Towards the end of last year I was overcome by the burning desire to build (well, assemble – be under no illusion that this project has anything to do with the art of the skilled luthier) a Fender Telecaster variant. I didn’t know if I’d have the skills, or if I’d just end up with an unsatisfactory guitar that cost a bit more than a decent ‘real’ one, but I knew I had to have a go.
I had a couple of false starts with cheap bodies bought from eBay (dense, heavy wood, too much drilling required), and ended up buying a genuine Fender Mexican body and neck, sold as spare parts (for, it must be said, not much less than than a whole, assembled and finished MIM Fender Tele). I was very pleased to find that the body was nice and light, and the neck’s frets were a decent ‘medium jumbo’ size. Once I’d found the right size bolts the body and neck went together very satisfactorily; a vintage-style bridge (with 3 brass saddles – enough intonation accuracy for rockabilly, in my book) fitted easily, as did a set of locking tuners. After that it was wiring: an Oil City bridge pickup and a wiring harness (with mod to make the selector switch position more middley and less bassey than the traditional arrangement) bought from eBay went together easier than I expected.
And then I knew from pretty much the first time I played it that I’d build my almost-perfect guitar – which wasn’t quite the plan I had in mind. It’s easy and rewarding to play, and it sounds excellent: ace rockabilly and country tones. I like the single pickup approach, and it’s surprising how much variation you can get out of it just applying the volume and tone control judiciously (though “it’s amazing what you can do with a single pickup guitar/be liberated from too much choice” is a bit of a guitar mag/forum cliché these days). I put a plain white pickguard on first, decided it was too plain overall and plumped for the off-white/aged, 3 ply version; I think it works much better.
Why was that not the plan? I’d thought I’d build something that I could tinker with – try different bridges and pickups, and so on; trouble is, it’s so good I daren’t mess with it for fear of ruining it. So, I suppose the only thing to be done is to build another one. This time maybe with a Bigsy B16 fitted…
Was it a cheap way to build a Tele/Esquire? No. Was it worth it? Yes, definitely. Great experience, very satisfying outcome, and I couldn’t buy a guitar just like this off the shelf.
I should do a proper demo, showing off the different pickup settings, etc, but in the meantime here’s a very short clip (recorded on an iPhone 5s):