Saturday, 18 January 2014

Telecaster Style Guitar Build - Part 3 - Electronics, final assembly and completion

Finished T-Style guitar

If you want to read the setup and the electronics read below. It is a little long but has a lot of information in it.

The body finish has setup now and gone really hard. I used a scuff sanding technique to flatten the surface of any imperfections and gradually worked up through the grits to 4000 grit wet and dry. Finally I finished off with automotive compounds and a lot of elbow grease. The resulting shine was fantastic.


The Telecaster type guitar has some of the simplest wiring for a two pickup model. I had chosen a matched set of Seymour Duncan single coil pickups. I mounted the bridge pickup into the heavily chrome plated bridge. Instead of springs I use short lengths (1/2") of surgical tubing to avoid any rattling. The Seymour Duncan bridge pickup has a coppered rear plate presumably for shielding purposes and the electrical connection between the metal of the bridge and the ground (earth) wire was good.
The neck pickup however needed a little work to add an extra ground wire to the chromed cover and break the existing connection from the cover to the black pickup wire. I did this because the wiring I am using utilises a 4 way switch. One of those switch positions puts the two pickups in series. If I didn't put a separate ground on it then there would be noise every time I touched the pickup cover.

Then I mounted the pickup into the white plastic 3 ply scratchplate. I then passed the three cables through the hole I had drilled between the pickup cavity and control cavity. As a side note if you are drilling a hole like this you:

  • Need a very long drill if you are drilling from the neck pocket
  • You need to plug up the resulting hole in the neck pocket
  • You can drill at a shallow angle again with a long series drill from the pickup cavity to the control cavity. 
  • This is harder though as you have to make sure you don;t scratch the top face and don't drill through the rear of the body!  
The wiring I followed was from the Seymour Duncan website and is fairly straightforward. Try to colour code your wiring though as it makes it easier to fault find later.

Here is the diagram from Rothstein Guitars.

Here is what I ended up with:
Capacitor is an orange drop Sprague .047uF
Pots are CTS 250K



Mounting the bridge needs to be done carefully. After removing all the parts of the bridge you find 4 mounting holes and 6 string holes. First of all I inserted 2 4mm drills into the bridge and through into the string holes I had previously drilled. This locates the bridge in position and then using a 2.5mm pilot drill the mounting holes were drilled. The bridge, a Fender Modern, comes with all the mounting hardware so I secured the bridge to the body with 4 screws.

Scratch-plate assembly

Next to come is the scratch-plate. A modern scratch-plate for a T Style guitar has 8 screws. The scratch-plate was mounted in position ensuring equal gaps around the neck pocket and bridge. Your eye can see slight imperfections if you don;t get this bit right. Then the holes were transferred through to the body and the plate secured with some 1/2" long screws.

Machine Heads

The Wilkinson EZYLoK heads are simple to fit as they are held in place by a washer and nut. You have to srill a small pilot hole at the rear of each head to secure with a small diameter screw. This stops the whole head from turning.

Neck to body

The neck is very easy to assemble providing that all the joinery has been cut well. The neck pocket needs to be a snug fit on the neck itself. In my case it was and I then transferred through the holes I had drilled in the body through to the neck. I used a 3mm or 1/8" diameter drill after first marking the centre with a brad point bit.
The screws themselves come in the backplate kit. I choose a Fender Corona backplate as they are thick and strong. I did consider just fixing the neck with bushings and screws but decided to use a conventional backplate instead. If you are ever fitting screws into a new neck make sure you grease the screws first of all. It's not unknown for a screw to break in hard maple even of this diameter (4mm).

Stringing up.

On a standard 25 1/2" scale length guitar such as a T-Style the normal gauge strings to use a 9 to 42s. I use D'Addario XLs and strung the guitar from the back through the string sockets. The actual connection to the EZYLoK machine heads is to pass the string through the lower hole and pull tight, then wind the loose end around the post anti clockwise 1 and 1/4 turns and pass the end through the upper hole.

Then tune as normal. It couldn't be easier.

Setting the truss rod

I generally tune to concert pitch and leave overnight to put some tension on the neck. Next day I come back and have a look at the truss rod adjustment. The truss rod needs adjusting so there is a forward bow in the neck. When using feeler gauges the gap under the 6th string at the 8th fret when a capo is set at the 1st fret and the string held down at the 21st fret should be around 10 thousands of an inch for a 9 1/2" radius fretboard.
On a double acting truss rod like the one I used on this guitar you are able to correct a back bow or a forward bow dependant upon the state of the neck. My neck was straight when unstrung and developed a traditional forward bow of about 12 thou when strung. I tightened the rod very slightly and this brought the bow to 10 thou.


For this six-section bridge, I made adjustments for each individual string. I have done many of these now and can almost do them in my sleep without measuring. But for anybody wishing to know how it is done then:
  • Adjust the first-string bridge saddle to the scale length, measuring from the inside of the nut to the centre of the bridge saddle. 
  • Now adjust the distance of the second-string saddle back from the first saddle, using the gauge of the second string as a measurement. For example, If the second string is .011" (0.3 mm), you would move the second-string saddle back .011" (0.3 mm) from the first saddle. 
  • Move the third saddle back from the second saddle using the gauge of the third string as a measurement. The fourth-string saddle should be set parallel with the second-string saddle. 
  • Proceed with the fifth and sixth saddles with the same method used for strings two and three.
 You can check this with a chromatic tuner by making sure the open strings are in tune and then fretting each string at the 12th fret. The note should register the same on the tuner. If not you can adjust the saddle moving it towards the neck if the fretted note is flat or to the bridge if the fretted note it sharp.

My intonation setting rig. Note the shop made
neck support.
My tuner is Boss model.

Adjusting the nut slots

I had roughed in the nut slots into a nut I had made from bone. I based the positions of the slots on calculations from ManchesterGuitarTech website. Steve has a nut calculator on his site and it is very good if you are making your own nuts as I do.

I tuned the guitar to concert pitch and using feeler gauges measured the gap distance from under the 6th E string to the 1st fret. On mine it was 0.8mm or 31 thousands of an inch. Ideally it needs to be around 20 thousands or 0.5mm
Using nut files I simply made the nut slot deeper constantly measuring the gap. I went slightly under 20 thou but could still get a 16 thou feeler in. I think it is around 18 thou currently. You also need to retune to concert pitch every time you measure. Repeat the procedure on each other string.
As you get to the thinner strings the gap is normally less than 20 thou probably more like 12 thou on the thin E string. But if you set them as around 0.5mm (20 thou) you can gradually work to the optimum settings with a little patience.
My nut adjusting tools
Essentially a set of feeler gauges
and a set of nut files.

Adjusting the action

For a 9 1/2" radius neck the action on both the bass and treble sides needs to be around 1.6mm or 1/16" under each string at the 12th fret. To adjust the height on this 6 saddle bridge there are two set screws in each saddle. You simply turn each set screw clockwise to raise the action and anti-clockwise to lower the action. You do this for each string making sure that you turn each screw equally.
Finally check the intonation again as you may have put it out by raising or lowering each string.

It is now best to check every single string at every fret position to make sure that there are no chokes.
On mine the top E and B strings choked on the 15th fret. It is a simple matter of lowering that fret locally by filing and polishing.
I used a fret file, a fret re-profiler and a micro polishing stick.
Reprofiling the fret

Polishing the fret

Luthier trick for bolt on necks

Here is a trick I learnt many years ago when experimenting with my own guitars. Sometimes you find that a guitar sounds a bit lifeless despite the fact you have fitted new strings, tightened every screw, lubricated the nut etc. I found that if you tune the guitar to concert pitch then loosen the screws holding the neck on by about 1/4 to 1/2 turn. Then tighten the screws again. The pitch of the string will have dropped a semitone or two. Tune back up to concert pitch again. The guitar will have more zing and sustain to it.

What you have actually done is use the tension of the strings to adjust the position of the neck ever so slightly and pull the neck and pocket connection together harder. When you tighten the screws back up you are getting a slightly harder connection between neck and body than just the initial screw tightening. It sounds like it shouldn't work but 50% of the time it does improve the feel of an instrument. The best contact is made wood to wood rather than have a layer of finish in between and all bolt on necks I make are wood to wood.
Take care if you are do this and make sure you only loosen 1/4 turn and definitely no more than 1/2 turn. I take no responsibility if you do it wrong.

Plugging in

The final thing to do was to fit a set of Schaller Strap Security locks and a strap. I then plugged it into the shop amp and tried it out. The sounds are characteristically Telecaster. Position 1 gives the bridge pickup its head and the typical twang. Position 2 gives the bridge and neck pickups in parallel and gives a thicker but still twangy sound. Position 3 gives a fantastic smooth sound great for late night blues. Position 4 sounds like a loud humbucker.
The guitar sounds great through a Fender valve (tube) amplifier and is a very nice addition to my arsenal.

Summing Up

The build took around 3 weeks of work and was a real simple guitar to make. If you are thinking of making your own there are masses of resources on the internet and you could start with the TDPRI forum.
The results are phenomenal and satisfying considering it is such an easy guitar to make. Admittedly I have been making guitars for years now and have a lot of experience but give it a try yourself.

Happy woodworking. 

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