I think the music gods may have been angry with me over my last post (The Joy of Homemade Guitars) for making it all sound so easy. I felt their wrath recently when I decided to upgrade my Telecaster (and replace the patent-worthy hex nut saddle). After all, all I needed were a couple of replacement parts. How hard can it be?
I decided that the two pieces that need to be replaced are the neck (no small part, I admit) and the charming but acoustically questionable hex nut saddle. Each seemed like it would be a fairly simple matter of swapping out the part. At least it seemed that way.
The saddle seemed very straightforward when I started. All I figured I need was a replacement saddle. Unfortunately, it seems you can’t buy just one, you need to buy a set, and a set turned out to be more than I wanted to pay (ie: more than zero). I decided to buy a replacement bridge assembly, which would give me the best bang for the buck. I could use just the saddle and keep the other parts for spares.
That was where reality stepped in. The replacement saddle won’t go onto the screw because it has coarse threads and the original part has fine threads. I can’t just substitute the replacement screw because it’s shorter than the original (this the first of several “WTF?” moments during this exercise). The reason why a shorter screw won’t work is that the saddle has to be more or less the same distance from the 12th fret as is the nut. I started to wonder how the screws on the replacement bridge would be shorter, because the bridges looked identical. I compared the two bridges and found that the original bridge was about 1/4 inch longer than the replacement bridge. Why? No reason.
So my new plan was to replace the bridge assembly as a whole. That would pretty much put and end to it, right? Well, the only problem with that plan is that on the original bridge, the ball end of the string is at the end of the bridge, but on the replacement part the holes through the bridge are on the bottom, for a through-body. With a little help from Dremel, I was able to make my own holes through the end of the bridge for the strings, but the whole thing took a lot more time than anticipated.
Next, the neck. I got a beautiful maple/maple neck from Might Mite. I was very excited to get this bad boy on my Tele, which was a fairly straightforward install. Everything was going fine until I went to transfer the tuning machines from the old neck to the new neck. Turns out, the holes pre-drilled for the tuners on the new neck are larger than the ones for the old neck, so the ferrules won’t hold. The prospect of buying new tuners is not Frey appealing to a guy who didn’t even want to buy new saddles.
Emails to Mighty Mite went unanswered. Again, the neck looks great and seems to be good quality, but I can’t understand why they wouldn’t go for Fender-correct holes for the Telecaster necks (for some reason, probably traditional, the Tele tunes are smaller around than Strat tuners).
The end result of all of this is that the refitting of a couple of seemingly-standard parts ends up being a much bigger deal, a deal that usually results in buying yet more parts. The downside (besides the expense) being that I find myself spending more of my free time working on my guitar than actually playing it.
Do I retract all of the great things I said about building your own guitar? Not at all. I think there are tremendous benefits to doing so: you learn so much about what goes into one, it’s hard for me to see how one really gains the insight without the experience. In the end (and I said this before), it’s not a magical path to priceless instrument for $100. Getting it right is undoubtedly going to take some money and some labor, quite probably more than you would have to spend than if you’d left it to the experts.
But if that’s your angle, you’re missing the point.
More Telecaster updates as work progresses. Meanwhile, why not come out and see The Nerve at McKenzie’s in Malvern on Saturday night?