On this second guitar, I wanted to experiment with wiring some more and I wanted to build a slightly more traditional Telecaster, but with a nice wooden finish.
Before I go into detail on the wiring, I want to show you the two pickups I plan to use. Seymour Duncan makes a nice set of noiseless pickups designed to produce a vintage Tele sound – the Vintage Stack set.
Now these are good pickups but they won’t offer humbucker levels of signal strength and nor should they – that isn’t their design point. But what if I wanted a little more?
Telecasters traditionally use a three position rotary switch to select between the neck pickup, the bridge pickup, and both pickups. And when this three position switch is set to “both pickups” it is operating the pickups in parallel. This is a fancy way of combining the signals at the output jack to get a slightly different sound or tone. Note that it does not literally add the signals together – the combined setting is not generally louder.
Well, thinking about all of this, I had the idea that I wanted to try and make a sort of artificial humbucker by combining the neck and bridge single coil pickups into a single pickup like a humbucker, generating the signal strength a humbucker would yield. But even more interesting, unlike a regular humbucker, in which the pickups are separated by less than an inch, the single coil pickups on a Tele are separated by approximately four inches. So that will also affect the tone. But how to do all this? The standard wiring pattern for the Tele won’t work – it combines the pickups in parallel. I need to combine them in series – one pickup feeding its signal into the next pickup.
I used the world’s best search engine to try and find a wiring diagram for what I wanted to do and I found many – if I were using a 4 position switch. But I don’t plan to use a four position switch. I have a three position switch and I like the idea of selecting the neck pickup, the bridge pickup, or both in series, mimicking a humbucker! A note to the pedantic reader: I understand that since I am combining two in-phase pickups, I will not realize the hum cancelling attributes of a humbucker so technically this won’t be a humbucker. But it will have a stronger signal, like a humbucker.
As I searched the web, I even managed to find a few places where I read that it is impossible to do what I want to do! But that’s not true. Eventually I found a hint. The hint was that I should wire the neck pickup to be always on and that I could use the switch to interrupt the neck circuit. So I spent some time drawing wiring diagrams, so that I could better understand everything, and eventually I ended up with this plan:
To help convince myself this diagram is correct, beside the switch I labelled what will be connected in each of the three positions (“N” or neck, “M” or middle, “B” or bridge). So for example, when the switch is in the “N” or “neck” position, the switch will connect leads 0 and 3 on the right side and leads 2 and 3 on the left side. When in “humbucking mode” or the middle position, the switch will connect leads 0 and 2 on the right and leads 1 and 3 on the left.
When assembling the guitar, the first thing to do is to set up neck relief such that the neck is flat. Then the guitar is strung to pitch and the fret-to-string distance at the eight fret is measured with a capo on the first fret and an assistant pressing the last fret. Based on this measurement, the fine neck relief is adjusted using the side adjuster.
Once the neck relief is correct, I tuned the guitar.
Don’t worry, I didn’t tune the guitar with a capo on it. I just thought the picture above was a cool picture. Having tuned it, it was time to set the action. My intention was to set the high and low E strings to 3/64 of an inch off the 17th fret (no capo) but I could not do it! I am using a Gotoh modern Tele bridge and I find that with the saddles set as low as they can be set, my action is still too high. I have adjusted the neck relief to typical Fender specs (0.01″ at the eighth fret). I am trying to get the high and low E strings to 3/64 and there is just no way. They are currently sitting around 5/64.
I am having trouble setting the action because my saddles were set as low as they could be set and the strings were still too high off the fretboard. I measured the neck again, and it is almost flat, with a slight relief, per Fender specs. This means it is the neck angle with respect to the guitar which is problematic. So I decided to try shimming the neck. What is that?
First, I took the neck off. Note the capo clamping the strings. I learned the hard way that loose strings get tangled and kinked.
Then my assistant cut a shim about 1/2″ long and as wide as the neck pocket from a business card.
I took the shim and placed it in the neck pocket toward the guitar side, not the headstock side. This will raise the strings with respect to the bridge.
Then I reassembled the guitar, bolting the neck back on. I tuned it, checked the relief, then tried again to set the action. Adding this shim should have altered the angle of the neck with respect to the guitar, which would have the side effect of raising the neck with respect to the strings.
It is amazing how much difference a shim the thickness of a business card can make! With only this change, I was now able to set the string height to Fender specs: 3/64″ on the treble E and 4/64″ on the bass E. I retuned the guitar, set the intonation, and then set the pickup height. Presto!
The guitar plays well and sounds good! It is harder to play than my other guitars because I put 11-52 D’Addario NYXL strings on it and they are big! I used those strings just because.
However, I still have two remaining problems to fix on the guitar. See if you can spot the first problem in this photo below.
The second problem is that when I am playing into a dirty amp, there is some hum and this hum goes away when I touch the strings. So I need to track that down and fix that issue. Playing clean, the hum is faint except at full volume.
Update: I checked all exposed metal surfaces of the guitar (strings, bridge, pots, etc) for continuity to the ground on the guitar cable end which plugs into the amp, and they all show around 3 ohms, which is good. This means I don’t have a grounding problem on the guitar. Then I turned off the flourescent lights over my kitchen table and the hum vanished 😉 So this is 60Hz hum, definitely. Then I tested continuity from metal guitar parts to the ground on the amp’s AC plug ground pin, and that looks more like 100 ohms. So my guess is that my amp could actually be grounded better internally and that this is not a problem with my guitar. Or maybe the noiseless pickups aren’t so noiseless.
And the first problem? I didn’t forget. Look at the saddles in the photo – the height adjust screws are sticking way high out of the saddles. I am not sure if I should add another shim to the neck or if I should somehow grind away the excess material on the screws. I’ll need to research this a little. What do you think?
Categories: guitar #2
Tags: action, capo, d'addario, Fender, saddles, shimming the neck