup.


Dimarzio Fast Track T™ DP381

Designed to maintain the traditional Tele bridge sound, but provide a bigger sound with more volume and of course, zero hum.


Seymour Duncan Little ‘59™ for Tele ST59-1b

Duncan set out to provide a Telecaster bridge pickup that cold duplicate the warmth and tone of the original 1959 PAF Gibson humbucker. They pretty much nail it here. This is not a super high-output screamer, you’ve got an even-tempered pickup what is warm and of course noise canceling. The two rows of flat-head screw pole-pieces allow you to really tweak the output vs string-put balance just right. It does come with a four-conductor lead, so with a mini toggle-switch, you can also get a more snappy sound out of it. For this we recommend a DPDT (double pole / double throw).


Seymour Duncan Hot Lead Stack STK-T2b

A hum-canceling Tele bridge pickup on steroids; not a drastically different tone, just seriously higher output than a vintage Tele bridge pickup. The blade design helps a lot with drop-outs. It’s not as modern-sounding as it may look. It will give you a pretty-much strait-ahead Telecaster bridge tone, but higher output and no hum.


Seymour Duncan Vintage Stack® Tele (lead) STK-T3b

A vintage-voiced, hum-canceling Tele bridge pickup. Classic vintage Telecaster bridge pickup tone, but no 60-cycle hum or buzz. This thing really sounds great. There is plenty of bite, but the high-end is not at all shrill or tinny. It’s pure classic Tele bridge territory, but calmer on the high-end and no hum, no buzz, no b.s.



Vintage Style (non hum-canceling)

Lindy Fralin Stock Tele® Replacement Style Bridge

These pickups come in three different configurations. The Broadcaster has flat poles, the Hybrid model’s poles are flat with a raised D magnet, or you can choose stock stagger. There is also a Steele-pole version. The output is in the neighborhood of 6.6k (8,800 turns), using 42 gauge Plain Enamel wire. You can also choose to have your pickup slightly overwound with 2% over-stock (approx 6.8k output) or 5% over-stock (approx 7.2k output).


Lindy Fralin Blues Special Tele Replacement Style Bridge Pickup

These pickups come in three different configurations. The Broadcaster has flat poles, the Hybrid model’s poles are flat with a raised D magnet, or you can choose stock stagger. There is also a Steele-pole version.  The output is in the neighborhood of 7.3k , which is 5% hotter than stock and has a slightly darker sound; wound with 42 gauge Polynylon wire.

Lindy Fralin Tele Replacement High Output Style Bridge Pickup

Wound using 43 gauge wire, these Tele bridge pickups come in three different configurations. The Broadcaster has flat poles, the Hybrid model’s poles are flat with a raised D magnet, or you can choose stock stagger. There is also a Steele-pole version.  The output is in the neighborhood of 9.5k , which is 10% hotter than stock and has a darker sound, 15% over-stock is available as well.


Lindy Fralin Steel Poled Tele® Style Bridge (42) Pickup

These are pretty special pickups. The physical construction is more like a P-90 in that a row of screws straddle two magnets. It’s great to be able to adjust the pole-pieces of a Telecaster pickup. While non-hum-canceling, these are reasonably quiet in most situations. Thy are wound to 4.5k for a 20% hotter sound, or can be wound to 10k for a 25% hotter sound.


Dimarzio Pre B-1™ DP112

A traditional Telecaster bridge pickup, but designed to flatten out the high end, and pump up the mids and lows. They didn’t go too over-the-top on this model. It’s still a general Vintage vibe, but just a lot more fatness to the sound. They did a nice job on this pickup; good stuff.

Search eBay for Dimarzio DP112


Dimarzio True Velvet™ T DP178

Vintage sound, but a bigger more dynamic output that combines the best of the Broadcaster and Telecaster bridge pickups. Also double wax potted to keep squeals to a minimum. This one is for you if you insist on a true Vintage setup, but minimum hum, and a hotter output. I have also done a BestCovery review of the neck model.

Search eBay for Dimarzio DP178


Dimarzio Twang King™ DP173

Vintage Telecaster bridge pickup sound with more attack. There is a base plate installed and it it wax potted. The base plate give you a heck of a lot more kick, without making it a super hot pickup. This one is surely a Vintage Tele bridge pickup, but a pretty hot tamale.

Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound® for Tele (lead) STL-3

This pickup offers a bizzarely high output for a vintage Telecaster bridge model. There is a surprising amount of punch and attack. It does have an odd consistent low hum at almost all times, but the ones I’ve used were older, so maybe they have upgraded it a bit. This is a really great Telecaster bridge pickup, and has almost humbucker-level output, but at the same time, does not loose it’s Tele charm. It’s an odd one, but a pretty good one. I recommend it, as long as you don’t use too much gain.


Seymour Duncan Vintage Broadcaster® Lead STL-1b

Faithful recreation of the original with a slightly higher output and edge.


Seymour Duncan Vintage ‘54 Lead STL-1

Vintage voiced, with emphasis on the high end. The pole pieces under the D and G strings are raised

Where Can I Find The Best Telecaster Guitar Parts?

Where Can I Find The Best Telecaster Guitar Parts?
Fender Telecaster

Telecaster Bodies, Telecaster Necks, Telecaster Hardware… Everything “Tele” links here

If you are embarking on a project that involves upgrading or building a Telecaster, these links might help you to find some of the parts you need. All of these companies offer some pretty good stuff at fairly reasonable prices. For bodies and necks, Warmoth is probably best and offers the most options. Of course, they are the most expensive.  In each case, be sure to explore all the options that each company offers and don’t be afraid to call them if you have any questions before you place your order.

With regards to the body, pay extra attention to the wood that you choose, there will be some variations in sound between different types. For example, Maple has a brighter tone where as Mahogany is a bit mellower. If you do choose Maple, consider paying the extra cost for “Quarter Sawn” Maple, it is most often a much better cut of wood. Some companies such as Warmoth also offer options for binding. While this is purely aesthetic and will have no affect either way on your tone, it can contribute to a very classy look, depending on your taste.

Another option worth considering is a Chambered body. When a body is “Chambered”, there are several cavities that are created in the body. This offers a kind of “Best of both worlds” scenario as you get the interesting qualities of a hollow body guitar, but without the headaches of feedback as the majority of the body is solid. Some Telecaster players may dream of a Tele with a vibrato arm; no problem. Warmoth offers you the option to have the Telecaster body routed for a standard Stratocaster bridge. In this case there will be the standard thru body tremolo construction complete with trem claw and springs.  There are certainly many options and you can go pretty crazy. Whatever your dream Telecaster may be, the links below should point you in the right direction.

Finished Telecaster Bodies

Warmoth

USA Custom Guitars (un-finished)

WD Music Supplies

All Parts

Stewart MacDonald

Telecaster Pickups

Here are a few links to articles I did recently for BestCovery.com, which include pretty much the best Tele Pickups out there at the moment:

Vintage Tele Bridge Pickups

Vintage Tele Neck Pickups

Noiseless Tele Bridge Pickups

Noiseless Tele Neck Pickups

Telecaster Hardware

Here are links for great places to get your hardware online:

Acme Guitar Works

Warmoth Hardware

Warmoth Telecaster Hardware

Reader Question: Strat Bridges and Claw Mounting Screws

Strat Claw

“Mark” Writes:

hello, to who this concerns:

can you please tell me the what’s and hows of the screws are on the tail of the bridge. ( hopefully to make it clearer. the screws, if you were putting them in, the thread of the screw is acing the neck and head of the guitar and the head of the screw is facing the rear of the body ).

i have some adjusting to make with the action and a need to adjust each string to the curvature of the neck. i have a pretty clear understanding of how to do this. but, have not yet gotten the idea of the screw in mention. i am sure that ounce i get to working on it i will have a clear understanding of the screws in mentions purpose. i just want to be very caeful as i cant afford to take my guitar in to the shop and pay the going rate on a project like this and of course cant afford to damage my guitar. i am pretty handy and i am sure that this is’nt beyond my ability. i feel better about asking the stupid questions rather than stress over it and or damage my strat.

thanks to all who provide this information on line to all of us in need!!!

sincerely,  mark

Our Answer:

Hi Mark, thanks for your question. The good news is: there’s not too much going on there. These screws hold in what is known as the “Claw”. That odd piece of metal is what the tremolo springs hang onto. I know this is all very obvious, but I just wanted to provide a little context.

So, all that said, the main effect that these screws have is on the tension of the tremolo bridge. When you loosen these screws, the bridge will tend to lean towards the neck. When you tighten these screws, the bridge tens to lean away from the neck, ultimately laying flush against the body. For the most part, you don’t have to consider these screws when setting your action; sting height will be mostly affected by the height of the saddles and the tilt of the neck. Adjusting these screws can make for a slightly more slinky (i.e. “loose”) feel, or more tension. There is a small range where you can tweak as you like to suit your taste, but too tight and you pull the bridge all the way back, and too lose, and the guitar will be pretty much un-playable. So, I recommend that you set your action as you need, and then you can tweak the claw screws. You’ll want to find that “Sweet Spot” that provides the kind of string tension that you are looking for.

Summary: Don’t concern yourself too much with these screws. Set them so that the your string tension feels right, and then pretty much leave them alone.

How to adjust your Strat bridge angle

How to adjust your Strat bridge angle
Stratocaster Bridge

If your Strat bridge is leaning too much towards or away from the neck, these simple steps will get you back to the right angle
A reader recently asked how he could adjust the angle of the tremolo bridge on his Stratocaster. In his case, the bridge was leaning towards the neck. It is a very simply process to adjust this. The main thing to keep in mind is not to tighten the trem claw screws too much (covered in step # 3). Your goal is to have the perfect balance between the tension of the strings vs the tecnsion of the tremolo springs.

1. Loosen your strings a great deal. You don’t have to remove them, but loosen them almost to the point of removal.

2. Turn your guitar over and remove the tremolo cavity plate (a square piece of plastic on the back of the body that his held to the body with several small screws).

3. You should notice two rather large screws that hold the trem claw to the body. If your bridge leans too much towards the neck, tighten those two screws. Do not screw them all the way in, but tighten them so that they are substantially closer to the body. If your bridge leans too much away from the neck, loosen those two screws a bit.

4. Flip your guitar over and tune it up.

5. Check your action, make micro adjustments using the string saddle height adjustments if needed.

6. If needed, repeat steps 3-5 again if needed to get the angle of the bridge just right. You may have to loosen the two screws in step # 3, and that is ok. This process is mainly about finding the right balance, and that could take a few tries.

Don’t be afraid to consult a qualified guitar repair technician. If this is your first time making these kinds of adjustments, it might be a bit nerving. In the end, it is a simple adjustment that you can make your self in order to get the angle of the bridge right.