I Bought a Tele from Blackbeard's Den - By Jonathan Ballett
I ordered an EG TEL 10 Tele kit from Blackbeard's Den. Dean kindly delivered it to my office in Sunninghill.
My first impression was that the general quality was far better than I expected for the price I paid. The grain on the ash burl top had beautiful figuring. The fret work on the neck looked really good. Running my hands along the edges, I expected to feel sharp fret ends as you do on low-end guitars, but not so. The fret edges were smooth and the neck beautifully made. The body was also well cut, although it was made of four pieces of basswood with a 4 piece ash burl veneer and neither was book-matched. The chrome work on the hardware was well finished and the pots were smooth.
Shaping The Headstock
I found a file of Tele headstock templates on the internet and decided which one most closely matched the already drilled machine head holes. I don’t have much in the way of wood working tools, so I drilled, cut and then sanded using my delta sander. It turned out as I wanted. To make the headstock decal, I used water slide decal paper on an ink jet printer. Brush Script font is fairly close to the Fender logo. I designed what I wanted on MS Word, printed it and gave it a single coat of clear polyurethane lacquer. I slid it on to the headstock after the first coat of lacquer.
Products I Used
In order to fill the grain on the ash burl, I bought Plascon sanding sealing which is nitrocellulose based. For the finish, I could not find a nitrocellulose based clear lacquer in spray cans so I went for Rustoleum Gloss Lustre Polyurethane. I bought wet and dry paper at various grits from 600 to 1500. I also bought burnishing compound made by local company and used a car wax polish.
Firstly, I applied many coats of sanding sealer by brush and then sanded it down between coats using 400 grit cabinet paper on a rubber sanding block to seal the deep grain on the ash burl. The rest of the wood has little grain so a single coat of sealer was sufficient. For the curved surfaces I used the cabinet paper either with my fingers or a plastic pencil eraser as a backing.
The real challenge for me, as a first time builder was getting a good spray finish which I could sand down to a polished finish without going through the polyurethane coat. My first mistake was spraying too thick a coat and then trying to sand it too soon. Polyurethane takes ages to dry and if you abrade it before it is properly cured, it comes off in rolls rather than a fine dust. So I spent many hours on my garage workbench spraying, dry sanding, wet sanding, burnishing and polishing. I managed to get the top and bottom to a mirror finish with just a few blemishes and the ash burl grain came out beautifully. The curves edges posed a challenge of their own but eventually with careful spraying, sanding, burnishing and polishing, I got it to a good finish. This may sound like a tedious process but I really enjoyed doing it. The biggest thing you need is patience. There is always a tendency to want to get it finished but you have to let the lacquers cure if you want a good final product.
The assembly was quite straight forward and the instructions were good. The holes on the body for the bridge didn’t quite line up but weren’t far out enough to require redrilling. I fitted just one of the two supplied string trees on the B and E strings. I strung the guitar with a set of D’Addario 10s.
In general, a Tele isn’t too complicated to set up, but I realised when I put the strings on and they were flat against the frets, that I had a problem. I had to raise the saddles to the max to get the strings far enough off the fingerboard to make the guitar playable. This meant that the pickups were then too far away from the strings even at their highest setting. I measured the neck thickness and the pocket depth and they seemed fine so I concluded that the problem lay with the angle of the neck pocket to the body. I called Dean from Blackbeard’s Den and he was really helpful. He took the guitar to a technician over the weekend and put it a temporary shim using credit cards to prove that the neck pocket angle was indeed the problem. He offered to have it rerouted at his cost.
The other problem that I had was that with the guitar tuned, any chords played in first position sounded off pitch. This is a nut tuning problem. Nut tuning is not easy and requires special files and great skill, so I decided to pass it to Andy McGibbon to set up and at the same time reroute the neck pocket slightly. Andy actually didn’t reroute the neck pocket but rather took about 2mm off the heel of the neck and this solved the problem. He did a great job tuning the nut and setting up the guitar for me.
The first thing that surprised me was that acoustically, the guitar’s projection was really good for a solid body electric. Plugging directly in to my Blackstar HT-5 the pickups were hotter than I expected, just a little less output than the PAFs on my Tokai Les Paul, and the tone was really good. I thought that these were supposed to be cheap pickups! The bridge pickup gives the characteristic Tele twang, whilst the neck pickup is far more mellow and bluesy. One thing I did notice is that the tone pot only really affects the tone at about 2/10 and below. Further investigation revealed that the 250k tone pot supplied is a linear pot and an audio taper pot would give a wider control.
I would suggest to anyone making one of these guitars to have it set up by a professional technician. It will be well worth the extra cost. To Blackbeard’s Den I would suggest that you could leave the strings and the cable out of the package as nobody serious about their project will use these. I would also suggest that an audio taper pot should be supplied for better tone control operation. If you could find a good Chinese supplier with keen prices, it would be good to have the option of buying a hard case to protect the guitar after spending many hours making it.
What I have at the end of the day is a one-off guitar with a really pretty top that I can say I built and is eminently playable. Everyone I have showed it to, including a pro player at one of the local music stores, was really impressed. There were two niggles with the neck pocket/neck and the nut tuning but these problems were fairly easily overcome although it needed professional help. The finished product, fully set up, cost me about twice the purchase price of the kit, but I feel that I got far more than I paid for and the service from Dean was something you rarely find in SA these days. I learned a lot from this project so it had educational value too. Now for the next one – a hollow-bodied ES in a sunburst finish!
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