I chose to talk about all things Telecaster in my first blog because (for today at least) they are my favourite. I remember as a 15 year old staring at pictures of a blond maple neck Tele in the Bells Musical Instruments mail order catalogue in 1973 (wondering where I would get £200). I ended up with an Avon copy which wasn’t bad but wasn’t a Fender. Status Quo use them, the solo in Stairway is played on a Telecaster, Keith Richards uses them….what’s not to like?I like the old pressed steel bridge rather than the current thick slab bridge, the steel interacts with the magnets in the pickup and gives edge and bite to the tone, it also contacts with the body wood differently and they sustain in a more musical way to my ears. I also like three brass saddles rather than six individual saddles, with three saddles you get more pressure on the bridge improving sustain.Body wood is important too, a lighter body like swamp ash or pine makes for a warmer spongier attack and more twang. A heavier body like northern ash or heavy mahogany gives more bottom end and a fiercer treble.
A lot of Seventies Tele’s with heavier bodies and lower output pickups sound very jangly and make for a great rhythm tone, especially if they come with the 1meg volume pot. Changing pots to 250K will warm them up a bit. The neck pickup on Tele’s has stayed more or less the same since the 50’s; approximately 8000 turns of 43 gauge wire and Alnico 5 magnets. I adjust the height of mine so that they are as high as possible without the magnets pulling the strings on the bass side, this way you can get the volume balanced with the louder bridge pickup just right.
The original bridge pickups in the Broadcaster (before Fender changed the name to Telecaster) were slightly modified lap steel guitar pickups and had up to 9,200 turns of 43 gauge wire. By 1953 this changed to 42 gauge wire and the number of turns gradually reduced throughout the 1950’s to approximately 8000. The original pickups sound very different to the Sixties and current pickups, they are louder, more biting, have clanging bass tones and a juicy mid-range.
So if you want a clean, jangly Andy Summers tone then a pickup with around 8000 turns of 42 gauge wire like the Fender 60’s pickups will do the job. If you want more of a raucous chewy mid-range with lots of bite and edge, go for a pickup with more turns of 43 gauge wire; 43 gauge is thinner, so you can get more wire on the pickup bobbin which allows you to achieve very high trebles and accentuate the mid-range.
One final tip; if you never use the neck pickup, consider removing it or screwing it right down. One pickup Esquires nearly always sound more “open” than two pickup Tele’s because the strings vibrate more freely without the neck pickup magnets damping the strings vibration, try it, you might be surprised!