Do Those Old Tele and Les Paul Bridge Pickup Tones Really Converge?

Nasty, nasty… Broadcaster bridge pickup

Just as nasty… Lester bridge pickup.

The other day I was watching a clip of Joe Walsh, and then I was struck by something he said: “A great old Tele bridge pickup will sound and feel quite close to a great old Les Paul bridge pickup!”. Right on, I thought! (hey, I’m a child of the 70s culture… I still say “right on”… but, fortunately, I no longer say: “solid”). Anyway, this is something that I myself have come around to over the years – a great old bridge PAF in a resonant piece of wood (that doesn’t weigh a ton!) will have single coil articulation and clarity… but with just enough “fur”. A great old Tele in the bridge position will have the same thing – the clarity you would expect, but with a nice microphonic bite, no harsh trebles, and a bit of fatness in the mids and low end.

As far as traditional guitars go right now, I use Les Pauls and Telecasters – and I think there’s no accident there. There is THE CONVERGENCE of these models. Look at the “Rev” – Lesters and Teles (or Esquires)… not a lot of Strat action there. My tone pal (and general all-round pal) “PF” agrees – it always seems to be the measure of a good Les Paul. Particularly in Gibson-land, the Les Paul sort of became something different from the 50s to the 70s and 80s… and not in a good way. A lot of the younger guys seek out the 70s Les Pauls – maybe due to nostalgia or something, but I wouldn’t seek one out. Oh sure, there are “happy accidents” where a great piece of wood came together with an unusually fussy Gibson factory worker, but generally, I believe the thread was lost (although it may have been recently found again).

’52 Les Paul Conversion with some Sweet PAFs

I guess that’s why we seek out “old wood”… and a killer pair of 50s or early 60s humbuckers… we’re not fooled! We know what a Les Paul CAN sound like! Above is my ’52 Gold Top. Converted and reset neck by Russ L. and then a very cool distressed finish by Kim at Historic Makeovers. Oh sure, it has had the mandatory “Gibson smile” (headstock break), but dang if it doesn’t sound a whole lot like my Underwood Broadcaster when I crank it up!

I should really say that this doesn’t mean that there’s no place for a good old Stratocaster… heck, I’ve had a few myself…

Leaving That Old Guitar Better Than You Found It… Paying It Forward!

Call me crazy, but there’s something invigorating about respectfully restoring those vintage instruments for the next generation! As I move through middle age, I finally realize that these wonderful vintage instruments will be around alot longer than all of us. It’s partly a tribute to future players and collectors to make sure that these instruments are left in better shape than we found them – at least, that’s my view. If you have taken a vintage Tele (this was long ago, I assume!) and routed it for a neck humbucker or a middle pickup (I know I have…), don’t feel disheartened. We didn’t know! That was the time! One of my first projects was to take a 1959 Gibson ES-345 that had been mercilessly hacked under the Varitone knob and to have it properly restored with a proper, matching, circle of wood grafted as invisibly as possible. Not inexpensive. But a joy to see it through (sometimes it’s as simple as finding the “right” vintage knobs or tuners or plastic for a guitar – so it’s not always a monumental task)! BTW, that was a GREAT 345… maybe THE best… I wish I still had her! Here are the before and after shots… thanks to Russ L. for the work… it might not look like a big change to you…

1959 ES-345 With Nasty Work

1959 Gibson ES-345 BEFORE…

1959 ES-345 mod after Russ' repair

1959 Gibson ES-345 AFTER…

The Varitone ring ended up concealing 80% of the damage… so even what you don’t see at least has a measure of CLASS to it!

Another cool thing I had been inspired to do concerned yet another ES guitar. I found an absolutely killer 1961 ES-335 that was perfect from the 2nd fret down… but the rest of it… broken headstock, plain black overlay glued over the face of the headstock with no logo or cutout to access the truss rod, non-original tuners… yuk! So I had a new neck made and relic-ed. We used the original Brazilian fingerboard, binding, and truss rod from the old neck! A brilliant job by Gord B.! Also a great, great, guitar!…

1961 ES-335 re-neck

1961 Gibson ES-335 re-neck… with the old neck in the foreground.

'61 ES-335 Headstock

’61 ES-335 Headstock – new construction but aged to look authentic and fit with the rest of the guitar.

There have been countless other “interventions” on my part!… piecing together a ’59 Fender Esquire from all the right parts, re-doing worn-through neck block inlays and binding on a 1964 ES-335 and then finding the right knobs and plastic, finding the “right” period correct neck for a 1965 Strat, poperly re-setting the neck on my ES-350 (it had been re-set slightly out of alignment), … Re-setting the neck, converting to humbuckers, re-finishing and aging a 1952 Gold Top Les Paul (currently in progress)…and finally (there are many other projects that I haven’t room to detail here)… fixing, as invisibly as humanly possible (thanks Gord!), the baby fingernail sized “bo-bo” on the back of my 2011 Gustavsson Bluesmaster… behold…

2011 Gustavsson Bluesmaster "bo-bo"

2011 Gustavsson Bluesmaster “bo-bo” on the headstock back.

2011 Gustavsson Bluesmaster front view

Ahh!… now that’s better… the sunny side up pic of the glorious Gustavsson Bluesmaster.




The One Pickup Esquire Can Work!

So I get this really great lightweight (6.4lbs of swamp ash goodness!), big necked beast of an Esquire off of one of the Forums, and it turns out that someone formerly had a neck pickup in there. In order to “restore” the guitar, apparently the solution was to simply remove the neck pickup and replace the Esquire pickguard. We all know that Teles and Esquires were all cut the same way – with potential for a neck pickup if you replace the pickguard…

Anyway, the guitar didn’t work because Esquires are just not wired the same way! Solution: I set about to find a useable wiring schematic for an Esquire. Seymour Duncan has a great resource, but there are lots of other ones on the web. Back in the early 50s, an Esquire was wired with an “always on” .047 micro farad cap in the 1st position (or sometimes 2 of them!), a working tone pot in position 2 with the same value cap and then a straight through “no cap, no tone pot load” in the back position of the switch.

I could discuss the merits of caps of different voltages and different types – ceramic disk vs paper in oil, for example… let’s just say that there is a difference (contrary to what some people will say) and you want an audio cap of a higher voltage – in my experience.

So, in wiring this Esquire, the main thing is to get the “always on” cap to be usable – rather than the bassy muffled tone of the older Esquires. I used a nice .047 paper in oil cap for the tone control setting – where we can control the amount of tone roll off – but for the “always on” position, I used a .0047 cap – note the extra zero! Using a .0033 cap is also popular, but the point is to get a lesser treble roll off – so it’ll be great for rhythm playing! The other thing… since you don’t have to remove the strings to swap caps, I simply left the control plate open and in seconds auditioned several different caps.

A few caps from my vintage stash!

There’s a diagram on the web that showed me how to wire this guitar so that the tone control was active in the back postion of the switch and the middle was the straight through pickup. This I like!


Esquire New Pickup Day

Esquire pickup day…

The magnificent Chad Underwood Esquire…

The back end of two fat necked siblings. Esquire/Broadcaster.

Had a Lollar Special in there…

Nice pickup with a nice blend of twang and fatness…


So I tried the Duncan Custom Shop BG-1400 It’s a stacked Humbucker … fairly high output… I was hopeful… the Rev uses them…

I thought it lacked liveliness and not enough highs… but then again that’s what I think about the pickups in the Billy Bo (I replaced them in mine with Filtertrons)

But I do LOVE Duncan’s Custom Tapped ’53 Tele set with a 9k/6k bridge pickup – Jeff Beck used ‘em on Guitar Shop – they’re in my Underwood Tele.

Anyway, back to the Esquire… I finally tried a Don Mare Model #0038 pickup(wound with the same guage wire as the oldest Broadcasters and lap steel pickups – a little thinner wire)… it specs at a whopping 12.5k DC resistance… I figured it would suffer in the highs and twang department… NOT SO… fat and twang! Quite nasty… LIVELY too!

That’s what stays in!!!

“Light Is Right!” Really???

Here I was last night running around looking for my trusty “fish scale” – which I use to weigh  guitars – ironical considering that I’ve been stewing about writing a Blog entry about how the weight of an electric guitar affects the tone (I love it when a guitar seller says “8lbs on my bathroom scale” – you get it – and it’s 10 lbs!!!).

I used to be 100% in the “light is right” camp until I began to notice that sometimes a heavier instrument just sounds better. Case in point – I had a lovely 7.2lb Korina PRS with 3 X P90s for a while… I sold it…and, you know the story, I had to have another! Well, the next one was the same guitar exactly but it was 8.2lbs – a full pound heavier. And, my goodness, it sounded better than the lighter guitar! What’s with that? As Bill Collings, no stranger to guitar building – both acoustic and electric – says (I’m paraphrasing here): a really light guitar will have less of the fundamental, less middle, that can make a truely great guitar!

Now there are exceptions… for me, Teles with maple necks and ash bodies – the lighter the better. I currently can’t put down my 2 Underwood T style guitars… 6.9lbs for the Blackguard Tele and 6.4lbs for the Esquire… and they RING LIKE A BELL!