Home > Lutherie > Telecaster – Pickups, Pickguard and Bridge

Telecaster – Pickups, Pickguard and Bridge

I have tried to focus on completion of this, my first custom build. I definitely learned a lot along the way. Every thing was attempted for the first time and I have to say a few things did go wrong but overwhelmingly many more things went surprisingly well.

The Problem with Pickups

From the start I struggled with pickups. I was piecing the build parts from various vendors/manufacturers so I had no experience to build upon. I had selected a Wilkinson bridge with 3 brass saddles that I purchased for peanuts and sourced my pickups from Bill Lawrence in California. I found out about them from the Telecaster Discussion Page Reissue (TDPRI) forum where it some claimed these were the best pickups for the money. Perfect, just what I was looking for! The only problem was that it did take almost 2 months to receive my set. I was OK with the waiting but I did get nervous when I received zero communication on the status of my order. Well the great news was they arrived without incident after 6 weeks.

Fitting the Bridge PUP

A problem arose when I checked the bridge pickup screw locations against my bridge they weren’t going to fit. I partially solved this problem by enlarging the holes on the bridge enough so that I could pass the screws through to the pickup but when I did this the screw heads passed right through the bridge. I set this problem aside until last weekend when I dug through my junk drawer and found some black nylon nut caps which were used to cover bolt heads on some patio furniture. I cut off the cap ends and drilled a hole in the middle to fashion black nylon “washers”. First problem solved!

Fitting the bridge pickup.

Screw heads fall through holes after enlarging them to fit the PUP screw pattern.

A problem I filed away was to make sure the pickup plate and the bridge were both properly grounded. The pickup base plate has it’s own ground wire (blue wire in this case) but the nylon washers prevented the screws from making contact. I solved this problem by extending the copper shielding tape from the cavity to make sure it contacted the bridge (not shown below however).

Shielding cavities on the Tele project

Fitting the Neck PUP

I mentioned in a previous post that I was planning to make my own pickguard in the style of Boris Bubbanov from the TDPRI forum page and I hope Boris is OK with this. It appeared to me that with Boris’ pattern, he started with a conventional Tele pickguard and cut his design from it. I began by printing a photo of one of Boris’ guards out to scale. It took be two tries to get it close enough. I then used the paper pattern to rough cut the guard out on the band saw then finished shaping on the oscillating sander. The result wasn’t perfect but it was serviceable.

Making the pickguard

Next I had to figure out how I was going to form the punch-out for the neck PUP which was not yet mounted. In retrospect I should have strung up the high and low E strings before mounting the bridge and neck pickups. For this first attempt, I tried to judge where a traditional Tele neck pickup cutout should be on a traditional pickguard versus my guard. I marked it, drilled a hole and fed my fret saw blade through it and sawed away much of the waste. I finished cutting to the line using a Dremel armed with a tiny sanding drum, finessing the cut until the pickup just pushed through. Now this a situation where not having precise templates causes many issues. How can I now locate where to drill for the PUP mounting/height adjustment  screws when they are underneath the pickguard. So the PUP really needed to be mounted first then located the cutout for the PUP and only then locate the holes to that are to hold the guard in place. I had successfully done everything backwards. The order I would now suggest would be:

  1. String up the two outer strings to make sure the neck is straight and inline with the anticipated bridge location
  2. Using the strings align the pole pieces underneath the strings to aid with locating the mount PUP mount locations
  3. Leave the pickguard oversized and make the route for the neck PUP.
  4. Mark the guard profile based on the actual neck and control plate locations.

I ended up having to make a second guard because my PUP cutout put the PUP in the wrong location. Notice how the strings are not lined up with the pole pieces. Rats….

Tele neck pickup pole pieces not inline with strings.

Wiring the Controls

So once I felt confident I was going to be able to mount the PUPs, I focused on wiring the control plate. I felt confident that I could make it work but again, I complicated things by going with a 4-way switch option instead of the traditional 3-way. YouTube to the rescue. I found an absolutely perfect tutorial by Northwest Guitars UK which I followed step-by-step with success.

Tele control plate wired for 4-way switch option.

While wiring the pickups and output jack into the control plate I was careful to make sure that the shielding in the control cavity was all grounded together. To this end I ran a wire between the neck and bridge cavities and soldered it to the foil. Overkill perhaps but I felt that everything from the bridge plate, control plate and all cavities should be grounded together. This meant running a a small strip of copper tape from the bridge cavity to underneath the bridge as previously mentioned. Testing for continuity was easy with my multi-meter.

Call in Done

I was excited to see if my guitar would play and I fully expected there to be some bug in the wiring. Imagine my surprise when the everything sounded absolutely stunning! Both pickups worked all 4 switch positions yielded the correct PUP settings. I was amazed to say the least. I am excited to be nearing completion of my first scratch build. I have a few chores yet to do including a fret job, setup and moving the neck PUP but I am now close enough to call it done. She’s not perfect by any stretch yet the experience I have gained during this process is invaluable. I’ve already begun plans for my next several builds and it feels great to be finally be building after 3 years of preparation.

Finally, my first custom build has been completed.


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