Making it Work: Vintage-izing a Tele in a Rush

20140715_181318This guitar has spent many years serving its owner, Sean Flinn (of Sean Flinn and the Royal We) onstage as an American Standard, with a 6 saddle bridge, black pearloid pickguard, schaller style tuners, and stock pickups. But over time he wanted to go with a more traditional look and feel, while fattening up the bridge pickup. And with his busy touring schedule, we had a limited time to get it together.

With just a few days before the band hit the road again, we rush-ordered some parts, and had some choices to make. The first order of business was swapping the tuners for a more vintage looking set of tone-pros klusons. They cover the original mounting holes, drop right into place, and instantly give the headstock a more classic look, while having excellent smoothness and durability.

20140715_13172820140715_132556From there, however, things get a little trickier. We wanted to go with a more classic pickguard, and I recommended a 3 ply parchment guard. It’s a little less orange-y than a “cream” guard, and in my opinion a little more attractive than the mint green guards or a brand new plain white. However, no one could get us a new guard in time for tour. No problem, i just shaped a template using the original pickguard…

20140711_202547and made a new one from scratch. It’s tough to make one-off guards cost effectively. Even if you’re quick, it takes some time to rough out the blank, rout the profile, drill, bevel, and clean up. But this tele template should get a lot of use, and I’ll do whatever I can to help meet a touring deadline. Below, the guard is test positioned on the body. I still needed to fine tune the sanding around the neck pocket. The frizzy edges are from the protective plastic layer still on the top of the new pickguard.

20140715_142510The tricky piece of this conversion was switching over to a vintage style bridge. The American Standard Telecasters, at least in the 90s, used a unique bridge that unfortunately matches neither vintage nor modern reissue specs. The bridge plate as a whole is a bit longer, attaches to the body with 3 mounting screws instead of 4, and uses a slightly different string spacing. The bridge pickup, as a result, is positioned a little differently in the body. The options for replacing the American Standard bridge are pretty limited. Callaham and Hipshot offer high quality replacements that mount with the original 3 screws, and offer vintage style barrel saddles, but they are relatively expensive. Meanwhile there are many vintage style 4-mounting screw bridges that are half the price, and still well made. But fitting a vintage bridge always means re-drilling the mounting screw holes, and often means redrilling the string-through holes as well.

20140715_144757When I removed the original bridge I was in for a surprise. Someone had already attempted to add a vintage style bridge at some point, as the existing holes indicated. It looks like they ran into trouble with the string hole positioning, and drilled and filed the string through holes to try to coax them into place. I’m guessing this was a failed experiment, because the bridge pickup wouldn’t fit into the original rout either, so the 6 saddle bridge went back on until I got around to this mod.

To fit the vintage bridge without drilling a new set of string holes, I had to rout some space at the front edge of the new bridge, and once again, drill new mounting screw holes. I filled the holes from the previous attempt…20140715_163042And as you can see from the bare wood in the same shot, I just nudged the pickup rout forward enough to shift the bridge to the spot we needed it. I didn’t bother with finish touchup under the new bridge given the condition everything was already in when I changed bridges, but we could conceal these plugs with a little effort.

20140715_181300Here it is all strung up through the original string holes with a new set of compensated brass saddles. The new bridge pickup is higher output than stock, with a warmth that is missing on many tele pickups, and it really suits Sean’s slightly jazz-tinged indie folk style well. This guitar also features Fender’s quite useful TBX tone control circuit.

All in all I was able to complete the whole project in an afternoon and get it out the door just in time for the van to make the red-eye drive to the bay area to kick off a month of tour. Keep an eye out for Sean when he comes through your town! And as always, please contact me at the shop with any questions or to get started on your next project.



Date City Venue Country
07/21/14 Silver City, NM Little Toad Creek Brewery & Distillery United States
Time: 8:00pm. Age restrictions: No Minors. Address: 200 North Bullard.
07/23/14 Phoenix, AZ The Trunk Space United States
Time: 8:00pm. Age restrictions: No Minors. With Roar and Treasure Mamma
07/25/14 Chicago, IL Tonic Room United States
Time: 8:00pm. Age restrictions: No Minors.
07/29/14 New York City, NY Rockwood Music Hall United States
Time: 9:00pm. Age restrictions: No Minors.
08/01/14 Harrisburg, PA The MakeSpace United States
Time: 8:00pm. Age restrictions: No Minors.
08/08/14 Eagle Point, OR Agate Ridge Vineyard United States
Time: 6:00pm. Age restrictions: All Ages. Address: 1098 Nick Young Road. Venue phone: (541) 830-3050.
08/15/14 Hood River, OR The Ruins United States
Time: 7:00pm. Age restrictions: No Minors. Address: 13 Railroad Ave. Opening for Sallie Ford