The mod saga continues. In Part 1, I related my need for a gig-able yet affordable travel guitar. The solution was to adapt a Squier Affinity Telecaster, poached used off Craigslist for well below retail. I noted that the guitar was quite playable in stock form, but I nonetheless had a few mods in mind to bring it up to my exacting standards. By now, this probably all sounds like a roundabout excuse for buying guitar parts and starting a project. Oh ye of little faith.
After a few days of playing the Squier and one test trip with it to California, I had a shortlist of mods drawn up in my head. These included:
Neck reinforcement. Specifically, I needed some way to prevent the screw holes in the bolt-on neck from stripping through repeated removal. A thin coating of super glue on the threads would suffice in the short term, but longer term I needed a more permanent and reliable solution.
Electronics. The stock pickups were OK, but nothing to write home about – particularly the neck pickup which was anemic, even by Tele standards. Fortunately, I had a set of Texas Special pickups pulled out of another Tele that would do the job. In addition, the volume and tone pots had to go; the stock pots were generic, 500k split shaft units. 250k pots are usually the standard for single coil pickups, as they help tame some of the inherent treble – this is especially important on a Tele, and even more so when equipped with high output Texas Specials.
The bridge. Now we get into mods that had less to do with sound or functionality, and more to do with aesthetics. In Part 1, I noted the Affinity Tele has some interesting features that recall vintage Fender specs from the 1950s, even though in this case they were implemented as a cost-cutting measure. The six-saddle bridge on the guitar – although perfectly functional – is distinctively non-vintage. This would have to go in favor of a three-saddle, “ash tray” style bridge that more accurately recalls the era.
The neck tint. The stock neck on the Affinity Tele is a pale, pale white with minimal finish. White like the vanishing ice caps. I desired a neck tint that recalls the dark amber of a fifty year old instrument. This particular part of the project would become a minor odyssey, and along with the last mod will be the subject of Part 3.
Relic treatment. When I acquired the Squier, the previous owner had already left some scars on the instrument. Nothing hideous, but the existing damage got my mental gears turning. This past Christmas I received The Blackguard by Nacho Banos, an uber-detailed photo history of Telecasters built in the 1950-54 period. The instruments featured in the book have decades of on and offstage history, and some of the beaten and scarred Teles just ooze mojo. I decided to try capturing some of that vibe with this instrument, seeing as how it already had some marks and would likely accrue plenty more in transit. “Relicing” as it’s called tends to elicit strong reactions from gearheads – I’m not going to weigh in on the debate, except to note that I would never do this with a more expensive guitar. This one was cheap and already damaged, making it ripe for experimentation.
As noted, the finish mods will be the subject of Part 3. For neck reinforcement, the folks at Onyx Forge Custom Guitars offer a simple fix that should probably be standard on every bolt-on neck guitar – threaded metal inserts for the neck that allow for repeated removal (see the pic below for one of the inserts, pre-installation). Installation is fairly straightforward and only requires an electric drill. The process can get a little hairy though, so if you have no experience with power tools I would recommend taking your neck to a competent luthier. I had no problems myself, and can enthusiastically recommend the mod.
Note to readers – I’m a hobbyist, not a trained luthier, so please take care in trying any of the mods described on this blog. I don’t want to see any comments about how someone mangled a perfectly good guitar on account of N.O.S. When in doubt, take it to a professional.
Now to the bridge, which was a little more challenging. For whatever reason, the engineers at Fender designed modern tele bridges with a larger footprint by comparison to their vintage predecessors. In addition, the new bridges only use three mounting screws, as opposed to four on vintage instruments. This means that retrofit of an ash tray bridge requires new drilling, leaving three exposed holes not covered by the new bridge. It was easy for me to get past the exposed holes, given my intent to relic the instrument anyway – vintage Teles are often seen with all manner of holes drilled into their bodies, the result of mounting aftermarket bridges, Bigsby tremolos, built-in effects, taxidermied animals, etc…
There are lots of options for bridges, many quite expensive. The options narrow though in trying to find a top-loader as required by the Affinity Tele. Fortunately, Wilkinson makes a budget bridge available through Guitar Fetish that fits the bill. Install should have been fairly simple, but unfortunately I had some alignment issues that required a mulligan involving epoxy wood filler. Fortunately the scars were covered by the new bridge, which is stable and worth its budget price. Again, you might consult your luthier. You can compare the two bridges in the pic below (the new one is installed), and also see the three screw holes from the original bridge.
Finally the electronics. This was a relatively painless process, as I already had the parts lying around and plenty of experience with a soldering iron. As you can see in the pic below, I also swapped out most of the cheap, plastic-insulated wiring for vintage spec cloth-insulated wire available from Angela Instruments (a great source for Fender parts). I chose an early 1950s Broadcaster wiring scheme, the implications of which will be the subject of a future post. For those not inclined to wait, you can also read about the differences in Telecaster wiring schemes throughout the years on Wikipedia (scroll down to “construction”).
Well, that’s it for the functional mods. Stay tuned for Part 3, wherein I undertake my first attempt at refinishing a neck and try to simulate fifty years worth of wear on this wee babe of a Tele.