It’s about time I got this Nashville Telecaster together. I’ve been trying to work out the best way to re-wire it, and I’ve recently been sidetracked with some other bits and pieces. I’ve got a few days spare – time to sit down and sort out a plan.
The guitar is already mostly fitted out, with the pickups and jack socket installed. I’ve also shielded the guitar cavities, and wired the jack ground in to a central “star” grounding point. Most of the “to-do” list, revolves around the main control plate and the tone circuit, and I’ve been pulling together the parts I’ll need over the last few weeks. Time to make some sense of them.
In refurbishing my Nashville Tele, I made an early decision to change the 5-way “Stratocaster” style switching, to try and better “represent” the guitar as a Telecaster. The thing with the usual 5-way “Strat-o-style” circuit, is that the majority of the selection positions produce arguably more characteristic “Stratty” tones, than they do classic Telecaster sounds. That’s a shame – because the Telecaster “Tex-Mex” pickups provide an excellent, albeit slightly overdriven, classic Tele sound. Standard modern Telecaster switching, built around the usual two-pickup configuration, provides 3 switch options – usually engaging neck, neck and bridge, and bridge pickups, in the three positions. (Older vintage models had options for neck, neck (with tone circuit), and bridge). Whilst the aditional options offered by the 5-way Nashville switching circuit for positions 2 and 4 do provide some interesting blended options between the Telecaster neck and bridge pickups, together with the additional, middle Stratocaster pickup – the middle position even solos the middle pickup – skewing the overall balance of the selections towards Stratocaster-typical sounds. In my opinion – that middle position would be better utilised, in this case, as a “neck and bridge together” option. Sure – the blended 2 and 4 positions are interesting, and will offer a slightly wider tonal pallette – but a middle Stratocaster pickup option on a Telecaster?…
If I really wanted to focus on that Strat sound – why wouldn’t I just pick up a Strat instead??
Turns out – I’m not re-inventing the wheel here. This exact, modified, 5-way switching arrangement is already featured on the Fender Nashville B-Bender Telecaster. I just need to reconfigure my circuit in the same way. Seems straightforward enough… although wait a minute… that’s not a standard five-way switch, is it?
The standard 3-way Telecaster switch has 4 terminals each side of the central wafer. That’s 3 pairs, (one pair for each of the selection positions), and two additional control terminals. Since the 5-way “Nashville” switching options would obviously require two extra, blended positions – a 3-way switch can be modified to provide two extra pairs of terminals. The Fender, 2-pole “SuperSwitch” does exactly that – although it’s layout is slightly re-arranged. Effectively – each side of the usual 3-way switch is a single “pole”. On the Super switch, the architecture is changed so that the two poles are set side-by-side, instead of opposite each other. The two control terminals are set out at the extremities, and then the switching terminals are arranged in sequence.
C 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 C
Of course – this now means the switch has a “right side up”, and a “wrong side up”. When looking at the switch terminals in reality – it’s vital that the orientation is understood and taken into account – otherwise “C12345 12345C” can easily get wired as “C54321 54321 C”. Wire the switch backwards, and all of the pickup selections will be screwed up. It’s a little confusing at first – but once the principles of how the poles are set out, and how the switch functions, are understood – it’s relatively plain sailing.
Having the switch terminals set out like this, means they can also be duplicated on a parallel wafer, and therefore the same switch lever can simultaneously additional, paired poles. The Fender 4-pole “SuperSwitch” doubles the number of available poles, and opens up a whole new world of wiring possibilities. It even becomes theoretically possible to conjure up quite heroic switching options with the added combination of separate DPDT on/off, or rotary switches. The problem with the 4-pole option is that it’s huge. It will only just fit in a Telecaster control cavity, and thats tested before the switch is actually wired up. Fortunately, all I’ll need is 2 poles, and the single row “SuperSwitch” will be ideal for my, relatively simple, re-assignment of the standard “Nashville” middle switch position.
In addition to an upgraded switch – I also want to look at the possibilites offered by an upgraded tone circuit. Since the purpose of the Nashville-style circuit is to offer a slightly more flexible tonal palette, I’ve been wondering what the addition of a Fender TBX tone pot might offer. The Fender TBX potentiometer is actually 2 pots, one stacked one on top of the other. The combination offers the usual rotation from 1 through 10 – but there’s a notched detent at 5. At this point, the pot is effectively set to a “no-load” position and the tone produced is just as if the usual tone controls had been set, “full-on”, up to 10. That’s effectively allowing the full sound of the pickups to pass to the volume control, unfiltered. Turning the control down towards 1 on the TBX control cuts the treble in exactly the same way as the usual tone control does, although the taper is obviously different, due to the fact that the knob is only rotated through half the angle it normally is. Turning the knob up towards 10 begins to cut some additional bass frequencies – effectively a sort of “Treble boost”, (although it should always be remembered that with single coils, potentiometers can’t boost signals – only cut.)
In effect – each of the stacked TBX component pots are functional for a separate half of the angular sweep. From 0 to 5, “below” the central detent point – the signal passes through the bottom pot, (looking with the shaft up). This is a standard 250k pot – just like a normal tone control on a standard Telecaster. At the central detent point there’s no load at all – just as if the usual tone control was “full up”, (or perhaps not even there). From 6 to 10, the signal passes through the second, upper pot (again looking with the shaft uppermost). This pot works the other way around, (so that it’s taper works in reverse). It’s also higher rated than the other, at 1.0Meg, and can be used in conjunction with a very low rated capacitor to filter progressively higher frequencies. Essentially, the pot becomes a sweepable high pass filter, and progressively more bass frequencies are cut. Fender market the TBX as a “Treble and Bass eXpander” – although in truth, the “X” should probably, really refer to a “cut” in signal. Regardless – the clever thing about the TBX control, is that it allows a subtly more nuanced tonal control when it comes down to the adjustment range of treble frequencies. Since a good deal of the Telecaster’s character comes from that trebly “bite” – having the TBX on board might provide some interesting possibilites. I’ve had a spare TBX unit kicking around for a while now. I think I’ll give it a test in the reconfigured Nashville.
Of course – wiring in the TBX has it’s own challenges – especially for me, and my current position on the general “learning curve”, that is custom guitar wiring. I’m indebted, therefore, to a poster on one of the online Telecaster forums, who posted a useful schematic diagram for a Nashville Tele circuit based around a “SuperSwitch” and a TBX tone control. The original schematic also incorporated a separate DPDT switch which allowed optional switching between the standard Nashville middle pickup assignment, and the alternate “all-Tele” option I favoured. That’s six separate configurations, but I really don’t want that extra switch and, as I’ve explained, I can do without the middle pickup solo. Without the desire or requirement for the additional switch – all I had to do, was work out how to maintain the circuit without the additional switch. Effectively – that meant I had to work out how the switch actually functioned, and then ensure the correct connections were configured, in addition to those already specified. As it began to make sense, I modified the original diagram in Photoshop. There’s something about drawing a circuit that helps you really understand it. The process of re-drawing the circuit, and working out the problem graphically, is always a great help to my growing knowledge. Of course – having drawn out my own modified version of the circuit – there’s now only really one way to test it out…
Actually wiring the switch is a little fiddly – so it’s best to do this first, before the switch is installed into the plate. Basically, the switch is wired so the two poles somewhat mirror each other. On one side, the 123 terminals are jumpered together, and on the other side it’s the 345 terminals which are joined. A short wire joins the 2 and 4 terminals, and a linking wire is also run between the two control terminals, with an extention piece attached to eventually run further on, to the TBX controls. This is where it’s vital that the orientation of the switch is completely understood, (and it’s why the extention lead is looped here, just in case it had to go either way. It was while I was soldering this together that I really began to understand the importance of orientation. Consequently I was, at this stage, “still hedging my bets” a little).
The “123”, and “345” jumpers I’ve fashioned are crude, but effective lengths of tin coated copper wire – cut and shaped to form conveniently shaped “staples”, which are then dropped into place with pointed nose pliers, and soldered, to secure them. As regards the soldering – since the neck pickup will eventually connect into one of the “345” terminals, the bridge to one of the “123” set, and the middle to either the 2 or the 4 – it’s useful to keep one of the terminals of each set unsoldered, with the wires in position. With the ganged terminals – that’s relatively easy since the staples are held in position with just two solder joints. With the 2/4 connection – one end of the wire will remain loose until the pickup is eventually connected. This can ultimately make things a little bit fiddly. (No need to ask me how I know this).
The fact is – my vision is now so bad, that it’s really beginning to impact on some of the things I’d normally be able to take for granted. With one eye now virtually blind, it’s increasingly difficult to “nail” 3D resolution. That’s pretty important when your trying to manipulate a fine, 480 degree hot soldering tip onto a small, 3mm switch terminal. Additionally, I have dark “floaters” which interfere with, and partially obscure my vision, right on my point of focus. If I stare at one particular spot, (the way you do when you’re paying attention), dark, blurred clouds descend over my central vision, and I just can’t see in any detail. It becomes like looking through patches of blurred, distorted fog. I’ve learned to sort of “flick” them out of the way temporarily – but they just swim back into view after a few seconds. I’ve had to learn how to deal with these handicaps – but I must admit – it’s getting pretty tiresome now, and I really hope there’s some hope of a corrective operation for at least my remaining cataract, somewhere on the horizon, (although with the backlog due to Covid-19 – that may be as much as a year away. The floaters, I’m told, I’ll always have to live with).
Nevertheless – I can’t let things like that beat me, and if I take it slowly and methodically – I can still, just about, do a decent job without burning myself, or the place, down. I might not be able to perform to a full “professional” standard any more, and do practical things in a sufficiently timely manner – enough to earn money or kudos for it. But I can, at least, take my time – learn from, and fix my mistakes as I go, and take pleasure in doing things methodically. Wiring a guitar circuit for people with good vision probably isn’t much of a test of skill. For me – it’s a significant challenge, and on top of having to learn how the circuit works in the first place – it’s all quite an education. Having assembled many of my own guitars from components, and in this case, having fixed the neck attachment issue – being able to take a sense of additional accomplishment from putting a fiddly wiring job together, is another rewarding thing to take from the day.
With the switch largely soldered-up, I can move onto the pots and it’s a good idea, at this stage, to install the components onto the control plate. I normally fix the attachment nuts and screws with Loctite, to avoid them ever working loose and coming adrift. However – with a slight nagging doubt still, about the orientation of that switch – I’ll attach the bits temporarily, and Loctite the attachments once the circuit has finally been soldered-up and tested.
The basic Telecaster circuit is a reasonably simple affair – this one only complicated by the addition of the second capacitor. I’m using a 0.047µF PIO tone capacitor by RS Guitarworks for the “normal” tone functions, and a 0.002µF “Orange Drop” cap for the high pass filter “bass cut” functions. The tone pot is the aformentioned Fender TBX unit, and the volume pot is a CTS 250k, solid shaft unit, suplied by sixstringsupplies.co.uk . As I say – the circuit is simple – but the layout has to accommodate being fitted into the Telecaster control cavity, with its centrally positioned “shelf”. There’s an inevitable bit of fitting and testing to ensure a correct fit, but once the capacitors are fitted above each other, as shown, the switch connection lead can be soldered into place. The whole control plate assembly is then ready to be finally attached to the jack plug and pickups.
I lay the control plate on a protective cloth, over the body, and in an orientation which will allow me to trim the pickup wires a little. (There’s a lot of unnecessary excess to accommmodate, otherwise). When I’m soldering, I cover the nearer areas of exposed guitar body with a protective piece of thick card. The jack socket leads are wired-in first. The white “hot” wire is connected to the central terminal of the volume pot, and the black “ground” jumper wire, leading from the central “star” grounding point, is soldered to the back of the TBX tone pot nearby. A connecting black, ground jumper wire has already been laid between the two pots.
Next, the ground wires from the pickups are identified, trimmed to a convenient length, grouped, tinned and then finally soldered and secured to the back of the volume pot. The ground wires from the pickups are usually black, (although in this case, the one from the middle Stratocaster pickup is red).
Finally, the pickup “hot” wires are identified and trimmed back to leave a little slack. It helps to have them gently loop around the switch, so they don’t kink too much. The ends of the wires are stripped and tinned, and then after checking and double-checking which wire should go where on the switch – the final pickup connections are soldered-in. That’s a much tidier wiring job now, than it was originally.
The control plate can now be screwed down into place, and the circuit functionality tested. The guitar is hooked up to an amplifier, and switch connections confirmed by touching each pickup, in turn, with a screwdriver. A “clunk” indicates a good contact, and the volume and basic tonal modulations can be demonstrated as functional. There’s no buzzing, no unwanted earth hum, and the right pickups work when the switch is set in each position. Good to go. The switch screws and pot nuts can finally be removed one-at-a-time, and replaced with a little Loctite locking compound to help keep them from working loose. Once done – it’s also a good time to run over the guitar one last time, and check all of the scratchplate and control plate screws are done up properly.
The switch cap is a new, Fender “barrel” type. The old one was loose, and probably would have dropped off before long. The original, chromed brass, knurled knobs are restored to the new pots – although the TBX pot has a split shaft. This requires a special brass sleeve to be slipped over the TBX pot splines, before the securing grub screw on both knobs are tightened. Unless you use a spacer underneath the knobs as they’re secured – the knobs will sit right down on the chrome plate, and will stick and eventually scratch up the chrome. This is the original, 1998 chromed control plate, and it’s already quite worn and marked – but even so, when installing control pots with a grub screw adjustment, I always slip a temporary shim underneath each pot to hold it slightly off the surface of the plate. An old credit card does the job perfectly.
And that’s my old Nashville Tele back in one piece, with a much more secure neck attachment, new upgraded electronics, a new (original style) bridge unit and a new pickguard. I’m now really looking forward to getting it restrung and setup properly. Meanwhile – it’s a good a time as any, to run over the body with some Fender cleaner and a little carnauba wax polish. Cleaned and buffed up – it really doesn’t look anywhere near it’s age, and hopefully good for another 25 years, at least.