So you have a stock Telecaster, now what? There are several modifications you can make that will transform your Tele.
Judging by the number of articles related to the Fender Telecaster in this site, anyone can guess that I am a big fan of this guitar. In some ways, the Telecaster is for me, the perfect guitar; it looks right, it feels right and it sounds right. But out of the box, the Telecaster might not be equipped for exactly what you had in mind and you may want to consider a few Telecaster modifications. Some want more muscle in the bridge pickup, some want more beef in the neck pickup, some want a speedier neck, some want…. well, you get the picture. Fortunately, most Telecaster modifications are fairly painless. You can take the modifications to various levels and in some cases, you might want to enlist the help of a qualified guitar technician. Use your best judgment.
Change the neck
This is low hanging fruit. Swapping out the neck on a Telecaster or Stratocaster is easy. I’ve always found the headstock of a Telecaster a bit odd; it feels un-finished. I prefer to use Stratocaster necks on my Telecasters. Of course the neck pocket and heel of a Telecaster are square while the heel and neck pocket of a Stratocaster are rounded. But, it’s really no big deal. You can slap a Stratocaster neck on a Tele without too much drama. You can also just upgrade to a better Telecaster neck for an easy Telecaster modification. Either way, the neck is important, more important than most realize. The neck is where your fingers meet the notes. If your neck does not feel absolutely perfect, get a better one. Skimp on your paint job if you have to, but don’t skimp on your neck.
Change the pickups
This is more low hanging fruit. Swapping out pickups is easy and offers you an opportunity to really improve the tone of your instrument. The most common modification is to install noiseless / humbucking pickups. This means that the annoying buzz is no more. As far as which pickups to use, see these earlier articles for suggestions on great pickups for the optimum Telecaster Modification:
This upgrade adds a fourth and very cool sound to your Telecaster; the bridge and neck pickup in Series. Series wiring is what makes humbuckers nuck the hum. By default, when you select two pickups at the same time on any guitar, those two pickups are wired in parallel. With a four-way pickups selector switch, you have the option of having the bridge and neck pickups in series. This Telecaster Modification not only makes these essentially one big noiseless pickups, its also a pretty wicked sound. AcmeGuitarWorks offers a pre-wired Telecaster control assembly with the option for a four-way switch. It’s the best and easiest to install such upgrade that I know of.
The standard Telecaster output jack kind of sucks. It doesn’t take much effort to step on your cable, twist around, and Wham!, your output jack has been put out. What to do? Install an Electrosocket Output Jack. It’s basically a much sturdier output jack. Cheap and easy to install, you can get them from Warmoth.com. This is a wise investment and a smart Telecaster Modification.
These Telecaster Modifications are just a few suggestions. Anything more that I mention at this point would involve some surgery and you’d have to decide if you want to start chopping up your precious little axe. Personally, I love chopping up my guitars in the name of new and interesting sounds, but not everyone is as obsessed as I am with this kind of stuff. I can say for sure that the more you experiment, the more likely you are to find new sounds and get your Telecaster working just the way you want. Here is a link to an article that contains more great links for the best Telecaster parts for your Telecaster Modification:
Nowadays, between digital modeling and overall great engineering, you can make virtually any guitar sound like just about any other guitar. Except, you cannot make any guitar really sound like a Telecaster. You can try, but it will never really quite smell right. If you are looking to upgrade your Telecaster neck pickup, you are in good luck. Many great sounding models are out there that offer not only a high-quality tone but they do so at a pretty reasonable price.
Noiseless / Hum-Canceling
Dimarzio Area T™ Neck DP417
Designed to retain warmth and clarity even when using high levels of distortion or overdrive. Chrome cover is included but does not interfere with the sound.
Seymour Duncan Hot Rails™ for Tele STHR-1n
Very high output, very strong mids, best for more aggressive styles.
When trying to find that mysterious buzz, logic is your most effective tool
Sometimes you might find yourself with a ground / buzz problem. This can be a truly frustrating experience and really kill the fun of building your own guitar. But, it really doesn’t have to be such a nightmare. You just need to trace your steps, that’s really it. This is all just logic. The problem is there somewhere, you just have to find it.
In order to get around the fact that I am not actually sitting next to you as you work through this problem, I have to make the following assumptions:
You know what you are doing. (If not, don’t be too proud to march on down to your local qualified guitar repair tech, and as him to finish the job for you. Once they have done the work, you can always look under the hood and take a look at their handy work to see where you might have gone wrong)
All of your pickups are in perfect working order
Your cables and amp are in perfect working order
OK, now that that’s out of the way, here are a few suggestions:
Make 100% sure that you have soldered the ground to the ground and the hot to the hot. This is a very common mistake, and if you have mixed this up, all bets are off, nothing will quite sound right.
Make sure that your wires in your control cavity are not touching each other. For example, many Gibson Humbuckers have two wire leads where the ground is a braided wire on the outside and totally exposed, which can really lead to this exact kind of problem. But most single coil pickups have wiring that is sheilded all the way to the tip, which is helpful. Regardless, make sure that there are no ground wires touching hot terminals, and vice versa. It’s very common that even when you have done everything right, when you put the pick-guard (or tele control plate) back in place, some exposed wires touch, causing a ground or buzz.
Are you 100% sure that you wired the pots correctly?
Have you tried process of elimination? Simply wire each pickup directly to the main volume pot, bypassing the 5-way switch. In doing this, you can first determine that all 3 pickups are fine, as well as your pots. If you use this approach, you can deconstruct your wiring down to the most basic components, heck, even try wiring each pickup directly to your output jack. Trust me, if you take this kind of logical approach, you are simply going to find the problem. Anything else is just guessing, and you might be up all night doing this.
Testing Guitar Wiring : Guitar Building & Repair
Some Common Wiring Problem Scenarios:
Everything Works, but the guitar squeals at minimal levels or with minimal gain.
Most likely, the main output wires are backwards. Open up the guitar’s main output jack, and reverse the hot and ground wires.
Everything works when the pickguard is un-screwed, but when I screw the pickguard firmly onto the guitar body, the signal cuts out.
An exposed ground wire is touching one of the hot wires or the pickup selector switch. Check all your ground wires and make sure that they are properly wrapped with electrical wire and nothing is exposed.
Everything seems to work, but when I have my pickup selector switch so that two pickups are selected (an in-between position) the sound is really nasal-live, really weak and really bad.
The pickups are “Out of Phase”. Reverse the polarity of one of these pickups. Best to do it to an outer pickup (i.e. the bridge or neck position) because if you do it to a middle position pickup, it will just be out of phase with the other pickup that it is currently in phase with. Note that this sometimes results in a overly squealy pickup and sometimes pickups are simply out of phase and cannot be used together.
Things seem ok at first, but one pickup squeals a lot.
The hot and ground wires are probably backwards. Reverse the hot and ground wires.
My volume pot works backwards. When I turn it clockwise, it gets quieter, and when I turn it counter-clockwise, it gets louder.
The terminals are wired backwards. Reverse the way you have wired the two outer terminals. Leave the middle terminal as-is.
I have a humbucker pickup that should be dead-quiet, but it squeals and feeds back whenever I play with any amount of volume or drive.
If your pickup has a nickel cover, then most likely you are experiencing micro phonic feedback. The only way to solve this problem is to have the pickup wax-potted by a professional guitar repair technician. Do not attempt to do this by yourself as you will most likely melt the pickup.
When I turn my guitar volume knob down even just a little, the sound gets muddy.
This is not a wiring problem. This is the natural behavior of the potentiometer. The potentiometer (or “Pot”) cuts off the volume at a certain frequency range, resulting in the muddy sound you here. Have a professional guitar repair technician install a “Volume Kit”. This places a small capacitor between your middle and right terminals. The end result is that the highs are maintained when turning your guitar’s volume knob down. This is a really worthwhile (and fairly inexpensive) modification that turns your volume knob into a very useful tool.
Guitar pickup wiring troubleshooting
When I was younger I spent many many late nights pulling my hair out, trying to find out where buzzs and squeals were coming from. 99% of the time, it was something very simple that I overlooked. Rarely was it a deep and mystical issue. I promise that you will learn from this, and each time you wire up your guitar, you will get better.
Here is a schematic for a typical strat assembly. Not sure what kind of guitar you have, but I’m sure that if this schematic is not correct for your guitar, you can easily find one using Google:
Just remember to be as logical as possible and retrace your steps. The buzz is in there, you just have to find it. Best to try removing as many variables as possible and isolating each component. You’ll be sure to find the buzz.
Wiring Electric Guitar – 1 Pickup 1 Volume 1 Input Jack
How guitar electronics work tone, volume, pickups etc