So, I decided that I needed a winter project this year. Something to get me off the couch, keep me off the streets, and make me try something new. I decided that building a guitar would be fun - challenging but fun. Here's my experience of building a Telecaster. I hope you enjoy it.
So, why build a Tele?
For the longest time I thought Fender Telecasters were a waste of time and wood. You could make a perfectly good Stratocaster with that hunk o' tree! Why would you want to waste it on a Tele? I used to say that Telecasters sounded like a tin cup full of nails. So, why in the world would I choose to make a Tele if I don't like them? Three reasons:
1) It is the easiest guitar to fabricate yourself. Seriously. It's a slab of wood, a neck, and some screws. There's nothing complicated about its construction (or so I thought). There is a reason this thing has been around since the 50's with little evolution. It's a simple idea that works.
2) I fell in love with a particular Tele about a year ago but was unable to purchase it at the time. It had a great sound and a fabulous feel to it. It was unlike any Tele I'd ever played.
3) Tastes change.
One note - I didn't decide to build this beast to save money. I could have bought a brand new Telecaster for the amount this project is costing me (not to mention the extra $ for tools!). But money was never the point of this project. …which is what I keep repeating to myself to help me forget how much I've spent so far.
I did a lot of thinking about this project before I started and I read as many blogs, wikis, books, and chat boards as I could to see how other people were tackling this hobby. For the record what I am doing is known as building a "Partscaster". My first step was to decide how much I wanted to do myself. Some people do everything from scratch - Body, Neck, the whole enchilada. They are very talented people with way too much time on their hands. I want to actually play this thing in my lifetime so I made a choice - I would make the body and buy the neck. I figured it was more of a challenge than buying everything and assebling it - but still realistic with my current woodworking/luthier skills.
One word about necks... They're frickin' expensive! The cheapest new one I found online was $100 (price+shipping). That was a quarter of my original budget for this project (that budget went out the window as soon as I started buying tools, oy!). I could have gone the ebay route but there are some things that I don't feel comfortable bidding on - this was one of those things. I don't want to pay some yahoo in East Overshoe for his Preemeeum (sic) neck.
In fact I was uncomfortable with the whole idea of buying a neck sight-unseen. For those of you that do not play – the neck really is where the rubber meets the road for a guitar. If the neck doesn't feel right to you as a player all the rest is bit moot.
A quick note about guitar bodies. You can buy them online pre-cut and ready to go. They too are ridiculously overpriced ($150 and up). It's wood! It is one of those rare things in life that DOES GROW ON TREES! Why am I being violated for a chunk of Mahogany that's one foot by two feet? Can you tell I felt a bit wrong-done? This was one of the reasons I decided to build instead of buy – that and the actual wood working sounded kinda fun.
Since I had decided that I wanted to make the body I was going to need a few things:
Good wood in the right size (more on this in a bit)
A template to trace out the shape of a Tele
A saw that can cut around corners
This is where I had a brainstorm. Or whatever passes for a brainstorm in the soupy mix upstairs. Why not just buy a guitar? No, really! Hear me out…
I decided that instead of buying a telecaster template online for $25 from some bozo who made it in his shed and then buy a neck I'd never get to touch prior to its arrival on my doorstep for $100 – why not buy a cheap import Telecaster? The cheapest ones are $160. So, I pay 35 bucks more – I get to try out the neck and I also get a three dimensional template – not some flat piece of particle board that I'll never use again. And hey – if I sell the body, pickups and hardware from the import after I'm done with it I could cover some expenses.
Well, that's what I did. In hindsight - the neck part was a good idea. The 3-D template was less so. I'll touch on that when it's relevant. I do plan on re-using some of the metal hardware bits and pieces from the Squier that I was going to have to buy. So it seemed like a good trade-off price-wise.
One note about imports (known as Squier Telecasters) - they sound pretty vanilla. They don't sound bad, per se but they have very little character. This is mainly due to the wood and the electronics used in their construction - two things I'm not going to re-use.
Okay, if you've read this so far you know my game plan - buy a crappy import Telecaster, buy some good wood, and get a saw that can cut around corners.
I started by looking for the guitar. I ended up buying the Squier Tele at Mr. Music in
The Squier: It has a maple neck with 21 frets. So, this was good news and bad news. I like maple necks but most Telecasters have 22 frets. For those of you counting - 24 frets equals 2 octaves. More frets means the instrument has a greater dynamic range. So, I lost out on that front but I did find a neck that is very comfortable and is also super fast to play.