New project. 1998 Fender Nashville Deluxe Telecaster. Refurbishment and reset

I’ve had my Fender Nashville Telecaster out on a stand for a while now where, I confess, it’s mostly gathered dust. I’ve really, only recently, picked it up and played it regularly again. It’s a brown sunburst, MIM (Made in Mexico), 1998 model, and it’s the first Fender six-string I could ever really call my own. I’ve always had a soft spot for it, and despite it having seen quite a bit of action in my gigging days – it’s still in surprisingly good, original condition. I have swapped the bridge out and flipped the controls – oh, and that pickguard isn’t original – but otherwise, it’s pretty much as it’s always been.

Earlier mods on my Nashville Deluxe Telecaster. Perhaps it’s time to revert?

I’ve already got a few other project in progress – but I seem to be getting bogged down with most of them, for one reason or another. My JagStang build is still awaiting it’s body from Warmoth, (although I’m hoping that will arrive any time soon). Once received, it will require painting – so I’m waiting for better, warmer weather as well. That’s the main reason why progress on my Jazzmaster has stalled, as well. My Custom Jaguar needs some careful routing done to the body and, to be quite honest, I’ve been putting that particular job off – mostly because I’m finding it increasingly harder to do certain critical tasks, with the worsening cataract in my left eye. It’s technically blind now. (You have to be able to read the top line of the chart. What chart?) I can only really see light and shade now, but Covid closures mean it’s probably going to be a year, at least, before I get any treatment on it. I can still do most things if I take my time – but when it comes to major surgery on an original Fender body – I just keep putting things off “for tomorrow”. It’s safer to stick to jobs where I can do things slower, and feel more in control – even if that just involves screwing and bolting things together. When it all boils down to it – any creative undertaking can be a mood-raiser in lockdown.

I’m almost finished with my gold-leafed Stratocaster build. All I have to do now is set it up, and I’ll have nothing else to do on it. I need to come up with another project since I always prefer to have at least two projects “on the go” at any one time – to avoid getting too bogged down in one particular task, and to ensure there’s always a choice of things to do. It always suits me to feel like I have a choice of tasks for the day – rather to have a strict list of “chores” to wade through. It’s the same for actually playing and practicing the guitar. You can either follow “the muse”, or take a strict, lesson by lesson approach. I know which one I’ve always preferred. Part of the reason why my attention has turned to my Telecaster again, is because I’ve recently been trying to focus a little more on my rhythm technique – and looking how to incorporate some of the fingerpicking and melodic chops I’ve been kicking around. There’s something about a Telecaster, for me, which just shouts rhythm, and that association comes with it’s very own selection of “must learn” riffs and tracks. I think that goes for every different type of guitar really, and why I tend to go through phases with each particular model.

But this Nashville Tele is a curious thing. When I first bought it – it was because it promised a sort of halfway house between Teles and Strats. As my first guitar, (and as a bass player aspiring to learn six-string guitar parts), I really didn’t have a strong idea of which model to favour. I think I probably focused more on getting the parts right – rather than the particular sound of the guitar, and how it fitted into a mix. As I’ve built more and more of my own guitars, I’ve become more attuned to the particular characters of different models. As I’ve been giving the Nashville a bit more of a work out recently – I’m focused more and more on the fact that I really don’t think the Nashville knows if it’s a Stratocaster trying to incorporate some Telecaster features, or a Telecaster with an extra Stratocaster pickup.

Let me explain…

The Nashville Telecaster is certainly styled like a proper Tele – but take a look at the standard 5-way switching installed to bring that extra Stratocaster, middle position pickup into play. The switching actually works more like a Strat – so you get the Stratocaster standard, 1, 3, 5 positions for bridge, middle, and neck, as well as middle pickup, blended “out of phase” with both bridge and neck in the 2 and 4 positions respectively. So far – so Stratocaster. Three-way standard Telecaster switching gives bridge and neck options for positions 1 and 3 – but that middle position is a highly characteristic, (for a Telecaster), mix of bridge and neck together. That’s a typical Telecaster sound which just can’t be reproduced by the 5-way switching configuration, installed on the Nashville. Fair enough, you do get the useful blended 2 and 4 positions, which allow the installed Telecaster pickups to be blended with some extra, Strat “quack” – but you lose that Telecaster middle position combination, in favour of a solo Stratocaster middle pickup sound. That might well be “flexible” – but is it entirely practical? If you really want that sound, you could always, you know… use an actual Strat!

There’s an alternative switching arrangement – as found on the Fender B-Bender Telecaster, which uses a Fender, 5-way, “Superswitch” and allows the middle position switching option from the Telecaster, (bridge and neck together), to replace the stock, 5-way middle function. That schematic will swing the whole character of the circuit back to being more “modified Telecaster”, rather than “Stratocaster with Telecaster pickups at the neck and bridge”. There seem to be a few different variants of this schematic, so I’m keen to take a good look and see what I can do to strengthen my Nashville’s Telecaster credentials.

Additionally – after twenty-odd years of service – there’s a slightly annoying, occasional scratching from the original volume pot, to deal with. Probably nothing more than age-related wear and tear. A couple of new 250k pots, together with the new switch, will bring things up to date. I might upgrade the tone capacitor while I’m at it too. Researching all that stuff for my recent Stratocaster project was useful. I’m sure I can use some of the knowledge gained, to benefit my Telecaster, (and other, future builds), also – although I think those pickups are supposed to be hum-cancelling anyway. No need for a treble bleed? Let me look at the modified circuit, and see how the tone is. The stock Fender Tex-Mex pickups are generally well-reviewed, although it will be interesting to see if I can discover any particular recommendations which might allow them to shine.

Also – now that I look at it – I’m not sure the few, previous mods to the Nashville have been entirely successful in what I set out to achive, at the time. Flipping that control panel didn’t turn out as practically useful as I thought it might have been, and the traditional 3-barrel bridge has turned out to be a bit of a pain to intonate. Six individual saddles might not exactly be “classic Telecaster” – but Joe Strummer didn’t appear to mind them, and when people talk of a “classic Telecaster sound” – surely some will have Strummer’s tone in mind? Since this 20+ year old guitar is now heading towards “sought after” status, I’m leaning towards returning it more to it’s original configuration – with it’s “quirky”, six saddle bridge. After all – I learned how to (mostly) tame the vaguaries of the original, “flimsy”, Jaguar bridge. Maybe I can firm up the Tele bridge at the same time. While I’m at it – I can refurbish, clean, and reset the guitar to a more original state with, perhaps, a more practically useful switching selection. Normally – when I refresh a guitar – I tend to swap out the scratchplate and try out another “look”. I never really liked the stock, tortoise plates, and had tried out a black plate last time. Perhaps something new is called for again?

1998 Nashville Telecaster – is this the onset of a “ski jump” neck hump?

There are a few bits and pieces – maintenance and repair issues – with the Nashville too. Partly – it might be down to that substitute bridge – but I’ve noticed a few tuning issues, as well as some high fret buzzing, which wasn’t there before. Looking at the neck – I can’t quite tell if there’s the beginnings of a slight “ski jump” kind of hump at the higher frets – where the neck meets the body. Sometimes – when you sight down a guitar neck, and there’s a slight bow on the neck, it looks like there’s a hump when there isn’t actually one present. The only real way of telling, is to get the neck straight and check with a straight edge. At least I’ll be able to take the neck off and assess things properly. I think everything measured out OK – last time I setup the guitar – but it’s always possible things might have moved a little. I’ve heard that some of these late Nineties, Mexican necks can have poorly levelled frets, and mis-fitting neck pockets. I know much more now, than I did last time I looked at the guitar. Hopefully – I can take a much better look at things, and get the setup perfect. Even if it means re-dressing or re-levelling the frets.

Guitar keeps going out of tune? Maybe it’s the nut?…

A regular cause of tuning issues is a badly cut, or worn nut. This nut was actually one of the first I cut myself – so it’s probably a more obvious candidate for the slight, tuning issues I’m experiencing. Since a couple of the strings appear to have a tendency to stray sharp, and then stubbornly stay there – I’m wondering if the nut is binding, so that when a string is bent sharp – it’s sticking and not being allowed to fully return to tune. While I’m having a good look at the neck – I’ll cut and fit a new nut. Let’s see if I can straighten out, or lubricate the strings as they interact at nut and bridge.

…Or maybe it’s the tuners?

Of course – it could also be the tuners at fault. I think the standard on Mexican Tele’s, back in the 90’s, were Ping, or similar, Kluson-type tuners. (Cheaper). I’ve certainly come across loose and rattling tuners on stock Mexican Fender necks before. I’ve also found loose and rattling bushings before. Heavier strings might “encourage” any slightly loose tuner posts into behaving – but I also have a set of rock solid Gotoh SD510’s looking for a permanent home. If the carbon composite, “CARD”, back washers happen to fit the tuner grommets – then they will provide a much sturdier anchor at the headstock end. One way or another – I’m sure I can upgrade, in a manner still in-keeping with the overall age and condition of the instrument…

1998 Fender Nashville Deluxe Telecaster. Great condition for it’s age.

There’s really not too much more fault I can find with this guitar. I may have a quick look at that neck plate. I think the standard Mexican neck plates might be a little bit thinner than some other options available. There’s always the possibility that the plate is deflecting slightly, and that might theoretically lead to stability problems. I’ll be able to see if the plate is digging into the finish too much – and see if a thicker plate might spread the load a little better, and more securely. Body-wise, there are a few splits and dings here and there – but nothing which you wouldn’t normally expect to see on a 23 year old guitar. I might be able to drop fill a couple of the more noticeable splits in the poly finish – just to stabilise them – but really, I’m minded to leave things much as they are, cosmetically speaking. I’m not looking to have this all shiny and bright and “new” again. The guitar just wears it’s age well. This job will be more about a lavishing a little TLC on an old friend.

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