A new Telecaster? What? Why? And Upgrades.

Phillip McKnight has a guitar Youtube channel I’ve been watching during Covid-19 times. In a recent podcast, he said he knows many guitarists who have bought up to three new guitars during the lockdown. That seems believable because it is the number of new guitars I’ve purchased since this all began.

You can often tell I am thinking about buying a new guitar when I write about the choices here, usually a month or two before I buy one of the guitars I wrote about. First I bought a Morrell Lap Steel guitar hinted at in Steel Guitar, then a Gretsch Alligator resonator guitar, prefaced by Talking Myself Out of Buying Another Resonator. Last week I got a Telecaster, predicted by my post, Telecasters.

My Choice – What & Why?

I bought a Squier Classic Vibe 60s Telecaster Thinline. Before I go into why I chose this model, I’ll review why a Squier and why I didn’t choose one of the other models I considered.

I’ve owned an American made Fender Stratocaster and a Strat Made-in-Japan. I’ve owned other of quality instruments over the 60 years I’ve been playing guitar. But I’m at a point in my life (retired) where my ideal price point is about $500 with a top end of under $1000. Everything I’ve bought over the past five years has been under $500. These are obviously not the highest quality guitars, but I believe they are the best value.

One of the best values in an electric guitar I own is my Epiphone 335-Pro. Squier is to Fender as Epiphone is to Gibson.The Squire Classic Vibe series has the same value ratio and that’s why I didn’t buy genuine Fender Telecaster instead, such as a Fender Player’s series model.

My initial thought was to purchase a Squier Bullet or Affinity series of Telecaster. Bullets are under $200 ($180 as of this writing and some on sale for $150). I ruled out an Affinity Telecaster because the nut width is narrower than normal and even high-end Fenders are usually narrower than I like. The main reason I decided against the Bullet was that the body depth is thinner than standard and this can make installing some upgraded pickups impossible. However, I think the Bullet would have been a good choice. Maybe if I need a second Telecaster, I’ll get one.

The 60s Telecaster Thinline was a last minute choice. I had been leaning towards buying the 50s Telecaster but when I saw the typical weights and remembered how much I dislike heavy guitars, I opted for a lighter thinline model. It still has the classic Alnico Telecaster pickups (labeled designed by Fender in the marketing). The weight probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but my new guitar is just under 6 pounds while some of the 50s Classic Vibe Telecasters on Sweetwater.com were over 9 pounds.

It can be argued that a Thinline Telecaster doesn’t have the true Telecaster tone. Given my preferences are jazz and blues, and that I avoided Telecasters for 60 years because I associated them with country twang, I’m OK with not quite the classic sound.

Upgrades

One of the most common electric guitar upgrades is to change the pickups. But, so far, I like the tones from the stock pickups and have decided not to swap them at this time. Another area for improvement is electronics. Overseas made instruments often have less expensive volume and tone pots, switches, and jacks. Better wiring and custom capacitors can change the sound spectrum from your guitar. But, again, at the moment everything is working fine and I do not plan on changing the electronics. Perhaps if, when I upgrade pickups I’ll do the electronics at the same time.

The three areas I planned on improving are Tuners, nut, and saddles.

Tuning machines

I upgraded the tuners from Vintage style Fender tuners to Hipshot locking machines, although the locking feature wasn’t a deciding factor. I’ve never had a problem with tuning stability that could be traced to my tuners in any guitar I’ve owned. Strings on tuners with a hole in the shaft don’t slip if you know how to restring your guitar. If you don’t know how to lock your stings on your tuner, look it up. Here’s one of many examples.

My American Stratocaster had vintage-style tuners with a split shaft and a hole at the bottom where you stuck the end of the string. These also lock the string so it won’t slip. Also, I think these look the cleanest of all the tuner attachment options.

So, why did I replace the tuners? I didn’t really need locking tuners, although they make changing strings easy. I thought the tuners on the Telecaster felt cheap. There was more play than I was used to and it was inconsistent string to string. The replaced tuners move smoothly when turned with very little play before the peg turns.

I chose Hipshot because they make replacements for the vintage peg diameter and don’t require any drilling when used with their universal mounting plates (UMP). Newer tuners fit 10 mm holes but the tuners on the Telecaster are 8.7 mm (11/32″) which limited my choices for an easy retrofit. Even so, I had to do some minor reaming of the holes to get the new tuners installed. A good video on installing these tuners was made by Phillip McNight.

The following two images are linked to my Amazon affiliate account and I will earn money if you click on the images.

Hipshot Tuners

For reaming tuning and other holes.

Nuts!

There are reasons your strings won’t stay in tune that you can’t do much about. Changes in temperature and humidity, but mostly humidity, will cause hollow body instruments to swell or shrink making your tuning sharp or flat. Watch the humidity to control this. Solid and semi-solid bodies do not respond as much to the environment, but even they can be affected.

The major cause of tuning problems on a new guitar is likely due to the nut (or sometimes the saddle or the string tree on Fenders). The strings bind in the slot which prevents the string from freely moving. The nut on my new Telecaster was poorly cut and a few strings were binding, causing tuning problems. I decided to replace the original nut with a Graphtech Tusq-XL which is a synthetic bone that is embedded with PTFE. Here’s a video on how to do this replacement.

This where things went wrong. I liked the idea of the pre-slotted nuts because I don’t own gauged nut files. But I made a mistake on the first nut I ordered and got a Fender style nut with a curved bottom. My Classic Vibe Tele has a flat bottom. I ordered again, but when I received it and matched the new against the old, I discovered the string spacing was wider on the new nut than the original. When I checked the string positions over the neck and pickups with the Tusq-XL flat-bottom Fender nut, the 1st and 6th strings were too close to the edge of the fingerboard for comfort.

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Tusq-XL Nut

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SO, NUTS to nuts. I’m back to the original nut. Maybe I will have to buy some nut files.

Saddles

The original Telecaster bridge has three brass barrels for saddles. They are height adjustable but setting the distance of the saddle from the nut for intonation can only be done on pairs of strings and each pair is set at the same distance from the nut unless you bend the adjusting screws.. This causes intonation problems for Telecasters. The Classic Vibe came with three chrome saddles that are notched for the strings. I decided to purchase a set of compensated saddles by Wilkinson. The Wilkinson compensated saddles are a set of three brass barrels but differ from the Fender original design by having offset raised string platforms for each pair where one side is towards the nut and the other to the bridge. They are not individually adjustable for each string but pairs of strings can be set.

Wilkinson Telecaster Compensated Saddles on my Telecaster

The arrangement I used from 6th to 1st string is: String 6th & 5th pair the 6th string passes over closer to the bridge; the middle pair is the opposite and the 2nd and first pair is the same as the 6th and 5th.

The intonation is much improved with this change.

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Wilkinson Compensated Brass Saddles Set. The image is an Amazon Affiliate Link which earns me money if you click.

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