A Life In Binary

New single out this fall.

 

Making a Telecaster Plus

One year, I made it a goal to fulfil my dream of owning a Telecaster Plus. They are a rare guitar produced during the 90′s by Fender. Production was limited to a few years until Fender discontinued use of Lace Sensor pickups shortly thereafter. I took it upon myself to build my own Telecaster Plus in 2009. Typically, Telecasters have a very twangy sound; popular with country, blues, R&B et-cetera, however; the Telecaster Plus was designed with a very unique arrangement of noiseless Lace Sensor pickups (the electro-magnetic coils that interpret the vibrations from the strings). Here’s a description of the process that I followed through the fabrication of the guitar. If you’re working on your own project and want some advice or tips, please do not hesitate to contact me.

1. Unless you’re a master carpenter or in the market for a very unique body and neck style, I recommend that you purchase the neck and body pre-carved blanks from an online retailer like Warmoth Guitars or AllParts. They have the most popular styles like Les Paul, Tele, Strat, Jaguar, SG etc. The wood will come coarsely sanded and unfinished. For this build, I used a swamp ash body and maple neck.

2. Make sure that all your parts fit before you embark on the build. From the picture you can see that I had purchased a stock pickguard, which looked out of place so I purchased a custom one without the humbucker cutaway. Also, the body was routed for a single coil bridge pickup; I needed a humbucker space to accommodate the Lace Sensor “dually” reds. Fender stopped using these pickups shortly after they discontinued the Telecaster Plus, so they can be a bit hard to come by. Luckily, I found the “dually” red and single blue at Musicians Friend. It’s at this stage of the game that you want to pre-drill all your holes. Make sure to measure half-dozen times before drilling, especially the bridge. For the love of Zeus, don’t screw up the bridge.

3. After you’ve pre-assembled and pre-drilled, it’s time to start finishing the wood. It is crucial that you have “0000″ steel wool, cheese cloth and a few grades of fine sandpaper. Start with the coarsest and gradually work your way down to the steel wool; using cheese cloth along the way to collect debris. The smoother you get it, the more “store-bought” it will look. I went for something in between to give it that aged look.

4. Forget using that clear, plastic nitro-cellulose finish. It’s labour intensive and sticky (especially once your hands start sweating during performance). I recommend finishing the neck with Tru-Oil gunstock finish. This is a bit hard to find, but if you live near a gun store, they’re likely to have it. One bottle should do, don’t bother buying the crack filler. If you used the “0000″ steel wool, then you shouldn’t need it. For detailed instructions on this process, visit the Luthiers Mercantile International website. Be sure to lightly sand with steel wool between coats.

5. If you decide to install locking-tuners like I did, then you’ll have to bore out the pre-drilled holes further. If you pre-assembled your guitar, you would already know this. The exact diameter (and you should always use the exact diameter drill-bit) is either 33/64th’s or 35/64th’s of an inch. Only a specialised hardware store will have this bit. Luckily, my dad had this exact bit from his days in Her Majesty’s air force. Be very patient with boring out the hole. Do not push; let the drill feed itself through the hole.

6. Painting, screw painting. Painting is a skilled trade and as ambitious as I may be, I didn’t put in all this time, money and effort just to screw up the paint job. I wanted a three-tone sunburst finish, so I hired a local student-artist to do it for a couple of hundred dollars. You’ll want one spray-can of each colour and two cans of clear-coat. Get them to paint and you do the clear-coat to save money. You’re going to want to do > 20 coats of clear-coat for adequate protection; lightly sanding with steel wool between each coat to remove excess.

7. Now that you have the body painted, fasten the bridge. Gradually tighten each screw until it is secure in place. This is a general rule of mechanics, same goes for all the parts. Start with one corner, then move over to the adjacent corner and keep going until it’s all secure. One thing you can’t see from the pictures is the adhesive copper shielding I used in the pickup and control panel holes. When making a guitar with a single-coil pickup, this is an important step. It will cut down on the amount of magnetic interference you’ll get when pointing towards magnetic north. Ahh, science.

8. Soldering the parts together may be a step that you want to pay someone to do. I’m a very technical person, so after a little bit of research I felt comfortable enough to do it myself. I corresponded with the technicians at Lace Sensor and told them that I was building a part-for-part copy of a Fender Telecast Plus. They were kind enough to send me a wiring diagram that they apparently drew up in MS Paint (I’m all the more appreciative). More wiring configurations can be found here. Fixing the odd electrical appliance/gadget aside, this was my first major soldering project. Be patient, double-check everything and make sure you understand what you’re doing before blindly following instructions and you’ll be fine. This can be true for life itself. Use a signal tester (I didn’t have a signal tester, so I just used a hot patch cord plugged into an amp [not recommended]) to determine if you’re passing a signal through. Troubleshoot accordingly. I included a momentary switch (aka, kill-switch) on my control panel. I wired it in between the hot wire from the jack and the TBX tone pot. They’re cool; having it makes me feel bad ass. Stuff everything into its respective compartment and fasten down.

9. Lightly tap string ferules with a hammer (place a block of wood in between ferule and hammer) into the back of the guitar body. I hope for your sake that these holes were pre-drilled for you from the manufacturer. Otherwise you will need a countersink drill-bit to properly get the two different diameters. On a Telecaster, the pickups are connected to the pickguard, the pickguard’s connected to the body, the body’s connected to the guitar neck… There’s a song in there somewhere, look into it. Once again, just remember to gradually screw things into place. Not as important for the pickguard as it is for the neck.

10. At this point, your guitar is starting to look more like a — umm, guitar, but unlikely that it sounds very good. You’ll need to spend some time sorting out the bridge, pickup height, string action (curvature of the neck), and string trees. I’m not going to go into too much detail with regards to these steps as the internet is full of walk-throughs. All I will tell you is to make sure that you have a ruler/gauge that can measure down to 1/64th of an inch.

This was one of the more worthwhile passion projects that I’ve ever embarked upon. I don’t typically have a personal attachment to material possessions but this guitar is what I always wanted. The more astute reader may have noticed that this guitar bears a striking resemblance to the guitar played by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead. If you suspected this then you would be right. Radiohead have been my favourite band since I was 11 or 12. I have become attached to that unique guitar tone that only Greenwood’s guitar was able to accomplish. Before I began writing and recording my first EP, there was one element that I needed to take with me on my own musical journey and I could only have it by building it myself.

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