Upgrading a Squier CV Telecaster -
– Or making it fit!

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On Gear-Review we’ve tackled two different guitar builds over the years, early on in the site’s history we put together a modular guitar system and most recently built one made from custom parts. Due to the positive comments from many of our readers, who found these articles useful as reference in their own projects, we decided to pursue a slightly different project the upgrading or modification of an existing guitar.

The guitar chosen for the upgrade is a Squier Classic Vibe Custom Telecaster, an instrument which we have previously reviewed, and is good value for money. This gives us a standard platform from which to build upon.


Stock Guitar.

Tools of the Trade

As I have found out during previous projects, it is very important to have the correct tools, I know it may sound like a bit of a cliché but until you get stuck in you won’t realise what is really required in this department.

Here is a short list of tools that you may find useful or even indispensable for such a project.

·         A large flat, clean work surface – protect this with an old towel or bubble wrap to avoid damage to the parts.

·         Drill and assorted small wood drill bits – if possible cordless with variable speed.
A bench based drill is even better but maybe less accessible to some.

·         Assorted screwdrivers. Make sure these are good quality and have a decent gripping area, will be especially important for the small screws the tuners use.

·         Candle wax – to ease screws into the hardwood.

·         Soldering iron (25/40/50 watt or variable) and solder.

·         Cutters

·         Small Scissors.

·         Small Wrench set.

The New Parts

Here’s where the fun starts! There are hundreds of different parts to choose from, better tuners, different pickups, improved bridges, and so on.

Basically you need to decide in which sonic direction your instrument needs to go. Sometimes it’s as obvious as needing an improvement to an existing component, or you just may just want to change the look or sound of your instrument.

For our project we decided to keep the basic look of the Tele but go a bit wild and upgrade just about every aspect of the instrument.

Below are the parts used.

·         Kent Armstrong Humbucker Sized P90.

·         New Pickguard for above.

·         Kent Armstrong Hot Single Coil Bridge.

·         Kluson Deluxe Tuners.

·         Electrosocket Jack.

·         Complete rewire with CTS components.

·         Bigbsy Tremolo * (Will be reviewed separately.)

Also I think it’s important to note that upgrades such as these can be done separately and over a period of time so you can access the improvements to your instrument as each section of the project is completed.

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We Start

The first thing that I always tend to do before starting any project is to take account of all the parts involved and ensure these fit. I always have a trial run and just go over the processes for each separate job that needs doing and play out the installation to see if any issues come up.

Wiring Things Up

The first task I decided to tackle was the wiring and electronics. On Telecaster type guitars , some of this work can be done away from the instruments, but unlike with a Stratocaster’s completely self-contained electronics, the final assembly is to be done in place.

First of all I assembled the volume and tone potentiometers (pots) onto the control plate and next added the 3 – way switch. Then I proceeded to solder in the capacitors and wires that have no link the body cavity and can be done away from the guitar.

Top Tip: Use scissors to cut the cloth covering on the wire, sometimes it’s even easier to push the wire out, cut the whole length of cloth for both ends and then push the wire back in.

Tuner Removal and Installation


Tuner Installation

Next I decided to work on the tuners. This involves removing the strings, taking out the old tuners and bushings and then installing the new ones.

Very important for this task ensure you have a good quality screwdriver that has a good gripping surface. The screw heads for the tuners are usually quite small and can be stripped very easily.

Top Tip: use a little candle wax to ease the screws into the hardwood, avoid soap as this introduces moisture into the wood.

The first task is to remove the strings, do this as usual (use a string winder) and set them to one side if you wish to reuse them later.

Then unscrew the tuners taking care not to strip the screws. Once the tuners are removed, then tap out the bushings, for the ones that where hard to push out I used a small socket driver to apply some pressure.

To install the new tuners, the bushings where installed by simply pressing them in. These were a bit loose due the slightly different hole size (this is quite common in import guitars) so I used some Teflon tape to keep them in place.

Then the tuners were installed one a time. This quite didn’t work out however as the screw holes were not lining up by a few millimetres on some of the tuners. So as the famous saying states “If Mohamed cannot go to the mountain, the mountain will come to Mohamed”. I reversed the situation, I removed the bushings, installed the tuners and then added the bushings once the tuners where lined up. I suspect the Teflon tape might have been pushing the bushings out of centre and misaligning the screw holes.

Once done reinstall strings and tune to concert pitch to test the tuners which seemed fine.

Bridge Pickup

On a Telecaster type guitar the bridge pickup is normally mounted directly onto the bridge hardware. Although we do envisage upgrading the bridge within this project this is something I will look into at a later stage. After removing the bridge, the stock pickup was removed and the new one installed in place. The wires where then threaded into the control cavity and the whole bridge assembly installed again.


Bridge Pickup

Cutting the Screws

 

 

 

 




Socket.

The next task I decided to complete was that of installing the jack socket. The type chosen is the electrosocket variety which is very simple to install when compared to the regular Telecaster one. The jackplate was presented in place and then pilot holes were drilled and fitted with the screws provided.

Once this was done I took it all apart and soldered the two lead wires onto the input jack, leaving some slack to be cut to size later.

Neck Pickup

The pickup chosen for the neck is a humbucker sized Kent Armstrong p90, which I thought would give some extra warmth to the sound and a bit more grit than the standard single coil when using overdrive. For easy adjustments the pickup was mounted on to a new pickguard with pre-drilled screw holes.

Note: In my case the instrument already has a humbucker sized cavity routed in the body, please take this into consideration when choosing a new pickup. If your route is different to the pickup size some carpentry skills will be required!

Top Tip:If changing the size of pickup I would advise getting a new pickguard with a pre-cut slot for the pickup and pre-drilled holes if you decide to mount it on the pickguard.

First thing to do was to disconnect the old pickup from the wiring and remove the pickguard. Then the new pickup was mounted onto the new guard with the provided mounting screws and springs. Upon doing this I noticed the guard was not sitting well into the control cavity. To solve this issue I worked out the desired pickup height and then cut the excess on the screws using a dremmel tool. I also burred the end of the threads to avoid the screw coming off the pickup housing.

Once this was done I strung up the two outer E’s to check the pole pieces where aligned and then restrung the guitar.

Restrung

Control Plate

Now that the pickguard was in place the control plate was fitted, aligned and also then screwed into place permanently.

Top Tip: Be sure to check that the control plate lines up squarely with bridge and that it fits well into the pickguard recess.

Wiring


Electronics

Now that all the major components are in place the final step is to wire everything into place.

For this you will need a good quality soldering iron, I would recommend a 25 watt for general wiring, and a 45-50 watt for soldering items requiring more heat like control pots. You could also purchase a variable wattage iron but these tend to be expensive.

For Soldering Tips Please Click Here:

Following the wiring diagram provided I carefully soldered the points keeping a close eye on which wires are live or go to ground, I made sure to leave enough excess to be able to remove the control plate for any further work but on the other hand, not leaving so much as not to be able to fit the same.

Top Tip: Make sure you protected the guitars surface with some bubble wrap or a thick cloth, to aovid any damage should any hot solder fall onto the guitar body.

Bridge.

Originally I had envisaged adding a Bigsby Tremolo to the instrument but after completing all the other modifications I will be deferring this to a more detailed article by itself.

It is quite possible however to easily swap the current bridge for a better quality one such as the Wilkinson with compensated saddles.

Testing

Now that I was done, the moment of truth arrived! I plugged the Telecaster into my trusty Blues Junior amp and in sprung into life. The p90 providing warm rich tones and the hot rails with that classic Tele sparkle. I did however need to adjust the height of the pickups to balance out the volume differences between both. The guitar keeps tune well much better than with the original tuners, and the electronics are quiet and reliable.

Knobs and Switch Tip

And lastly the final touch the switch tip was added, and the two chrome knurled knobs where installed by simply tightening the grub screw.

Conclusion

A great project, which brought a lot of insight into guitar modification.

Text & Photos By Ernest H Slade  - 10th October 2012

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