Fender Nashville Deluxe Telecaster. Progress. Re-installing the original “Tex-Mex” pickups

It seems to be Telecaster central, right now in Garageland. A few months ago, it was all Jaguars and offsets. That’s just the way it seems to have fallen. Because of the way I work at the moment – under lockdown conditions, and with deteriorating eyesight – I’ve found it best to break down each of my ongoing project builds, into practical “bite-size” tasks. Most of which, I can usually achieve in a single session. I can sort the tools I’ll need for each set of tasks, set myself up with everything to-hand, and then take my time. I’ve got into a routine where I can complete a particular task, and then write it up and blog it here. This helps me focus on everything in turn, and gives me a running reference as to how each job is progressing. It stops things getting rushed, keeps me from getting overwhelmed by having multiple projects on the go at any one time, and I find I can attend to the individual details much better.

It’s also about trying to do different things every day. If I spent a few weeks doing just one type of task on every guitar – I’d get bored pretty quickly. I realise I do all this because I love getting lost “in the moment” – and I really don’t like having to produce “to order”, or against a hard deadline. I spent way too many years producing artworks for other people, against the clock, just to make a living. I really value the time I can spend on my own projects, and what I can learn along the way.

A lot of individual tasks can get dull and repetitive, if you’re doing them day in, day out. If you move off and attend to something else for a while – it seems to make the zen of repetition that much easier to appreciate again – When you’re dealing with “just another pickup install”, for example. But there’s also a competing logic in standardising and templating some of the processes involved, in order to make the finished job that much easier, (or better). As I’ve developed my own approach to processes and procedures for different models of guitar – I’ve discovered that some of the various tasks tend to group into particular repeated sequences. I’ve found it beneficial, in going through the build process a few times now – to group and organise some of them together – based on their combined ability to streamline the entire build process.

One key organising principle derives from how the “on-body” and “scratchplate-mounted” components can be assembled as two separate and distinct entities, before they’re wired-in together at the main control circuit. I find it much easier, and consider it much more satisfactory in terms of organisation, if I complete “on-board” and “on-plate” assembly in separate sessions. This breaks the task down into manageable chunks – and if I have to clean down and set myself up again at a later date – things are much less likely to get mixed up in the interim. It also tends to make sense from a longer-term, ongoing maintenance, point of view. Instead of a mess of spaghetti-like wiring assembled on the fly – I can organise my circuit logically, and keep things simple, economical and tidy. It’s a matter of some personal satisfaction – but it also helps in case I ever need to get in there and perform basic maintenance, or further upgrades. It becomes possible to swap out complete pickup and scratchplate units on Stratocasters, for example, by simply de-soldering just two wires. Replacement installations, (different pickups perhaps), can be prepared separately, and then simply dropped-in.

String-bound “Tex-Mex” bridge pickup, and replacement Fender bridge unit

Telecasters, like Jaguars, are often found with the pickups installed within the body, and the scratchplate just overlaid, as a sort of protective cover – (wheras Stratocasters tend to have all three pickups installed as an integral part of the scratchplate assembly). This Nashville Telecaster variant, seems to combine both approaches – so my usual Telecaster or Stratocaster approaches will have to be slightly altered. The bridge pickup here, is attached to the body-mounted bridge, and is electronically grounded there via a short, lugged fly lead. However, the neck and the additional, middle pickups are very much attached to the scratchplate – “Stratocaster style”. Since all of the wiring comes together at the control plate, it seems most logical to install all of the pickups at the same time – to simplify and organise the wiring runs, route them where required, and to leave everything suitably prepared, so that I can solder-up the circuit on a future occasion. This also means I’ll be able to fix the bridge and the scratchplate down and, theoretically at least, I should be able to string the guitar and begin to check the neck angle and relief with a full set of strings at tension.

I’ve already wrapped my “Tex-Mex” bridge pickup with waxed string. It’s a purely cosmetic affectation. I just like the look of vintage, string-wound, Tele pickups. One major aim of this rebuild and refurbishment, is to bring out some more “true Tele character” from the setup. That said – I’ll also be replacing the actual bridge plate, and reverting back to an original “six-saddle style” unit. Although the six-saddles somewhat over-engineer the traditional, (and much simpler), three-saddle unit – it’s a variation I’m willing to stick with on the Nashville. It’s bringing the instrument a little closer to it’s stock, original state. Plus – the ability to more accurately intonate the strings will be a distinct advantage. Besides – I have other Telecasters, if I want to stick with tradition just for the sake of it.

The bridge pickup is attached to the new bridge plate unit (Fender parts number 099-0810-000). I’m re-using the original screws, but replacing the “springs”, which are old-style, rubber tubing types. Only one of the original bits of rubber tube has perished, but it’s wise to get the three pieces of tube to match – especially in length. Whilst installing the “top” screw – I ensure that the grounding lug on the pickup ground wire is threaded between the bridge plate and the rubber spring. This will effectively ground the bridge plate and saddles via direct metal-to-metal contact, and will result in just a single ground wire emerging from the bridge rout, into the main control cavity. There, it will join with the two ground wires from the other two pickups – on the back of one of the potentiometers.

Original jack plug and wiring – insulated and re-organised

Before I start to re-install things – it’s the ideal opportunity to check original parts over and make improvements where I need to. I usually prefer to use cloth covered “push-back” wire – but in this case, I’m going to preserve as much of the original, plastic coated wire as possible. It’s not that I’m too precious about keeping things stock and original, but it’ll end up looking much more consistent, and will be less of a waste of, otherwise-functional, resources.

The original jack plug spring clip, (looks like a Switchcraft unit), looks a little “tired” now – but it still works well enough. I always have a spare, if I need one, but as long as this one works – I might as well keep it too. The solder joints still look good, so I apply a little heat-shrink tubing to each, and then twist the wires around each other. The paired wires are, themselves, then secured with another little bit of shrink tube – leaving plenty of room for the jack plug to insert without coming into contact with any of the wiring.

Jack plug wiring – installing a grounding lug

When putting together the ground side of a guitar circuit, my normal preference is usually to install a central “star” grounding point, where appropriate. This can help keep the circuit wiring nice and tidy, and also helps to unify the circuit grounds with any copper foil shielding, which may also have been installed. Normally – ground wires from outlying metal parts – such as the bridge plate would ideally connect directly to this central grounding point. However, this Nashville, with it’s bridge already grounded via the small lug on the bridge pickup ground wire – will ultimately connect, along with the other pickup grounds, on the back of one of the two pots. In this case therefore – I’ll just add a grounding lug to the jack plug ground wire. This will allow me to locate a central grounding point, as usual, but then also keep the ongoing jack ground wire to run to the back of the pot. It’s a sort of “half-and-half” solution, and changes the end of the jack ground wire into a sort of “jumper” lead – but it’ll bring the copper foil shielding directly into contact with the main ground, and will also allow me to proceed towards a fully-central “star” ground system, if I should ever want to do so.

To attach the ground lug – I check for the best location by temporarily installing the jack socket, and locating a screw in the main control cavity. The best place seems to be atop of the small ledge in the cavity – where it won’t foul the pots or, more critically, the switch. I can then divide the ground wire at the ideal point, and retain the offcut to act as the new “jumper” wire – ongoing to the pots. A suitable lug is soldered onto the ends of the wires, and the joint is protected with some shrink tubing.

Installing the bridge, and the jack socket

The jack plug socket is installed into the original jack cup, with a lock washer and the original nut. A dab of blue Loctite will keep it in place, and help stop it from working loose over time. As you can see from the image above – there’s enough twisted wire to run the link around the back of the main cavity, and to reach the central ground screw on the ledge near the mid-point of the cavity. The ground screw itself has been turned into the wood of the body, and will keep a good connection between the ground lug, and the shielding foil. I’ve left wire tails which are long enough to allow me to hook the “hot” and “ground” wires up to the upturned and displaced control plate – once the circuit has eventually been put together.

The bridge plate is firmly screwed down into position, using four new, stainless steel screws. The wires from the bridge pickup emerge from the interconnecting conduit, and are left paired, but loose – ready to hook up to the control plate. I’ll need to trim the ends and re-tin the wires, but I’ll wait until I can see how much length, of all of the pickup wires, will need to be preserved to allow for hassle-free hook-up.

Re-installing the original “Tex-Mex” neck, and middle, (Strat-style), pickups

The Telecaster neck, and the middle, “Strat-style” pickups can now be installed into the scratchplate. Vintage Telecasters had the neck pickup attach into the body, under the scratchplate. Here, however, the pickup attaches just like a Stratcaster pickup. – although the screws are slightly smaller than usual. The scratchplate has been slightly tinted and “aged”, and a conductive piece of copper foil has been stuck to the back, where it can come into contact with a couple of purposefully-placed contact lugs, on the body. I use the original pickup screws, but replace the rubber tube, “springs” – all of which were beginning to look a little bit “old” and perished. For the sake of tidiness, more than anything else – I loosely twist each pair of pickup wires together, and then secure part-way along each with a length of shrink tubing. Again, I’ll need to trim the ends and re-tin the wires, but I’ll wait to see how much length of all of the pickup wires, I’ll need to preserve.

The pickups are the original Fender “Tex-Mex” units from when I first bought the guitar, new, back in 1998. The neck pickup cover is a little tarnished, and shows some sectional wear on the top, which corresponds to the postions of each string. All it really needs is a little clean over with a soft cloth. No need to get the metal polish out, or anything drastic like that. A few signs of old-age aren’t disfiguring in the least. They just add character. The middle, “Strat-style” pickup has had it’s original white cover replaced, at some point, with a black one. The “newness” has been knocked off this with time and, again, a gentle wipe down is all that’s required to clean things up.

The pickups are attached to the plate and tightened down, roughly half-way, to compress the rubber springs. You need to get the tube lengths correct, because too long – and the compressed rubber bulges out at the side too much, and presses in against the sides of the copper coils. Too short, and the pickups will rattle and won’t maintain their set height. I’m re-using the original screws, since each pickup needs a slightly differently sized pair, (three for the bridge pickup). The wires are then routed through to the main control cavity via the interconnecting conduit. The pickup rout is a large “swimming-pool” style rout – so the wire paths fall where they like, and can be gently curved out to the side and down towards the controls. No need to pull anything too tight, or bend anything to squeeze into tight confines. Once the plate has been inverted and dropped into position – it’s screwed down with eight new, stainless steel pickguard screws. A couple of the holes are loose and need a bit of packing – so a shaped and glued plug of matchstick is inserted, and the holes re-tapped with the screws.

Fender Nashville Telecaster re-fit. Ready for the tone circuit

Since I’m breaking tasks down into logical “chunks” – this now seems to be the perfect place to “call it a day” for now. I can re-install the original chrome control plate with it’s new, black plastic shim, and leave the project in a totally secure state, with the paired and twisted pickup wires left emerging from the holes on the plate. Nothing can get tangled up, and no parts are left where they can accidentally “fall out” and get mis-placed. It’s not exactly been an onerous or complicated days work – but it’s another set of logical, self-contained tasks which move the project along, and I can begin to think about the next step. Progress.

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