New project. Wilko Johnson Fender Telecaster

I’ve had another Telecaster project in mind for a while now. It’s funny how these things come about sometimes. I’ve had my Nashville Tele out for daily play recently and, not being able to carry on work on my offset projects for the moment, it’s funny how exposure to a different instrument starts to re-route your thoughts and plans. Lockdown’s been a strange experience in many ways. Plenty of time to focus on trying to find things which can keep an idle mind refreshed and hungry at the same time. I’d recently been trying to incorporate some rhythm guitar chops into my practice and, having looked a bit at Mick Green’s playing style, (which had originally suggested itself after listening up on some “Johnny Kidd and the Pirates” numbers, for my Jaguar projects) – I naturally ended up getting out my old Pirates vinyl from the ’70’s. Of course – it’s just a small step from there to Dr Feelgood and, of course, Wilko Johnson. How gratifying to discover that Wilko’s guitar hero just happens to be Mick Green. One thing always leads to another. Inspiration is a usually a chain reaction – not a bolt from the blue. A few weeks later, I’m listening to a copy of Wilko’s latest record “Blow Your Mind” – and I suppose the germ of the idea to assemble my own “Wilkocaster”, started along the way somewhere. Playing along with my, (currently 5 string) acoustic – well it just doesn’t sound right.

Fender Telecaster – Wilko Johnson Signature

I’ve recently started to refurbish my Nashville Tele, and it started to occur to me that I didn’t actually have a straightforward, “meat and potatoes” Telecaster example, amongst my various project builds. Of course – I could have just gone out and bought a second-hand version of Fender’s signature series – but, for me, part of the joy of the whole process, is actually putting the instrument together myself, and then trying to learn to get the tunes out. If I’m building a copy of another “iconic” guitar – I always like to read up as much as I can and, sort of, try to imbibe some of the character of the player, and the sound of their music. Whenever I’ve built previous “tribute” projects – I like to try and learn to play a few numbers, using the players signature style. I’ve always figured it’s a good way to learn and if you can play on a similar guitar, set up in a similar way – then surely, if you can get things to sound right, you must be doing something right. Besides – Wilko’s Tele is about as basic a machine as you could wish for. Even my cataracts will, (hopefully), be able to deal with the, reasonably simple task of bolting it together.

In many ways – Lockdown’s the perfect time to do research for projects like this. Lots of time to read books, listen to records, watch DVD’s. Listening to old Feelgood discs leads on to Wilko’s latest vinyl, and from there I can watch some of Wilko’s old performances on the recent two-disc reissue DVD of “Oil City Confidential”. (All that just to try a spot what sort of saddles he uses on his bridge). I even got hold of a copy of the autobiography, “Don’t Leave Me Standing Here”, and read it cover to cover in a couple of sittings. Although I’m from a slightly younger generation, I read his tales of his times in India with some amount of envy. Even back in the Punk days – I was always a bit of a “longhair” and I wanted to do the trail myself. My grandparents lived there for a while, in the early 60’s – and somewhere I have a case of photographic slides of old temples, the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort.

Wilko’s is one of the few autobiographical accounts I’ve read, that put’s it’s finger on the essential importance of feeling “in the moment”. As a wannabe painter and musician myself – (having had a few amateur tastes of the experience) – there’s something about Wilko’s account of his own playing experience which most other “players” don’t ever seem to address. The simple experience of what it’s actually like to do the thing we most admire them for. Wilko’s account is staightforward enough – but full of humanity, and when you read what else he’s been through… (I lost my wife to cancer along the way too)… his honesty will break your heart. Quite coincidentally – I had literally just read the final page and set the book down with the picture of Wilko on the back cover – when the doorbell rang with the delivery of the new, black, Fender Telecaster body, with which I’ll be starting my project build. The universe, it seems, approves my plan…

The joy of unboxing… all the way from Ensenada, via California.

It should be a straightforward enough build. Reading up all I can about the man, listening to interviews and the hugely enjoyable podcast discussions he’s posted – I’m encouraged to discover that Wilko likes to play a straightforward, no-frills Telecaster, “with the controls set all the way up to 10”. “As close to a 1962 as I can get”. That’s specific enough for me to begin to pull more than a few components together. The body is a Fender “Classic 60’s”, black Telecaster body. Made in Mexico – I figure this will be as close as I’ll ever get to what Fender actually use to put the Wilko signature guitars together. I’m delighted to discover that Wilko’s enthused about the guitars Fender have released with his name on – and that he uses them regularly himself. I used a similar “Classic 60’s” body on my Dave Gilmour Stratocaster build. They’re great quality for the money – although they’re getting a little harder to get hold of in the UK at the moment, and the prices appear to be rising. If a plain black Tele’s on your shopping list – this is a good way to get an excellent new body, for less than it’ll probably cost for a knocked-about, second-hand one. I looked around for a good deal, and found one in the USA. It’s a strange privation of Lockdown, that occasionally, people bring things to my door, from all over the world. “Oh look – something else to keep me busy for a week or two”.

Fender “Classic 60’s”, black Telecaster body

The bridge for the guitar will come from my Nashville – since I’m reverting to a six-saddle bridge there. It’s still in good condition, and will fit right in here. I know I’ll have to hunt down a specific neck, (like me – Wilko prefers a vintage-style, 7.25″ radius fingerboard). I’ve got a viable neck currently fitted to my Jimmy Page build – maybe I’ll be able to move things around – anyway, I’m on the hunt. A custom red pickguard shouldn’t be too hard to get hold of – what I really need to focus on is those pickups. Hopefully, I can find something authentic sounding. Something 1962. Something Fender.

Maybe – when it’s built – I’ll learn to play that “Going Back Home” riff properly. The one Mick Green taught Wilko…

…or just maybe – I’ll have to do myself a special Norman Watt-Roy bass. I’ve not built a partscaster bass before…

See what I mean about chain reactions…

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