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Building a Telecaster from cannibalised components

1. Telecaster component hunt

Keep your eyes peeled when buying parts, there are 3 screw and 4 screw bridges and bodies. This must match in order to avoid unnecessary drilling or unnecessary example graphicgrowing stock of all varieties.

A typical package for a fairly standard Tele must have the components in  the picture and more precisely in the table below.
You can combine parts from genuine Fenders such as  Squier, Mexican, USA without major problems. So a good Squier body with a nice USA made neck will make a very good instrument.

Only pickguards and tuners normally require some holes to be drilled.

Apart from special models the neckplate is not critical, any

neckplate from Strat, Tele or Precision will do.

This is about the only component that will fit carefree!









8, some 5 screws


6 or 12 screws

Control plate



4 screws

Jackplate or cup and jack

2 screws or none resp.


2 screws


6 screws


3 bolts (bridge) 2 screws (neck)




1 screw


1 or 2 screws

Bridge 3 or 4 (see txt)


Here are a few videos about building a Tele. The series is now complete, see Youtube/lambertusjan.

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2. Completing the body with PU's, PG, Bridge etc.

2.1. Bridge

As in the above photograph you can see how easily you buy the wrong bridge. Initially Tele's weren't my strong point and on a vintage show I bought a 'tele bridge'. Bingo, wrong one for the MIM body. I had. When you buy one insist to get the right screws with it. If you have to buy look for nickel, flat head and sunk, these are .... mm by ... mm (exact measurements follow). Mounting the bridge is straightforward, screw it.

Also check carefully if you have a 'string thru' body or one where the strings stay on top. Cheaper body's are often of the latter type, string thru gives a better sustain (as on vintage style Teles)

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2.2 Pickups and pickguard mounting

The classic Tele comes with two single coil pickups. Of course there is a very large choice now in other types, several providers such as Seymour Duncan provide nice overviews of all the types, their measurements and installation details.

The neckpickup is mounted like the PBass with two screws and a piece of compressable foam, or springs (i prefer the foam). On recent Teles the neck pups are mounted Strat style on the pickguard.

The bridge pickup is mounted like the Stratocaster PU's. You need 3 bolts and nuts and a spring  or rubber hose or other compressible material.  Rubber is better as it has less risk to cause funny resonations


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2.2.1 Fit pickguard

I really like the tortoise (of course fake) colour. The  one in the picture fits the body by sheer  coincidence and looks great.

This is the 8 screw type. Watch it there're also 5 screw PGs.

This body is also of the 8 screw type. Luckily the neck position matches, however two of the screw holes dont match the pickguard.  

If the pickguard doesnt fit wel around the neck, you have some adjustment to do - get your Dremel tool out! Use your Dremel low rev, otherwise it will melt the material instead of cleanly removing it.

The trusted satay sticks are of great value here during the fitting process as well as lateron to make litttle plugs to fill the unused screw holes. This is really necessary as some of the old holes are very close to where the new ones must come. Don't try to skip the filling as screws tend to get a life of their own when another hole is very close - causing a lot of pulverized wood.

Also see the Strat page for an overview of single coil, humbucker etc.


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3. PU electronics

Some explanation of guitar electronics and circuitry .

Above and under are examples of standard Tele wiring. Above is with the classic open spring type switch, under the later switches basically on a little printed circuit board (they can be slightly different!)

This is a very simple circuit. The 3-way switch acts indeed as a 3way switch as in the original Strats (modern strats have a modified 3way switch with 5 positions). The switch will give neck, neck&bridge, bridge PU.

If you have a prewired control plate (see below) life is easy. Solder de signal leads to the switch as indicated, and solder de mass leads to the casing of the volume pot. You may have to take your multimeter to check which switch position corresponds with which output pin. Then solder the connections such that it is logical when playing - i.e. the lever points to the neck for the neckpickup etc.

The vintage jack cup is a funny one and fits into the body with  piece of sharp metal called the retainer clip. Installation may cause you a major headache and you may wish to order - I did - a special tool (StewMac) alternatively it should be possible to do something with a large bolt and a few nuts - I will have a look into that.

There are however cups that fit with two screws - not as original though. If time permits I do a write-up on it lateron.

Solder the mass lead to the casing of the output jack and the output from the volume pot (=signal) to the tip. Thats  it.

Consider to add some shielding and connect shielding  to the casing of the vol pot.

Interesting:  you can see in the circuit diagrams a permanent cap between input and output of the volume pot, this is a treble bypass and can account for some of the tonal properties of the Tele. The treble bypass will always pass a certain amount of higher frequencies, independent of  volume. The control plate I purchased somhere only has the tone pot cap.

You can do this treble bypass with Strats as well by the way.

See below a fully wired controlplate - easy for the lazy luthier.


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About the switches

The switches can present you with a puzzle if they're completely new and in case you dont have documentation.

The three way switch consists in fact always (irrespective of its physical form) of two three-way switches that run in paralell on the same axle. Each of these has three inputs and one common (4 lugs each). Left the traditional switch, right is the newer Megaswitch.

The standard setup sees the common soldered together (bridged) which then connects the output signal to the rest of the circuitry (here the volume pot). With the other lugs you make combinations.

I quickly made a drawing, as there is little information on the usual pages on the web.

I have made a diagram for each of the three positions.

This should make clear how the signals run in each position and more importantly it should enable you to hook up any switch with little or no documentation.

For example position three you see that switch A connects 'nc' to the output. At the same time switch B connects the bridge PU to the volume pot (see also the diagram).


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4. Putting it together

4.1 Mounting the neck

Turn in the screws in the body so that they just emerge above the face of the neck cavity.

Match the 4 screws carefully against the corresponding holes in the neck

Tighten the screws going diagonally as well as round the clock, take care all screws are tightened and with the same force.This is not necessarily the first step. You can opt to mount the neck at a later stage. However, it may be useful to do the next step before you continue.

4.2 Check the need for shim

Fix the neck in place and mount one string. We are going to check if the tilt of the neck w.r.t. the body is too small, to large or just right.

If - with the saddles in the lowest position the action is still too high you must place a shim in the neckpocket towards the tail end. If with the saddles in the highest position (or almost highest) the action is too small or the string still rests on the fretboard you have to place a shim in the neckpocket towards the heel of the neck.

If you are a skilled carpenter you could also modify the heel of the neck somewhat. That is in principle the best solution (not always possible) as these shims create a small airpocket which has tiny damping effect.

In case it is just right, some people place a .25 mm shim anyway. I haven't measured this but the documentation states that .25mm gives you an exra .8mm at the bridge.

The first situation occurs quite frequently, the latter rarely. By sheer coincidence the guitar of this project suffered the second issue. See the picture below. This was a bad case of the shims, I needed almost .9 mm shim.

I have .25 mm and .45 mm plastic sheets to make shims, cut a little piece of about 5cm by 1 cm.

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4.3 Mount the pickups

The neckpickup is mounted with two screws and a piece of compressable foam (similar to the PBass). Take care to mount it exactly lined up with the middle of the fretboard and in this case (humbucker route) flush to the neck side of the pocket.

Check the fit with the PG.

The bridge pickup is mounted with spring and bolt on the bridge baseplate, easy. Very much like the Strat pickups.

Lead all the wires to the control plate cavity.

4.4 Solder connections

Solder the signal lead from the PU's to the input lugs of the switch. You figured those out with the drawings i gave.

Here the white one is the neck pickup,the yellow one the bridge and the red wire is the output that goes to the pots and eventually to the jack.

Solder the black wires (mass) to the casings of the pot somewhere.

4.5 Mount the jack cup (retainer clip!)

This funny little piece of scrap metal was used by Leo to fix the cup in place. You really need a tool for this.

No tool? Buy a cup with two screws. Saves a severe headache!

Here is the tool, a complete explanation is in my book and on the leaflet StewMac provide with the tool.

When this is done you wriggle the jack connector thru the body and fix it in the cup against the clip. Use a fitting wrench, not pliers as they will slip and scratch.

That completes the electronics. Nos fix the control plate in place with two screws and then the pickguard - drill the remaining holes that you need.

Then place the neck again - remember the 22fret neck has to come off in order to mount the pickguard.

4.6 Setup

Here you adjust neck relief, action of the strings, intonation, PU to string distance, and if necessary you may have to deal with the nut.

Here a few of the issues:

Neck relief:

place a capo on fret one, depress string on fret 17 and measure distance fret/srtring at fret 8. Should be around 0.1mm, if more you have to pull neck straighter with the trussrod. Turn trusrod to the right NEVER MORE THAN A QUARTER TURN at the time..


The Tele has a scale of 648mm, but only for the high E string, the other strings are slightly longer.

First you adjust the saddle for the high E such that the 12th fret is smackbang in the middle, effectively the scale is than more or less precise 648mm. You then move the next saddle back with a distance equal to the diameter of the string. And so forth for all strings.

Done that your intonation is roughly ok. Next you need your ears to adjust the saddle for each string such that the harmonic on the 12 position is EXACTLY equal to the tone with the string depressed. You will see slight changes w.r.t. the rough setup.

The picture shows the saddle on the bridge as it came off factory, 64 cm thus some 8mm off. Sounds awfully sharp.

The saddle should be at the 64.8 mm point, which will sound almost ok.

Action (playability)

With capo in pos one meassure string to fret distance at fret 17 with the ruler we discussed.

Aim for E1 at around 2mm increasing gradually to 2.5mm for E6. This very light, so you might prefer an extra .5 mm - this is very personal.

Adjust the saddles height with a small hex screwdriver (watchmakerset) as in the picture.

If you run out of breath with the saddles, you need a shim.

PU to string distance

Set at 3.5mm. For the neck pickup with a 22fret neck you have to take the pickguard AND the neck of.


Here some ramblings on what to do in case you screwed up or otherwise made your nut unusable and you had to buy a brand new one.

Before buying a new one, accuratelty measure your neckl- there are some variations.

Slotting a new nut

The standard width of the nut is 43mm (be careful, there are always exceptions). If you have a brand new one make the outer slots 3mm from the sides and divide the remaining 37 mm accurately in equal portions. First saw the 6 straight slots and then make rounded slots for the EAD strings.

Adjust a new nut for action above fret 1

The string distance between fret 1 and string can be between 0.005 and 0.010 inch, which is 0.127 to 0.254 mm. Chose your preference but always start high and then go lower (take for example .010).

This means that the slots in the nut should be no deeper than the height of fret 1 and 2 (for example .040 or 1.01mm) plus your choice from the above distance range.

Measure the height of fret 1-2 using a metal ruler and your feeler gauges.
Now add the chosen distance to your fret height and set the total with your feeler gauges (example now 0.050 or 1.27mm). File (or saw) the slots down while holding your feeler gauges against the nut.

Test and re-adjust as required. Dont go too low lower than fret 1 means you need to start all over again but with a new nut.

When done I would fix the nut in place with only a tiny bit of wood glue, or nothing at all if it sits tightly.


The end result. Not all bad. Sounds great.

As soon as I have some money (buy my books please!!) i will replace the Squier neck with a good USA or MIM product.

Forgot to add the strapholders!




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