Monday, 28 September 2015

Telecaster Makeover

So I've not yet completed the Les Paul, but I've embarked on another project. It all started when I won a Bigsby B16 on ebay.

The B16 was for a telecaster I had bought from the Music and Video exchange in Notting Hill back in 1987 for £140. In Today's money that would be £350 for a second hand guitar. You could buy two brand new Squier Telecasters or a Fender modern player for that money today.

Not Long after I bought it, I installed a humbucker in the neck position and shifted the neck pickup down to the middle. The humbucker had two slider switches for series/parallel and phase and there was also a phase switch for the middle pickup. I replaced the three way switch with a 5 way strat switch.

Of course I kept forgetting what all the different options sounded like and would fiddle around with the switches until I got a tone I liked and then pretty much stuck with it. I'n fact I forgot what the switches were for entirely when there were 40 different combinations of switch and many duplicate sounds.

Its one of the reasons I have wired the Les Paul with the 11 way switch much simpler to remember the different sounds with a simple switch that progresses from treble to bass.

My Telecaster during rehearsals for the Influx reunion gig.

I decided the old Tele needed a makeover so I installed the Bigsby and got a sparkly new scratchplate for it. Fitting the Bigsby was for more effort than I thought it would be. The first problem was that the pickup didnt fit inside the pickup slot. I had to take a dremmel and run it around the pickup hole until I was able to get it to fit.

The second problem that I encountered was that the hole in the guitar body for the bridge pickup wasn't aligned with the bridge pickup when assembled in the Bigsby. I had to use the dremel to carve out a bit more space for the pickup to sit in.

The other problem I encountered was that the Bigsby raises the bridge pickup quite high. So I chose to mount the pickup flush with the bigsby, but this meant that the height adjustment screws that came with the pickup were too short. I managed to find some 1inch #6/32 UNC countersink screws on ebay. This allowed me to get them almost completely flush on the Bigsby.

I had a rolling bridge in my parts box that I was able to install but that gave me another problem. With a Wilkinson style bridge and the height of the bridge pickups, I needed to install a shim to allow me to set the action low enough to play comfortably. So chopped up an old plastic membership card and placed it in the neck pocket. Bigsby used to ship a fairly thick aluminium shim with the tremelo but because I had made the pickups flush I could get away with a much shallower angle.

The Bisgsby, bridge and pickguard installed.
I bought a new white pearl pickguard to give it a little extra bling factor and using the old pickguard as a template I cut out a new slot for the middle pickup.

So far looking very smart. After seeing what a horrible job 17 year old me had made of the wiring, I decided to completely change the wiring.

Ideally I would like to simplify the wiring. but the thhought of trying out over 200 different combiniations of the 4 coils was daunting. It was bad enough attempting that with 3 coils.

In the end I decided to add a six way rotary switch to give me all the strat options plus neck and bridge together. And then I could use a five way lever switch to control phase and coil splitting options.

In terms of the number of different tones that can be achieved this is clearly still too many but it does at least have the advantage of being a bit more memorable than a five way selector and 3 toggle switches.

Lets see if I have changed my mind by the time I write part the next post on the wiring.