Telecaster Wiring Guide
Here we delve into one of the world's most iconic and popular guitars. This guide will show you how to wire a Telecaster. The Telecaster was the first commercially produced guitar in the world. Way back in 1950, Leo Fender's first creation, the Esquire evolved into the Broadcaster in 1952 before finally settling on the Telecaster name. This guide is based on our Telecaster wiring kit and the components therein. There is a wiring diagram at the end of the article and we recommend you study it carefully before starting. Naturally, you'll want a copy of the diagram with you.
To wire a Telecaster, you will need;
- 2 x CTS 250k solid shaft audio pots
- 1 x 0.047uF orange drop capacitor
- 1 Switchcraft USA 1/4'' mono jack
- 1 x OAK or CRL USA 3 way switch
- 4ft guitar cloth wire (2ft black, 2ft cream)
- Telecaster control plate
- Telecaster wiring diagram
- Wire cutters
- 25-50w soldering iron (ideally with adjustable temperature settings)
- Solder (60/40 Tin/Lead) - If you prefer to go "lead free", use the lead free with added silver
- 3.5mm diameter heat shrink tubing (optional)
- Either make a little jig by tracing the control plate holes onto a sturdy piece of card/basla wood or simply use the control plate.
- It is recommended that you lightly tin the lugs of the pots and switch that will require a solder connection, as well as the tips of the wires. Tinning the components before makes for an easier and more reliable solder connection - both electrically and mechanically.
- Ideally you want a temperature controlled soldering iron set to between 315°C-375°C (lead free will require the higher temperatures). Solder melts at substantially lower temperatures but you need to make sure the component gets hot enough to allow the solder to flow into the joint you are creating.
- Heat transfer is key - make sure to keep you tip clean and tinned throughout the process. Use a damp heat resistant sponge or brass/steel shavings to clean off excess solder and residue.
Step One - Assembly
Assuming you have already removed the control plate from your guitar, assemble the components as per the below photo. The two CTS pots need to be facing each other. The pot nearest the switch is the volume control while the second pot is the tone control. With regards to the switch, it doesnt matter which way it sits in the control plate - it will work the same whichever way round you place it. However, it is common practice to have the "plate" side or the spring (if using a CRL switch) facing the strings (as if the plate was installed inside the guitar ie. upside down). While it doesnt matter electrically, it does make it easier to wire with the spring facing the other way.
Step Two - Ground
Next we'll install the ground wire. Take 6-7cm of the black cloth wire provided with the kit and connect the two volume pots together. You can either solder the wire to the back of the pot casing or on the side. We have chosen to solder it to the side of the pot casing as it leaves more room on the top for the ground point for the capacitor, jack and your pickups.
Step Three - The capacitor
Having laid the ground wire, let's install the capacitor. In this instance we are using a 0.047uF orange drop. The world of capacitors is weird and wonderful and there is a lot of stuff written about them. Frankly, most of it is myth. The important aspect of capacitors is their values and tolerances. You can choose varying values for a Telecaster - early 50s Broadcasters and Nocasters used 0.1uF capacitors which offered a much darker tone than what is typical of a modern Telecaster. In short, the higher the value of the capacitor, the darker the end tone. Modern Tele's typically use a 0.047uF or 0.05uf but 0.022uF and 0.033uF are also popular choices. its a question of personal preference. Don't be fooled by the ever present marketing surrounding capacitors and certainly don't pay over the odds for them. Read up about differing capacitor values and materials and decide which is best for you.
In the classic 3 way Tele, the capacitor is connected to the middle lug of the tone pot and the other end is connected to the ground (normally the back of the pot casing). Refer to the below photo for reference. If you decide to place the capacitor flat against the pot as we have chosen to, it is recommened that you inuslate the lead wire that is connected to the middle lug of the tone pot. Either use rubber tubing or some cloth from the cloth wire provided. Insulating this wire prevents it from coming into contact with the back of the pot (ie. the ground) which would create a short, making the capacitor and tone control redundant in this case.
Step Four - The 3 Way Switch
There are a few ways of doing this - the easiest method is to use a single wire running from the top of the switch continuously to the input lug on the volume pot. Using the cream cloth wire provided, pull the cloth back 5cm or so until you have enough bare wire underneath. Follow the below 3 way switch wiring schematic and solder the end of the wire to the furthest switch terminal (lug 1 on the diagram), then lug 2, then 7 and finally 8.
Connect the other end of the wire to the volume pot. Ideally, tuck the wire around the pot. If you find that the cloth has become frayed and untidy at the switch, use some heat shrink tubing as we have done to tidy it up.
Using the cream cloth wire, connect the volume and tone pot together. The volume input lug (which has just been connected to the switch) also gets connected to the lug of the tone pot directly opposite.
Before moving onto the jack, you need to ground the unused lug on the volume pot (lug 3). There are two ways to do this - either bend the lug back onto the pot casing, hold it in place with a flat head screw driver and solder it in place. Alternatively, it is much easier to take a snippet of bare wire and connect the lug to the back of the pot.
Step Five - Connecting the jack
Your switchcraft jack has two terminals - a ground and a live/hot. Throughout this guide we have used black cloth wire as the ground and cream as the hot so we will carry on with this principle here. Take 15cm of black cloth wire and solder it to the ground lug (the inner ring is always the ground on a jack). Once cooled, cover the joint with the heat shrink tubing. Not only does this create a more durable jack, it insulates and protects the joints from coming into contact with any shielding materials (copper foil, shielding paint etc...) that you may be using inside your guitar, potentially creating a short or grounding issues. Repeat this step using 20cm of cream wire for the hot terminal. Using a heat gun or lighter, apply heat to the heat shrink tubing. You can also use this tubing to keep both of the jack's lead wires together until they break away to their different solder points in the circuit.
With the jack completed, solder the ground (black wire) to the back of the tone or volume control pot and the live (cream wire) to the output lug of the volume pot. This is the middle lug.
That's the Telecaster harness completed. Now you simply have to connect your pickups to the correct lugs on the 3 way switch and reassemble your guitar. Telecaster wiring is actually quite simple - as long as you are skilled enough with a soldering iron and have a good, clear and easy to read wiring diagram then you shouldn't have any problems at all. This is the simple 3 way Telecaster wiring, the guitar's classical form but there are many other options to explore - guitar wiring is a weird and wonderful world with many different possible variations and modifications. Premier Guitar have a great guide on possible Telecaster wiring mods or we have a range of different wiring diagrams specifically suited for Telecaster wiring, including the 4 way mod, wiring in series as well as some vintage setups.
Telecaster Wiring diagrams
Guitar Wiring Guides