Positioning and fitting the Telecaster bridge plate.

I want to find the right spot to locate the bridge plate on the body – so I can mark off the locations for the securing screws. From there, I can follow on and locate the spots for the through-holes, which carry the strings to grommets on the other side of the body. With the scratch plate and control plate screwed into place, I can get a rough idea of the location and it’s proper alignment – but I need to ensure the saddles are within a zone where I can adjust them to get the correct scale length and intonation.

First job is to attach the neck. I checked earlier on, and it’s a really snug fit – so no need to worry about exact alignment at the neck joint. I should be able to make any required adjustments to the geometry when positioning the bridge. First however – I need to mark and drill out the bolt holes on the neck. I mark the locations for the neck screws through the holes which are pre-drilled in the body, and then drill them to the correct depth, using a drill press. A little wax on each screw, as usual, and the neck attaches snugly.

I take the bridge plate, and temporarily attach the pickup I’ll be using for the build. I just want to ensure it fits in the cutout, with enough clearance for wiring and the like. I ordered a set of Classic Vintage Telecaster pickups from Tony Partridge at Ironstone Pickups. The Gilmour plate that Tony supplied for the Ash Stratocaster was a hit, so I decided he was the man to make the Telecaster pickups. They promise a classic 50’s / 60’s Fender sound, which should do the job nicely. For hand made, wax potted pickups – they’re a good price too. I put an order in with Tony, and received the pickups in the post a couple of days later.

Now, regular guitar self-builders might eventually acquire special jigs and templates to help position everything accurately – especially if they’re doing the same task again and again. There are some fantastic jigs and tools available on Luthier websites like StewMac which would help – but I’m going to have to find a way to line up the bridge plate, given the tools I have, to hand.

I run a couple of old, spare strings through the headstock holes drilled for the two, outer E strings, and secure them to the bridge by running the bullet ends around the two outer saddles on the bridge. (With no grommet holes drilled, I can’t anchor them at the bridge end, any other way). I can then screw the saddles all the way back to the rear of the plate, and trap the strings in place. This holds them securely, and lets them run over the saddles, as they should. At the headstock end, I thread the strings through the two outer nut slots, and then through the two outer tuner pegholes. I can then attach a few bits of heavy scrap metal, so that there’s a bit of tension produced. Two hands are essential now, as the bridge plate tries to buck up and fly towards the headstock – but I can hold things down, and move the plate around laterally, to a point where the correct 25.5″ scale length, measured from the nut, locates a point roughly half way along the saddle adjustment screws. That should give me enough adjustment for intonation, in either direction. I check each of the tensioned strings, and move the plate up and down slightly, until the strings also sit equidistant from the edges of the fingerboard. Finally, I check the plate is square to the neck, and parallel to the control plate, and then I mark the bridge attachment holes off with a pencil. Then I check it all over again, I won’t actually be able to see if I’m right, until assembly much further down the line – so I want to be as sure as I can.

The picture above shows the rough idea anyway – (although I’ve had to use an elastic band to hold the bridge, to free up my hands for the photo. Not exactly secure. The strings were much better spaced when I marked the actual position off). Now, it’s over to the drill press, where I discover that the throat of my press isn’t quite deep enough to cope with the body of the guitar. I spend an hour or so reversing the mounting plate on the press, and constructing a sturdy platform on the workbench where I can cantilever the drill out a bit more. This provides enough depth and clearance to insert the guitar body to the required depth. (I have to bear in mind that the smaller, through holes, will have to go all the way through the body – so I’ll need to adjust this setup again to get a little longer plunge than I currently have). Then with a brand new, correctly sized, wood drill bit, I plunge the attachment holes to the correct depth, and then countersink them slightly.


Using a little wax on each screw, I attach the bridge plate in position. I can now use another, smaller drill bit to accurately mark off the positions of the through holes. Plate off again, and I can drill the string holes straight through the body.


Now, if the geometry of my temporary drill press extension is correct, there should be a nice, straight line of equally spaced holes on the back of the guitar. I should be able to use these as pilot holes and enlarge them to locate larger holes, into which the grommet cups sit. These grommets hold the ball-ends of each string. Obviously – something must have moved or flexed slightly, and two of the holes are out of true. Arse. I’ve got some white, two-part filler – so I bodge a little into the offending holes, wait for it to go off, and level with 400 grit paper.  With the body still face-down, I take a line between the two, outer holes as drilled, and mark the correct centres for the grommet openings in between. I then drill each grommet opening to the correct depth, (they only have to go in 10mm, or so), using a sharp, correctly sized bit. It looks a little better now and, in theory, the holes from the front of the guitar should still run into the rough, approximate area of each grommet. Maybe not exactly dead centre – but close enough for rock and roll, and close enough to be able to thread a string through with the grommet in place.

I ream out each of the holes to test fit the grommets. They’re grooved, so that they’ll push home into the wood, but I need to be able to get them out again without too much force. I decide to enlarge the grommet holes a little, and I’ll eventually secure them in place wih a little super-glue in the final build. Annoyingly, one of the grommets remains resolutely out of line and spacing with the other. Another bit of two-part goes in, goes off, and is levelled. This time, the hole drills pretty true, and the grommets now look to be in line. Of course – if I had the proper jig, then they’d be exact and I’d know the job was perfect. So much for DIY. But after a bit of improvisation, I’m reasonably happy – and there are other, more critical things to concentrate on than grommet spacing anyway.

While I have the two-part out, I fix a dint which was caused by my over-tightening the neck plate when I first attached it. The alder seemed a bit soft on one corner, and the plate really dug in as I tightened the bolts. Finally, I extract the grommets again, and put them in the project box along with the bridge plate and the rest of the hardware. I’ll be running them through an ageing process later, to dirty them up. Now however, it’s time to prep the body and get it ready for some primer and paint.


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