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A ‘Telecaster’

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Hi chaps.

I’ve been a member here for years but only posted a few times and lurked now and again and for the last 3 years I haven’t made any instruments at all. Moved house, no workshop other things getting in the way, etc. Anyway, I finally have a workshop again and I’ve started whittling.

I have a stepson who, from time to time, says “When are you going to build me a Telecaster?” Why he wanted one I’m not quite sure and I’m pretty sure he told me once that he doesn’t like the twangy bridge pickup on Teles. I thought that’s what Teles are all about but what do I know? I should explain, I don’t play guitar. I tried, even had lessons many years ago but gave up when I realised I was never going to be as good as I wanted to be. Many years later, I found myself plonking along on a bass guitar in a little folk-dance band and thought “I could make one of these”. So I became a plonker who made his own basses

 Anyway, I decided to christen the new workshop by building a Telecaster shaped guitar with humbuckers in it, but not to tell the stepson until it was finished. I didn’t know much about Telecasters until I started and then found that there are all sorts of variations (some with humbuckers!, in fact some even seem to be Les Pauls in disguise) in fact the only thing they seem to have in common is the shape of the body and a 25 ½” scale length. The guitar is actually finished now, but this isn’t a how-to-do-it thread, it’s how I did it and if anyone has suggestions of a better way, I’m all ears

I’ve had a rather nice quilted maple drop-top for a few years waiting for the right project and I bought a Spanish cedar body blank from Madinter in Spain. I reduced the thickness of the body blank by about 6mm on a router sled to allow for the drop-top and then cut it out on the bandsaw allowing about 3mm extra all round. I didn’t think about taking photos until I’d done all that, so this is the first one. Sorry for the long-winded introduction.


Making the template. I was a draughtsman when I had to work for a living, so I draw my plans in CAD, print them out and stick them to the MDF. I suppose this is going to be what they call a ‘Thinline’, which I gather doesn’t mean it’s any thinner than the others, but that it’s partially hollow. But it won’t have the stylised Fender f-hole which I personally find rather ugly (and useless).



 I use 5mm brass rod as locating dowels. One hole will be under the bridge and doesn’t go right through. The other will be for a neck screw eventually and does go through. I’ll also screw the template down where it might flex when the router bearing presses against it. The template is only for the profile and body cavities. I’ll make another for the pickup routes later.


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Having carefully marked the depth of each cavity I then started taking out the bulk with a Forstner bit in the drill press and realised that I was making the control cavity the same depth as the rest. It should be shallower to allow for an inset cover on the back, so I left a ‘wall’ between what I’d already drilled and the rest of the cavity (which wasn’t on the template).



Then I screwed the template on and cleaned up the cavities with the router. If you look back at the template, you’ll see it’s only cut out for the deepest part of the bass-side cavity. As I wanted to carve the back (for a comfort contour, or whatever it’s called) I routed the deepest part, then took the template off and re-cut it to the next line, put it back on and routed 3 mm shallower. Kept doing this until all the steps were done. If I was planning on making a lot of hollow Teles I’d make multiple templates but I might never make another one.


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I made another template for the pickup cavities but out of 19 mm MDF as it meant I didn’t have to change router cutters and after hogging out and cleaning up, it looked like this. Spanish cedar is quite soft and screwing into end-grain isn’t a very good idea, so, where the strap buttons will be, I drilled holes and glued in hardwood dowels to give the screws something to bite on



I ought to explain that I know next to nothing about pickups. I made my first bass in 2002 and put EMG active JB pickups in it and liked the sound it made. I also liked the fact that they came with volume and tone pots, a jack socket and plug-in wiring. I can now get them post-free from Thomann in Germany so I decided to put EMGs in this guitar. Oh, and my hero bass player Leland Sklar has EMGs in his Frankenstein bass.

If, by any chance, you don’t know who Lee Sklar is, look him up on Wikipedia. The list of people on whose records he’s played is mind boggling.


I meant to drill the hole for the jack socket before routing the cavities (to avoid it making a mess where it breaks through) and then fit a temporary plug so the bearing on the router cutter doesn’t fall into the hole when rounding over the body (been there, done that !). So I had to make a caul for the cavity and did that next. It looks a bit precarious, but I managed it without any disasters.




It’s a counterbored hole for an electrosocket and the plug is held in place by a little caul and a woodscrew.




With the template back in place, I can trim the outside to the finished profile on the make-shift router table. This body might finish up very slightly smaller than it should be, as even this brand new cutter isn’t leaving a perfect surface. It’s going to need some sanding.




Edited by Dave Higham
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noice steps.  I actually do the inside/opposite of my belly cut in an almost identical way.  really does make the route look like a nice swimming pool you could step down into!  folks have commented on it and I thought I was just being lazy but seeing it from the other side (ie someone else doing it) - very nice detail.  great work!!  

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I want as much of the maple top to be visible as possible, so the controls will be fitted from the back which means cutting a hole in it.


A slice off the body offcut to make a control cover. Since I did this I’ve seen how I could have made a matching cover when reducing the thickness of the body blank. Too late now. :(


Made a template for the cover and routed the slice to the template profile.


If the cover needs to be taken off there’s always a chance of losing the tiny screws that usually hold it in place, so I fit them with magnets. Using the cover template to drill holes for the magnets.


The template and the cover fitted with its magnets.


Having routed the recess for the cover, I used the template to drill holes for the magnets in the body so they are aligned with the ones in the cover.



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2 hours ago, Dave Higham said:

You mean by not smoothing out the steps? In my case there'll be no f-hole, so once the top is on it'll never be seen and the weight difference it would make is negligible.

(Thanks for the comments by the way.)

yes, on the first guitar I did that on there was no f hole... it was a strat style.  I had considered going at it with a file but, no one was ever going to see it so I just left it as steps.  Someone commented on it that they liked that detail and I was surprised anyone would mention it... but it actually does look kind of cool.  anywho, great minds think alike.  


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As I’d gone to the trouble of installing hardwood dowels for the strap button screws, I thought I’d better drill pilot holes whilst I could still see where they were.



The small block of MDF has a hole drilled in it on the drill press so it’s perpendicular to the surface. It serves as a rough guide when drilling the holes in the body.


The EMGs are active pickups and need a battery. I prefer a battery box rather than putting it in the control cavity. It’s much easier to change a battery and avoids any chance of damaging the wiring when changing it. It also means that, in theory, the control cover never needs to come off. But the box needs a hole.



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5 hours ago, Bizman62 said:

So much thinking in advance! I'd like to get that skill instead of jumping back and forth and hoping for good luck!

The trick is to make many mistakes, then occasionally remember not to do them the next time around. This is why I constantly make mistakes. To better myself....

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Speaking of mistakes . . .

Moving on to the drop-top. I got this about 10 years ago from Fraser Valley Fine Woods which doesn’t seem to exist anymore, and it’s been waiting for an appropriate project. It was quite cheap, even then, and they were offering free postage on some items. This might have been because the dark spots you can see are actually holes, but I think that, if I’m very careful I can get the Tele top out of it and leave all the holes in the off-cuts.


Gluing the two halves of the top together. This is the way I’ve done it for acoustic tops and backs. The two halves are face down. Sometimes the two halves aren’t exactly the same thickness or they aren’t perfectly flat. The go-bars ensure that the outside face is aligned and any difference in thickness, etc. is on the inside. The less I have to sand off the outside, the better, as the more I sand off, the further away from a perfect book-match it will be.


I thought about making a template for routing the cut-outs in the top for the pickups, but then came to my senses. One can become a bit obsessed by making templates, so I drilled 16 holes, joined them up with the jigsaw and cleaned them up with sanding sticks. They might not be CNC perfect, but they’re pretty close and they’ll be covered by pickup rings.


I decided to drill the holes for the pots and switch before gluing the top to the body, which turned out to be a lucky decision. I used an ordinary drill bit for the two 8mm holes for the pots and didn’t clamp it down and it wandered quite badly. It probably wasn’t as sharp as I thought it was and the very curly grain threw it off centre so the holes were obviously out of line. I should have used a brad-point bit and clamped the top down. I have a small hobby milling machine, so I clamped the top on the machine table and milled two 12mm holes where the 8mm ones should have been. I then plugged the two holes and re-drilled the 8mm hole with a milling cutter. The plugs aren’t invisible, but they’ll be hidden behind the control knobs. What was that about a craftsman hiding his mistakes?



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Hardly that much of a mistake, but yes, being able to work through "logistical eccentricities" are a definitely skill.

As far as template making goes, it really depends on the type of woodworker one is. An imperfect rout that will never be seen during normal use is no different to a surgically-precise one, definitely. Functionally they are both identical and cosmetics don't play a role. Personally I try and make everything beautiful "inside and out" where I can, which is a lofty goal that only matters to me. Again, every craftsman is different and has their own unique pressures guiding them. Certainly, more commercial manufacturers leave all sorts of rough things unseen than don't!

Are those holes in the Maple from insect damage? The streaking from them isn't as profound as in "Ambrosia" Maple. Not always a fault to some, and if anything makes for a more wild piece. They're all very conveniently placed outside of the perimeter which is an excellent stroke of luck.

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I test fitted the pots and switch and found that the top at 6.3mm was too thick. So I routed the control area to 4mm thick from the back.



The drop-top was glued onto the body and trimmed flush but I seem to have forgotten to take any photos. This happens from time to time. I just get involved with what I’m doing and forget about the photos.  Anyway, it's beginning to look like a guitar. I wanted to leave the top its natural colour so I decided to bind the front rather than leave ‘nekkid’ and I thought I ought to do that before finishing the back. Trouble is, I didn’t want to use plastic binding and bending the E.I.Rosewood I have is a bit of a problem. I have a home-made 'Fox'-type bender but the Tele shape doesn't really lend itself to that, and I don't have a bending iron. I have a piece of steel tube about 3" diameter with a halogen bulb inside it, but that's no good for the tight curves on a Tele.



So, lacking a suitable bending iron, I decided to try a different method. I’ve bent smaller bits of binding, for head plates by dropping the piece of  binding in boiling water for a few minutes and then sandwiching it between two forms and drying it out quickly in a low oven. Like this



The binding kept its shape perfectly and finished up like this.



I had to make two jigs, one for the treble side and one for the bass. This is the one for the treble side in its open position.



Here it’s closed. The centre section gets pressed down first, then the ‘horn and the lower bout. The centre and lower bout are common to both jigs. This photo was taken before I re-worked the inside form to allow for the thickness of the binding.



I painted the binding with ‘Supersoft 2’ and wrapped it in cling-film overnight. The next day I found a piece of copper pipe with a cap on one end, slid the piece of binding into it and filled it with boiling water. I left it in there for about 15 minutes changing the water a couple of times. Then took it out, placed it on the former and clamped it to death. This was the bass side.



Once clamped, I warmed the whole thing up with a heat gun and then sat it on a radiator and left it overnight (it wouldn’t fit in the oven). It seems to have worked. There was a fair   bit of spring-back but it’s easily pushed into the right shape. I left them on the formers until I installed them. You may have noticed there’s a third piece of binding. I’ll explain what that’s for later.



Edited by Dave Higham
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I’m putting a white/black purfling on the top so I need to route for that first.



As I’m going to carve a ‘comfort curve’ into the back, it would be nice to make a Strat-type ‘arm-rest’ curve on the top, but that gets complicated with a drop-top. I know some do it and carve through the drop-top, but I’m not keen on that look and anyway, what’s the point of having a beautiful top and carving a great lump of it off  ? Some carve the body before adding the top and bend the top onto the body, but I’ve never tried that and I don’t want to try it here and risk ruining the top. So I decided to try to do an acoustic guitar type of arm bevel, which means routing a second purfling rebate on the top. That’s where the extra piece of binding comes in. The former for bending that extra piece also serves as a routing template.



Then I route for the binding. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of routing for the purfling and installing it before routing for the binding. This turned out to be a mistake because, as hard as I tried, I didn’t get the purfling glued in perfectly so as to leave a ledge exactly the same width to be routed off for the binding. So when I routed for the binding, the cutter took off some of the purfling in places. Take 0.2 mm off a white strip that’s only 0.5 mm wide and the result stands out like a sore thumb. On the other hand, if a 1.5 mm thick binding is only 1.3 mm thick in places, it’s far less noticeable.


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On 9/14/2021 at 10:04 AM, Dave Higham said:



Exceptional! I only just noticed the inlaying (and is that an integrated truss rod cover?) when quoting this. The binding and headplate are clean and true. This is often one the simplest things to do but the hardest to achieve. Wonderful.

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