Pickups for Tele's
It’s not always acknowledged that Leo Fender
’s earliest masterpiece was designed to cover all bases from jazzy archtop to steel guitar. Danny Gatton
understood this, and he even used old Gibson ‘Charlie Christian’ pickups
in the neck position of his Tele before he switched to Bardens. The choice of Tele
neck pickups is still limited today, but there are plenty of options for the bridge that can coax sounds from your T-type
that you never knew were there.
You can get Charlie Christian Tele
neck pickups from Lollar
and others, but they’ll all require some routing work and scratchplate cutting to fit. The scatter-wound Vintage Vibe VT-N-BL shares many features, like the blade and large magnet assembly, and it fits without requiring any mods. There’s a matching bridge pickup too, the VT-B-BL (cost: $155 per set).
These pickups are fitted with Alnico V bar
magnets. They really pack a punch, and dramatically changed the sound of our test guitar. The neck unit gave just about the fattest and loudest neck sound I have ever heard from a T-type, but it’s also clear, exceptionally smooth and jazzy. Although the bridge version, the VT-B-BL, has an output commensurate with a regular Tele
bridge pickup, it sounds warmer, smoother and richer. It would balance up just fine with a stock T-type
neck pickup, but I swapped over to the ceramic magnets for a bit of extra raunch, brightness and output. They’re hot pickups, but not in the conventional sense. These have a clear, almost hi-fi quality that’s massive but also very balanced, refined and quack-free.
In the almost inconceivable event that your T-type
isn’t twangy enough, the GFS Pro Tube
($37.95) is a Danelectro
'. We have some issues with the quality: the pickup isn’t aligned properly on its base plate, so the slant doesn't match the slant of the hole in the bridge plate. Also, the ground connection wasn't soldered securely to its tag, so it came adrift, necessitating a quick repair.
But no reservations about the sound. It's brighter than a regular T-type pickup, but refreshingly lacking in quack. It seems to be wound to 'vintage' Danelectro
specs, because it’s cooler than a Danelectro Pro reissue
. It’s super-clear without being too edgy, and the bass has an appealing hollow quality with a hint of midrange scoop. Country pickers and surfers will love these, and the metal-covered neck looks really cool.
Quite a few companies make P90
soundalikes for Teles
, and we got hold of a Fralin Steel Poled 43 bridge pickup
(£69.95). Jangly, chiming highs replace the squealing T-type
treble, while the mids are punchy and the lows are tight. You get that slightly boxy low-mid roar of a regular P90
, but perhaps with a bit more clarity, bass and touch-sensitivity. Imagine a cross between an LP Junior
and a T-type – it’s a roaring success.
Have you ever imagined what the natural bite and twang of a Tele
might sound like with a hot humbucker
and Seymour Duncan
offer plenty of options. Those of a cooler disposition might try teaming a Seymour Duncan Little '59
(£79.95) with an STR 2 single coil
(£54.95) in the neck. The Little ’59 has ceramic bar magnets and adjustable polepieces. It’s wound to 17K but it certainly didn’t overpower the STR 2
. The sound is fat and rocky, with that slightly nasal midrange and phasey softness on the bass strings that characterises vintage style PAFs. A Tele bridge will give it a slightly metallic bite, but tonally the balance between the neck and bridge pickups is closer than you’ll find with many stock T-type
pickups. I also liked the STR 2
. Many players will find it more lively and less muffled than some Tele neck pickups, but it’s not radically different.
For harder rock and metal there’s the DiMarzio Super Distortion T DP318
(£67). This pickups is very loud, but it’s much clearer and tighter than the Little '59
, especially in the lows. With a stock guitar, you might consider installing a 500K or 1Meg volume pot to retain the high frequencies. Even the STR 2 was a bit overwhelmed, but the 'inbetween' sound was phenomenal. Like the Little '59, you can install push-pull switches to get series, parallel and coil tap tones. This would be an awesome on an Esquire, and you could use the stock selector switch instead.
2. Guitar Setups | Changing Pickups pt1 | Pick ups for Tele