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Thread: Let's build a Tele....well, almost...

  1. #1

    Let's build a Tele....well, almost...

    I thought it might be fun to show the building of a prototype. I'm starting from basically nothing on this particular one because it's much different than what I normally build. I'm waiting on some wood, though, and even after it shows it will take a bit of time to acclimate, so I have nothing to do for a couple of weeks (very bad planning on my part...WOOPS). I've had this project kicking around in the back of my head for a while now so I figure now's a good time to explore it a bit.

    It's not actually a Tele copy but it will be reminiscent of a Tele. It's fitting as that is the only factory guitar I really play anymore these days, so I figured I should add one to my line up.

    It will be an alder body with a flamed maple top (not AAA flame, but this is just a prototype so it's good enough). No binding. No chambers planned at the moment, but if I feel it is too heavy as I start roughing it out, it may get some lightening holes to make it more comfortable for the pro musician.

    It will be a bolt on neck, but will be Honduran mahogany with a pau ferro fingerboard and slightly wider than the standard tele neck....25" scale.

    The body will be very reminiscent of a Tele, but with some key changes. My necks join at the 17th fret on the bass side, and 19th on the treble side. The cutaway will be rather drastically changed to accommodate this, and also to give better access to the upper frets, but I've tried to keep the look and feel very similar. I don't see any point in copying the Tele...there are far too many builders that make world class Teles, including Fender, so why bother?

    I haven't decided what to do about the nut yet....slotted into the fingerboard? Eh...maybe. I think I may just butt it up against the end of the fingerboard. We'll see.

    Bridge will see a Barden pickup...neck will see a Duncan 59'. All my guitars have a 59' in the neck, actually...and why not?

    Anyhow, for a bit of fun, follow along. Being that this is a prototype and will be thrown together quickly, I'm likely to make a bunch of mistakes along the way, and it's always fun to watch other people mess up!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Mandalay Shores, CA
    Blog Entries
    I'll bewatching this. My son likes my tele so much, he wants to build his own. Mine is mostly an original 72 tele custom. I've replaced the Seth Lover pickup with a Gibson Burstbucker III. I also updated the bridge plate so I didn't cut my hand as much and cut a new pickguard.

    I was suggesting putting a quilted maple top cap and ebony binding, but he wants simple paint. Who knows, maybe we'll do two at a time.

    "a little mayhem breaks up the ennui of everyday life"
    "be the change you want to see in the world"
    "adventure is hardship seen from a distance"

  3. #3

    I decided on a different pickup than the Barden. I gave the Seymour Duncan custom shop a call this morning and they're building me a Tele style pickup voiced to my specs. I really love the Barden pickups, but again I'm not setting out to make a Tele copy...too many of those already. Anyhow, just sort of interesting how things evolve.

    Pics to follow tonight.

  4. #4
    Okay, so here we go. Here is the basic shape.

    It looks an awful lot like a Tele, but it's actually quite different, especially around the lower horn. The pattern is just made out of 1/4" MDF.

    The white cutout you see is a tracing I made from my personal Telecaster just as a comparison. You can see how much different it really is, and how much improved the fret access and comfort will be.

    Here's a neat little tool that Cumpiano taught me to make. You take a piece of paper and draw out the neck and bridge full scale, with a bunch of important points marked off (pickup positions, key frets...I join at the 17th and 19th so those are marked). The neck part of it is actually correct for the taper. Then you put little diamonds on the center line at some key points so that you can see you centerline. The acoustic one is more complex and more important, but it's quite useful or electrics too and only takes a few minutes to construct.

    You can see how useful this is as a layout tool.

  5. #5

    While I'm at it showing patterns and the like, here's my standard neck taper template. It works for a 25" scale, 1.675" nut width, and a 2 1/16" bridge spacing. Now, the bridge spacing isn't all that critical....a bit wider or narrower and the neck still works fine. As a practical matter, this template gets used on practically every 25" scale neck I make though it wouldn't be a big deal to do any custom nut width or taper I wanted. This just reduces the chance to make a mistake.

    Better shot of the template. No rocket science here.

    What I want to do is mark out some screw hole locations so I can screw down the template. This is much easier than double sided tape. With tape, it's difficult to reposition and get things right on the centerline. Screwing it down makes it easier. Here I'm using a pickup routing template to mark the first hole through the pickup location. I won't need to do this in the future, but remember that I'm starting this guitar from scratch and had to make my templates and drawing from scratch...and they're not quite fully finished yet so I'll be modifying them and updating them as I go along and figure things out.

    Here I do the same for the bridge pickup, again using pieces and parts from my personal Tele as the real parts have not shown up yet. Even at these beginning stages, you can see just how useful that pattern is.

    Drill a couple of holes, and voila.

    Put it on the body this case, it's a 2 piece Alder blank that I glued up a couple of days ago.

    Trace is out. Note all the little notes to myself on the blank....arrows, notes, marking off imperfections. Now is NOT a good time to screw up or I will end up with expensive firewood.

    Take it to the band saw and cut it out. Maybe you didn't notice but I left my outline intentionally much thicker than a normal pencil line. I blunt the edge before cutting. Then I know that I can hit the line, and even split the line, and I will still not cut too far.

  6. #6

    Then I tossed it through the drum sander as a final cleanup. I do this after cutting it out so I'm not sanding off a bunch of material that will just get cut away later. Can you spot the joint? I thought it was the mark I was pointing to. I was seriously scratching my head trying to figure out how on earth I let myself make such a bad joint.

    Well, it took some looking but here's where the REAL centerline is. That mark is just that....a mark. What's neat is that often time it's difficult to tell it's a two piece body, even when I leave it a natural finish, and even without book matching. Alder is a marvelous wood to work with.

    Bring the template back and mark for the pilot holes.

    Screw it down...take it over to the router table and.....

    There you go...a nice, cleaned up blank.

    Now I'm going to make a route from the neck pickup to the bridge pickup for wiring. I don't over complicate this. I just use the router and an edge guide. I have a template that is exactly the same width as the edge of the router to the center of the bit. That in combination with a straight edge makes this an easy job.

    I keep some sandpaper stuck to the back of this particular straight edge....SACRILEGE!!! It gives the straight edge some good bite.

    Line up the template where I want the route to go, butt the straight edge up to it, clamp it down.....

    And there's my properly spaced edge guide.

    Then it's child's play to use a plunge router and make this little route.

    Now I need to do a similar route to the control cavity....Out comes the pattern again. The control cavity on the tele is right below the I mark out the saddle location...

    Use a square to extend that line....and this is no ordinary square

    Another Cumpiano trick. Take an machinist square to an edge of the plastic triangle, and scribe a 90 degree line. It's now child's play to line that up with the centerline and mark perpendicular lines.

    Connect the dots. I forget exactly how I arrived at the proper position for that line. If it all works out in the end, though, I'll make a paper template for this so it's easy to mark out for next time.

    Same drill, and done. Not sure why I didn't take a picture of the final route, but believe me, it's there.
    Last edited by John Coloccia; 02-22-2012 at 11:25 PM.

  7. #7

    A random shot of my clamp storage. It doesn't need to be any more complex than this. The slots were made by drilling holes at the rear of the slot, and then cutting the sides with a bandsaw. It's then just screwed onto a 2X4. Nothing fancy and it works very well.

    Here's the top. Some moderately figured maple. I had already resawed and joined this top and had it laying around. I mark it, bandsaw out the shape (roughly).....

    And clamp it. This is the last time I clamp it like this. I've been doing it like this for years. I just ordered 10 press screws and I will make a press for next time. Doing it like this is OK for an occasional builder, this is ridiculous considering how often I do this. LOL. My glue of choice for this is Titebond Extend, BTW.

    And here it is. I didn't bother to wipe up any drips. They'll just get routed away in the next step anyhow.

    I simply take it back over to the router table and route the top flush, extending the bit high enough to knock off the glue drips too. BTW, here's how an expensive Whiteside bit cuts.....

    And here's how a piece of junk "Carbtech" bit cuts. This bit came out of a cheap set I bought years and years ago. I think this is just the second time I've used this bit. I just wanted to see how it worked. What a piece of junk. I tossed it, and will probably just toss the entire set next time I think about it.

    But there you have it...the basic body blank. The hole at the top is where I drove a screw to help align the top to the back. I just drove it through the neck pocket location.
    Last edited by John Coloccia; 02-23-2012 at 6:44 AM.

  8. #8


    Now on to the neck.....I'm not very organized, but there is SOME method to my madness. At least my fingerboard are neatly stacked and stickered.

    Here's some nice honduran mahogany neck wood. I need to cut more blanks soon.

    Here is why you cut blanks ahead of time and let them sit around. Can you guess which one I'm NOT going to use for a neck? I will take that one and probably use it for heels, headstock "wings" and things of that nature. The other two are OK.

    I cleaned up the blank (it was rough off the bandsaw so I squared it all up) and then did the layout for the truss rod. Again, out comes that pattern.

    Now at this point, it's fairly important that you establish a centerline. It doesn't actually have to be on the center, but after routing the truss channel, wherever that channel ends up IS your centerline forever more. I'm sure to mark this all around. If I just mark it on top, I will loose it when I route the truss rod, so I'm sure to mark it down the sides too.

    I use this little "centering" tool to help line everything up.

    The little piece of tape on the fence has a mark on it that represents the end of the router bit. In this particular case, I do not want to route all the way down the neck blank...I want it to stop. On my standard neck I would just route from one end to the other and not have to worry about stopping.

    I find having the router on a foot switch to be supremely convenient.

    Anyhow, done. Again, no rocket science here.

    Here's the fit.

    Now I make a filler strip to go on top of the truss rod. I COULD have fit the rod flush and not used a strip but my experience is that this can leave the rod slightly loose and lead to a rattle. When this strip goes in it will compress the top of the rod a bit and the whole thing will be very tight and will never rattle. I'm just sizing this strip with my little Lie-Neilsen model maker plane. Note that I'm just using a bench dog as a stop. No need for anything more complicated than this.


    Some small globs of caulk at the bottom of the channel...again this will prevent rattles. It will also prevent the rod from "singing" by making sure there's always something in contact with it to dampen it.

    The threads get a bit of oil and then vaseline, and in it goes...filler strip goes on top with a bit of glue, and....

    Last edited by John Coloccia; 02-23-2012 at 9:06 AM.

  9. #9

    Then it just all gets planed flush. I also cut out around the truss rod nut.

    Hey, I forgot to mention that I square off the truss rod channel with a chisel....this is out of sequence, but you can't forget to do that.

    Now we'll make some pockets for carbon fibre rods. I've been doing this around the heel area, lately. I'm starting to notice that a very stiff heel seems to help keep the bass notes from getting too flubby. I can't explain it but I have to go with my observations, and that's what I've been observing. So now I use a couple of short pieces of carbon fibre to really stiffen up that area. Again, just down on the router table, and again I will square up the slots.

    And in they go....

    With filler strips on top and on the end too. It looks sloppy at the end but that will all get cut away. I just used scrap wood as filler...whatever I had handy. You'll notice on one strip that there's a chunk missing. I was a bit too aggressive and ripped out a chunk of wood. I will probably just leave it and not even bother fixing this. If it wasn't a prototype, I would simply remove it and redo that one piece, but it's really completely unnecessary. The only reason I would do it is so if someone works on the guitar in the future, he doesn't come away thinking I'm a bad and sloppy builder. This is just a prototype so I won't bother.

    Then I went ahead and trimmed the end of the it all looks nice and neat again. For you SawStop guys, like me, remember that carbon fibre is careful around your machine. Notice the marking on the neck. I'm getting ready to thickness and taper the neck. These marking will tell me where to start and stop.

    I tack glue some blocks right on these marks with a few drops of white glue.

    This particular neck will be slightly (.01") thinner than my standard neck. My standard neck tapers from .82 at the first fret to .9 at the 12th. This neck will go .81" at the first to .89 at the 12th. My fingerboard is .250", so without the fingerboard I need the neck to be .640" at the 12th fret. Here's something I do a lot. I set my calipers to the proper measurement and then I use that to mark.
    Last edited by John Coloccia; 02-22-2012 at 11:31 PM.

  10. #10

    Here's the standard taper jig....big letters reminding me which way things go.

    It has my standard taper built in.

    I use double sided tape to stick the neck down and bring it over to the drill press with a Wagner Safe-T-Planer in it. Regrettably, this is a discontinued product due to the guy retiring. He made them right here in the USA. You can get a similar one made in China somewhere, but it's a piece of junk. Better than nothing, I suppose, but the Wagner version is a thing of beauty. I'm still a bit upset knowing that if something happens to this one, I'm out of luck and will need to rethink a bunch of my building steps.

    I use an auxiliary table with the SafeTPlaner. Notice the sheet of paper underneath the left front side of the table That ensures that leading edge of the tool is always the lowest point. If you don't do this, the tool can grab very unpredictable and you will not have a good time. Also, you run this thing FAST... I crank it to as fast as my drill press will go....3000RPM in my case. If you don't read the directions and you don't do these two things, this tool will not work well. A lot of people complain about this tool but I think it's because they don't us it the way it's meant to be used and they never read the directions.

    So there you have it.....

    This is now the finished dimension of the neck. It's just SLIGHTLY thicker than necessary, actually but that will come down during final sanding.

    I noticed a little imperfection around the heel area so I brought it back over to the DP, and remove the heel entirely, just continuing the taper. Then I glued on a new heel. That fixes's acceptable to do a stacked heel.

    That's all for tonight.
    Last edited by John Coloccia; 02-23-2012 at 6:54 AM.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Yorktown, VA
    The step-by-step and photos are very much appreciated!!

  12. #12
    Sorry it's been a while since I had some updates, but I had some repair work to do. I've been working this on and off for a few days, snapping pictures here and there. The majority of the work was done today, though...

    Anyhow, here goes:

    So we end up with this's all oversize at the moment. I can trim it all off later.

    Next, I get to work on a fingerboard. Like most of my guitars, this has a Pau Ferro fingerboard, my current favorite by far. I will thickness it in the drum sander, and then square an edge

    That edge is used against the fence on my fret slot jig. This setup is no more. The motor has developed far too much play and has been replaced with a small, old 'arn radial arm saw. I need to redo my jig to accommodate the different saw, but I think my accuracy will improve.

    Voila...a slotted fingerboard

    I still haven't decided on how to hold in the nut, so I cut the nut slot Fender style just in case. I can trim it flush or do something different later on.

    BTW, someone once asked me how I align my jigs to the blade.

    I clamp a couple of squares to the blade, and line them up with a straight edge

    And then I align the jig to the squares.

  13. #13
    Now it's time to layout the headstock. I like keeping my designs simple and to the point. Remove what doesn't belong, and don't add what's not necessary. After a bit of head scratching and brainstorming with the old ball and chain (who's lovingly looking over my shoulder as I write this), I came up with a simple little design, and did all of the layout work.

    Knowing how to do basic drafting and transferring measurements using things like a compass are a real time saver here. Then I put some tracing paper on top, copied over the outline....

    Glued it to some MDF with spray adhesive.....

    Cut it out with the bandsaw....

    And finally smoothed it to perfection with drum sanders, rasps, files, whatever it takes. BTW, this template is a little wider than the widest neck I ever intend to make. It's designed to be used in two steps. Line up one end with the fingerboard and route, and then do the same with the other side. My 3+3 headstock is simply oversized on both side, gets lined up with the centerline, and I blend the neck into the headstock by hand. Either way is fine, but having a template designed for an exact fit every time sure is convenient.

    Now let's get back to the fingerboard. I tape it down to my tapering template (shown), rough cut on the bandsaw, and trim on the router table. Then I will lay out for the fret markers, if any

    Here's how I find the exact center of the fret quickly. I measure the fret......

    Divide by 2, set the calipers to that measurement and use them to make a little mark in the masking tape that I then darken with pencil. Perfect everytime.

    I buy most of my mother of pearl from Masecraft in Connecticut. Their selection is ridiculous and everything is very high quality. The little dots you see are side markers....

    But we're looking for the 1/4" fret markers. Any bigger than 1/4" and you will have trouble fitting them when you get to the upper frets.

    No rocket science here. I use a forstener bit to drill the holes. The most important part is that they are absolutely centered on the center line. Even a small deviation here will be obvious. For markers that are off center (such as the second marker at the 12th fret), I will make it slightly deeper than I think it needs to be. Once the fingerboard is radiused, it would be disastrous to find that I wasn't deep enough at the edges. I would never be able to make a clean hole again. If I'm too deep, it's no big deal. I'll just build up with a pinch of sawdust before installing the dot. These look a little wavy here, but it's just the frayed edges of the tape. I never get them absolutely perfect, but usually they're pretty good
    Last edited by John Coloccia; 03-01-2012 at 9:03 PM.

  14. #14

    Here's a new technique I learned for aligning the fingerboard during the glueup. Put it in position, line it up, and tack glue some guide blocks to the neck. All that will get cut off later anyhow.

    It makes a little channel....

    Glue onto the fingerboard....

    Slide it into the channel, and clamp.

    When it's dry, knock off the guide blocks and done. This isn't a bad way of doing it, actually.

    I trace out the headstock shape onto the headstock....

    And rough cut it on the band saw

    I also mark and cut the thickness of the headstock....again, just done on the bandsaw

    The last little cut to release the waste is done by hand with my trusty Veritas crosscut saw. I love these saws. I'm just using a dog as a bench hook.
    Last edited by John Coloccia; 03-01-2012 at 12:31 AM.

  15. #15


    Now I start to roughly carve the transition into the headstock

    With one of these bad boys

    And then I'll use spindle or belt sanders to smooth out the shape a bit. This is still's just getting rid of a lot of waste.

    The final shaping is down by hand. Notice how I knocked off the Fender nut slot. I decided a couple of days ago that I didn't like that after, and that I would do something a little different, but try to pay homage to the original Fender design.

    I marked off, using a dummy nut that I keep around for such purposes, where I want the slot to be.

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