Telecaster, also known as Tele, is the world’s first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar. According to many music players, a telecaster is one of the most straightforward instruments to adjust and it is capable of creating such massive hits in many genres: country, reggae, rock, pop, folk, soul to metal, punk, jazz, indie rock,…and so on. However, everything has its own speciality and if you do not know how to set up a telecaster properly, it will take its toll on your telecaster as well as your time and efforts.
Since we are all music lovers and have a huge respect for the legendary telecasters, it must be never enough for us to gain further insights into telecasters, whether we are just beginners, intermediates or even professionals.
If you are looking for a place to know more about how to set up a telecaster, or just simply want to share your special tips and private experiences with your telecaster, you are coming to the right place.
So In order to know how to set up a telecaster and to revise your knowledge, shall we start browsing through these guidelines in order:
- How to set up a telecaster in details
- Additional Hints
How to set up a telecaster in details
Step 1: Evaluation
There are a great deal of players who usually defy this step but they do not realize that this is perceived as the first and foremost rule if you want to set up your telecaster smoothly.
Looking outside, there is maybe nothing wrong with your telecaster, however, it is on the inside that determines your telecaster’s quality and you should never skip the initial evaluation step.
In this first stage, you would like to check every spot of the telecaster in order to seek as many issues as possible. The sooner the damages are spotted, the better your telecaster is fixed and addressed properly. By doing this, you also do not need to waste time and effort returning your telecaster back to the store for the warranty.
So in this first step, I’m going to show you 4 things that easily got imperfections and some tips to adjust them.
The first thing that should be taken into account in the “How to set up a telecaster” lesson is the electronics. There is nothing worse than taking your telecaster home and soon realizing that its jack, pots, pickups and switches are not working, believe me.
So first of all, your instrument must be connected to a source of energy and check all of these spots to ensure that they are still capable of functioning well. If there are any electronic-related problems, you will soon figure it out and have suitable methods.
After having seen and played numerous telecasters, I realize the most familiar problem of a telecaster is the jack hole that is designed to plug the 1/4″ jack in. It usually gets slack or keeps dropping out. It’s like the jack is not fit for the purpose-designed hole.
One of the main reasons for this situation is the 4 small points that poke in the body of the telecaster in the opening. While you plug the jack in the cup, it will stay against a rectangular hook with these 4 points. The jack’s threaded shaft goes through a gap in the claw and is then squashed into through the jack hole on the other side and stays fixed thanks to a nut.
The thing that is worth mentioning here is we usually take it on and off hundreds of times while using it in order to save energy. This normal behaviour repeated and through times, these 4 small sharp points easily get wrenched at the wood and be dislocated. This makes the all part of the jack cup slack progressively, affecting the sound of telecasters and creating noise or output issues.
To deal with this issue, the fastest and easiest method is constricting the nut placed above the jack. If your telecaster’s condition is worse and the jack cup just keep losing, the claw should be repositioning and re-tensioning. This is not a highly-recommended method since it requires special tools, which are quite exorbitant. So if your situation is not so bad, tightening the nut is just fine.
However, once you have made up your mind and decided to have your telecaster upgraded, the Electrosocket jack plate will be worth your consideration to be the alternative of age-old jack cup and claw. The jack which is 1/4″ will go directly into the jack cup, which is already fastened to the body by 2 screws on each side. The upgrade is seen as an ideal method, which differs your telecaster from the out-dated version, eradicating existing issues or potential nuisance in this spot.
The string ground is the following important thing that needs to be checked at the first stage after electronics. It is a pivotal part of a telecaster and should be the first thing that needs to be checked if there are any hum problems.
All the strings of your telecaster need to have a path to ground, which also means they need a wire that is capable of connecting all the strings to a ground point inside the instrument. There are 2 common possibilities that usually happen with string ground: They just do not connect with each other or they just have not been placed yet. So you should check whether your strings are grounded properly or not.
For the neck, you should flatten it out in case it is not perfectly straight t in the beginning. This step is usually underestimated however, it will help sling out the frets and nut issues as soon as possible.
However, before adjusting your telecaster’s neck, you probably want to find out how much relief it has beforehand. In order to do this, you need to have a straight edge ruler or a notched straight edge. After that, just use the straight edge which can dominate most parts of the fret. For the notched straight edge, lay it on the fretboard. For the best result, the ruler needs to be laid from the D to the G strings.
If the ruler do not parallel with the fretboard or frets, giving a slit between them, then your telecaster has too much relief. To deal with this, you need to use the truss rod and turn its nut in circular movement clockwise until the ruler’s bottom part and the telecaster’s neck are completely parallel.
If the ruler rocks back and forth at the ends, then there must be a back bow.. Applying the same method, you need to use the truss rod as well. However, this time you need to turn the nut to the opposite direction until the frets or fretboard and ruler is horizontal.
For those who do not have a notched ruler as well as a straight edge, use the capo, the feeler gauge which is about .005”, and your hands instead. They are perfect alternatives to measure your telecaster’s relief. Use your right hand to put the capo at the 1st fret and then pull the low E string down to the 17th fret.
After that, use your left hand and slither the .005” feeler gauge from below the E string to above the 7th fret. In order to allow the feeler gauge is able to fit onto the gap above the fret and under the string, keep turning the truss rod
Since most of the truss rod adjustments of a Telecaster are placed at the heel, you will want to separate it from the body first in order to reach it while adjusting the neck.
After having put the capo in the right place for the adjustment, the next step is to set loose strings which belong to telecaster’s tuner, pull out the neck screws, take the neck apart from the body considerably to modify the neck. Depending on your telecaster’s situation to have a suitable adjustment: Turn it in clockwise circular movement if you want to cut down the relief and turn backwards if you want for more relief. After the neck adjustment, re-install the neck and the screws back in the body and re-adjusting the strings to examine whether or not the relief is perfect for you.
Now that the neck is perfectly straight, we are able to feel free to check the frets before continuing on our How to set up a telecaster lesson. After the neck has been straightened out, the telecaster’s neck will easily get buzzing and dead spots. So it is quite pivotal to deal with all the frets issues, allowing the telecaster setup to be done smoothly later on.
To check every frets on the telecaster’s neck, we will use a special tool called the fret rocker. This tool is capable of telling us right away if there are any high frets that exist on the telecaster’s neck. Moreover, after the checking, if you realize that there are frets that are slack and exposed from fret slots, you need to reseat and glue them down before moving on to the next step is crowning and doing a fret level.
The last factor that needs to be evaluated to complete the first step in How to set up a telecaster process is the Nut. If the strings are placed too low or too high, it also negatively affects the sound of the telecaster as well as the players. So if there are any problems with the heights of the string at the nut, it has got to be switched or shimmed.
Moreover, after having gone through the neck relief adjustment, there is a higher chance that the strings will rest and buzz low on the 1st fret. If there are any problems like this happen, it also need to be changed or shimmed as well.
Step 2: Remove Worn-Out Strings and Touch Up
After finishing the evaluation process and we did not come up with any problems mentioned, or at least dealt with all the problems already, we are able to move on by replacing the age-old set of strings with a new one and allow the telecaster to have a careful touch-up.
Before cutting the strings off for replacing or cleaning, you might want to loosen the strings first to relieve any stress and possible headstock’s destruction due to the unexpected change of tension.
Whether or not your telecaster is used regularly, I’m pretty sure that there is dirt that built up through times under those strings. You can easily spot it while moving your fingers on the neck of the telecaster. So this is the ideal time to give your telecaster a touch-up.
Based on my personal experience, if your telecaster is made of hardwood but not maple or something like that, you will find out brushing up on the frets and cleaning and oiling the fretboard is a great idea. You can use a moist cloth or for the better cleanup, you can resort to a 320 grit Klingspor pad or 0000 steel wool that are made exclusively for cleaning to refine the frets and eliminate any imperfections that exist on the strings and frets.
While doing the cleanup, I also recommend tightening up any slack screws or nuts, especially tuning pegs to prevent any tuning issues from happening if they have not placed still. I also do the same with strap pegs and neck screws.
After everything is secured and touch up, from screws, nuts to tuning pegs and strap pegs,… we can now put on the new set of strings!
Step 3: New Set of Strings and Neck Adjustment
New Set of Strings
After the telecaster has been cleaned and you have got a new set of strings, we can now capable of restring it.
Commonly, most Telecasters are designed to be capable of passing its strings through the back body and up through the bridge.
First of all, let’s pull the strings close to telecaster’s tuner. If you want the strings to wound around the tuner posts properly, you need to eliminate some of the strings at the end of them.
You should cut 2 and ½” of the strings behind the tuner to get it to pass the low E and A. To secure and place these strings, grab the bottom of it and thread it through the tuner’s aperture. After the other side of the string is shown, sandwich it to the right side and bind the string around the telecaster’s tuner once before tuning it up.
Whether your strings are high-quality products or not, they easily get oxidized, rusty and dirty and will not stay in its best condition and keep returning to the right pitch forever. Strings will lose their integrity, especially where they are pressed against the fret no matter what so you should change them regularly.
The easiest way to check if your strings need changing is running a finger underneath the string. If there is any existence of dirt, corrosion, roughness, it’s got to be changed.
There are plenty of strings that are made from different kinds of materials. However, Fender strings are the best you can get if you want to have tuning stability since they are created to provide professional performance.
Do not forget to check your strings’ elasticity first before installing. After you’ve put on a new set of strings, fretting all of them at one time, then tug them slightly and move your hand between the bridge and the neck. Keep re-tuning for several times until you finally satisfy with the sound.
Apply the same method of the low E and A strings to the G and D strings. However this time, we will cut the G and D strings that are behind the tuner about 3 and ½”.
For the high E and B, we do not cut them but just make sure that we have the precise string break because their diameters are smaller than the cut ones.
After completing the strings set up and tuning them up to the pitch, we should give them a little bit of warm up. Grabbing the string one by one and pulling them around in a circle and slightly up at the center of the fretboard. This will help to give the string elasticity and ensure they are wrapped steadily and tightly around the posts or else they will displace, creating tuning problems. After the warm up, re-tuning strings to the correct pitch. Repeat this warm up process several times for every string.
Now, the new set of strings are on and your telecaster has been cleaned and cleared, it’s time for the neck adjustment. However, you can let your hair down and give yourself a break since this step has already been done in Step 1 of the “How to set up a Telecaster” process. So, if you strictly follow our guide, you do not have to waste time and effort anymore because the neck has been adjusted before.
If the neck is not perfectly straight enough, repeat the Evaluation process until it is perfectly vertical and has a .005″ space under the E strings to above the 7th fret.
Step 4: String Action
We have completed half of the “How to set up a telecaster” process, the next step is String action which means adjusting the strings’ height.
This is perceived as a simple task but you need to have a proper screwdriver or allen wrench. In order to lift or lower the saddle, using the screwdriver or the allen wrench to turn the adjustment screws which are passed throughthe saddle.
After that, hold the telecaster as if you are playing it and use a gauge card or a ruler to measure the string action. The best place to measure is from under the strings to above the 12th fret. As far as I know, an ideal measurement for the string action of a Telecaster is 4/64” on all strings.
For different telecasters and playing styles, there will be slight differences in this measurement. It would be fine if it is lower or higher just a little bit from this starting point.
String Action at The Nut
Another factor that is commonly underestimated is the height of the string at the nut. If the string height at the nut is placed in the correct position, it will become more user-friendly, allowing players to feel the beat.
In order to find out this string’s measurement, measure the distance between the 1st fret and under the strings. After that, we will need to cut the slot in the nut one by one to the correct depth by using the correct nut files for the gauges. The tips of this method is to start carefully and a little bit higher. This will make sure that you don’t overdo it and create trouble on the string at 1st fret.
Another condition can also make the string rattle and buzz when the telecaster is played open is when the nut slot is flat. To avoid this, we probably want to cut down it in a slender descending angle.
For the Low E, A, G and D strings, it is best to start the work at 1.5/64” or .022”. For the high E and B strings, it is 1/64” or .018”.
Start to lower the slot one by one but never lower than the 1/64” point for each string. As long as they are not lower than this point, you can keep adjusting it until every string is in its right position for you to play comfortably. For the high E and B strings, they can be adjusted down a little bit further than the 1/64” mark and still capable of playing and ringing out normally. However, you need to be really careful when proceeding these two strings.
You should erase any dirt or wreckage and recheck the string action and the tuning after cutting every slot to the proper measurement. To avoid any binding and to keep the strings moving freely , put some nut sauce or lubricant to every slot. This is my valuable secret tip and it works pretty well.
Not only can my secret tip be used on strings, it can also be used on the areas of the E and B strings that lie under the string tree. This will help the string move smoothly as well as avoid any dragging in this area.
Step 5: Intonation
Only after finishing all the 4 steps above in the “How to set up a telecaster” process, are we able to adjust the last important factor is to set the tone for every string.
In order to set the intonation, we need to take care of the bridge. Most Telecasters have bridges with 3 barrel saddles which are made of steel or brass. These bridges usually hold 2 strings each and they are binded with 3 screws which are placed behind the bridge. Thanks to this composition, the bridge is capable of moving the saddles back and forth to correct the strings’ length to adjust the tone. This allows the notes which are around the 12th fret can be in their precise tune as much as possible.
Since each barrel saddle holds two strings, most of the time the pitch on these strings are sometimes quite low. To deal with this, just strive to set the pitch close with each other.
If you can’t achieve a pleasing intonation, don’t try to bend the screw that used to adjust the intonation in order to adjust the saddle as in the picture above. The ideal option that you should try is changing the saddles. There are plenty of conglomerates out there in the market that can allow you to replace the saddles to get the ideal intonation.
To adjust the pitch to their correct tune, I recommend using a strobe tuner.
To get it started, let’s use low E as a model and adjust it to its correct tune by fretting the string open or the harmonic at the fret 12th. After that, fret the note and pay attention to its sound. If you realize that the notes are the one pitch by using the strobe tuner, the saddle is placed right.
If the low E is higher, sharper or lower, flatter after fretting than the opening or harmonic note then saddle adjustment is required. For the former, move the saddle back and keep adjusting it by using the screwdriver until the notes are at the same tone. After the adjustment, retune the open note and check the low E again.
For the latter, move the saddle forward by using the screwdriver. Just as the former, keep adjusting the saddle until the low E is the same with the open or harmonic note.
For each string, repeat this process until their saddles are placed precisely and have a suitable intonation point.
After completing the intonation process, to reduce friction at the contact point and create better tuning stability, apply some nut sauce or lubricant like I have mentioned above to every string
Step 6: Adjusting Pickup Height
Commonly, most telecasters have 2 height adjustment screws to attach the neck pickup to the pickguard whereas the number of height adjustment screws to attach the bridge pickup is 3. This is perceived as a simple task and can help you achieve the best tone since it affects the pickup’s height in the connection with each string.
If you can’t find the neck pickup connected to the pickguard, then it must be connected to the telecaster’s body below in the cavity. In fact, it is quite easy to unscrew and remove the pickguard while the strings are still on. The pickup is quite interesting since it is able to be corrected to the suitable height while the pickguard can be put back into the proper area.
You should put the telecaster under your amp to do the adjusting and at the same time ensure that the pickups are evenly matched volume wise. In order to prevent falsehood or chirrup, don’t leave the strings stay next to the pickup since you will want the notes to ring clear and loud.
In order to have the pickup height adjustment, you need to resort to the gauge card, a ruler, or feeler gauges.
Using those tools to measure the distance between the pole piece right underneath each string and the bottom of the pressed string while fretting the outer two E strings at the last fret.
The perfect place to start for the neck pickup is 5/64″ or 2mm on the bass or Low E side and 4/64″ or 1.6mm on the treble or high E side. While it is 4/64″ or 1.6mm on both sides is typically best for the bridge pickup.
However, each telecaster is designed differently so beside applying those suggested parameters above as an instruction, use your own instinct too for correcting the pickups to achieve the perfect intonation.
If you’d like to have more details about how to set up a telecaster, watch this video from experienced player to gain further insight:
Step 7: Final Touch-Up
This final step gives your telecaster a complete shiny outlook. It has now been ready to be used, let’s go and try playing !
So I have shown you all that I know about How to set up a telecaster. However, there are little secrets that are able to upgrade your telecaster to a whole new level that I haven’t told you yet. By applying these tips, you can boost your telecaster’s tuning stability, giving you more options with playing and tuning styles.
Warm up strings
Just like a human body, the strings need to be warmed up before each performance to be in its best condition.
So every time you use your telecaster, run your fingers through the strings for a little bit to warm them up before you do your final tuning.
After a few frets, it’s time to do the final tuning. There is one thing that you should remember when tuning: most tuning keys need to be tuned up to precise pitch, except locking tuners. For the locking tuners, just go past the note and tune it down to pitch.
To expand your telecaster’s longevity, don’t forget to clean it with a soft cloth after playing. You should also pay attention to the place where you’re going to store your telecaster. Choose one that can protect your telecaster from the heat, direct sun and other external factors.
Reduce String Breakage
Since the strings are made of metal, whether or not they come from a reputable brand, they are going to be affected by weather, humidity,…and so on. In order to boost their duration and reduce string breakage, the best way is to lubricate the string/saddle contact point with a light machine oil every time you change strings since the oil can prevent your telecaster from moisture, friction and metal fatigue.
Don’t forget about the string trees because these are points of contact and should also be lubricated. If you don’t have light machine oil, that’s fine, just use a small amount of lip balm and apply it with a toothpick on those points.
If you wonder which light machine oil is good, 3-in-1 oil is an ideal choice because it contains anti-rust and anti-corrosive properties.
You should check the screw’s tightness if your telecaster’s tuning keys do have a screw on the end of the button since it helps to control the tension of the gears inside the tuning keys. However, these screws don’t need to be over-tighten. This is an important tip, especially on locking tuners.
So that’s a wrap! If you have come this far and jumped to our conclusion, I bet you had a good time experiencing the “How to set up a telecaster” process.
In fact, this process does not require professional interference. A beginner is capable of doing this too. You just need to strictly follow our guide and that it’s you’ll be fine.
Whether you are a beginner, an intermediate or professional, if you find this article useful, feel free to share it with your peers. We also welcome all the comments from you all to get this article updated with the newest tips.
If you are just a passer-by, I hope this article gives you inspiration to take up this musical instrument. There are plenty of high-quality and low-priced Telecasters that are meant for beginners just like you to try.