Fender Nashville Deluxe Telecaster. Modifications and setup

I bought this Fender Nashville Telecaster Deluxe, back in 2000 from Macari’s on Charing Cross Road in London. It’s a brown sunburst, 1998 model, made in Mexico – and I paid £429 for it with a case thrown in. At the time, I was playing bass in the Citizens and I wanted a six string to explore compositions using my old Portastudio. The guitar ended up in storage with the rest of the band’s equipment, and it was used extensively for some live performances and recordings in the early 2000’s – Marty using it in rotation with Herb’s Epiphone Korina SG, and his Tanglewood electro-acoustic.

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One of the reasons I went for this particular model was the flexibility of that extra, middle pickup. The Nashville Tele comes loaded with hotter, Fender “Tex-Mex” pickups, which are vintage style – but overwound a little to add a little more twang and bite. There’s also an extra Stratocaster-type pickup located in the, normally vacant, middle position. The provision of a five way switch enables the addition of blended neck and middle, middle, and bridge and middle combinations to the usual Telecaster selections. This opens up a whole load of new tonal possibilities which, whilst not sounding typically Telecaster or Stratocaster-like, certainly tick all the boxes as far as “Fender tone” goes. It’s hugely useful in a band situation, because it allows the guitar to solo, as well as just sit in the mix in a sympathetic way, with just enough of an individual voicing to stand out.

Besides that – it’s just great fun to play. the action feels loose and slinky for bends and vibrato, the neck is super thin and easy to get to grips with – there’s even the benefit of a relocated string tree to allow for Jimmy Page style, behind the nut, string bends. It can chunk along with rythmic backing chords, but is equally at home taking the lead with some great, individual character. Plenty of bite, plenty of twang and the hotter pickups mean it’s easy to push over the edge into overdrive when you want to get expressive.

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But as I’ve owned and played the Nashville – I’ve begun to want to change a few things. I’ve always thought the guitar looked a bit of a mongrel. It’s a nice sunburst finish – but that pickguard looks like a piece of chopped meat on it. A proper Tortoise type plate might look better – but they’re expensive and aren’t always available to accommodate the extra pickup. There’s the usual, Telecaster type finishes to the pickups – silver lipstick type at the neck, black bobbin at the bridge – but the additional middle pickup is housed in a white pickup cover. It’s purely cosmetic – but I’ve long thought that a plain, black or white pickguard would look better than the original one. And although there’s the bonus option of  that additional Strat pickup in the middle position – I don’t think it needs to stand out quite as visibly as Fender seems to have thought it should. It’s a nice bonus to the sound, but I’d like to “hide” it a bit with a pickup cover the same colour as the pickguard. That way, I hope to restore a bit of the visual balance which says “traditional Telecaster”. It’s only taken me 19 years – but after much thought, I decide to swap the pickguard for a black Fender 3-ply guard, (BWB). At the same time, the middle pickup cover will be swapped for a black Fender Stratocaster cover.

While I’m at it – I never really got on with the six-saddle bridge. Far to fiddly and wiry. I like the traditional, three-saddle design – so as part of the refit – I’ll try swapping out the bridge for a genuine Fender, “Pat, Pend”, vintage style, three saddle bridge plate. For the bridge saddles themselves, I’m using a set of Vanson brass compensated saddles. It’s a straight swap out – but it’s important to establish first that the bridge is a vintage type or not – since the attachment screw spacings on different telecaster models are different.

The final modification is going to be to reverse the control plate. I’ve discovered over the years that my playing style – the position of my right hand – ends up being quite close to the selector switch. The 5-way switch on the Nashville is quite sensitive, and it’s all too easy to accidentally nudge it into a different setting from the one you want to be in. I read about a modification which reverses the control plate entirely – moving the switch to the back of the plate and out of the way. At the same time – the volume and tone controls are moved forward. Essentially the plate is flipped – but to keep the volume and tone controls in the same configuration order – they too need to be flipped on the plate. This brings the volume pot into the area where stray fingers can knock it – so thatt’s something to get used to – but I’ve seen some players actually use this as a tool to do some fancy swells and vibrato effects by just dropping a finger to the volume knob, while keeping the hand in picking position.

These are relatively easy mods – reversible if anything goes wrong. It’s the ideal sort of thing to help me get adjusted to the processes involved – without the risk of really screwing something up, and ruining the guitar.

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So the first step is to strip the hardware down. The bridge is removed, together with the pickguard assembly. The pickguard swap is straightforward enough. The pickups are unscrewed from the original plate, and then reattached on the new plate. The rubber springs are still in reasonable condition – but I swap them out anyway while I’m at it. The new pickup cover for the middle pickup is fitted at the same time. I’ve already checked that both the pickguard and pickup cover are the correct type to fit. Telecasters come with a variety of styles. Obviously – this has the additional pickup opening – but it’s important to make sure that the 8 screw configuration matches the holes on the body. Otherwise it’s going to be much more involved. Plugging old screw holes and drilling new ones. The same check goes for the Strat style pickup cover. The pole spacings vary on different Stratocaster pickups – so I need to be sure the cover will both fit the scratchplate AND the pickup pole spacing.

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The bridge is another straight swap. The old one is removed, and retained. The pickup is removed and refitted to the new plate. The original has rubber springs, instead of the metal you can also find – so I replace the rubbers with new. It certainly helps in the fiddly task of threading and locating the pickup adjustment screws. The only thing to check is that the grounding wire from the bridge is correctly located. Sometimes it’s just a loose wire – but here there’s a loop lug which can sit in-between the bridge and the rubber spring at the top adjustment screw. That’ll provide a good, solid connection and can’t accidentally get knocked or pulled out of place. The replacement saddles are already fitted, and are set in an approximate position to allow for correct string intonation. The springs look a little bit long to me. I don’t think they’ll compress down much, and I think I’m going to need more adjustment than that – but I’ll see when we check the guitar’s intonation. The assembly is fitted into place, and the body screws tightened – but not before cleaning the body under the plate.

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The final job – reversing the control plate – is reasonably straightforward. The whole plate assembly is removed and rotated 180 degrees. This now means that the switch itself is reversed, as well as the volume and tone pot relative placement. The switch can be unscrewed from the plate, reversed and reattached. Then, with the knobs removed to allow for the detatchment of both the volume and tone pots – both of the pots can be withdrawn and the entire pot assembly rotated and then re-attached to the plate. The end result is quite an unprofessional tangle of wires, and all the slack needs to be pulled out. Let’s face it – it’s a mess. But as long as none of the solder joints are broken, no-one but you and me will see it. The modified control assembly is then reseated

With all the components in place, but unscrewed, it’s a good time to clean the body of the guitar. I use Crimson Guitar Cleaner – removing the grime that somehow gets under the fingerboard. Finally, a little Fender Custom Shop guitar polish is rubbed in and then buffed up. Making sure it’s all dry and polished under where the plates cover – the screws can finally be tightened, and the plates secured. With everything in place, the guitar body can now be cleaned on the back and sides. Cleaner first, then polish. After a final buffing – I have a shiny, “new” finish again.

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The guitar is now ready for setup – first I check the frets over for wear. There’s plenty of play left in this guitar. It’s not as if it gets anywhere near enough use these days, to even begin wearing out frets. There look to be a few scratches though – so I’ll give the frets a bit of a gentle polish. First however – I want to check the frets for level. I can’t adjust the neck back to straight without tweaking the truss rod, and I think the action was already OK – so I don’t really want to disturb it. Any level checks will have to be assessd with the slight bow provided by the truss rod in play. So each fret is assessed in relation to the two frets on either side of it, using a fret rocker. Normally, I usually find at least one spot where a fret appears to be a bit high, for one reason or another. Usually – the offending high spot can be filed down. In really bad cases – with high spots all over the neck – there’s no option but to straighten the neck and carry out a full fret level and dress. Fortunately, and somewhat remarkably, considering the age of the guitar – I can’t find one single high spot. All that’s required is a fret polish – so using a fret shield and some fret rubbers, I go through the grades, gently removing any slight scratches, and restoring a shine to the frets.

With the fret polishing complete, I clean and oil the fingerboard. It’s been a while since this has been done – so I give the fingerboard a couple of applications of oil – leaving plenty of time for it to penetrate the rosewood. Last thing is to make sure all the excess oil is removed with a paper towel, and then the board is finally buffed over. The rest of the neck is gently cleaned using the guitar cleaner – a quick polish, and we’re good to go.

The guitar is now ready for stringing and setup. I had this guitar originally setup at Andy’s on Denmark street in London – and I’ve never had any problem with the action at the nut. In fact, it’s super slick and a dream to play. The nut is cut for regular string gauges though. I’ve since developed a preference for heavy bottom string sets on my Fenders – but I’ll keep this one, like my Epiphone, with a regular, (10-13-17-26-36-46), set. The guitar has always played well enough – I don’t want to change a perfectly good, (in fact – excellent), setup and nut just for the sake of it. Keeping the same string gauge should also mean that the neck action shouldn’t have to change. Since the string tension will be the same – the truss rod shouldn’t need a tweak to compensate. Sometimes you just need to leave things the way they are.

So a new set of D’Addario EXL110’s is fitted, stretched and brought to tune. Checking the neck action with a feeler gauge, (capo at first fret – finger at last fret – check action at 8th fret), shows we’re bang on the standard Fender specification – 0.010″. No truss rod adjustment required at all. The nut slots have been filed for the regular string set – so a little silicon lubricant on each, with a little under the string tree also, will keep things nice and slippy. I double check the action at the nut. With each string fretted at the second fret – each string should just about clear the first fret. Fender recommend 0.020″ clearance at the bass side, 0.018″ at the treble. Whatever it is – Andy’s original work to the nut is perfect for me, and I’m not going to mess with it.

With neck and nut action already OK – it’s time to sort out the string heights at the bridge. Each pair of strings over each of the three saddles can be adjusted by raising or lowering the brass saddles with two grub screws. I usually start by checking the two, outer “E” strings with a string gauge at the 17th fret – adjusting the saddles so that they stay level – but raising or lowering the E strings until the correct Fender specified height is reached. With a 9.5″ radius fretboard – that’s 1.6mm for all strings. Once the two, outer “E” strings are at the correct height – it’s relatively straightforward to check the two paired strings on the two outer saddles, (the “A” and “B”), strings. A very slight adjustment only is usually required to compensate for the radius of the fingerboard.

The saddle carrying the middle two strings is then adjusted to provide the correct string height for the “D” and “G” strings. Logic tells you the saddle should be pretty level. It’s usually possible to take a visual estimate and get quite close – but checking with a gauge is best, if at all possible. Once all the strings check out at the 17th fret, I double check the relative heights with a radius gauge – slipping it under the strings and sliding it back to check the radius at the bridge. It usually takes a couple of fine tuning adjustments to get the strings sitting right, in relation to each other and the neck. After that, the string tuning is checked again and each string is checked at every fret to make sure there’s no buzzing. This might indicate a raised fret or a string too low. I couldn’t find a raised fret earlier – and I still can’t find one now.

But the intonation is way out. Using a chromatic tuner, each string is tuned, and then sounded at the 12th fret – the midpoint of each string. Every 12th tuning is way too sharp, indicating that the bridge side of the string is too short in relation to the overall string length. Too short means the overall string length will therefore have to be lengthened, in order to move the mid point relatively closer to the bridge. However, the springs on the saddle adjustment screws are huge, and they begin to compress quite quickly. The adjustment required to correctly intonate the guitar looks like the saddles will have to move quite a way towards the back of the bridge plate. By then the springs will have completely compressed. There will be no more adjustment possible. Hmmm.

Nothing for it – the guitar is detuned again, so I can swap the springs out. I’ve got a spare set of bridge pickup mounting springs, and they’re about half the length of the originals. As long as I have to move the saddles far enough back to begin to compress them – they’ll do the job nicely. Each saddle is unthreaded in turn, and the springs replaced – before the strings are reseated and returned to tune. Now I can take the saddles all the way back, and soon the strings are both in tune, and correctly intonated. A final check – to make sure the string heights haven’t been altered by the saddle relocation – shows the guitar to be bang on Fender spec.

Final adjustments are made to the pickup heights. With a string fretted at the last fret the distance between the poles of the pickup and the underside of the strings should be 3.2mm on the bass side, 2.4mm on the treble. This is more than for the usual vintage type pickups – but the Tex-Mex pickups are hotter, so there’s a bit more signal. Too close, and the treble becomes a little too harsh for me. The pickups are adjusted to reflect the standard Fender clearance – but then it’s a matter of fine adjustment by ear. Ultimately, you have to go by ear – making sure the relative volume of each pickup is exactly where you want it, and also balancing the bass and treble response across the strings at each pickup position. It takes a while. Quite often, it takes a few weeks of play, (with a screwdriver handy of course) – making the odd tweak here and there, until the guitar’s personality is right where you want it. The only way to find out is to play it. I think I might just leave this out of the case for a bit longer.

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