How to build a Telecaster…
Part two of my “family of three” group of guitars. This was an experiment in the differences in electrical components V construction materials. Although a much easier shape to construct than the telecaster due to its obvious lack of contours, this guitar had some difficulties of its own. The biggest complication was lining and drilling the string ferrules in the back of the body, to load the strings in from behind.
The following is a basic tutorial on how I went about building this tele, and showing how to overcome some of the issues that can and do pop up during the build.
It’s the same for every guitar you build. First a block is needed that is as wide or wider than the guitar you wish to build.
This is a photo of the original block, marked with the outline of the guitar’s body in greylead, and the chrome work in pen. I have also traced the parts where I will be needing to rout out using a “sharpie”, so I can see them easier when using the power tools.
All of these markings will be sanded off once the cutting and routing has been completed, so having them in a texta is a good idea for visibility when using the tools. That said, do not use certain markers, as sometimes the ink will bleed deep into the timber. test on a scrap piece first.
This shot was taken after I had the shape cut out, and planed back both surfaces. Plaining is required to remove any imperfections, dents or scuffs acquired during freight or from the timber yard itself. It removes any filth as well, and exposes the timber below, which will usually display a lovely grain that can be sealed and shown.
When I purchased the timber, I made sure it was extra thick so I could allow for surface damage, staining and cracks etc. A total of 10mm was taken off, showing me this wonderful grain pattern underneath. Unfortunately the dark stripe is on the back… My little secret, I guess! 🙂 The front has some nice grain too, but no stripe! strange…
Once the outer shape is cut out, the sides have been smoothed and sanded, the next step is routing the cavities. Here you see the body after it has had its cavities routed ready for the components.
This time I double checked and triple checked all measurements, so all measurements are snug and precise. See? I did learn something from the last guitar!
Underneath the routings in the middle (for the pickups) you will notice some dots drawn on. These are for holes to feed the strings through from behind. As this guitar has a different bridge compared with the stratocaster, a different method is to be used. I have never done this method before, but the first rule is to measure twice and cut / drill once.
This is a rear view of the hole, once they were drilled. Yes that is putty, and yes, it was as hard as i thought. I did get them in a straight line though, which is a start, i guess! If you need to do this on one of your own guitars, I highly recommend a bench drill, as I only had access to a cordless handheld, which is very tough to get a 90 degree hole drilled!
If you roll over this image, you will see the rear ferrules all done. I think they look much better once it is varnished, and the chrome is in. See the high gloss of the polish to the right with the reflection? Yummy!
The ferrules also hide a bit of the putty which was an added bonus. I try to get my guitars looking as good as the possibly can, but sometimes mistakes occur, as with most things. The trick is to learn from them, and not allow them to happen again.
Once the several coats of varnish are completed, the next step is to start on assembling it, and ensuring all screw holes are clear of varnish. if there is varnish in them, do not force a screw in, as this can crack the varnish, causing unsightly cracks that will make your heart drop every time you play the guitar. Instead, use a small nail and gently tap it into the hole, or use a smaller screw or a fine drill bit to channel a new pilot hole for your screw.
Of course, part of this stage is the wiring. there are so many different ways to wire a telecaster, it all comes down to preference and the tone you are after. One note for any lefties out there, whatever diagram you follow, wire the pots in reverse (eg. if the 3rd lug is earthed, a lefty would need to ground the 1st lug) as we turn the pots in the opposite direction to a righty!
Of course, not many guitars are functional without a neck! as always, I chose to buy a neck, as they are cheap, accurately built and save me a few months of work and stress.
Naturally, it would not be a telecaster without the artwork on the headstock. I have chosen for the vintage artwork again, although this is not a vintage spec telecaster. I have googled the artwork, redrawn it in Illustrator and then applied using my own secret application technique.
On the reverse I have applied Eric Clapton’s signature, as this guitar has a very bluesy tone, and was partly brought into the public eye by Clapton.
Once all of the components are wired in, and you have attached the neck and ensured it is square to the centre line, you can step back and admire your finished guitar!
I have tried to capture the timber grain in this guitar for you to see, but it is shy, and doesn’t like being photographed! If only I had planed the timber before cutting the outer shape, I could have had the dark stripe on the front! Oh well, it was unavoidable…
I believe that the timber and the chrome have a good balance on this guitar, both complimenting each others presence while not overpowering it.
Weight – 4kg
Timber – American Maple
Size – Standard Telecaster size
Time taken to complete – 8 weeks
Wiring (never wanted to work, however turned out to be a faulty switch)