Wilko Johnson Fender Telecaster. Installing the circuit, and wiring-in the pickups

Whichever way you slice it – wiring up a Telecaster circuit is perhaps one of the easier guitar soldering jobs. In fact, this whole project build has been a relatively easy one to put together. Fender’s original Wilko Johnson Signature guitars were reasonably priced, “made in Mexico”, “no-frills” instruments – but built to look authentic and to sound the part. Of course, it helps that Wilko’s original, iconic, 1962 Tele – (the one which the signature range model was based upon) – was a “down to earth” and “no-nonsense” example, in the first place, and the fact that Wilko now actually uses his own Fender signature guitars, straight from the shelf, for live work, just goes to demonstrate their authenticity, and suitability for the job. Since most of the after-market parts I’ve sourced are either contemporary with, or are up-to-date versions of exactly the same components used during the Wilko Signature production runs – the build is just about as close to the original Signature range as I can get, with a just couple of upgrades thrown in. Certainly no corners cut here, and nothing inferior installed – just to save a few shillings – either. I suppose I could have always gone out and bought an actual Fender Signature guitar for slightly less than this one has cost to build – but then I wouldn’t have the personal satisfaction of putting it all together, and some of the recent days and months in lockdown would have been that little bit emptier.

Since the Telecaster is a relatively uncomplicated beast – it’s been quite uncomplicated to assemble it. The only real challenge has been dealing with my continuing vision limitations. Consequently – soldering the tone circuit, is probably going to be the most difficult thing I’ll have to deal with on this build.

Fender Telecaster – Circuit wiring components

The pots and switch are already temporarily attached to the control plate, (no LocTite used, as yet). I’m using a CRL 3-way spring switch, an RS Guitarworks 280k “SuperPot” for the volume control, and a CTS “Premium” 250k for the tone pot. I’ll be using some pre-tinned, cloth covered wire for the circuit connections, with a little piece of tinned copper wire to hard-wire the switch. I have a vintage, Soviet surplus “K40Y-9”, 0.047µF PIO unit for the tone capacitor and, although it’s a little on the large size – I’m hoping I can rely on the extra space available in the vintage-style control cavity, to sit it conveniently, below the pots. If it just won’t fit – I have a spare 0.047µF “Orange Drop”, as a backup.

Fender Telecaster wiring – Pots and switch

Wilko’s original Telecaster, and the inspiration for the Fender Wilko Johnson signature version, is well known to be a 1962 production model, and therefore should have originally been supplied with the pre-CBS “Dark Circuit” wiring. However – since Wilko will have, almost certainly, swapped to the “Modern Telecaster” wiring standard by now, (and since he never seems to use anything other than the bridge pickup on full-crank, anyway), I’ll wire up my version using the “modern circuit”, as illustrated on Fender’s “American Vintage” pickup spec sheet. This provides a “neck and bridge together” option for the middle, (position 2), on the switch, and also utilises a single 0.047µF tone capacitor, instead of requiring an additional, darker sounding, 0.1µF capacitor for the neck pickup preset.

Fender Telecaster switch wiring – Hardwiring the switch terminals

The first task is to tin all of the terminals which will require connections. I have a pre-drilled piece of heavy oak which I can drop the fitted-out control plate into. This protects the work bench, holds everything securely, and stops things moving about as I try and solder accurately.

Because the switch is only ever going to act as a 3-way Telecaster switch – the easiest thing to do, is to permanently hard-wire the necessary terminals, with a single strand of tinned copper wire. The pickups will eventually connect into the outside pair of terminals, and the only terminal which requires sharing, is the one at bottom left, as you look at the switch, with the pots to the left. The terminals, in this orientation, can be mapped as follows:

O – X X
X X – O

The “X” terminals are wired together
The “-” terminals are unused
The “O” terminals are connected to the “hot” pickup wires”
The “ ” terminal connects also to the volume pot

A piece of white, cloth-covered wire runs on from the shared terminal, towards the volume pot. The tinned copper, jumper wire is fiddly to form and thread into place – but a pair of sharp-nosed pliers helps. Once the wires are in place – they’re secured with solder connections at each terminal, as required.

Fender Telecaster tone circuit wiring – Connecting the pots to the switch

The white wire running towards the volume pot, is cut to leave plenty of spare. It’s looped around the end of the switch mechanism, and around the volume pot – where it connects to the input lug of the volume pot. The wire is trimmed to length, but before it’s soldered-in – another short length of wire is prepared to directly connect the input terminal of the volume pot, and the input terminal of the tone pot. Once the wires have been trimmed and routed – the connections are secured with solder.

Fender Telecaster tone circuit wiring – Positioning the (oversized) “K40Y-9” PIO capacitor

There’s actually no real need to lay a connecting ground wire between the pots, since all of the switch components are connected to each other via the metal control plate. However – I’m a belt and braces kind of guy, and it’s more of a matter of habit. A short length of black, cloth covered wire, connecting the backs of the tone and volume pots, provides a direct and visible connection to ground. The output terminal of the volume pot also needs to connect directly to ground. The easiest way of achieving this, is to bend the terminal back against the body of the pot, and to secure everything with a good dollop of solder. This method also provides a convenient location – into which other ground connections can be secured. The end of the connecting ground lead is just such a connection – as is one of the capacitor lead wires.

The Russian, military surplus capacitor – looking like some sort of giant Zeppelin – has to be positioned between the grounded output lug of the volume pot, and the middle “wiper” terminal of the tone pot. It takes a fair bit of crafting and positioning – carefully bending the capacitor leads with pliers – until a workable solution can be found. However, once the cap is in position – the leads can be trimmed, looped through the required terminals, and the connections secured with solder. Since – when in position – the capacitor visibly sits below the line of the terminals of the switch mechanism – it can’t possibly foul the bottom of the cavity. The capacitor is fixed so that it lies parallel to the bottom of the control cavity, and also so that it’s lead wires can’t short out. If there is a risk of short circuit anywhere – some lengths of insulating tube can be placed over the capacitor leads, before soldering.

Fender Telecaster circuit wiring – Connecting the jack plug wires

The completed circuit, on the control plate, can now be connected into the guitar. The plate is placed – inverted – close to it’s eventual position. It’s a good idea to protect the body from scratches, and also from stray solder droplets, or the tip of a carelessly-wielded soldering iron. The circuit needs to be connected to the wires leading from the pickups, and to the pair of wires which have already been installed – leading to the jack socket.

The white “hot” wire to the jack connects in to the middle “wiper” lug on the volume pot. Although it does look quite a tight squeeze on the image above – the ground lead can be moved out of the way, and the capacitor sits some distance above. I can comfortably get a soldering iron in from the side, solder-up, and then move the ground wire back into place. I leave a little extra length to the jack wire – but I can easily loop any excess around the inside of the cavity. The same goes for the black, “ground” lead to the jack – the loose end of which, is secured alongside the connecting ground wire on the back of the tone pot.

Fender Telecaster circuit wiring – Connecting the pickups

Finally – the pickups are wired into the circuit. The pickup wires are trimmed to length, but once again, a little excess is OK, and can eventually be looped around the sides of the switch. The two black ground wires are separated off, twisted together a few times, and the ends soldered to the back of the volume pot. Then, the two “hot” wires, (yellow from the bridge pickup, and white from the neck), are soldered to their assigned switch terminals, as shown. I give everything a quick, visual check over, and then manouevre the wires and components, so that the plate sits down, in position, on the body. There’s plenty of room, and so if anything doesn’t quite seem to sit properly at first – it’s always preferable to move wires around, and out of the way of the internal components – rather than just pushing down, compressing things, and forcing the issue.

With the plate in position – I can then connect the guitar to an amplifier, and test the basic functionality of the pickups and circuit. As always, a screwdriver blade – carefully applied to the pickup poles – provides a “thump” from the amp speaker, to indicate proper function. The switch and pots can also be quickly tested, to ensure that the correct pickups are switched, and that the basic volume and tone functions are, as NASA ground control likes to say… “nominal”. Everything checks out fine, and I must say – this has to be probably the “most hum-free” Telecaster I’ve ever heard. Even with an LED lighting circuit in the work area – there’s absolutely no background noise from either of the pickups. The shielding and grounding is obviously doing its’ job then…

Fender Telecaster controls – Adding the finishing touches

Since the wiring checks out – I can now secure the pot and switch connections with LocTite. This is straightforward and each connection can be treated in turn, without having to remove the completed circuit from the control plate. Once nut and screw connections are secure – the control plate can be fixed into position on the body, with its’ two securing screws.

I have sourced a pair of Fender “vintage-style” knurled knobs for the controls. These are chrome plated, (Fender parts number 099-1366-000), and are designed to fit onto solid shaft pots, with little securing grub screws. That’s fine for the CTS tone pot – but RS Guitarworks only seem to supply their “SuperPots” with split shafts. However – it’s an easy fix to slip a specially designed brass sleeve over the split shaft, to convert it to a solid shaft. The knobs are fitted, and secured, via the small grub screws which are set into the side of the barrels. To ensure that the knobs spin without fouling the chrome control plate – I always slip a suitable spacer underneath when setting the operating height. An old credit card or store card is ideal.

Wilko Johnson Fender Telecaster

The last component to fit, is the switch tip. I think a traditional “top-hat” style is on the original spec – but I much prefer the neater look of the more modern, “barrel” type. They’re a little bit smaller and less obtrusive than the “top-hat” variety. The new, black Fender tip, (Fender parts number 099-4936-000), is pushed onto the blade of the switch. The build is complete. Now I just need to string it up, and do a proper setup.

The final touch is a Souldier strap which, I think, suits the guitar rather well. Wilko’s recently been photographed using a few, different-patterned, Takamine straps – but in the UK, they mostly seem to be available, only on special order from Japan. Wilko probably picked a few up when he was out there on tour. I really like Souldier straps, and like to source one, (new or vintage), to match with each new build I complete. This new “Koi” design picks up on the red and black theme nicely, and the Koi carp motif has some nice echoes of Japan which, I’d like to think, wouldn’t go un-appreciated by Wilko himself. In his writings – it’s clear that playing and touring in Japan, has a special place in his heart.

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