It’s strangely satisfying to take something apart, and to have a really good look at what’s underneath. I think I’ve got a fair idea of the causes of a few drawbacks with this guitar – but I won’t really know until I begin to disassemble it. I’ve owned it since new, in 1999, and apart from a few cosmetic modifications – I really haven’t ever had an inclination, or need, to strip things down before. Previously – I had most of my tech work done at Andy’s on Denmark Street, and the last pro setup was probably done there, way back – sometime between 2003 and 2005. Since then, it’s been gigged with, recorded with, rehearsed with, stored and intermittently played at my home. It’s developed some tuning issues somewhere along the way, and I want to revert to the original six-saddle bridge, clean and recondition it, and generally give it a bit of a spruce up.
Nowadays, when I take a guitar apart – I’m always pretty fastidious about keeping track of all the components, and I keep an active project box for each build, full of zip-lock bags. Depending on what I’m trying to achieve, or trying to source on the afterparts market – I’ll occasionally swap out pickguards, screwsets etc. as I go. Not being able to see so well, has made me much more organised these days. I’m well past the days of crawling around the floor, looking for lost bits.
For this job, I’m aiming to keep as many of the components as original as possible – with a few planned exceptions. The guitar is still in excellent condition for it’s age – but what little wear is obvious, just adds to it’s character. I’ll re-use the control plate, jack cup and original screwset, which have all subtly aged – but I’ll be replacing the bridge and saddles with a new unit, and will swap out the black pickguard for an “Aged Pearloid” plate, which is of the exact 8-hole pattern required for the Mexican configuration. The original electronics on the control plate are a tangle of plastic covered wires, and I think I’ll look to replace the pots with new, CTS 250k units. Same goes with the jack plug – where I’ll replace the original with a Switchcraft mono unit, within the original cup housing. Since I’ll be rebuilding the wiring circuit – I’ll replace the red mylar tone capacitor with a PIO (paper in oil) upgrade.
As I say – it’s strangely satisfying taking a guitar apart, and as I get to examine the neck pocket for the first time, I discover that the body is stamp-dated 4th March 1999. What a coincidence – today just happens to be the 4th March. Happy birthday Tele! My guitar body is actually 22 today, and I thought it was a year older. (The neck is dated 1998. On Mexican Fender’s, it’s the serial number on the back of the headstock that usually dates the instrument). I bought the guitar new, from Macari’s in Charing Cross Road, some time in the summer of 1999, so it looks like it was fresh into the store then – having been built in the Ensenada plant, earlier on in the year. Condition-wise – everything looks in reasonably good nick. There are a few dings and splits on the body – but I’ll probably leave most of them alone as authentic “patina”. There are a a couple of small splits in the polyester finish on the face of the guitar, at the top edge. These might need stabilising with a small drop-fill, and if I do that, I’ll probably colour the repairs black and polish them out, so that they’re invisible.
On disassembly – I notice that the rear control plate screw is a little bit loose – so that will require packing, or filling and re-tapping. Otherwise, apart from a good clean, most of the body is in good repair, (with exceptions – see below). The pickup and control cavities have a lot of powder gunk in them from the original polishing, and there’s an original quality inspection sticker still hanging on in there. There’s the sign of some liquid or dampness seeping under the pickguard on the lower horn – that’s likely sweat or beer from gigging days – but it’s not got through the finish, and has dried out to leave a water-mark. It’ll clean off. Generally – the body just needs a good clean, a gentle buff up, and it’ll look great. But there are a few signs of damage under the neck plate – and they will need some attention.
The back of the guitar body is as clean as the front, and there’s precious little evidence of buckle-rash – which is surprising, since I know the guitar was, “on rotation”, and well-used in gigs and rehearsal back in the day. I guess Marty didn’t wear a belt that often. On taking the neck off, however – there’s some signs of a problem, and it might just be a possible answer as to why I have some tuning issues. The neck plate is a standard, blank Fender Mexican plate, displaying a CE, European quality assurance sticker, (I guess we won’t be seeing quite so many of them, post-Brexit). These plates are typically thinner than most – just 1.5mm (0.06″). The problem is – they all too easily distort. On removal, it’s quite evident that someone has really screwed that neck down hard. So hard, that the plate corners have dug down – leaving a deep, impressed mark through the finish. So hard, that the wood of the body has compressed under the finish. It almost looks like the finish has rippled out from under the pressure of the plate.
And that’s a major concern, because the actual neck bolts backed out of there without much obvious resistance. They almost seemed to have more purchase on the body through-holes, than they did the actual neck. I know for a fact it wasn’t me who over-tightened the neck, and I really can’t suspect any professional tech would do such a thing. There’s a noticeable dint in the maple on the top of the neck – just by the 3rd fret, and some cracks in the finish around the neck pocket. (Add those to the list of faults which may need stabilising with cyanoacrylate drop-fills). One side at the corner of the heel of the neck is coloured, where some of the body finish colour has been pressed in – although the fit of the neck within the pocket isn’t really that tight. I’m beginning to think that the guitar’s been dropped at some point. The neck’s survived – but I think the attachment at the neck pocket might have been stressed. When I left the Citizens in 2006 – most of my kit, guitars etc., stayed with the band for a few years, as they went on to record their album, and play out their final gigs. I’m not pissed at it – but Poirot here reckons the Tele probably got dropped or kicked over at some point, and the neck joint might have loosened a bit. Accidents will happen – but “on the road” repairs do tend to be quick and perfunctory. Not necessarily the best solutions for guitar care – but needs must… (Worse things than that happened. Somone threw up in Herb’s guitar case at a gig at the Water Rats one time, but that’s another story). For this repair – it looks like someone’s driven those bolts a bit deeper, – probably to try and firm things up. Thing is – I think it might still be a bit loose even now, and driving the bolts just a millimetre or so deeper, won’t really have helped much. I think it might be wise to plug and re-drill those mounting holes on the neck, and get things firmly seated again.
As far as damage to the body goes – it’s fortunate that the finish around the edge of the neck plate hasn’t split and flaked away. I think I’ll be able to stabilise it with some super glue drop-fills – although a new plate would obviously prefer to fit flat, rather than try to bridge the indents. I think I’ll try to drop-fill the indented corners, and polish-out around each of the bolt holes to provide a fully-flat area – onto which a new, thicker neck plate can sit properly. I think Gotoh do a replacement plate which is 2mm thick. Callaham does one which is even thicker, (but significantly pricier). Thicker plates won’t deflect so much, (if at all) – so getting the area as flat as possible first, will help firm up the neck plate side of the join, when it comes to the re-build. Re-drilling the bolt holes in the actual neck should reduce the pressure required to hold the neck firm, and will help the neck joint at that side. Neck bolts shouldn’t ever be over-tightened. Just enough torque to hold the neck firmly in the pocket. I may also try a plastic gasket, between the body and the neck plate, for the rebuild. I’ve never seen a real need for those before. Maybe, perhaps, I have now.
I’ve always liked the feel of the neck on this guitar. It seems so thin in the hand, and easy to play. There is the aforementioned dint in the maple, a couple of light dints and and a wear mark on the face of the headstock – but apart from that it’s a roadworn, but nicely aged piece of maple. The fingerboard has always intrigued me. It looks like Pau Ferro, but it might just be a lighter kind of Rosewood. I don’t know when Fender first started experimenting with Pau Ferro – but, although I’ve always professed to prefer Rosewood, I must admit that whatever it is – I do like it. There’s a fair bit of wear evident on the fingerboard nowadays. The overall tone is quite a bit darker, and some of those frets do actually look quite low. I want to try and get to the bottom of that tuning and fret-buzz issue. Perhaps some of it might be down to the neck being a bit loose and over-tightened. It might be the frets. But first – what about those tuners…?
With the strings off, the vintage-type tuners do seem to be a bit rattly. A couple of the posts seem rtather loose compared with the others. It’s nothing I haven’t already seen on other Mexican Fenders, and the increased tension of a set of slightly heavier strings might just pull them into shape. However – I have a spare set of Gotoh SD510’s in the parts box, and those stabilising “CARD” inserts fit the rear of the post holes perfectly. The tuners will be a straight swap – but the Gotoh’s have much better reputation for stability. Looks like a sympathetic, no-brain upgrade.
Further down the neck – on inspection – I don’t think there is a “ski-jump” at the heel, as I’d first feared. At least – I can’t measure one. There is a bit of back bow dialled in – so I’m wondering if the neck, and it’s frets aren’t quite properly aligned somewhere. I can adjust the truss rod until the fingerboard itself is just about level (above) – but when I subsequently check the level of the frets with a straight edge, there’s evidence of some gapping in a couple of places. I think I’m going to have to try and dress the frets flat again, and try and reset the neck and action, once the bolt issue has been addressed. The frets seem to be quite low. I’ll have to see how much I can safely do myself. If I’m looking at a re-fret – I’ll have to look at getting it done professionally. I always meant to learn how to re-fret a neck myself, and I’ve got an old, generic Strat neck laying around the workshop, which will eventually serve as the perfect guinea-pig. But I’m not going to cut my teeth on a perfectly good Fender neck – especially one I’ve long regarded as a favourite. I’m OK with a spot of fret-dressing – but no more than that. Hopefully, that will be enough for now.
So – I’m hoping new tuners, a fret-dress and improved anchorage at the neck pocket will all help to sort the stability, tuning and buzz issues. The only other slight cause of concern may be the heel of the neck. When I checked the flatness of the heel with a straight edge – there seems to be a slight “dishing” – where the centre of the heel appears to be slightly raised from the surrounding area. This might potentially be the cause of all sorts of stability problems, and might even explain the over-tightened bolts. It might, however, just be the result of the fact that Fender Mexico produce bodies with circular indents in them, at various locations. In this case – there’s one on the front face of the body, underneath the pickguard towards the lower horn of the body – and one right in the middle of the neck pocket. It’s possible that what I’m picking up with my straight edge, is a slight “pimple” on the heel of the neck, corresponding to the circular cut-out, and where the wood hasn’t been compressed quite so much over the years. It’s difficult to tell – but I’ll have to wait and see if my other improvements rectify the situation fully. If not – I may have to look at levelling the heel precisely, to get a neck which will sit in the pocket, properly again.
My previous reversal of the Telecaster’s wiring was “functional”, and since then, I’ve developed an appreciation for tidy, well laid-out wiring. The components all seem to work – although there is some occasional scratching from that volume pot. I’ve not really noticed many problems with EM interference, (I think the pickups might possibly be RW/RP, and wired for hum-cancellation) – but I do prefer to line my guitar body cavities with copper foil anyway, as a matter of course. I think I’ll strip out the control plate, clean it down, and refit it with new components. I’ll keep the old circuit stored but intact, and should “authenticity” ever come to be an issue – I can always revert.
One thing I will do, however, is replace that switch with a Fender, 4 stage “Superswitch”. The additional terminals will allow me to change the current “middle” position, (3), to engage the neck and bridge pickups in parallel. (Currently – that position selects just the middle Stratocaster pickup. I want to re-fit the circuit with an eye, (or ear) towards rebalancing slightly towards the more Telecaster-type sounds with, of course, the addition of the “out of phase”, (2) and (4) position combinations, which make the Nashville Telecasters so adaptable). I’ll take the opportunity to renew the pots, and may also try to check out a slightly higher rated PIO tone capacitor. Telecasters normally use a 0.022µF cap, and have a characteristic treble response. Modern Stratocasters, on the other hand, use a 0.047µF cap. I’ve recently got hold of a selection of Russian K40Y-9 PIO caps, and there’s one at an intriguing 0.033µF – midway between the two standards. Perhaps that might suit the blended positions? – interesting experiment anyway. I can always revert back to a 0.022 “Orange Drop” upgrade, as an alternative option.
The last thing to check out is the pickups. I’ve not had any problems – but it will be interesting to see how they’ve aged. I check the impedance with a multimeter, to check potential output and compare it against Fender standard specifications. Ideally – I’m looking at bridge / middle / neck values of 8.0k / 6.4k / 5.8k. What I actually measure is 8.2k / 6.43k / 5.81k. That’s pretty much spot on. The only thing I’m minded to do is a cosmetic modification driven by pure, unashamed affectation – nothing more. The bridge Tex-Mex pickup has a simple black tape wrap. I really like the look of traditional string wraps on Tele pickups. It’s got nothing to do with the sound, or anything practical – I just like the way they look, and the idea that it somehow shows the machine is “handmade”. The pickups don’t look like they’re wax potted – but that’s by the by anyway. I can leave the tape wrap in place, and overwrap with 8 strand, white cotton twine. The ends are hidden, (the first end is feathered out and covered up, underneath the wrap, as it’s applied – the second end is just tucked in – by the side of the last wind). That loose end is “glued” down with a dot of melted wax, and then the string is “painted” – again, with melted parrafin wax. I use a small tea candle, and an old, fine paintbrush. It’s all completely unnecessary – but once the pickup is mounted in the bridge – it’ll look a little bit more like an original ’62 pickup. When I do come to remount the pickups – I’ll replace the tubing springs. Two of which are now looking a little bit perished.