Crawls Backward (When Alarmed)

IconProjects, musings about guitar builds, guitar repairs, vintage tube amplifiers, old radios, travel, home renovation, and other stuff.

Wiring a Telecaster With Coil-Shunt Humbucker Switching

I mentioned that the Tele body came to me with a humbucker in the neck position.  It was an older Golden Age (Stew-Mac) model.  I didn't realize it had the older style 2-conductor wiring.  I wanted to wire it with a coil shunt, so I wound up getting one of their 4-conductor models.

You can modify a 2-conductor humbucker to do a coil shunt, but I didn't want to mess with taking the pickup apart, so I took the easy way out.

(Some folks call this a "coil-cut."  Either term is acceptable, but a "shunt" is really what we're doing electronically here, so it's a little more precise.)

Anyway, you can see the 4-conductor, plus shield wiring in the top picture.

I'll be wiring the pickup through a push-pull switch so I can have the full humbucking tone, and switch to shunt the stud coil out so it will function as a single-coil unit as well.

It's easy to mount the pickup to the Tele pickguard using the screws that come with the pickup.

We need to run a ground wire from each of the two pickup cavities to the star ground that will be in the main control cavity.

You can do this a couple of ways - I used three methods just to demonstrate.

Here's one way - I did this on the bridge pickup cavity.  This works well if you don't have any lugs handy - you can fabricate your own.

Just wrap a lead around a washer, and solder it.  Then run a screw though the washer into the body of the guitar.  This screw was already on the guitar from the factory, so I reused it.

You could also just wrap the lead around the screw, but that's a bit less reliable.  You don't want to be playing the solo to "Communication Breakdown" full volume at the Concertgebouw and suddenly have the ground let go...and you get huge hum.  Not good.

Method two.  Just solder the lead straight to the shielding.  Unlike the grounds on those old Fender amps, this is easy to solder and makes a reliable connection. 

This one is on the neck pickup cavity.

Now we run all our grounds and pickup leads into the control cavity.  And here's the third method I used - put crimp lugs on the lead ends.

Even those these are crimp leads, I still like to run some solder onto them for an extra measure of peace of mind.  Lugs are the most reliable ground connection of the three methods.

Now you see why it's called a "star ground."  All of the ground leads come together in one point and makes a 'star' of sorts.

I think there are 6 leads here.  This is solid and reliable, and the best approach for low noise.  Be sure you test all the leads for continuity before you put it back together.

Notice the thin lead coming in from the right side of the picture - more about that in a second.

Here's how I wired the output jack.

On the left you see a piece of RG-174 coax cable - the thicker one.  The center 'hot' connector goes over to the right lug - which is the tip, or 'hot' lug of the jack.

The shield of the coax and a thinner gauge lead both go to the ground lug of the jack.

On the other end, the shield of the coax is not connected to anything.  The 'ground' lead goes to the star ground.

The shield is only grounded at one end.  If you ground it at both ends, you'll have a ground loop, which produces hum.  I see a lot of gear where it's grounded at both ends.  It's not good practice to do that.  That's why I have a separate lead running back to ground.  That's the one I referenced earlier.

Now we just need to wire the switch and volume and tone pots.  It's pretty straightforward - you can find a Tele wiring diagram here and elsewhere.  The only thing we have that's different than the diagram is that the neck pickup is a humbucker instead of a standard Tele neck pickup, but it's essentially wired the same way.

Check out my new wire-bending pliers!  Now I can make precise bends in leads.  Where have you been all my life? 

Here's the whole thing wired up and ready to go.

See the coax with the blue shrink insulation on it?  That's the lead from the center (hot) lead of the volume pot going to the output.  The insulation is to ensure the shield doesn't touch anything.

Your humbucker lead colors may vary from these - but these colors are accurate for the Golden Age, and also for Seymour Duncan pickups.

On the switch, the red and white humbucker leads go to the center tab, and the black lead goes to the top most tab (nearest the control plate).  The green and the shield both go to the star ground.

When the switch is down, the humbucker is in normal mode, and when it's up, the stud coil (without the screws) is shunted to ground.  I wanted the screw coil to be active since it's the closest to where the 24th fret would be - the second harmonic node.  I figured that's a good thing for tone.  Or something like that!

I could have possibly made some of the leads a little shorter, but I like to have enough so I can open the controls without unsoldering anything if for when I decide to do mods.  I put an .022 tone cap in it - I'm out of .033 Russian PIO caps!  I need to hook up with my Ukrainian connection soon.

The final touch for the wiring is this Rutters output jack cup.  Super nicely made - better than an Electrosocket!


Marc Rutters Tele Bridge and a Cavalier Lion Pickup for the LPB Tele

The Lake Placid Blue Telecaster I'm putting together had some mods done to it before I got it.  It came to me with the stock Fender saddles replaced by Glendale saddles.  I like Glendale stuff - I have a Glendale bridge and saddles on my main Tele.

The guitar also had a different bridge pickup (more on that later) and a humbucker in the neck position.  I'm not a huge fan of humbuckers, but I decided to keep it, but wire it a little differently than stock (more in the next post).

I've wanted to try some Marc Rutters hardware, so this was an opportunity to get one of his bridges and some other stuff.

Marc has a great reputation, and it's very well deserved.  His stuff is incredible.

Here's my new 'Hot-Rodded' Tele bridge with the stock Fender bridge (with Glendale saddles) on the right.

There's no comparison in quality.  The Fender bridge is the same cold-rolled stamped steel bridge used on thousands of Teles.  Not that there's anything wrong with it, but the Rutters bridge is a huge leap forward in quality.

Here are the reverse sides.  The Rutters bridge is machined out of a steel billet, not just stamped like the Fender bridge.

In the photo you can see how the Fender bridge on the right looks downright crude by comparison.

Notice how the area around the pickup is thinner than the rest of the bridge - "to maintain twang" is how the Rutters site puts it.    In general, a thicker bridge plate is good for sustain, but it tends to lose that characteristic Telecaster 'twang' tone.

This is a clever way to get more mass and sustain, but not affect the tone adversely.  Very nicely made.  It's really a work of art.

Another view of the two bridges.

Note how the side wall of the Rutters bridge is beautifully made and is much more substantial.

Here's the icing on the cake (mmm....cake).

There have been a lot of approaches to keeping the vintage look of a 3-saddle bridge but enabling correct intonation.  Glendale angles the saddles, and Callaham puts a separate 'ridge' for each of the two strings that ride on each saddle.

But this might be the best looking (and simplest) solution.  The Rutters bridge is simply slotted for the different string lengths.  So the saddle will still sit straight, but each string will contact the saddle at a different point.  This way you keep the look of a vintage Tele, but you have individual intonation.  Really neat.

You see I elected to go for an aluminum E and A saddle, and brass for the other two.  I really like the extra 'twang' you get on that aluminum saddle.

I'm really looking forward to hearing the bridge on the Tele.  Can't wait!

The other new piece (to me) on the Tele is a Cavalier Lion bridge pickup.  These are hand wound by Rob DiStefano, who is a regular poster on the TDPRI site.

This one has Alnico V magnets.

The pickup was on the guitar when I got it.  I'm looking forward to hearing it.  I've heard nothing but good things about Rob's pickups.

Looks like an old Blackguard Tele pickup from the top...I like those flat poles.

I need to finish this guitar so I can hear the bridge and pickup!


Shielding and Rewiring a Telecaster, Pt. 1

Ok, I'll just come out and say it.  I don't like messy wiring!

Here's the wiring on the Lake Placid Blue Tele body.  The grounds aren't well done, and the main thing that drives me nuts is the excess lead lengths.

Why do people not trim leads?  I don't get it.  In addition to looking bad, it's bad wiring practice.  You can introduce excess capacitance into the circuit.

Anyway, I'm going to rewire the whole enchilada.

I took all of the hardware off the body.  I'm going to shield the cavities and then rewire it.

I like Lake Placid Blue.  What a cool color.

I've talked about shielding in detail elsewhere on the blog.  It's pretty simple.  You put copper or aluminum foil on the cavities.

I'm using copper adhesive-backed tape for this.  The pickguard was shielded by the last owner, so I only need to do the body.

The idea is that you're creating a 'chassis' around the wiring.  It really cuts the hum and interference level down on Fenders.  Stock Teles aren't too bad, but Strats are awful.


I leave a tiny 'lip' of foil on the top edges of the cavities so the foil will make good contact with the (shielded) back of the pickguard, the bridge plate, and the control plate.

The control plate just barely covers the cavity, so you'll need to position the foil so it's not visible around the plate when it's mounted.

I also like to put a 'tab' of foil on the area where the control plate screws are - to ensure contact between the foil and the plate.

I also put a strip of foil from the neck pickup cavity onto the top of the guitar - again so it will contact the pickguard's shield.

Now we take all the old controls off the control plate.

I'll be reusing the switch and the volume pot.  I'm swapping the tone control out for one with a push-pull switch to do a wiring mod.

Another Tele mod I like to do - disassemble the volume control pot and remove the grease from the bottom of the housing.  This makes the pot turn faster, making it easier to do volume swells.

I wrote more about this also in a previous post.

Here's the new control plate.  It's a wonderful Marc Rutters nickel-plated one.  The selector switch runs on a slant, and there's a bit more space between the switch and the volume pot.

Tele players know all about that 'pinch' between the pot and the switch when the switch is in the bridge position.  This helps alleviate that.  Pretty cool.

Here's the hardware attached to the control plate.

Next we need to wire it all up.


Threaded Inserts for Fender Guitar Neck

So I have this Lake Placid Blue Telecaster body and a maple neck.  And a bunch of parts.  I'm going to build put together a Telecaster!

I have some incredible Marc Rutters hardware that I'm replacing the stock hardware with.

You may also be surprised to read that I'm going to make some changes to the electronics too.

However, first things first.

I put threaded inserts on all my bolt-on neck guitars.  Leo Fender originally used wood screws on the Tele and subsequent guitars because it was effective and inexpensive to build.

Over time though, the wood screws have a tendency to strip out.  Enter the inserts.

On the right, we have a stock Fender neck "bolt."  It's actually a wood screw, but it gets called a bolt.

And on the left we have a machine screw (which is technically a bolt...go figure) we'll be using with the inserts.

By comparison, the wood screw looks a bit crude to me.

I've done this enough times that I've made a simple jig to hold Fender-style necks (or actual Fender necks...) squarely in place to be drilled for the inserts.

The inserts must go in square and level.  Period.  If the insert is mounted on an angle, it most likely will not work.

My jig is really just a piece of pine with some vertical "walls" to hold the neck square.  I use a couple of clamps to keep it in place.

If you look closely, you'll see a cedar shim (like a cabinet installer would use) stuck under the first fret to help level the neck in the horizontal plane.

I use a small level to ensure it's...well, level.  By adjusting the shim under the end of the neck as needed we can get it perfectly level.

There are probably more sophisticated ways of doing this, but this jig and method work well for me.

This is the next step in the process.  We'll be using a 6mm drill to make a hole for the insert to go it to.

It's essential that the drill goes exactly into the center of the existing screw holes.  If it's off by much at all, the bolt won't line up with the insert.

I use a 5/32 drill bit in the drill press to align the hole with the press.   The bit fits exactly into the hole.  I don't drill anything, I use use the bit as an alignment guide, or pin.   The metric equivalent is 3.9688mm; I think a 4mm bit would be perfect also.

Now, being careful not to shift anything on the jig or the drill press table, we put the proper size bit into the press and drill our holes.  The inserts you use will indicate the size of bit you need.

The inserts I use require a 6mm hole.  However, a 1/4 hole will work also - 1/4 is just a tiny bit (get it?  Bit!) larger.  If you don't have a 6mm, a 1/4 will work fine.

(Get this: I just looked these up on the McMaster-Carr web site and it indicates the hole required is 15/64...but the package I have says 6mm.  I think any of those sizes will work - they're all extremely close.  Since they're going into wood you have a tiny bit of leeway.)

Here I am drilling the first hole.  You'll see that I put a piece of tape on the bit to use as a depth gauge.  The heel of the neck is pretty thick, but you shouldn't just wing it!  You don't want to drill through the fingerboard.

Then we repeat the process for the other holes.  It's tedious, but again, you need to be precise in aligning and drilling the holes.

I use a little Pro-Cut to lubricate the threads on the inserts, and then screw them in.  A bit of wax will work fine too.  I just use Pro-Cut since I have it for my blades and files.

Don't be alarmed if you have a bit of chipping - the hole in the front got chipped out some when I drilled it.  No big deal.

We need to screw the inserts in so they are level with, or just below the surface of the wood.   If they stick up, the neck won't mount flush to the body.

Some notes about the type of inserts to use:  I've used stainless inserts and brass inserts with more threads than these, but I've switched over to these zinc alloy inserts for all my builds.

They go in much easier than stainless, having less threads also makes them go in easier, and finally, these inserts have a hex drive which is the best way to drive them in.  I get them from McMaster-Carr.

If you want to use stainless, or have more threads, go for it.  But I've used them all and these are the easiest to install.  Once that thing's bolted together, it's not coming apart in any event.  I don't think the material or the number of threads on the inserts is too critical.  Just my opinion. 

Here are the bolts in place.  They're square - the 24mm lens I'm using makes them look a little distorted.

The bolts are stainless steel oval heads.  Leo Fender liked oval head bolts, and I can see why.  They look great.

Then I did a quick bolt-up to make sure everything was aligned.  The bolts went in perfectly with no issues at all.

You can really torque these puppies down - some people claim the inserts and subsequent improvement in tightness of the joint improves sustain.  I'm not so sure about that, but I do like the peace of mind of having the thing put together as tightly as possible with no possibility of the screws coming loose.


Visit to the Station

I didn't want to do it, but I was forced to.

I think I've shown recently with the installation of a new handle on the old Gibson ukulele case that I like old instrument cases.

This one, however, is going to get tossed.  It's for a tenor banjo and, to be blunt, the lining stinks.  It smells like cat urine to be precise.

I tried some orange dog and kitty smell remover, but it did no good.  So I am reluctantly getting rid of it.

I also have some filthy old boards and a gallon of used motor oil from changing the oil in my lawnmower over the last few years.    So it's off to the dump...or as the Local Gummint calls it, the "Transfer Station."

I was on the lookout for some cool junk I might be able to salvage.  I slowed down and tried not to be too obvious as I went past the Computer and Electronics section.  Nothing looked to be worth taking.

I'm pretty sure the many people who were working there (on my tax dollars) on Sunday would have prevented me from taking anything away.  I think that's why it's called "transfer" - you transfer stuff to them.

Saw a couple of big piles of....junk.

These are the big bins where one dumps deposits transfers household waste-type-stuff.

Here's my chosen slot.

There's a big apron you sort of slide/toss your stuff over and then it goes into a big bin.


I pushed the smelly case over the edge.

It wound up down with some other trash.  The edge is set about six feet (couple meters) back, so you can't easily see down.

After about 15 seconds, you realize it smells bad too.


Installing a New Handle on a Vintage Instrument Case

Now I can start the process of putting the new handle on.

I've gotten a bit better at this, but it's still tricky.

It's easy enough to use the rivet setting tool to open up and flatten the split tabs in the rivet.  The hard part is that the rivet naturally wants to slide backward as you pound on it.

This time, I clamped a piece of wood over the head to hold it down.  You can see that caul held in by a clamp.

It worked okay, but the head drove into the wood, so I switched over to a piece of metal which worked much better.  Usually you'd do this on an anvil, but that's too awkward on this job.

In the picture, I'm holding the rivet tool, but you of course use a hammer to drive the thing in.

Here are the rivets after driving them in.

You may recall in the last post I said I hacked up the plywood some.  On the right side rivet in this picture, you can see where I glued in a small piece of wood to fill the hole.  The rivet tabs need to have enough material to 'lock' on to, so I patched that hole .

Not perfect, but they're tight and functional.

Now we apply some contact cement to put the linking back on.

And clamp it down with C-clamps and some cauls.

I now have a small box full of cauls for guitar repair...and case repair.  It's nice to just grab one and put it to use.

Note the scrap wood cauls on the outside of the case too - we don't want to mark that up after all this work.

The bracket for the handle from the outside.

I polished up the hardware.  Now it looks presentable.  I used nickel-plated rivets to match the hardware.

Isn't this better than using a nut and bolt?  I think so.

Here's the inside showing the reglued lining.  The lining's pretty worn, but it's still functional.

The lining on the bottom the case is very thin.  So thin, in fact, that the ukulele's tuners have rubbed through it in a couple spots in the headstock area.  So I cut a foam pad to fit it so it won't rub there.

I covered it with some vintage-looking green felt using contact cement to adhere it to the foam.

I'm going to make a couple more foam pads to stick around the curved part of the case too.

Here's the Gibson TU back in the case.  You can see some gaps around the ukulele - I'll make more felt-covered pieces to put in there.

The finished handle repair.  This is a 'sausage-shaped' handle I got from Elderly Instruments.  Looks appropriately 'vintage' for the case I think.

You can get replacement handles that will just buckle onto the case hardware, but I think a proper handle looks much better.