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. For example, 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. So, that said, just 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 unfinished. 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 modification. Either way, the neck is important, more important than most realize. The neck is where your fingers meet the notes. So, if it doesn’t 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, which means that the annoying buzz will be no more. As far as which pickups to use, see these earlier articles for suggestions on great pickups for the optimum Telecaster modification:
Install a four-way pickup selector switch
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 pickup selector switch, however, you have the option of having the bridge and neck pickups in series. This Telecaster modification not only makes these essentially one big noiseless pickup, it also creates a pretty wicked sound. AcmeGuitarWorks offers a pre-wired Telecaster control assembly with the option for a four-way switch. It’s the best such upgrade that I know of and it’s the easiest to install.
Install an Electrosocket Output Jack
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 parts for your Telecaster modification:
How To Replace Pickups On A Telecaster – By Seymour Duncan
4 way Telecaster Mod Switch Demo/Review