Custom Tele or Parts-caster

I love the Squier Classic Vibe 60s Thinline Telecaster I purchased in 2020. I wish I had known how great Telecasters were years ago. Yet, for me, the guitar isn’t quite perfect. I’ve been wondering what options I have, and how much it would cost, to get a guitar that satisfies all my preferences. If my wife reads this, I am not planning on getting another guitar. No. No. No. Besides, I would need at least two more telecasters to get everything I want, which will be explained below.

Neck and Neck Plate

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One of the great innovations Leo Fender made when he designed his line of solid body guitars was to make the parts interchangeable. That isn’t so revolutionary when you consider pickups or tuning machines. But Fender made the body and necks interchangeable as well.

Almost from the start, guitar players have taken a neck they love from one Fender guitar and put it on a body they love from another. This ability increases the degree of customization that you can do on Telecasters and other Fender guitars, without involving the custom shop.

So what do I wish my guitar had that it doesn’t?

The radius on the fingerboard of my Telecaster is 9.5 inches. That’s fine. The frets are narrow-tall and that too is acceptable. The nut width is 1.65 inches which in fractions is just slightly wider than 1-5/8 inches (actual would be 1-5.2/8ths if accurate). That is too narrow. Can I play it? Yes, of course. But it isn’t comfortable. I own three guitars with 1-3/4 inch nut widths and love them. A 335 has 1-11/16 (1.6875”). I wish it was wider but I can live with it. But 1.65 inches bugs me every time I play it.

Another thing that would be nice to change is the scale length. I’ve owned long scale length guitars including two Stratocasters, the Telecaster, a Martin OM model with a 25.4 inch scale length, and a classical guitar with a 25.6 inch scale. I’ve also owned Gibson scale length guitars at 24.75 inches. The longer scale lengths have caused problems when I play certain chords or runs involving stretches. I wish I had longer fingers. I’ve decided that I really prefer the 24.75 inch scale. Again, most of the time I can play any of my guitars, regardless of scale length, without a problem. But it’s aggravating when I play something on a longer scale guitar and make a mistake when I had just played the same piece perfectly on a 24.75 inch scale guitar.

Thus I would like one or both of the following:

  • A Telecaster with a 1-11/16 or even a 1-3/4 nut width.
  • A Telecaster with a 24.75 inch scale length.

It is not possible to get both the shorter scale and 1.75 inch width on the same neck from what is available.

Although many guitar players are fussy about neck shape, I’m not. A modern thin neck is fine. C-shapes and D-shapes are also good. I’ve owned guitars with thick baseball bat shaped necks, and although they are not my preference, I can play those too. Indeed, playing a baseball bat neck guitar is much less annoying to me than one with too narrow string spacing.

 I am not going to discuss hardware, only because pickups, electronics and the metal bits are so easy to change. 

However, body preferences are another area of concern. Many guitarists have specific preferences with regard to woods and finish. You may like flame maple tops or bright red painted bodies. I like transparent finishes that shows the grain of the wood. But my biggest concern is weight. I like lighter weight bodies. Lightweight swamp ash, roasted pine, roasted alder, or weight relieved bodies are going to feel more comfortable to me.

Options

Stock Fender

If my intent were to purchase a guitar that had the features I wanted, then a Fender Professional II Telecaster would satisfy my desire for a 1-11/16 nut width (1.6875”). The new Professional II series comes with a 9.5” radius on the fretboard. Of course, the scale length is going to be the Fender standard of 25.5 inches. Cost (as of December 2020) is between $1400 and $1600, depending on other options, but a lightweight roasted pine body is about $1600.

G&L

The last guitar company Leo Fender owned before he died was G&L. They make guitars based on his original Fender designs but tweaked to make the improvements he thought they needed. The ASAT is their Telecaster equivalent. You can order an ASAT online from Sweetwater.com and find the Fullerton series with 1-11/16 nut widths. A Fullerton Deluxe ASAT is about $1500.

G&L in fact makes all of their guitars (except the imported Tribute series) available with custom options at standard prices. You can choose the nut width, from 1-5/8 to 1-3/4 inches. You can choose the fingerboard radius of 7.5, 9.5, or 12 inches. The 7.5-inch radius is a quarter inch larger than vintage Fenders. 

Parts-caster

One of the favorites ways for Telecaster lovers to get the guitar they want is to build one from parts. There are companies who specialize in replacement necks and bodies for Fender guitars. Some make officially licensed parts and others make parts that fit but are not licensed. You can choose the exact neck and body you want, buy the hardware, and assemble the guitar at home. Warmoth.com sells necks for Telecaster guitars in a variety of widths, shapes, woods, and optionally will finish the neck for you. You can also choose which frets you want and fingerboard radius. They even sell Gibson scale conversion necks. However, the 24.75-inch scale necks only come in 1-11/16” nut width, the standard for Gibson.

Warmoth also sells bodies with a wide variety of woods, finishes, and options including roasted woods, classic thinline routing, or weight relief routing.

The prices for a parts-caster with the options I want, including hardware, pickguard, and so on, would cost me between $800 and $1000. That of course doesn’t count my labor nor my frustration if I run into problems assembling the guitar. It isn’t clear to me how well the frets are finished but it seems you should plan for a fret level and crown as a possibility.

Replacement neck

If you have a body you love, as I do for my thinline Tele, the most cost effective solution for improving your neck is to use what you have as a base and replace what you don’t like. It’s a part-caster but you already own the biggest part. I could buy a neck from $122 to a bit over $300, depending on features and finish. That’s probably the easiest way to get the neck you or I want.

However, all things considered, I don’t plan on upgrading my Telecaster yet, or perhaps ever. Overall it is a great guitar as is, even if I occasionally become frustrated with the narrow width and long scale length.

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