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How do I set up my Telecaster® guitar properly? How do I change the strings? How do I adjust the truss rod? How do I set the intonation on my guitar?
The following setup procedures and specifications are for your Telecaster as equipped with the strings that come on the instrument as standard equipment from the factory. If you plan to change string gauges, you may need to adjust the specs somewhat to compensate for the changes in string sizes. Modifications of the specs may also be made (within limited parameters) to adjust for your individual playing style or application (i.e., how hard you pick, strum or fret the guitar).
Note: These are minimum specifications that are meant as a guide; they should not be construed as hard and fast rules, as we realize that every player's subjective requirements often differ.
For strings to stay in tune, they should be changed regularly. Strings that have lost their integrity (worn where pressed against the fret) or have become oxidized, rusty and dirty will not return to pitch properly. To check if your strings need changing, run a finger underneath the string and feel for dirt, rust or flat spots. If you find any of these, you should change your strings.
No matter what gauge of strings you use, for the best tuning stability we recommend using Fender strings, which are designed to provide superior performance. Make sure to stretch your strings properly. After you've installed and tuned a new set, hold the strings at the first fret and hook your fingers under each string, one at a time, and tug lightly, moving your hand from the bridge to the neck. Re-tune and repeat several times.
How you wind the strings onto the pegs is very important, whether you're using locking, standard or vintage tuning keys. Start by loading all the strings through the bridge and then loading them onto the keys as follows:
Locking tuning keys. Picture the headcap of the neck as the face of a clock, with the top being 12:00 and the nut being 6:00. Line the six tuning machines so that the first string keyhole is set at 1:00, the second at 2:00, the third and fourth at 3:00, the fifth at 4:00, and the sixth at 5:00. Pull the strings through tautly and tighten the thumb wheel, locking the string in. Now tune to pitch.
Standard keys. To reduce string slippage at the tuning key, we recommend using a tie technique. This is done by pulling the string through the keyhole and then pulling it clockwise underneath and back over itself; creating a knot. You'll need to leave a bit of slack for the first string so you have at least two or three winds around the post. As you progress to the sixth string, you'll reduce the amount of slack and the number of winds around the keys.
Vintage keys. For these, you'll want to pre-cut the strings to achieve the proper length and desired amount of winds. Pull the sixth string (tautly, remember) to the fourth key and cut it. Pull the fifth string to the third key and cut it. Pull the fourth string between the second and first keys and cut it. Pull the third string nearly to the top of the headcap and cut it. Pull the second string about a 1/2" (13 mm) past the headcap and cut it. Finally, pull the first string 1 1/2" (38 mm) past the top of the headcap and cut it. Insert into the center hole in the tuning key, bend and crimp to a 90-degree angle, and wind neatly in a downward pattern, being careful to prevent overlapping of the strings.
If your tuning keys have a screw on the end of the button, check the tightness of the screw. This controls the tension of the gears inside the tuning keys. Do not over-tighten these screws. They should be "finger-tight." This is very important, especially on locking tuners.
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Telecasters can have two distinctive types of bridges. The most well-known type is the vintage-style three-section bridge. The other is the modern-day six-section bridge, such as the American Standard Telecaster bridge. Check your tuning before proceeding with intonation.
You can preset the basic intonation of your guitar by taking a tape measure and measuring from the inside of the nut to the center of the 12th fret (the fret wire itself; not the fingerboard). Double that measurement to find the scale length of your guitar.
For a vintage three-section bridge, a series of adjustments must be made to compensate for the lack of individual string intonation. Adjust the first bridge saddle to the scale length, measuring from the inside of the nut to the center of the bridge saddle.
Now adjust the distance of the second saddle back from the first saddle, using the combination of the gauges of the second and third strings as a measurement. For example, if the second string is .011" (0.3 mm) and the third is .013" (0.35 mm), you would move the second saddle back .024" (0.65 mm) from the first saddle. Move the third saddle back from the second saddle, using the gauge of the fifth and sixth strings as a measurement.
For the six-section bridge, you will make adjustments for each individual string. Adjust the first-string bridge saddle to the scale length, measuring from the inside of the nut to the center of the bridge saddle. Now adjust the distance of the second-string saddle back from the first saddle, using the gauge of the second string as a measurement. For example, If the second string is .011" (0.3 mm), you would move the second-string saddle back .011" (0.3 mm) from the first saddle. Move the third saddle back from the second saddle using the gauge of the third string as a measurement. The fourth-string saddle should be set parallel with the second-string saddle. Proceed with the fifth and sixth saddles with the same method used for strings two and three.
Lubricating all of the contact points of a string's travel may be one of the most important elements in ensuring tuning stability and in reducing string breakage.
The main cause of string breakage is moisture collection at the point of contact on the bridge saddle. This can be attributed to the moisture and acidity that transfers from your hands, or it can be a direct effect of humidity in the air. Another factor is metal-to-metal friction and fatigue. Metal components react to each other over time because of their differences and help break down string integrity. A stronger metal will always attack a softer metal (this is why a stainless-steel string will wear a groove or burr in a vintage-style saddle). You'll also find that different string brands break at different points of tension because of the metal makeup and string manufacturing techniques.
Since Fender manufactures its own strings, they are designed to perform well for all playing techniques.
One of the best ways to reduce string breakage is to lubricate the string/saddle contact point with a light machine oil (we prefer 3-in-1 oil because it contains anti-rust and anti-corrosive properties) every time you change strings. The oil insulates against moisture and reduces friction and metal fatigue. String trees are another point of contact and should also be lubricated; a small amount of lip balm applied with a toothpick works well.
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There are two different styles of truss rod found on Fender instruments—"standard" and "bi-flex" truss rods.
Most Fender guitars and basses are equipped with a standard truss rod (of which there are in turn two types: one that adjusts at the neck heel and one that adjusts at the headstock; both operate on the same principle). The standard truss rod can counteract concave curvature in a neck that has too much relief, for example, by generating a force in the neck opposite to that caused by excessive string tension.
Fender also uses a unique bi-flex truss rod system on some instruments. Unlike standard truss rods, which can only correct a neck that is too concave (under-bowed), the bi-flex truss rod can compensate concave or convex (over-bowed) curvature by generating a correcting force in either direction as needed.
First, check your tuning. Affix a capo at the first fret and depress the sixth string at the last fret. With a feeler gauge, check the gap between the bottom of the string and the top of the 8th fret—see the spec chart below for the proper gap..
Adjustment at headstock (allen wrench): Sight down the edge of the fingerboard from behind the headstock, looking toward the body of the instrument. If the neck is too concave (action too high), turn the truss rod nut clockwise to remove excess relief. If the neck is too convex (strings too close to the fingerboard), turn the truss rod nut counter-clockwise to allow the string tension to pull more relief into the neck. Check your tuning, then re-check the gap with the feeler gauge and re-adjust as needed.
Adjustment at neck joint (phillips screwdriver): Sight down the edge of the fingerboard from behind the body, looking up toward the headstock of the instrument. If the neck is too concave (action too high), turn the truss rod nut clockwise to remove excess relief. If the neck is too convex (strings too close to the fingerboard), turn the truss rod nut counter-clockwise to allow the string tension to pull more relief into the neck. Check your tuning, then re-check the gap with the feeler gauge and re-adjust as needed.
Note: In either case, if you meet excessive resistance when adjusting the truss rod, if your instrument needs constant adjustment, if adjusting the truss rod has no effect on the neck, or if you're simply not comfortable making this type of adjustment yourself, take your instrument to your local Fender Authorized Dealer.
Players with a light touch can get away with lower action; others need higher action to avoid rattles. First, check tuning. Using a 6" (150 mm) ruler, measure the distance between bottom of strings and top of the 17th fret. Adjust bridge saddles to the height according to the chart, then re-tune. Experiment with the height until the desired sound and feel is achieved.
Shimming is a procedure used to adjust the pitch of the neck in relation to the body. A shim is placed in the neck pocket, underneath the butt end of the neck. On many American series guitars, a Micro-Tilt adjustment is offered. It replaces the need for a shim by using a hex screw against a plate installed in the butt end of the neck. The need to adjust the pitch (raising the butt end of the neck in the pocket, thereby pitching the neck back) of the neck occurs in situations where the string height is high and the action adjustment is as low as the adjustment will allow.
To properly shim a neck, the neck must be removed from the neck pocket of the body. A shim approximately 1/4" (6.4 mm) wide by 1 3/4" (44.5 mm) long by .010" (0.25 mm) thick will allow you to raise the action approximately 1/32" (0.8 mm). For guitars with the Micro-Tilt adjustment, loosen the two neck screws on both sides of the adjustment access hole on the neckplate by at least four full turns. Tightening the hex adjustment screw with an 1/8" hex wrench approximately 1/4 turn will allow you to raise the action approximately 1/32". Retighten the neck screws when the adjustment is complete. The pitch of the neck on your guitar has been preset at the factory and in most cases will not need to be adjusted.
Note: If you feel that this adjustment needs to be made and you're not comfortable doing it yourself, take your guitar to your local Fender Authorized Dealer.
Set too high, pickups can cause myriad inexplicable phenomena. Depress all the strings at the last fret. Using a 6" (150 mm) ruler, measure the distance from the bottom of the first and sixth strings to the top of the pole piece. A good rule of thumb is that the distance should be greatest at the sixth-string neck pickup position, and closest at the first-string bridge pickup position. Follow the measurement guidelines in the chart below as starting points. The distance will vary according to the amount of magnetic pull from the pickup.
Adjustments should be made after all of the above have been accomplished. Set the pickup selector switch in the middle position, and turn the volume and tone controls to their maximum settings. Check tuning. Check each string at the 12th fret, harmonic to fretted note (make sure you are depressing the string evenly to the fret, not the fingerboard). If sharp, lengthen the string by adjusting the saddle back. If flat, shorten the string by moving the saddle forward. Remember, guitars are tempered instruments! Re-tune, play and make further adjustments as needed.
Note: If you have a three-section-style bridge, compensate between the strings to minimize the percentage that any one string that may be sharp or flat. Listen for an aurally pleasing intonation.
There are a few other things that you can do to optimize your tuning stability that have more to do with playing and tuning habits.
Each time you play your guitar, before you do your final tuning, play for a few minutes to allow the strings to warm up. Metal expands when warm and contracts when cool. After you've played a few riffs, you can then do your final tuning. Remember—with most tuning keys, it's preferable to tune up to pitch. However, with locking tuners, go past the note and tune down to pitch. Finally, wipe the strings, neck and bridge with a lint-free cloth after playing. When transporting or storing your guitar, even for short periods, avoid leaving it anyplace you wouldn't feel comfortable yourself.
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