Telecasters. Brilliant, right? The way Fender guitars were created and formed what’s pretty much the standard electric guitar is something I find fascinating, and something I’ll write more about at some point. For now, though, I just want to talk about one tiny aspect of that.
The neck pickup. Specifically, how the neck pickup is mounted.
Most of the time, it’s screwed directly into the wood of the body and the pickguard is installed over it. It’s all clean lines on the pickguard; no holes around the pickup.
Ok. But what if you want to adjust the pickup height?
Easy. You just unscrew a few screws and remove the pickguard. You don’t even need to slacken the strings. You can play and listen to the output as you adjust the pickup and easily get everything where you want it. Then, just pop the pickguard back on. All reasonable stuff.
Well, it’s all reasonable on a vintage-style Tele. But specs change and sometimes change means design compromises.
Say, for instance, your customers are shouting for a twenty-second fret. Why twenty-one wouldn’t be enough is anyone’s guess but, Fender listened and added an extra fret.
However, when you have a neck that’s designed with twenty-one frets, fitting into a body designed to accept a neck with twenty-one frets, it’s a big deal to change your design to incorporate an extra fret at the end. That requires a fair amount of re-tooling.
The solution Fender decided on was to leave the overall neck the same and just add an extension to the end of the fingerboard. The last fret sits on a little ‘overhang’ off the end of the neck heel. The overall neck and heel tooling doesn’t require massive alteration and you don’t have to change the neck pocket – or anything on the body – at all.
Yep. Nothing changes on the body…
Well, to be fair, it mostly just sucks from the point of view of someone setting up or repairing these instruments.
Consider that Tele neck pickup again. Now, you can’t just remove the pickguard to get access because the pickguard is wedged underneath the overhanging piece of fingerboard. That extra fret means the pickguard can't be removed without taking the neck off first. Grr.
With a twenty-two fret Tele, adjusting your pickup means slackening off strings, loosening neck screws and neck, before being able to remove the pickguard to allow access to the the pickup screws.
If you want to actually listen as you adjust the pickup (always a good idea), you’ve got to put the neck back on and tune up to pitch while leaving the guitar sans pickguard. Adjust the pickup and then repeat the whole infuriating process to reinstall the pickguard.
What’s to be done?
Probably nothing. For most people it’s not something that bothers them daily. If you’re setting up your Tele, it’ll bug you but doing it once isn’t really the worst thing in the world. Of course, if it does bother you, there’s an alternative.
Suspend your Tele neck pickup from the pickguard just like a Strat’s pickups. It’s an easy mod.
The absolutely ideal time to do this is when you’re changing pickups. You have everything disassembled anyway, and your post-swap setup will be much easier after you’ve changed things around. An extra bonus: Since suspending the pickup requires different screws to body-mounting, you can use those that came with your new pickup.
Mounting a Telecaster neck pickup on the pickguard
First you need screw holes in your pickguard. Turn the pickguard so the back’s facing you and pop your pickup in the cutout. It’ll sit quite snuggly as you use a pencil to mark the hole positions at either end. If you have a black pickup, lay down a little masking tape to make it easier to see the pencil marks.
Measure your mounting screws select a drill bit that’s juuuuuuuuust a little larger in diameter. Not too much larger and make sure the drill bit’s not wider than the screw head – that’d be pretty bad.
Incidentally, if your pickup came with two sets of screws, you want the ones that look more like ‘machine screws’ They don’t really taper, and will have a larger diameter. The thinner screws, with the pointed end, are wood screws and are designed to mount the pickup into the body.
Carefully drill two holes in the positions you marked. If your mounting screws have countersink heads, you can drill a corresponding countersink around the front.
Poke a screw through the pickguard holes and pop on a length of rubber tubing (or a spring if that’s what you have). Offer up the pickup.
Here’s the tricky bit. The mounting screws have to cut their own thread into the pickup’s flat bottom plate. You might have to press hard to get the screw started. It’s fiddly; go slowly and carefully. Once the screw grips, the rest is easy. Repeat for the other screw.
Put everything back together and bask in the pickup-adjustment ease.
If you’re doing this as you install a new pickup, that’s great. You’ll have all the screws you need. If you want to convert your existing pickup, you just need to find a couple of pickup height screws. You’ll get them easily online. Google’ strat pickup height screws’ or something similar. You’re after a screw with a 6-32 thread (which should be standard).
That’s it. You now have a pickup you can adjust without having to completely disassemble. And, if nothing else, this will make your repairer/setter-upper significantly less grumpy. 😉
As a slight aside, there is a similar issue on some twenty-two fret Strats. Removing the pickguard to get access to the pickups and electronics sometimes means having to remove the neck first. I don't have a solution for this one other than impotently shaking your fist at the cosmos.
This article written by Gerry Hayes and first published at hazeguitars.com