For some reason I thought that when I started teaching full time I would have time to play guitar in my office, so I thought it would be cool to keep a guitar there. I thought an acoustic guitar would be too loud, so I was thinking about a cheapo electric that I could play through my laptop with headphones. This turned out to be a totally crazy idea. I rarely have a minute to even think when I am at school. However, I ordered the guitar.
I have ordered a Les Paul type guitar and a Beatle-style violin bass from Rondo, a company which specializes in cheap Asian-made instruments. Cheap guitars are much better than ever before because the parts are cut out by computerized machines, so that every neck and body comes out exactly the same, to very precise tolerances. I have ordered pickups and other parts from Guitar Fetish or GFS, a company that sources economy guitar parts mostly from Korea. If you buy a very cheap guitar from Rondo, usually you end up replacing tuners, pickups, electronics, and maybe even bridge parts, and the cheapest place to get better stuff is GFS.
GFS also sells guitars, under the Xaviere brand. Maybe it is better to buy the guitar from GFS, with GFS parts already on it? I decided to try.
I ordered an XV-825 “Keef” model, a Telecaster-type that is supposed to emulate Keith Richards’ “Micawber” tele. It was $248 with case.
This guitar actually has little in common with with Keith Richards’ tele. It does have an ash body with a transparent butterscotch finish and a maple fretboard. However, Keith has a full-sized humbucking pickup in the neck position, and the Xaviere has a mini-humbucker. Keith has a modern tele bridge with individual saddle adjustments, while the GFS has a traditional ash tray bridge plate with three barrel-type saddles. Also, Keith tunes his tele to open “G” and leaves off the low “E” string so he only has five strings. The Xaviere model is pretty much nothing like the tele owned and played by Keith Richards. Here’s a picture of the guitar before I modified it:
The guitar is being inspected by Boojie the cat.
When it came I had low expectations. The action was high, and it had a set of .09’s on it. Pretty skinny strings. The fretboard was very flat, and wide, almost like an acoustic guitar, like a Martin. Before I had had it an hour, I had changed the strings to D’Addario .10’s, and lowered the action quite a bit. The neck had a satin finish that took some getting used to. The guitar was also pretty heavy. Still, the mini-humbucker sounded very good. The bridge pickup was a standard single coil tele style, but it was very bright, and the tone control didn’t tame it. Overall, the guitar had a chimey, jangly sixties vibe that made it seem worthwhile working with. I decided to keep it.
The problem with the tone control was because the guitar had one humbucking pickup and one single coil. Humbuckers usually need at least a 500k tone pot or they are too muddy. Single coils usually need a 250k pot or they are too bright. On a Tele, both pickups go through the same tone pot, so if you mix pickup types, whatever the pot is, it will be wrong for one of them. I realized that I had a GFS L’l Puncher Tele bridge pickup that I had bought for another guitar and then taken out. It was a twin-blade humbucker made for the tele bridge slot, and it needed a 500k pot. I put it in. It worked beautifully. Problem solved.
However, the three position pickup switch was intermittent on the bridge position. Contact cleaner didn’t help. I complained to Jay at GFS, and he sent me another switch. However, these looked to be light duty switches, and I thought I might have the same problem, if not immediately, then down the road a bit. I was also unhappy about the intonation of the vintage-style three-barrel bridge. Each barrel can be adjusted to intonate two strings at once, but if you get one string dead on, the other one will be either sharp or flat. This means that strings are never in tune together as you play up the neck. It sounds sour. No good.
I found a set of compensated brass saddles for the vintage bridge at Stewart-MacDonald for $15. These are drilled at an angle so that the barrel is slanted just enough to compensate for the different strings. I also bought an old-fashioned pickup switch. It turned out not to be an actual Fender-style switch, but a similar design made in Japan. I installed these pieces this weekend. I am very happy with the results. The guitar is sweet, chimey, and quite versatile for country, pop, or jazz.
I have about $230 into the guitar right now, not counting the case, which I can use for my other Telecaster, or the Li’l Puncher, which I already had. It is a very good guitar for $230. Would it be better to buy a more expensive guitar and not have to swap out parts and pickups? Perhaps. But I enjoy working on guitars, and to tell the truth, even if you pay more, even a lot, you might end up swapping out parts. I changed the pickups in my $750 Roland-Ready Stratocaster, for example, because I wanted something that sounded like a 60’s Strat, not a 2007 Strat. But it is all great fun.
Update: Today I took the neck off and inserted a piece of cardboard from some video game packaging as a shim to adjust the neck angle. I wanted to lower the high “E” string just a tad, but I couldn’t because the barrel saddle piece bottomed out. The shim worked very well. The shim is a little shorter than the width of the neck pocket, and about 1/2 and inch wide. It is just a thin piece of cardboard. A little piece makes a big difference. I had to raise the bridge saddles about a full turn to get everything where I wanted it. Now it plays like a dream.
Installing a shim is no big deal. Lots of bolt-on neck guitars have them. I shimmed my 2007 Strat too. I once had a ’63 Fender Jaguar that had a big, thick factory-installed shim.
I really like this guitar now. It plays great, and the mini-humbucker and the Li’l Puncher give it a tone that is in-between Fender and Gibson. The bridge can twang, but the neck pickup is jazzy or bluesy, depending on how you play. Extremely versatile. Great for Beatlesque pop and lots of other things. It’s a keeper.
Nice post about the Keef. Was wondering… Do you think a real Fender neck would fit on that guitar if you swapped it out?
I haven’t tried it, but I kind of doubt it. The neck is chunky and a bit wide. I like it, but it doesn’t feel very Fenderish.
Hey Doc, I am thinking of purchasing one of the Telecaster build kits from guitar fetish, and I was wondering if you think it is a wise purchase. Buying the kit would serve a dual purpose, first, I have been wanting to get into guitar building for quite some time and I think this would be a neat and organized way to become involved in such a dizzyingly complex world of gadgets, switches and electronics, and second, I have been in search for a reasonably priced telecaster for a folk/prog project (akin to The Decemberists) I am currently working on, where the Tele would provide a bit of clean lead tone. I know you understand the mechanics of tone much better than I do and would appreciate any input you might have as to pickup selection, or anything in general regarding Tele tone and its place in the mix of music. Thanks for your time and consideration, I hope to hear back from you soon so we can discuss this further. Respectfully, Eric
That Tele kit is quite cheap! GFS says that the body is unsealed, unfinished, unsanded, etc. That would be the hardest part. The easiest finish is supposed to be tung oil. I think you can find instructions for that on the Carvin site. The other problem is that the headstock on that neck is major ugly. What they expect you to do is shape it into a real Tele shape, but you need some equipment to do that. I haven’t built a kit, although I have been tempted. I usually buy cheap guitars and modify them. You might try looking at the Rondo site for an SX. I think they have Tele styles for around $100 already built. I am sure they would need some setup, but so would a kit. You also might try lurking on the Agile guitar forum for a while: http://www.agileguitarforum.com/ That is a friendly community of cheapo guitar enthusiasts.
I noticed that it was unfinished and so forth, and the only experience i have in applying finish is to a coffee table, haha! Is it necessary for it to be sealed or painted? Or could i just sand it and leave it be for a nice raw look (I had an idea to brand the guitar with some sort of insignia, I’ve never seen any guitar like that).As far as the headstock goes, I’m actually happy that they allow the customer to shape it, because I’m not too wild about how the factory one looks (kinda like a Sadowsky rip off). To shape the headstock, I had thought about tracing the Tele shape onto the blank and then doing a rough cut with a band saw or jigsaw then sanding to specs. Unfortunately the GFS website is out of stock on the kits so i have to wait until they get some in, but i think I definitely want to go the kit route so the only things i really would need to upgrade are the pickups (which i priced at GFS for about $60). What else do you usually replace on ur Teles? I’m a bit concerned about putting together the electronics, not so much the soldering, but just what goes where for everything to work correctly. I know Teles are a bit easier to wire than some other guitars just because of the minimal control knobs and switch, but the first time is always a bit nerve-racking. Do you have any tips or tricks on wiring? Which pickups do you recommend?
P.s. Is there any way i could get the mp3 files of your music from myspace? I am lovin’ what you have posted, but Myspace is only allowing me to listen 30 seconds at a time (except for 4th of July which is awesome by the way) so if there is any way i could get it for my ipod, i would be very very appreciative. I am interested in your recording methods, i have recorded many of my friends’ bands, but there seems to be volume loss on the finished product.
Again, thanks so much for sifting through my sea of questions (all this blogging reminds me of lit theory and sci-fi)
Appreciatively & Respectfully, Eric
There are two ways to approach tone. One is to pursue the tone you hear in your head, which is likely to be a never ending and expensive quest. The other is to listen to the guitar and think “What can I do with this?” Almost any guitar can produce interesting sounds. Having said that, the problem I have is that I like single coils, but I don’t like buzz. That in itself sends many guitarists into a loop of dissatisfaction, trying out various “noiseless” pickups and being unhappy with them. Right now my Tele and my Strat both have very old school Tonerider pickups in them.
There are lots of Tele wiring diagrams on the web. That shouldn’t be a problem.
An unfinished guitar will quickly become covered with dirty handprints and stains. I guess that’s ok if you are going for a really grunge look.
I didn’t know that Myspace only allowed 30 seconds of play. That is no good. I am going to re-record most of that material, however, especially 4th of July. The Jamstix drum track on that is really hokey, and I need to capo up a couple of frets to sing it better.
Okay, there has been a slight change of plans. I thought that I wanted to get the bare kit and just hope to fumble my way around until I miraculously had an acceptable finished project. . . I now know that I was mistaken. The body sanding and finishing doesn’t seem to bad, but having an unfinished neck, fretboard, etc. seems a bit out of my skill range, since the slightest error in sanding the neck could throw it off to one side or the next and completely ruin the action. I have decided to buy the GFS tele body either(butterscotch color), finished maple neck, and all black components for an interesting vintage/contemporary look (sort of a cross between Jason Newsted’s all black Sadowsky basses, and Dustin Kensrue’s classic cream tele from the Alchemy Index records) OR completely black with a maple neck for a David Gilmourish look (except with a tele instead of a strat). I am not too picky about tuning machines, or ashtray bridges and plan to buy the regular GFS black, but I am still debating which pickups to buy. I am looking for something reasonably priced but with a nice classic tele tone. The ones that initially caught my eye were the Neovin Noise Free pickups from the GFS site. Any thoughts on the quality? How are you liking the tonerider pickups? What is the regular price of the toneriders? I am thinking of buying a complete wiring kit from http://www.specialtyguitars.com/kits/tele.html any thoughts on what electronics should be used. I know you have experience swapping pickups and I would appreciate the input about what should be bought. I found tons of tutorials and diagrams to help me install the actual electronics, but knowing what to buy is the tricky part since I have never had to deal with capacitors, etc. I had thought of putting in some EMG-TX pickups which would be the best (probably) and install quite easily (you only have to solder the input jack), but the set is $159 which is nearly what i will be paying for all the rest of the components. I am really excited about this project, and look forward to having an electric to play lead over my Takamine G463, but I am getting ahead of myself. . . I can’t wait for my New Guitar Day 😉
I haven’t tried the Neovins or heard much about them. I had Li’l Punchers in a Tele for a while, but I didn’t like them much. However, I like the bridge pickup a lot now that it is in the Xaviere, so a lot depends on the guitar. I think that GFS pickups are a mixed bag. I really like the Vintage ’59’s I put in my Agile 2000. You could do a search on http://www.tdpri.com/ where Telecasters are a sort of religion. You can find info and sound clips of Tonerider pickups here:
You may want to put some inexpensive GFS pickups in to see if you like them. You will have a lot of adjusting and tweaking to do at the beginning anyway. If you end up not liking them, you can put something better in later.
I can’t stand a poorly intonated guitar, so I recommend a modern six-saddle bridge. If you must have a three-barrel bridge, I recommend the compensated one at Stew-Mac. It’s only $15, and it made my Xaviere very sweet.
Hey Doc, I have been listening to your music a lot lately (even have it on my ipod) and I was thinking that you might enjoy this song from a superb band called The Decemberists. If you are not familiar with this band, I would highly recommend you give them a listen. I will post a list of songs which, I believe, give a tour of their musical style, but i feel that you might be interested in this one since it is sort of up the same alley as 4th of July. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJGTyUEWMWU
If you like that . . .
1. Song = The Engine Driver Album = Picaresque
2. Song = The Island:Come & See/The Landlord’s Daugher/You’ll Not Feel the Drowning Album = The Crane Wife
3. Song = California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade Album = Castaways & Cutouts
Bonus Song ***CAUTION*** this is unlike any of the other songs, but, in my humble opinion, is one of their best.
Song = The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid Album = The Hazards of Love
I have considered making this tele project into an Esquire project by eliminating the neck pickup, do you know if I could just buy a normal tele wiring kit? Or is there something special that i need to buy?
I actually found an awesome website for tele and esquire upgrades, which answered my previous quesiton. RS guitarworks online.
Are you sure you want an Esquire? I use the neck pickup on my Teles a lot. It is good for jazz, blues, and rhythm. The bridge is good for country leads, and with some distortion, for rock. Twang is sublime in the right place at the right time. An Esquire would be frustrating for me. But I am not you.
Ya, I have been thinking quite a bit about what I am looking for out of this guitar, and I think that an Esquire might be a bit limiting. How do you like the neck on your GFS guitar? I had heard some unfavorable reviews and was wondering if it would be better to purchase a standard fender squier and just replace the hardware (I hear they have a pretty good maple neck for the 179 bucks). Any thoughts? Did you get a chance to check out The Decemberists?
I have heard good things about Squires, especially the Classic Vibes. I have never played one, though. Don’t swap hardware unless there is a need. I like the neck on the Xaviere, but some wouldn’t. It’s wider, has a flatter radius than most Fenders, and it is chunky.
Why shouldn’t I change out hardware? The only reason I had thought about swapping hardware was so I could make it a blackout tele (all hardware black including pickguard).
Okay, I know we have been talking about telecasters this whole time, so brace yourself, I’m about to throw in something radical…
I am looking for a unique looking guitar with good tone (which can always be improved later) that I can play original stuff as well as Modest Mouse and Decemberists covers. What are your thoughts on this guitar http://www.guitarfetish.com/XV-JT100-Offset-Alder-Body-Alnico-JM90-Pickups-pickups-Surf-Green_p_2206.html
Well, if you want a blackout tele then you have a reason to swap out hardware. I just meant don’t assume it’s crap until it causes a problem. On the Xaviere Jagmaster thing, it might be great. Long ago I had a ’63 Jaguar that I bought for $80 back when Jags were considered to be absolute turkey guitars. It had an ugly two-tone sunburst so I refinished it in natural. I ended up giving it away to a musician who was moving to Canada. I wish I still had it. The worry I would have would be that those huge single coils would buzz like the Devil’s headache. A lot of that depends on your house wiring though.
Just some FYI, have a Xaviere Keef model that I put a 1987 American Fender Tele neck on , the neck fits with no problem
I have recently bought a tele kit from GFS ,when it got to my place the body had a nasty crack where the neck bolts onto the body just in line with the screw hole.I emailed them and also mentionned that the neck had some backbow and i was missing the extra parts that i orderd , i had a very quick reply from them and they sent me another body with a neck and my missing parts at no extra charge, i have to admit that the after sales service is awesome.
I cut and shaped the neck to my personal taste , it only takes a small saw and some sanding to make the neck nice.
As for the body it is pretty rough it needs a lot of sanding and if you want to leave it in a way that you can see the woodgrain you will need extra care to the sanding part of it.
The tuners are gotoh like but as you can expect only look like them. But for 89.00 bucks i think it is a cheap way to get into guitar building hobby. I will let you know once it is assembled i will probably to do so this week end i am eager to hear the sound of this guitar.