Home > Lutherie > Telecaster – Pickup and Control Routes

Telecaster – Pickup and Control Routes

I think I have mentioned this before but I’d like to reinforce the fact that it well worth it to purchase CNC/laser cut templates, especially if you are new building. It really can save a lot of time and potentially make your work much neater. I chose to make my own using paper patterns, existing parts and by eye. I was partially successful learning along the way. It is difficult to explain just how challenging it is to not only use tools and jigs for the first time but also knowing that it has to be “just so” or it won’t play properly. As I figure out work holding, jigs and templates I fully expect the precision of my work to improve. Having said all that, “If you don’t go, you’ll never know!”


Where to start you ask?

Neck Pocket

It seemed appropriate to me to start with the neck as I couldn’t locate the bridge without first making sure of the scale length. In order to make a neck pocket routing template I relied on two resources 1) Online Electric Guitar Building – Class offered by O’Brien Guitars and 2) Project Electric Guitar – How To Carve a Neck Pocket. Having previously watched both of these I blindly began working in my shop only to realize that I had absolutely no idea what I was really doing. The first neck pocket routing session was a complete bust. Regrouping, I decided to watch the videos again and this time I really paid attention. Now I was getting somewhere and once I got a handle on using some straight pieces to form the pocket template I was ready to route.

I had previously made a longer Plexiglas base for my Bosch Colt trim router which I really like using for the guitar. The downside is that I don’t have the plunge base which has made it iffy getting precise depths of cut. For this maneuver I was super nervous and checked all my settings several times before starting.

Bolt-on Neck Pocket

I didn’t put any tape on the inside of the template to snug the fit but it probably isn’t a bad idea to do so in the future. When I tested the purchased (Might Might) neck it fit but a little loose in the pocket. My neck however was too big which was exactly what I wanted. I called the route good and fit my neck to the pocket by systematically taking about 20 strokes off each side of the neck base and testing. Process was repeated until the neck was just beginning to fit then I quit before making the fit sloppy! I trimmed off the outer portion of the (cut out) side and rounded it where it began to join the body. This is my first build and I worry about everything but after placing a straight edge down the neck it looks like the neck angle will be good as is without further tweaking.

Pickup and Control Cavity

So this is where things really got crazy. I had already swallowed the pill and committed to making my own templates so I crafted one out of MDF using printed material and actual parts to test fit. It would have been a lot better to just buy an accurate set, just saying.


The actual location of the neck pickup and the control cavity were less critical but the bridge (and thus the bridge pickup) had to be exactly right. That is why I found it critical to get the neck installed first before committing the bridge route.

While routing for the neck pickup I made blunder and hacked out areas that I didn’t mean to route. This error was once again related to accurately controlling the depth of my cut. After making a first pass with the template on, I removed the template and was going to use the lip of the first pass as my guide. This was solid however, I first needed to adjust the depth of my cut because I was lowering the router by 1/2″ (the thickness of the MDF). So far, so good right? Well I ended up raising the bit so much that my bearing was now above the router base and now out of the picture. I was routing unguided and off I went out of my pickup and into the middle of the body. You can see the affected area in this photo although I “cleaned” it up. I suppose I now have a “Smuggler’s Tele”.

Routes Completed

For the control cavity I first hogged out most of the waste at the drill press using a Forstner bit. The dilemma here was not drilling through the back of the body. The plans and my existing Tele all indicated that I should cut to depth that was dangerously close to the backside of my instrument. I had little choice but to keep going until certain that my 4-way pickup switch would fit. It’s all the little things that make this whole process a complicated puzzle.

With the cavities routed it was now time to drill the two holes (didn’t need the third one now that I mangled that area). For the first hole between the control cavity and the neck, I pulled out my 1/4″ twist drill bit, angled the drill and drilled through. Easy, no problems at all. For the second between the bridge and the control cavity I had problems. The angle was much steeper and I drilled all the way to the end of my bit without getting through. Humm, I need a longer bit. I could have used my 3/8″ long auger bit but I wanted to stick with 1/4″ so I pulled out a spade bit and went at it. No problems, it was plenty long enough to drill right through the back of my body, missing the control cavity all together. Bollocks! Perhaps it was time to put down the tools for the evening. Lessons learned, you need a very long 1/2″ drill bit and you need to protect the body from contact with the drill and bit.

The Repair

So my first inlay is actually a patch on my first build. Who know? I started off on the right track but got off a little on the grain match. The match was quite good when I started but by the time I fit the piece I was off a bit. It will for always remind me of the great distance I have come and how far I have yet to go.

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That went pretty well so I went ahead and drilled the 3/4″ hole to connect the jack with the control cavity. Pucker-factor = High!

The Tummy and Belly Cuts

On a Tele, sacrilege! Don’t like it, go make your own guitar I say. Personally I wanted the utility of these cuts and I also like the looks of them. Really they are hard to even tell they are there and it makes the guitar feel so much more inviting.

For these I began on the spindle sander, holding the body at an angle. When this proved to be a too slow for my taste I pulled out my StewMac dragon rasps and refined the shape. Once I was happy with the basic shape, I took it back to the sander to even out and refine it.

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There is something therapeutic about carving a feeling I don’t yet get while routing.

Fitting Parts

Now that I had finished all the routing and repaired the body, I could begin fitting parts. First I drilled and bolted on the neck. Reasonably straight and I think the angle will work, check. Next to line-up and drill the 4 screw holes for the bridge.

Parts Mockup

Looks like the parts are going to fit.

With the bridge mounted it was on to drilling the string through holes and enlarging on the back for string ferrules. Make sure to use a backing board when you drill a through hole, even if you think you are just poking the tip of the brad point bit tip through and even though it’s a tiny 1/8″ hole! Don’t ask me how I know this.

Note to self: Although Black limba is relatively easy to work, it is a very porous wood and has a tendency to tear out along the grain.

Next Up

That is all that I have gotten done over the long Labor Day weekend. I’ve given thought to making the pick guard and have decided to take the minimalist approach because I really would like to cover up as little of this wood figure as possible. I made the decision to use traditional front routes a long time ago but that doesn’t mean I have to use a traditional pick guard now does it.

Boris Bubbanov, your chopped pick guard is absolutely awesome my Telefied friend! I hope you don’t mind if I borrow your idea on my build, I love it!

Boris Bubbanov chopped tele pick guard

Lots to do but at least it’s starting to look like an instrument now……


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