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Thread: Early 80s Telecaster Elite pickups

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    Early 80s Telecaster Elite pickups

    Is anyone making replacement pickups as a direct replacement for those in the original 80s Telecaster Elite? My customer wants to ditch the pickups and active electronics in favour of a more traditional approach. It's a really nice guitar and mounting rings or routing wouldn't be appropriate. You may say sell it and buy something else, but that isn't what she wants to do.

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    I thought there might be some G&L pickups that could fit, but now that I look I see that the corners are square on them. Those Elite covers would be easy to vacuum-form, and then mini-humbuckers or p-90s would likely fit under them. That is all a bit of work though. Interesting guitar; I'd never seen one before.

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    She's after single coils more along the lines of a regular Tele. I wondered if a standard Tele pickup may fit under the covers (if they can be removed - they could be potted). I don't yet have the guitar so need to take a look at the cavity depth. I had it for a setup a few years ago and was taken by how good it sounds, though not Tele sounding at all. The Kinks Dave Davies played one for a while. The tonal range of the active electronics is pretty good - I love the sound at 0:50 in this clip;

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4oRyDtO67o

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    They are potted with epoxy by the looks of things. https://reverb.com/item/1534980-1983...ender-usa-part

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    The link is really useful - thanks for that. Much appreciated.

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    I think the best you could do would be to make custom sized fiber bobbins with alnico magnets and try various winding options. (or make electrical measurements, according to your tastes and beliefs). I do not think that will make anybody happy, though. And I do not think it is going to sound like a tele with that bridge no matter what you do with the pickups. It is such an unusual gentle sounding guitar with a sweet upper midrange; better not to touch it. There are so many teles that sound just like a tele "should", maybe you could locate a used one and fix it up for your customer.

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    I also think it would be a big mistake to change it. She wants to use it though and not to sell it, but doesn't like how it sounds. I played it this morning and it sounds so unusual and different that It would be a real shame to change it.You mention the bridge - its a really heavily-built unit, not through-strung, and has far better saddle contact than a Tele. I noticed a few characteristics overall;

    The volume control tapers are very abrupt - good for swells but too on/off for regular work. Easily fixed.
    The upper mids and treble content are far more defined. It has unusual clarity clean, but doesn't sound too good through overdrive or distortion pedals. It does sound really harsh when switching from clean to distorted.
    The output level is extremely high - way over the top.

    For the time being I've suggested that she borrows a Boss graphic equalizer pedal and use this first in her pedal chain to see if she can get a sound she prefers. I took a look to see how a pickup could be made to fit with custom bobbins as you suggest. Depth is limited and I think to get the turns count it would be shallow and wide, rather like a mini-Jazzmaster pickup. There's perhaps some scope to redesign the preamp to tailor the output to individual taste, but again, it still won't sound like a Tele and the risk is that for all the work involved it may still not be acceptable.

    Edit: Or she could get one of these.....
    https://youtu.be/NlprK3vEhFo

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    Last edited by Mick Bailey; 01-22-2020 at 01:30 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mick Bailey View Post
    The tonal range of the active electronics is pretty good - I love the sound at 0:50 in this clip;

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4oRyDtO67o
    I always feel like giving up when I see guys like that play

    If it were me and she definitely has her heart set on changing it, I would temporarily 'tack in' a couple of more conventional pickups along with a basic volume/treble network and see whether she likes it or if it's a lost cause. If so, you could then concern yourself with all the other logistical and cosmetic stuff.

    Edit: I see you mentioned cavity depth. Maybe conventional pickups aren't feasible without extra routing...

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    Last edited by minim; 01-22-2020 at 02:24 PM.

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    I suspect that part of that sort of delicate bright sound is the result of higher than normal pickup resonant frequencies. That could be intentional, or it might be because the designer did not realize that if you connect guitar pickups to an on board preamp you have to add capacitance in parallel with the pickups if you want the sound to be similar to a passive pickup with cable. (The effect of the cable capacitance is no longer there.) A simple easily reversible thing to try would be to add C across the pickups. (470 pf would be a good starting point, but the best might differ from that significantly.) You would probably do this where the pickups connect to the volume pots if this is how the circuit works. You might have to damp the resonance a bit with resistance, too, although that might be adequately done by adjusting the tone controls down a bit. Those pickups are doing a lot of things right; it would be a shame to swap them out before trying to modify the sound.

    The high output level is a result of the gain of the preamp. Probably not so easy to change if this is a potted up unit.

    I think you could make flatter less deep single coil pickups with the inductance you need. Frankly, Fender tele and strat pickups are deeper than optimum; a lot of the magnetic flux does not make it down to the lowest windings.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mick Bailey View Post
    I also think it would be a big mistake to change it. She wants to use it though and not to sell it, but doesn't like how it sounds. I played it this morning and it sounds so unusual and different that It would be a real shame to change it.You mention the bridge - its a really heavily-built unit, not through-strung, and has far better saddle contact than a Tele. I noticed a few characteristics overall;

    The volume control tapers are very abrupt - good for swells but too on/off for regular work. Easily fixed.
    The upper mids and treble content are far more defined. It has unusual clarity clean, but doesn't sound too good through overdrive or distortion pedals. It does sound really harsh when switching from clean to distorted.
    The output level is extremely high - way over the top.

    For the time being I've suggested that she borrows a Boss graphic equalizer pedal and use this first in her pedal chain to see if she can get a sound she prefers. I took a look to see how a pickup could be made to fit with custom bobbins as you suggest. Depth is limited and I think to get the turns count it would be shallow and wide, rather like a mini-Jazzmaster pickup. There's perhaps some scope to redesign the preamp to tailor the output to individual taste, but again, it still won't sound like a Tele and the risk is that for all the work involved it may still not be acceptable.

    Edit: Or she could get one of these.....
    https://youtu.be/NlprK3vEhFo

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  10. #10
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    The preamp isn't potted and it looks to be made to fit a number of models, as there is about 1/3 of the PCB that's silk screened but unpopulated. I found a schematic for the Strat version but there are some differences so it may be worthwhile to trace the circuit - there are only 5 transistors and a handful of passives. Taming the gain should be straightforward. The internet wisdom reckons these pickups are low impedance but I can't find any measurements and it would require dismantling to free the pickup wiring to check if they are low-impedance or not. The same owner also has a matching Strat Elite from the same year - both are in 10/10 condition. Not a single mark anywhere and completely original. Interestingly the Strat has a dummy coil inside.

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    If the schematic you are looking at is the one available at Strat talk, then it has two first stages, one for the pickup, one for the dummy coil. If the tele does not use the dummy coil, then those components could have been left off. If the mid boost pot is with the slider to the left on the schematic, then the output of the circuit is just the output of that one transistor, the first stage (the rest is for the mid boost), and so the total gain is just the gain of the single stage. This is about 5 (although there appears to be a high frequency boost), not high enough for use with a true low impedance pickup, but the pickup could be an "intermediate impedance pickup", less wire than a normal pickup, but not that much less. Since the volume control is at the output of the preamp, there might be more than one preamp, one for each vol pot on the guitar. Does the tele use one preamp per pickup, or are pickups switched in front of a single preamp? I am assuming that these elite tele pickups are some kind of humbucker. Does that agree with your understanding?

    Could the vol and tone pots and pickup switch all be ahead of the preamp, and the volume pot on the preamp be on the board and just used to set the preamp gain?



    Quote Originally Posted by Mick Bailey View Post
    The preamp isn't potted and it looks to be made to fit a number of models, as there is about 1/3 of the PCB that's silk screened but unpopulated. I found a schematic for the Strat version but there are some differences so it may be worthwhile to trace the circuit - there are only 5 transistors and a handful of passives. Taming the gain should be straightforward. The internet wisdom reckons these pickups are low impedance but I can't find any measurements and it would require dismantling to free the pickup wiring to check if they are low-impedance or not. The same owner also has a matching Strat Elite from the same year - both are in 10/10 condition. Not a single mark anywhere and completely original. Interestingly the Strat has a dummy coil inside.

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    I checked and there;s no dummy coil fitted and the PCB is a single preamp with the pickups switched in front of it. The missing components are as you suggest, the dummy coil circuitry, plus a few changes for the TBX section. The pickups are humbuckers according to Premier Guitar;

    "This month’s Elite Telecaster showcases all the radical (for the time) changes made to the traditional Tele. These include a heavy cast 6-saddle top-loading bridge, noise-cancelling pickups with alnico 2 magnets, active TBX and MDX tone controls capable of creating fat humbucking and cutting single-coil sounds (similar controls continue to be used on the current Eric Clapton Strats), knobs with a serrated rubber insert for easy gripping, and a Gibson-style, 3-way toggle switch. Elite Tele necks featured a Bi-flex truss rod, jumbo frets, and a 12" radius fretboard."

    It would be straightforward to replace the preamp and use regular tone controls, plus some frequency shaping and artificial pickup loading, and make it all reversible. I do think though that it would be a step back. As it stands there's a wide tonal range and its a guitar that you really have to sit down with and figure out. To me that's both the success and failure of the instrument. As something you just plug in and go, it doesn't necessarily work out. As an instrument to continually discover different sounds, it makes you think and work. 1/8th of a knob turn and you have a different guitar. A compressor works wonders with it. For the time being its back with the owner to try out some different suggestions. It turns out its running into a Rat pedal, which is doing it no favours at all.

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    ToneOholic! big_teee's Avatar
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    I read your posts and thread.
    Not sure which model your customer has?
    Some pictures of her guitar would be nice.
    Including pictures of the rear control cover and routing?
    If it this one with the two plastic pickups?


    Why not turn it into a deluxe?
    To me, anything would look better than the stock plastic pickups.

    It would require a deluxe pickguard, or a custom pickguard, and maybe some simple routing, depending on what the body looks like.
    If she performs, then guitar players like simple switch changes.
    If she is a bedroom player, then more gadgets are fun.
    GL,
    T

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    Last edited by big_teee; 01-23-2020 at 04:40 PM.


    "If Wishes Were Horses, Beggars Would Ride!" Scottish Proverb 1600s
    Terry

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    It's the one with plastic pickups and a pickguard. She does want a regular single-coil Tele sound out of it though, so changing it to another humbucker equipped guitar isn't what she wants. It would convert to a Deluxe-style if a custom pickguard was fitted. Having said that, it could have a custom pickguard for a pair of single coils and be routed to suit. I have a real hangup over doing anything to this guitar that's irreversible, but in the end it's what the customer wants, not what's best for the instrument. I get faced with this all the time - really nice guitars that get altered to the point where they have little value, then the customer moves on because it never really worked out how they envisaged. So how would a Tele bridge pickup sound mounted onto a scratchplate and how much of a Tele sound comes from the bridge plate/through stringing?

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    ToneOholic! big_teee's Avatar
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    Things like that, is why I quit working for the public.
    I do a little work for regional pros, that have reasonable requests.
    Other options, include another body, that can be retrofitted.
    Another guitar.
    If in fact the guitar is really valuable, which some of the brain child fenders are not.
    Then I would park it, sell it, etc.
    Also I would explain to the customer, everyone wants single coil sound, but don't want single coil hum and noise.
    That's about all I have to offer.
    GL,
    T

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    Quote Originally Posted by big_teee View Post
    Things like that, is why I quit working for the public.

    Also I would explain to the customer, everyone wants single coil sound, but don't want single coil hum and noise.
    T
    That seems a bit pessimistic in this case. The major cause in difference in sound between hbs and cis is the higher inducdtrance of hbs, causing a lower resonance and loss of highs. A less important difference is loss of the sound of higher string harmonics on the wound strings as a result of sampling with two spaced coils.

    It appears that the first is not an issue here because the coils are somewhat under wound, but that needs to be verified. And since these pickups are narrower than standard hbs, the second difference is less of an issue as well. I would disconnect the both the mid and high boost in the preamp, and then resonate the pickups with Cs at reasonable fterquencies, damping as necessary. But you cannot know what would happen without some more analysis and experimentation. Worth it? Who knows.

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