This is my go-to Telecaster. While I own quite a few others and they are all brilliant instruments this is the one that does most of the hard yards day in, day out. In my opinion, it is a cool looking guitar and it is the only one in my collection that has a sticker on it! I don’t normally put stickers on instruments – although, it’s been done so many times and often with iconic effect. Think Joe Strummers’ 66 Tele or wander further back to Woody Guthrie’s Gibson L-OO which he painted with the words “This Machine Kills Fascists”. While not wishing for anyone’s demise, I nevertheless decided that once the guitar was exactly to my liking I would add the sticker – kind of like a statement of ownership because this Tele was definitely not for sale. The fact that the sticker referred to the famous Sun Studios just added to this guitar’s mojo.
The guitar has had an interesting history. While both the body and neck are originally from Fender’s Ensenada Factory in Mexico they come from different years . I found the neck on Ebay and bought it sight unseen. This is not always a good strategy but I have found that the Mexican parts have generally been pretty reliable. I think the important thing is to ask every question and make sure your dealer has a good Ebay success rate (in my opinion 100% is preferable but 98.5% is acceptable. In both cases the transaction history should be reasonably high).
When this neck arrived it was everything the seller said it was. The neck was brand new and had what appeared to be the Jim Dunlop 6150 fret wire – a medium high gauge wire that I particularly like. The next step was a body and I decided to go for a loaded Mexican body. There are plenty available on Ebay and I snapped up a typical single coil version with a mint green pickguard. Once neck and body were put together I had a no frills Tele that looked okay, sounded okay but in the end it was … well … just okay. Soon enough somebody offered me a fair price for it so I let it go. I figured that was the end of my Tele customising experiment until I got a phone call from the new owner some six months later asking if I would buy it back.
I agreed to take the guitar back and then had a think about what to do with it. The neck had a great feel but I wasn’t particularly excited about the standard Mexican pickups. I’d always loved the absolute “attitude” that seemed to scream from Keith Richards’ famous Tele that he’d dubbed “Micawber”. The key had been the perfect “mismatch” of the pickups – the old lap steel pickup in the bridge and the reversed 50’s Gibson Paf Humbucker in the neck.
I knew that these Mexican Tele’s had a rout for a humbucker in the neck position so I set about finding a great humbucker to put in the neck.
I was already a fan of Lollar pickups and once I realised that their Imperial pickup was switchable from humbucker to single coil my decision was made. The option of having the single coil is extremely useful for the performing guitarist. Work it out for yourself but if you apply the simple rule that the single coil will thin your sound while you’re playing rhythm, whereas the humbucker will fatten your sound in the solo sections you have a useful starting point.
The next step was to decide on the bridge pickup. Fortunately the loaded body had already come with the modern individual saddles (think Keith’s brass saddles on Micawber but in nickel. Either way, so much easier to fine tune than the vintage options). For me, the Seymour Duncan Lil ’59 was a no brainer. I didn’t want the bridge pickup to be switchable and this pickup can really funk it up. A great contrast to the Lollar. It also fits into the bridge rout without any mucking about.
Something I forgot to mention is that I needed to change the pickguard so it was cut for a humbucker in the neck (see the first two photos). This can present problems because not all pickguards will fit, so beware! Like all things related to guitar, do your homework and you will be fine.
The next thing I did was change the socket from the “boat” style Fender Tele socket (a different boat option than its Stratocaster counterpart) to the more efficient Les Paul style socket. Now I felt that I was on the home stretch but there was one last detail that I needed to attend to make this the optimum performing machine.
I love the Gotoh 510 tuners. I use them on my acoustic guitars and for this project I used the locking mini tuners. They are 18:1 gear ratio and are extremely efficient. Yes, they are a little more expensive but they are definitely worth the few extra dollars.
Finally, please note that after so much attention to detail in preparing this project I had no hesitation in allowing a qualified technician to do all the necessary soldering and final set-up for me. As I have mentioned in previous posts the good guitar technicians are out there and they are worth the expense. In this case Alan Rigg (look him up) was the man to join the dots for me and his attention to detail was absolutely invaluable.
What has come from the experience is an extremely fine guitar that hasn’t broken the bank, and will have a long playing history for many, many years to come.