Tele Bridge Choices: What I Like And Why, Part 2

For my swamp ash Tele, I bought a Glendale cold-rolled steel plate with cutaway sides and a set of mixed (one aluminum and two brass) compensated saddles ($157). I like the plate design a lot, and it’s beautifully made. The saddles are tilted to compensate, but I still needed to bend the screw on the E/A saddle a touch to get the intonation just right. One drawback of this design is that the strings are apt to slip sideways on the saddles (as with the Barden), which doesn’t help your string spacing or intonation. I fixed this by figuring out just where I wanted the strings to sit, and filing shallow grooves to keep them in place.

These modifications worked great, but this bridge assembly is the most expensive one I’ve bought, and, for the price I paid, I feel that none of that work should have been needed. That said, it sounds wonderful, and helps the guitar to deliver perfect Tele tone.

Modified Wilkinson
The orange Tele has an Asian-made Wilkinson bridge. I bought one to see how one of the cheaper aftermarket bridges worked, and had mixed results. It has a thin plate, nicely chromed, that sits perfectly flat on the guitar’s top. The lack of flatness is a common problem with cheaper bridges, but not here. The three brass saddles have ridges to set the intonation, but the ridges aren’t even close to where they should be. That’s an unwelcome surprise.

So, I tried the old bend-the-intonation-screw trick. First you set the saddle so that the strings (two per saddle, old school) are off by equal amounts. One will play sharp, the other flat. You can use pliers to bend the screw, or hit the saddle with a hammer to bend it. In many cases, it works well, sometimes perfectly, but not here. The witness points are simply too far apart.

The solution? I had to file new witness points, and was able to get it dead on. The bridge sounds great, very Tele! Next time I re-string the guitar, though, I’ll replace the cheapo saddle intonation screws from Wilkinson with stainless steel ones that have clean Phillips heads. The hybrid (works with a flat or Phillips screwdriver) screw heads on the originals don’t fit any of my screwdrivers well and will strip out fast. Not cool. But for the money, you get a great a good-looking, great-sounding bridge that can be made to work right, if you’re willing and able.

Rutters chopped bridge
Last up on my list is the bridge on my mahogany Tele with humbuckers. Already we’re pretty far from the stock Tele tone recipe here, and using humbuckers means I need a half-bridge, one that supports the saddles but doesn’t also provide a mount for the bridge pickup. Marc Rutters to the rescue with his chopped half-bridge ($85), with a thick steel plate and three compensated cold-rolled steel saddles. The three saddles are about the only part of the traditional design in use here. Looks cool, sounds awesome, and sets up perfectly. I wish he made Strat bridges.

Plenty of food for thought here. Consider these bridges and other choices, along with the wooden parts you want to use and the pickups you intend to install. All these things work together to help you get the sound and playability you want…or not, if you don’t think enough about your choices. I can help with that.

What My Builders Are Up To: Strats!

Strats, baby! First up is Graeme’s first build, on a really pretty piece of alder. Alder is a classic and wonderful sounding wood for electric guitars and Strats in particular, but it’s often very plain-grained. I’ve read that Fender generally uses it for guitars with opaque finishes, but you wouldn’t want to cover this body up. All it needed was a little Tru-Oil for finish, and he got this gorgeous color.

An Allparts neck, noiseless Duncan pickups, and Fender hardware get the rest of the job done. I’ve had the chance to hear Graeme play this guitar several times in jam camp, and he gets great tones out of it. And he’s got another Strat or two on the drawing board!

The second guitar was a particular treat to be involved with, for a few reasons. First, I’d never heard a pine Strat. Leo Fender used pine for some early Teles, but the classic Strats have always been ash or alder, with only a few exceptions. Second, the builder, Jay W., pulled off a very cool hand-applied sunburst, which is not easy to do.

And third, the pickups and hardware on this guitar are all from Callaham, the high-end parts company in Virginia. The pickups are Callaham’s, specially ordered from Lindy Fralin, and they sound great. They deliver some of the best position 2 Knopfler tones yet, and they nail the Sweet Home Alabama tone. I got jealous, I admit. The hardware lives up to Callaham’s great reputation. I have one of their bridges on a Strat, and I don’t think you’ll find better metal work in guitar parts.

Once (twice!) again: gather great parts and put them together carefully, and you really can’t miss getting an amazing guitar. Fun!

Tele Bridge Choices: What I Like And Why, Part 1

“Which bridge?” is always a big question when someone is considering putting a Tele-style guitar together, and rightly so. The right bridge is critical to getting your guitar sounding and playing the way you want, so considering a few choices is time well spent. I hope this article will shed some light on the subject. I’ll cover the bridges I’ve tried (there are many I haven’t), and explain what I did and didn’t like about each one.



First up, seen here on my black alder Esquire, is the popular Gotoh GTC202 ($50-60), which has six separately adjustable steel saddles. OK, this bridge is not so popular if you’re building to vintage spec, because the baseplate is brass instead of steel, and it’s not a traditional three-saddle setup. It sounds a bit darker and smoother than a steel-plate bridge, can be intonated very accurately, and has a clean look. It’s a very well-made piece of hardware, and a solid mid-price choice. It’s also available with brass saddles (GTC201), and in black and gold finishes. More rock than twang with this bridge, and perfect for this guitar.



Next is the Joe Barden bridge ($60 or so), which I used on my pine-bodied Tele. It has great traditional Tele twang and three tilt-compensated brass saddles. I generally need to file the Barden saddles a bit near the screw holes to remove burrs, and the strings sit a bit closer to the saddle height adjustment screws than is ideal. I also had to file small grooves to keep the strings from sliding across the saddles when I play hard. The plate is very nice and has a small cutaway on the treble side, plus holes for two extra mounting screws if you feel you need them (I don’t). This bridge is just a bit pricey, considering the work needed to get it running right. Otherwise, it sets up well, plays in tune, helps a Tele sound like it should, and does what you need it to do.

Rutters vintage

Rutters vintage

My Marc Rutters vintage-style bridge ($130) is a beautiful thing, and is installed on my Catalpa Tele (look it up!). It’s the best-performing, most trouble-free bridge I own. Marc’s grooved-saddle design for compensation is elegant and perfectly executed, and the whole assembly is as good as I’ve ever seen. It’s very reasonably priced for the quality he delivers. Mine is a vintage-style model with a slightly thicker (but still very twangy) steel plate and brass saddles. It sets up easily and sounds great. I love everything about it.

More bridges in part 2!

A Thing Of Beauty: 1969 Fender P-Bass!

This bass has been owned and gigged hard by my friend Sam for many years, and he takes credit for much, if not all, of the wear you see here. This thing is BEAUTIFUL, with the sort of play wear that some people pay big money for on their otherwise brand-new guitars. Sammy and his bass are here to show them how it’s really done.

This bass is really light, only seven pounds. It needed a neck adjustment in a hurry, and while I had it on the bench, I took these pictures. The body looks like alder to me. The finish is not actually worn through in most places. There’s still an intact layer under the sunburst. You can see the light reflecting off of it. Some of the scratches do go through.

Overall, though, you can see it has NOT been abused. The hardware is clean and working well. The bass plays easily. It isn’t chipped or gouged. Even the original case is intact. It’s just been played a lot. Truly a player’s instrument!

The Orange Tele Reveal!

Okay, it looks pretty red here. More orange in person. Whatever, I think it’s COOL and am very happy with how it came out!

Some details: Wilkinson compensated bridge (my favorite cheap bridge), Fender metal parts and pickguard, Rob DiStefano’s killer Cavalier pickups (the Nashville Lion bridge, and the Lioness in the neck), RS Guitarworks pots, an Electrosocket (always!) for the jack, and a .033 mfd Sprague Vitamin Q tone cap. As usual, there’s an Allparts neck with vintage-style tuners and a bone nut.

For those who have bothered to keep up, the body is a single piece of spruce, from a huge tree felled in a storm, and harvested by Larry Robinson. The grain goes every which way, and made finishing a challenge. That’s on top of figuring out a little about how to dye the body. This is the lightest guitar I’ve put together so far, plenty of snap and twang. I’m liking it!

Guitar Building: Orange Tele Update!

This guitar is DONE, but glamor shots are yet to come. As of my last post, I was only two coats into the Tru-Oil application. That became four coats wiped on, and four more sprayed on, until I had what I wanted for the final buffing out.

I wound up letting the body dry for ten days, and then knocking the gloss down with 0000 steel wool. This took away the plastic-looking sheen, and took away the last bits of dust and lint on the surface. This process removes quite a bit of the T-O altogether, which is why I wanted a heavier application before starting.

I then used good old Meguiar’s #7 (the silicone-free variety) and some great microfiber buffing pads to bring up a softer, slightly worn-looking gloss that still allowed plenty of grain pop. I did NOT want to dial back the crazy grain in this spruce body too far! The steel wool and Meguiar’s got me exactly where I wanted. You can see the final gloss in the third and fourth photos above, and it will be on full display once I get the reveal photos done.

Meanwhile, I can tell you the finished guitar looks cool and sounds great…

Guitar Building: More Oranger Still!

During the last two days, the weather hasn’t worked for applying Tru-Oil outdoors, but at least the lighting is the same in each of these pictures. It’s easy to see that the famous “grain pop” that we expect with this finish is already happening. This spruce body is so absorbent and the grain is so crazy that the surface luster is, so far, very inconsistent.

After these two coats, I sanded very lightly with 600 grit to knock down the little bumps that always build up (dust? lint? who knows?), and got the wood surface feeling nice and smooth again. I’ll apply a third coat tomorrow, and expect to see the surface start to come together.

I’ve gotten a lot of comments and questions about this project, and thanks to everyone for that! This guitar is meant to fall into the “barncaster” category, so I know the overall look and feel will be a little rougher than on my other guitars. That’s what I want: it suits this piece of wood, and refers a bit to the Gretsch Roundup model which helped inspired this one. To me, Telecasters have always had that sort of edge, visually and sonically, or at the least the ones I like best have. They don’t look right to me when they’re too perfect.

So, readers, a question: do you see any color change, so far, with the Tru-Oil? Let me know! It’s fun to have you guys involved.

Guitar Building: Dyeing A Spruce Body Orange

After the success of my black-dyed alder Esquire project, I thought I’d try my hand at an orange body. I was inspired by the orange finishes you see on Gretsch guitars, but didn’t have my heart set on that, since I had no idea what working with the dye would be like.

This is a very white spruce body with really cool knots. The knots and otherwise crazy grain made it a real challenge to finish-sand without sratching. After I sanded in my arm cut, I solved that problem by sanding the sides in sections, since “going with the grain” was not as straightforward a concept as on most of my past projects. The top and back didn’t pose any problems, but I did add a water-spray step to raise and then knock down the grain. I sanded to 600 grit, blew off the dust, and wetted the body thoroughly. I gave it several hours to dry, and used a rough hand towel, followed by a piece of white Scotchbrite, to rub the raised grain going across, not along, the grain.

It worked great! No scratches, a beautiful smooth surface, and a nice luster to the wood were the result. Time to screw on the finishing stick, and mix the dye. I used orange Colortone concentrate from Stew-Mac, and mixed it in a plastic container full of denatured alcohol. I tested it on the pine finishing stick, since it was fairly close in color to the the spruce. I made up some applicators by balling up a piece of cotton rag inside another piece, and tying them up with a rubber band.

The trick is to get the applicator very wet and keep it moving. The dye soaks in fast, and starts to dry quickly, too. Avoiding drips and runs, and re-wetting the applicator often with fresh dye, are critical to getting an even color without blotching. This took a little figuring out, but I like the result I got.

After two coats, the color was pretty Gretsch-y. It looked a little pinker than it appears in the photos, and I thought a little more color might be more to my liking. I wasn’t really measuring the amount of concentrate I added, though I did test the mix each time before applying it.

The third coat pushed it to the very cool flaming red you see here. Bye bye Gretsch! It is more orange than it appears in the photos (I think you’d need to mix a bit of amber to keep the dye a truer orange), and I suspect the Tru-Oil applications to follow will bring a little touch of amber to the color as they build up. That’s next. For now, I’m singing the praises of happy accidents!

What My Builders Are Up To: New Teles!

These Teles, plus a nice pine Strat, are all getting put together by Jay W. He built a beautiful obeche Tele awhile back, and he says it has become his favorite guitar!

All three bodies came from Clearfork at the summer guitar show. Today, as you can see, was all about drilling ferrule holes, and talking about pickup and hardware options, plus a few finish ideas.

I am building a Tele with a spruce body, and thinking about using Stew-Mac’s Colortone dye to get a nice Gretsch orange. They have a great line of guitar colors that can be blended with water or alcohol, or added to lacquer for spraying. I haven’t decided if I’ll try mixing the color with Tru-Oil and apply it that way, or if I’ll use an alcohol or water solution. Much to learn!