The Story Of My Telecaster Parts-Guitar
I was always one of those kids who liked to take things apart to see how they worked, then put them back together again …to see if they still worked after I’d disassembled them, hehe. I started playing guitar when I was 8 and by the time I was 10 I was modifying destined-for-the-scrap-heap guitars from the side of the road. I made a ‘bass’ by putting four heavy strings on an acoustic guitar. I also painted it in tribute to the Tele-style guitar Per Gessle played in Roxette’s “The Look” video but that’s another story. The point is, my dad was always a big supporter of my guitar stuff, whether it be playing them, learning about them or fixing them. He doesn’t play guitar himself but he likes to tinker with gadgets and I guess I inherited that trait from him.
One day when I was about 13, one of Dad’s friends brought over a Telecaster-style guitar that he’d rescued from the trash. Knowing that I was into guitar, he thought I’d like to do something with it.
It was pretty busted up. It had a really bad home-made neck that felt like a chunk of wood rescued from a swamp. It had no electronics whatsoever. And of course it’d been fished out of a garbage skip or something so it probably had more than a few microbes skittering around on its surface. So after a good clean-up we set about thinking what we could do to bring it back to life.
The very first thing we did was to buy a control plate, a couple of pots and a 3-way switch so we could actually get some sound out of this thing. It …wasn’t great. The bridge pickup sounded weedy and thin, and the neck pickup sounded muffled and distant. But eh, we were learning valuable stuff about how guitars are made so it was okay.
Then we ordered a neck from a local music store. We also ordered some Gotoh tuners. This neck was much better than the one the guitar came to us with. To this day I’m not sure who made it other than that it was a couple of hundred bucks and has a big fat Nocaster-style profile. It’s about an inch thick the whole way along. The fretboard is a curvy 7.25” and the frets are quite low and narrow. True vintage-style.
Of course those pickups weren’t great and we had to do something about that. Unbeknownst to me, my dad had zipped out to a music store (it’s still there; hi, Custom Music) and bought a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound for Telecaster set to give me for my birthday. There was no particular tonal consideration behind this choice; they were simply the only Telecaster pickups in stock. And I was thrilled to get them. I remember seeing a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails ad in the very first guitar magazine I ever read, and being transfixed by the look of the pickup. I also loved reading the copy that Seymour had written about the pickups. So I loved looking down at the guitar and seeing ‘Seymour Duncan’ written on my bridge pickup.
If you’ve never played the Quarter Pounds, they’re pretty beefy-sounding pickups. They’re hotter than regular Telecaster single coils and they also have less high end, so the low strings don’t twang so much as growl, and the high strings have a smooth singing quality. The neck pickup’s tone is smooth and round, relatively dark but with hints of clarity especially when you really dig in with the pick. These pickups ended up being perfect for the semi-clean, Hendrixian side that would develop in my playing over the years, but they also hang in there for the heavier stuff, right on up to Devin Townsend-influenced Open C stuff (as long as I use a noise gate – they are true single coils after all). They’re great for harder-edged, more assertive styles that require a hint of Tele but with more grunt.
This guitar and I have been through a lot together. I’ve used it in prog bands, funk bands and funk-rock bands. For a year in college I used this guitar exclusively as part of an experiment to go for a year without using a pick or playing a pointy Ibanez. During that year I went to a lot of blues jam nights and learned all sorts of real-world lessons about how to use your guitar to change the mood of a room for the better. Heck, I even used it to serenade a girl I had somehow managed to charm. And to this day it has pride of place on my guitar rack.
A few months ago I told Seymour this story. He undoubtedly hears this kind of stuff all the time but it felt good to share the story of this guitar with someone who was a part of its construction without even knowing it. My dad and I did various other guitar-tweaky things over the years and to this day he still likes to hear about when I modify my guitars or buy a new one.