Presented here, for the first time in chronological order, is the exciting narrative of how I built a walnut-bodied Telecaster parts-guitar in late 2010, early 2011.

Telecaster build, part 1: Bits.

December 15th, 2010 - 7:46 pm

Despite feeling safe and smug for a year and a half, and thinking I was quite content with the guitars I had, blinding guitar-fever has struck again!

For guitar #11 (hi, my name is … ), I’m assembling a “partocaster” Tele, including finishing the body.

Via Kijiji, I traded a neglected Epiphone Valve Jr. amp for a Telecaster neck (Classic ’50s) and ordered a walnut body from Spalt King in Québec. The guitar will not have a pickguard/control plate, and so is rear routed. For Strat controls.

For the wiring, I have a Acme Guitar Works “Tone Shaper” rig for a Stratocaster. This was a Christmas gift last year, and I couldn’t get it installed in my Strat (pot holes too narrow, switch tip wouldn’t come off… ).

From Stew-Mac and Guitar Parts Resource:

  • 6x chrome string ferrules
  • 4x stainless steel neck screws (these are just #8 x 1 3/4″ wood screws, but good luck finding them)
  • Black pickguard material – for the rear control cover
  • Electrosocket jack cup. Was going to use a Les Paul style jack plate as the vintage style Telecaster cup is just too fiddly. Electrosocket is a much better fit.
  • Wiklinson bridge
  • Seymour Duncan P-Rails humbucker (neck)
  • Seymour Duncan ‘Broadcaster’ pickup (for the bridge position)
  • Telecaster switch tip
  • Neck plate
  • Dunlop Strap-Lok strap buttons
  • Chrome, flat-mount humbucker mounting ring
  • 3x chrome barrel knobs

Body will be finished in Tru-Oil.

Pick-ups will be wired so that the switch works as follows:
1. Neck rails
2. Neck humbucker (coils in parallel)
3. Neck P-90
4. Neck P-90 and bridge pickup (in parallel)
5. bridge pickup.

Telecaster build, part 2: drilling and sanding

December 31st, 2010 - 12:39 am

I now have almost all the holes drilled, except the two for the Electrosocket jack cup (as I’m still waiting on that part). To keep everything secured during the drilling, I bought three deep throated clamps from Canadian Tire, and used various pieces of scrap wood as clamping and backing blocks. I took advantage of dad’s knowledge and tools (some came from or were made by his father or grand father) for drilling the control holes (through 1/8″ wood).

Pot-shaft holes were enlarged to the right size with sand paper wrapped around a pencil. Carved the slot for the five-way switch with an X-Acto knife after drilling a bunch of little holes along the length.

This is roughly what it will look like (obviously missing a neck at the moment).

I’ve sanded most of the tooling marks from the sides— the body was routed from the top and bottom, and so there was a visible line between top and bottom halves, even though it’s one piece of wood front-back.

I had to remove a bunch of wood to get the wiring kit to fit, and to allow wires to fit around the volume pot from the bridge pickup rout. I bought an $11 rotary tool from Canadian Tire last year to grind off some tough solder on a pair of 30 year old humbuckers. It didn’t work well for that, but the sanding drum was very effective at making sawdust (be careful!).

I steamed out some dents that made it onto the body so far. A soaking paper towel (toilet paper in this case) under a hot soldering iron applied over the dent, and they came right out.

Friday and Saturday, I want to get the body sanded to 320 grit (dry) and start test finishing the scrap.

Telecaster build, part 3: sealing and filling

January 4th, 2011 - 12:58 am

Spread on the Tru-Oil with a foam brush. Nobody mentioned to brush with the grain (more on this later). After a few minutes, the excess was wiped off with a rag. A now very flammable rag (the Tru-Oil cures via oxidation, an exothermic reaction— if you leave a few soaked rags balled up in a small, enclosed space, your house will burn down). I hung my rag on the outside railing with the pair of ceramic magnets that came out of my Greco.

This coat is for sealing the wood. Whatever that is.

24 hours later:
Filling time! I wet-sanded with 400 grit paper with Tru-Oil as the lubricant. Working in 4″ x 4″ sections, the goal is to create a slurry of sawdust and oil, and rub that into the grain. “Rub”? The instructions say “burnish”. I rubbed ineffectively with my gloved fingers.

As it happens, merely rubbing it in makes a mess. I filled the grain, but the guitar looked awful. An uneven, splotchy finish covered the body. I also learned that you shouldn’t sand with the piece resting on painter’s pyramids.

After the mess dried, I sanded it back with 320 grit dry paper, not quite to bare wood, but removed the blemishing. Then I steamed out the new dents.

Placing the guitar on a clean linen cloth, I then wet-sanded with 400 (and Tru-Oil). This time, I burnished with a linen cloth. Worked really well, and the guitar is much less ugly.

The guitar is very smooth to the touch.

There are some horizontal lines on the pictures of the front and back, and they were probably caused by brushing on the Tru-Oil cross-grain. Whoops. Hopefully they will become less visible with more coats and burnishing with the grain.

Telecaster build, parts 4-7: finishing, waiting, assembling, and showing off

January 30th, 2011 - 11:33 pm

So, since part three:

Part IV, the finishing:
I attempted to grain fill some more with 400 and 600 grit. Wasn’t particularly successful, sanded it back a bit, and went from there. I put 2 coats of Tru-Oil a day, except when I was too busy and didn’t put any on. I think I ended up with 12-15 coats, though it could’ve been more. I applied the last coat on January 23.

Part V, the waiting:
This was easy. Do nothing. Except… I only waited six days, instead of 7-14. Birchwood Casey says you can go shooting with your Tru-Oil’d gun after a few days, so, whatever.

Part VI, assembling:
Buffed the body with denim scrap, then rubbed on some lemon oil (Old English— not lemon juice).

I put the neck plate on and put the neck screws in far enough to just poke into the pocket. With the guitar body clamped upside down, I put the neck in the pocket, lining the holes with the tips of the screws. I clamped the neck, using a block of wood on the fret side, then backed out the neck screws and tightened the clamp a bit more, to make sure that there would be no gap between neck and body. Tightened screws and voila:

The P-Rails came with a couple of bolts to hang it from a mounting ring, but unfortunately they were too long for the depth of the pickup rout. I drilled a couple of 3/16″ holes 1/4″ into the route to accommodate them (no pictures, sorry). I clamped the guitar much as it’s pictured above, but face up, obviously.

After I installed the neck pickup, I then attached the bridge pickup to the bridge, threaded its leads into the control cavity, and then bolted the bridge down.

I then installed the Toneshaper rig. I used the paper templates and the plastic shipping template to create a huge washer out of some brass shim stock. After it was in, I noticed the “GND” connection point on the circuit. Forgot the ground wire from the bridge. Off came the bridge and I scrounged some scrap wire which I stripped, tinned and installed, hooking it into the screw hole left by the routing template. After the bridge was bolted back, I used a meter to check that all the bridge components had connectivity to the dangly end of the ground wire.

Wiring everything up with the ToneShaper is very straightforward. I used a small flat-head screwdriver bit to depress the button on the terminal blocks and a surgical clamp to insert the wires. Flipping the DIP switches with the included DIP-switching-tool (a pencil sized dowel sharpened with a pencil-sized-dowel-sharpener), you can configure the three pots as you’d like, along with whatever tone cap(s) you want.

Because the neck had been off a guitar for a couple of years, I felt it was important to start acting against the truss rod’s diabolical pull, so I strung up the guitar. I decided to use a set of .011s with a wound-third, so flipped the G&D saddle upside down to use the traditional barrel-shape side (with a plain third, the G will be intonated by having its saddle behind the D, with a wound third, it’s in front – these compensated saddles were clearly for plain thirds, so the traditional uncompensated Tele saddle is a better fit for me).

I then remembered I had to fit the ferrules in. Set up some covered scrap (all the same height) so the guitar wasn’t resting on its knobs, I used a covered block to as an intermediary between my belligerent hammer and the poor, battered ferrules. Once they were in, the ferrules were ready to cup the strings’ balls tenderly.

Once it was strung up, there’s not a chance I stopped work and played it at this point. None. It sounded great!

I needed to figure out how to affix the control plate cover (and also, make such a thing), so I grabbed the guitar and headed out to consult with the nearest handyman-father-figure, my dad. We discussed hinges and magnets and explosive-bolt releases, but decided that a piece of wood added into the control cavity was the simplest thing.

I grabbed the piece of scrap walnut and with Dearly Beloved’s dōzuki (Japanese backsaw), and made a column of wood likely to fit. I then penciled and cut it to height. It cut like a dōzuki through butter! I then sanded the block into a slightly better fit, and sanded off some of finish in the cavity. I then grabbed the vacuum and cleaned up my electronics (foresight, where art thou?). I glued it in and left it to dry overnight (you can see it in the picture above).

Also on Saturday, I attempted to install the Dunlop strap locks. I really wish that America would adopt stainless steel hardware and the Robertson screwdriver— I’ve stripped a lot of screw heads installing these things into hardwood guitar bodies (I think Schaller has better screws with their offering, but I much prefer the mechanism with Dunlop. Maybe I’ll use Grolsch bottle washers next time). Buying likely-looking-but-wrong screws at the hardware store prompted a quick Googling, that determined that what I wanted were called trim screws. Unfortunately, hardware stores in Halifax apparently only stock trim screws in #8, 10, and 12, and I needed a #6.

Boo. Thank the cheap-knockoff-gods— I own a $10 Dremel-like tool. On Sunday morning, I drilled my stainless-steel #6 screws (with Robertson heads) into a pine board, put on my stylin’ lab goggles and used the grinder-tool to take those screw heads down to size. Perfect.

I then set about making a control plate cover. I taped some sketchbook paper, to the guitar and using a 6B pencil traced the edge of the cavity.

I can’t remember where I saw how to do this (Sully’s Guitar Garage? TDPRI?), but it’s certainly not my idea.

I then taped my tracing to my sheet of plastic pickguard and cut it out. Too big. Snip snip, too small in some places, but OK. Just a bit crap. Grabbed some more material and using the first, cut out a second. Snip snip, even worse. Back to tracing. Cut it out and it’s slightly too large. Wrecked this one trying to trim the one problem corner. As the saying goes, fourth time’s the charm. No trimming with knife or scissors after the first cut, and I stuck the best fit corner into the cavity and using 100 and 320 grit paper sanded the edges and corners out from that until more and more and then all the plate fit and then was stuck in the cavity.


I got it out, put it on the pine block and put a hole in it so I can fish it out with an allen key. Back on the guitar and I drilled a pilot hole through the plate and into the walnut offset. From my bag of guitar bits I found the screw for a Strat rear plate and screwed ‘er down.


Part VII, showing off:
I’m pretty happy with this. I still have to do the final setup, so it might be a week before I record something and throw it up on YouTube. I might have to learn some chicken-lickin’-pickin’-up-chicks-licks for the demo, along with some famous Telecaster songs.