Telecaster Deluxe Variations: Six Pickups and Some Weird Wiring

Fender’s Telecaster Deluxe has had an interesting and checkered history. Once regarded as yet another mediocre product from the company’s era of CBS ownership, these turn-of-the-seventies instruments now fetch huge prices on the collector’s market. I’ve never owned own. But when singer/songwriter Greer Sinclair loaned me one of Fender’s 2010 reissues, it was time for research — and experimentation.

The made-in-Mexico 1972 Deluxe reissue is a cool guitar. It replicates many details of the original: the oversized headstock, the Strat-like belly cut and fixed Strat-style bridge, and the big-ass pickguard. But its pickups are definitely a departure. In lieu of the original’s large-format “Wide Range” pickups, it employs a P-94R (a humbucker-sized P-90 spinoff) at the neck, and a conventional Gibson-style humbucker at the bridge.

The Wide Range pickup was a unique beast. Fender had commissioned Seth Lover, the man who invented the Gibson humbucker, to create a Fender humbucker in hopes of cashing in on the growing popularity of hard rock. With DC resistance in the 10k range, the new Wide Range pickup was a bit hotter than a vintage Gibson humbucker. Wide Range pickups appeared in several of the era’s models, including the Tele Thinline, Tele Custom, and semi-hollowbody Starcaster.

Gibson humbuckers have a bar magnet within, but the pole pieces are not magnetic. But on Wide Range pickups, the pole pieces are magnetic, as on Fender’s single-coil pickups. Situating individual magnets closer to the strings yield a brighter sound with greater note defition and string-to-string separation — characteristics we associate with vintage Fender pickups. So the Wide Range pickup lent a uniquely “Fender” twist to the Gibson design.

Wide Range pickups are slightly larger than conventional humbuckers. Most of Fender’s circa-1970 Tele reissues substitute generic humbuckers of the standard size. Standard humbuckers can sound superb in a Tele, but they’re horses of different colors. Fender has also created some reissues with the larger-sized pickups, but these are also garden-variety humbuckers — the larger format is purely cosmetic. The pole pieces of the factory humbucker on Greer’s guitar don’t align with Fender’s wider string spacing. (But one thing I’ve leaned from my various Fender/Gibson hybrid experiments is that sonically, this can matter very little.)

The P-94R’s cream-colored top looks wicked against the guitar’s finish. It’s a warm, full-sounding pickup from the mellower side of the P-90 spectrum. Actually, it doesn’t sound all the different from a traditional Telecaster neck pickup. (Like that pickup, it works quite well for jazz.) Note, though, that its dimensions differs substantially from those of a Gibson P-90, as you can the in the photo where it sits alongside a historically accurate Lollar P-90. When you change the size of a pickup’s components, you inevitably alter the sound. The tones can be for better or worse — but they will be different.

Before moving on to a pair of Regals, Jason Lollar’s ultra-authentic Wide Range replicas, I popped in a set of Lollar’s humbucker-sized Charlie Christian pickups. This is the same model I used for my “Are Charlie Christian Pickups Only For Jazz?” post and video. These are some of the lowest-output pickups you can buy today, yet they have a nice, full sound. They often have a rough-edged quality, like a more extreme version of a vintage P-90. Despite their swing-era associations, they sound kller distortion. (Danny Gatton used a CC pickup in his Tele’s neck position, but I dig them at the bridge position too.)

To install the larger-format Lollar pickups, I need to order a new pickguard from Pickguard Heaven. (Fun fact: The company is run by Paul and Adrienne Chandler, who made some very cool guitars and pedals in the ’80s and ’90s when they ran Chandler Industries.) While swapping pickups and pickguards, I redid all the guitar’s wiring. Tele Deluxes are wired like Les Pauls with an individual volume and tone control per pickup. I usually replace these with master volume and tone controls. With Les Paul-style wiring, lowering the volume of one pickup while in the combined position always feels underwhelming to me. There’s a tiny bit of variation at the top end of the volume pots, but below that, one pickup predominates entirely. (The A500K pot taper works fine as a volume control, but it sucks as a blend pot.) Likewise, dialing in contrasting tone settings in the combined pickup position never does much for me. I’d rather use the freed-up control positions for something different.

I installed a Stellartone ToneStyler as the master tone control. (There’s lots of info about this part on this site — just search.) While I would have loved to add onboard distortion, I cringe at the thought of removing that mondo pickguard for battery changes. Instead, I added a bass-cut tone control as in the G&L “PTB” wiring scheme. And for the final control, I borrowed an idea from the Stellartone site: a 25K blend pot upstream from the ToneStyler.

See, on a traditional tone pot, the cap value determines the cutoff frequency. The tone pot shunts signal to ground, varying the amount of treble cut as that specific frequency. But ToneStylers aren’t pots — they’re switches. The part houses a set of capacitors of escalating size. Changing switch positions changes the cap/cutoff frequency, not the depth of the cut. To my ear, this substitution adds power and interesting resonance to the treble-cut settings. Here, though, the blend pot is a depth control, so you have both selectable cutoff frequency and adjustable cutoff depth. Is it a worthily mod? I’m not sure yet. I need to get used to it.

Thanks again, Greer, for loaning me this cool instrument!

9 comments to Telecaster Deluxe Variations: Six Pickups and Some Weird Wiring

  • mike

    Hi Joe – great video and timely, I also am starting a WRHB build (Telenator T3 set, half cunife threaded pole pieces half alnico slugs). If I send them to you could you wire the tonestyler/bass cut/depth 25k and 1000mg master as you did with the Lollars? I’ll compensate you for the parts and time, and you could do a comparison video with the setup for a part two video?
    Signed/pain-in-the-a$$ fan#1

  • Joe Gore

    Trust me, Mike — you don’t want me working on your guitar. I have a good ear and a creative mind, I think, but my craft skills are terrible. On the other hand, any good guitar tech should be able to do this wiring for you if you provide the schematics. All this stuff is in a Premier Guitar article from a few years ago: https://www.premierguitar.com/articles/21112-three-must-try-guitar-wiring-mods?page=3

  • mike

    …While i was typing that it seemed like a great idea – then i hit send and thought “wait Joe seems a pretty busy guy and I’m fairly certain he doesn’t make ends meet as Joe the guitar tech for random guitar nerds”. Thanks for the reply, I appreciate all your videos, seriously you were one of the reasons i starting picking up the guitar after a long hiatus (alongside discovering sonic youth and My bloody valentine and wanting to learn how to do what they do). You’re doing God’s work in a vast wasteland of unwanted modern guitar wankery. Keep it up and can’t wait to see what you’ve got coming next.

    • Joe Gore

      Oh no — I’m flattered you asked. I’m not just being though, or making an excuse not to help out. I’m a clever slob at the workbench, but a slob nonetheless. 🙂

  • marcel duval

    hey joe i was wondering about your switchable booster buffer pedal i want to add a led to know when i’m on the buffer circuit but don’t know where to connect it can you help me out

  • Really enjoyed listening to your vid through good headphones–just the sort of info/experience I crave for my own imaginatings with regard to my own guitars, especially my standard-style Tele, which is cringing over in the corner even as I write this. For starters, I have a Tom Anderson neck-position humbucker that I’m thinking of installing. Routing, new pickguard, new electronics! This won’t hurt a bit…

    • Joe Gore

      Thanks for the kind words, Blake. I’m glad you found it in formative. I’ve never tried that pickup — let me know how the project turns out!

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