Wilko Johnson Fender Telecaster. Bridge unit installation and grounding

Another day of, (somewhat glacial and lo-tech), progress on my Wilko Johnson Fender Telecaster build. The bridge assembly – pickup, bridge plate and saddles – can all be installed now, and at the same time, I can begin to address some grounding issues which immediately arise. Since the bridge unit will remain fixed on the face of the body – I’ll take the approach of establishing a central “star” grounding point within the main control cavity, and attach a bridge plate grounding wire directly to it. This central grounding location will also be able to act as a single-point focus for other ground wires.

Fender bridge and saddles

I’m using a virtually new, Fender American Vintage, “Pat. Pend.”, Telecaster bridge. (Fender parts number 005-4162-049). This has had a short outing, and minimal previous use on my Nashville Tele. I’ve recently switched it out from there, (in favour of an original six-saddle version), and it’s perfect for my Wilko build. The bridge was originally fitted out with brass compensated saddles on the Nashville. From what I can gather – Wilko uses steel saddles. These Callaham compensated steel saddles should help give me the vintage-y look, feel and sound I’m looking for – but having compensated saddles will also be a distinct advantage when it comes to intonating the, notoriously tricky, three-saddle setup.

It appears original, 1962 saddles would probably have been steel but, rather than being made out of smooth billets, they would, most likely, have been grooved. The grooves of the originals, (similar to those on Jaguar bridge saddles of the period), are supposed to help keep the strings in position on the saddles, but unless the string co-incides with a slot exactly in line – the string can be pushed slightly off-true, and string tension can slightly deflect the whole saddle unit sideways. The Callaham units are smooth and polished, so there’s no assigned string path. Each string will find it’s own, ideal, contact point. Since the strings won’t pull sideways at all – there’s less of a chance that any two of the saddles will be pushed together at the edges. This, supposedly, can cause unwanted, sympathetic vibration between adjacent string pairs. To further prevent the saddles pushing together, Callaham deliberately engineer the saddles a little shorter than usual – at a length which keeps them slightly apart. Not only that – Callaham use smaller height adjustment grub screws, and set them closer to the ends of each saddle. This helps maximise the available area on top of each contact point, and stops the strings from fouling the tops of the grub screws. The steel used in the manufacture is supposed to impart a little more “punch and sustain” to the tone produced by the strings. (Brass tends to be softer, and therefore is supposed to produce a slightly more “rounded” tone).

Callaham compensated steel saddles installed in a Fender American Vintage bridge unit

Installing the saddles is simple. The lower edges of each saddle are marked with the intended string – so there’s no danger of getting the saddles installed in the wrong order. (Get the saddles the wrong way round, and your guitar won’t intonate the way it’s supposed to). The Callaham mounting and intonation screws are slightly shorter than Fender’s, and this leaves less “spare” thread sticking out in front. The intonation adjustment heads are also markedly “chunkier” than standard, and my adjustment screwdriver fits into them much more securely. The springs supplied are all the same length, and appear to have have more turns than seen on the standard Fender-supplied alternatives. I’m guessing they’ll have a little bit more “push” to help hold things secure – although I’ll have to check the eventual positions, to make sure that the compressed springs don’t prevent any of the saddles from moving back far enough to intonate properly. The saddles are “pre-adjusted” to a radius, (looks like 7.25″, although they will adjust to 9.5″), and the heights are set so that the adjustment grub screws won’t sticking up, in either case. In the event further adjustment should be required, Callaham supply a correctly-sized hex spanner to do the job.

Jack plug assembly, and ground wires

The body is already drilled to accept a jack cup, and a fixing staple is already factory-installed in the cavity to allow for a new Switchcraft mono jack plug socket, to be bolted in. I’m using a Fender USA, nickel plated ferrule cup, (Fender parts number 099-1941-000), and I wire the jack plug socket in the usual way – using shrink tubing over the solder joints to keep things secure and insulated. I’m using pre-tinned, cloth covered hook-up wire. White for “hot”, and black for all “ground” connections.

Jack socket wired to central “star” grounding point. White “hot” and black jumper “ground” wires, also shown

The “hot” and “ground” wires from the socket are lightly twisted together a few times, and the unit is checked for fit. The ground wire is divided at a point which corresponds to a suitable location on the side of the main control cavity, where a small screw can be located to act as the central ground point. A lug is attached to the truncated ground wire, together with the offcut. This provides a lugged anchor point, to secure against the conductive sides of the chamber with the screw, and also provides a continuation fly-lead, which will eventually connect, along with the white “hot” wire, to the control circuit on the chrome control plate. Again – the solder joint is protected with shrink tubing.

Another separate jumper wire is also prepared – with another lug soldered to one end. This will provide a connection to the bridge plate, and will sit underneath the plate, secured around one of the pickup screws. (The bridge pickup cutout has a handy notch which perfectly accommodates the lug and lead wire). The bridge ground wire is trimmed to an ideal length – to allow for easy connection, both at the bridge plate, and also where the other end of the wire will eventually connect – at the central grounding point.

The wired jack socket assembly is inserted into the jack cavity from the control cavity side – the threaded socket passing through a castellated lock washer and the fixing staple. The nickel cup is threaded on from the outside, and the entire assembly is held together with a lock nut. I use a socket wrench to tighten everything up tightly. The lock nut pulls the jack socket into place, (although the fit on Telecasters is never quite as flush as I think it possibly could be. The staple seems to be located so that the cup sits flat, down onto it. Whenever I’ve installed the fixing staple myself – it seems to get further down into the jack opening, and allows the cup to be drawn further into the body).

Since the jack socket won’t be adjustable in any way, and I don’t want it working loose over time – I apply a little bit of blue Loctite thread locking compound to the nut, before I tighten it all up.

The bridge pickup I’ve purchased for the build, is a Fender American Vintage ’62 Custom, Telecaster Bridge Pickup, (Fender parts number 005-6075-049), with an impedance value of around 6.2-6.4K. (My most accurate impedance meter is currently out of battery, so I’ll have to check the exact reading later). Wilko states, in his autobiography, that his ideal guitar is “as close as possible to a ’62 Tele”, and this Vintage reissue unit is supposed to do just that. There are quite a few testimonials concerning this particular pickup online – and most of them sem to rate it as one of the best, and truest to the original Telecaster sound. I don’t know what Fender actually use on their Wilko Johnson Teles – but I’m sure this will, at least, match that specification – it’ll probably exceed it. The price is good too. Only one problem – these are now getting increasingly hard to find – especially here in the UK. For a while – they were seemingly available as part of a complete bridge unit, (pickup and bridge plate), but the supply now appears to have dried up. Pickups supplied on their own are now, seemingly, even rarer. I had to get this one specially shipped in from California.

Bridge unit – screws, rubber springs and ground wire attached

The pickup comes supplied with the aattachment screws and rubber tubing “springs”. I found it necessary to trim the springs down, just a little, in length – but once fitted, with the lugged ground wire held in place – the pickup can be attached, by loading it from the rear of the plate.

Bridge unit – pickup loaded

Once the pickup is loaded, I twist the pickup wires together lightly, and direct the wire paths so that they’ll fall in a gentle curve towards the wire conduit. The separate ground wire lug is located so it’ll fall into the notch in the bridge pickup rout, and that too is directed so it’ll reach the conduit without kinking or getting fouled.

Bridge unit installed. Pickup and ground wires pushed through into main control cavity

The wires are fed through the conduit, and into the main control cavity. As they’re pulled through – the bridge plate unit is dropped into position, and then screwed down firmly using four, flat headed, stainless steel screws. The pickup wires are identified, and pushed aside. This leaves the bridge ground wire, which can be connected to the central “star” grounding point.

The core of the ground wire is exposed, by pushing back the cloth covering – enough to leave a long enough core, which is pushed inside the central ground lug screw hole. With the grounding lug screw temporarily removed – the exposed core of the ground wire can be pushed down inside the small screw hole, and secured in place with some adhesive copper tape. Once the screw is retapped – the ground lug from the jack is brought into direct contact with the bridge ground, whilst simultaneously holding the wire in place. It also completes a connection with the shielding copper foil on the sides of the control rout and, consequently, all the other shielding elements, which are contiguous and connected. The continuous ground is checked and confirmed with a multimeter. The wiring can also be checked to ensure there’s no short circuit anywhere between the “hot” from the pickup, and the continuous ground. A short circuit would immediately silence any output from the pickup.

Wilko Johnson Fender Telecaster. Bridge unit installation and grounding

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