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more... GuitarsGearDIYSeptember 2008

Building an Esquire for Under a Grand

Feels Like the First Time
When I played it for the first time, the first thing that struck me was how big the neck felt. I had busted out the calipers on my Nocaster when I ordered this thing, but it seriously dwarfs my Nocaster neck and feels nearly as big as a Mechanic neck I had a decade or so ago. Fortunately, I love the neck profile and this alone has helped it become my current go-to guitar.

The sound of this particular combination of swamp ash, maple, Callaham hardware and the Bareknuckle Flat ’50 pickup has amazing authenticity and depth, particularly for such a “green” instrument. That’s not to say that the wood wasn’t properly seasoned or anything, just that everything is still settling in – the truss rod required more than the occasional tweak for the first couple of weeks under tension, as expected. The guitar feels nice and light; not stupid light, but more toward the medium side of things. The sound is immediate and typical of a Teletype guitar, but the noticeable tonal difference when switching the tone control in and out of the circuit is quite unexpected. The traditional Esquire wiring provides the pickup with preset capacitor in position 1 for a bass-heavy, “jazz” sound; the pickup with normal volume and tone controls in position 2; and the pickup with the tone circuit bypassed in position 3.

As far as feel and quality, the only thing in my estimation that doesn’t stand up to high-end production instruments is the finish. I can live with the missed sanding scratches and other little gaffes that remind me that I put it together, but they will keep anyone from mistaking this instrument as a Glendale or a DeTemple creation, despite all of the gorgeous wood and high-end Callaham hardware. The finish is also a bit too shiny for my tastes – particularly on the neck, which I’m relatively certain is the direct result of using the Deft. To give you an idea, the guitar looks almost too high-end, not dull enough, like a new Fender Vintage series instrument. While many people would count this as a plus, it makes the guitar look more precious than I had intended. On the plus side, that many sandthroughs means I have a nice thin finish and if the play wear of the past couple of weeks is any indication, it should look nice and worn-in in no time.

However, the biggest surprise has to be how much I enjoy playing it and how well it stacks up to my main-squeeze Nocaster. With the caveat of still being in the honeymoon phase, I’m continually impressed with how nice this thing is every time I pick it up. I wasn’t expecting to like it so much, but then again, why wouldn’t I? It has all of the features I chose. Still, I really didn’t expect it to hold its own as well as it has with the other fine guitars in the house.

The question remains – was it worth it? Let’s be honest and say the guitar cost $1200 when all was said and done, giving us an extra $50 for forgotten trips for sandpaper, sealer glaze and scotch. For that amount of money, you could pick up a new American Deluxe or a used Vintage Series ‘52 Tele, but neither of these choices allows you to spec the instrument exactly as you wish, which is really the whole point of doing something like this.

A potential downside is in the event that you ever need to turn it; its limited resale value is in the parts alone. Unless you are the luckiest person in the world, you will never recoup your investment – if you constantly turn and burn gear on eBay, I hear stamps are a good investment. There is also the chance that you simply won’t like the guitar once it’s finished, again presenting you with a very expensive mistake, no matter the budget.

But, if you’ve been into a specific type of guitar for a while, long enough to know which features you do and don’t like about them, and you have a good idea of what you would ask a custom maker to build for you, building your own guitar makes perfect sense. For instance, I love Teles, but some days even I hate the vintage fretwire on my Nocaster. Also, a homebrew like this is also limited to Jazzmaster, Tele and Strat fans – set-neck and neck-through designs require a skill set light years beyond spraying some lacquer and turning a few screws, with the cost, as well as the opportunity to brick the whole thing, increasing correspondingly.

If I had been able to put this together for under a grand as originally planned, I really don’t think I would like it any more or less than I do now. For me, the magic number to truly affect how I feel about the finished product is $500. If it cost me $1500, I probably wouldn’t love it quite so much – after all, that’s close to the price of a Nash. If it were $500 total, I’d be geeking out on all of the forums, telling anyone who would listen what a killer deal this was. As it stands, I don’t think I could walk into any store and pick up a guitar this nice for $1200 – that alone makes the project worth it. The opportunity it offered to acquire some new, practical knowledge about something I love puts the value over the top.

Now It’s Your Turn
Building your own axe can be daunting; knowing where to start can be downright paralyzing. To help you get started, we’ve assembled a few sources that can narrow down the choices and make sure your first time results a guitar you’ll enjoy for a long, long time.
Helpful Resources:

Telecaster Guitar Forum

This site features nuts and bolts discussions of the Tele in addition to plenty of information about component choices, woods and finishes.

The Gear Page
The definitive spot for any questions about pickups and parts, as well as plenty of information about amps and effects once the project is complete.

Guitar ReRanch
Active forums and useful tutorials will guide you to and through most any finish choice. Oh yeah, they sell some pretty cool stuff, too.
Bodies, Necks & Hardware
At one time or another, nearly everyone has offered parts and we’re bound to leave someone out if we try to offer a definitive list. Instead, we have limited this list to those that are appropriate to a vintage-inspired bolt-on project such as ours. Also note that many companies cross over; for instance, Joe Barden Engineering, renowned for their pickups, also makes bridgeplates and saddles.


Callaham Vintage Guitars & Parts

Glendale Guitars


Mighty Mite



USA Custom Guitars


WD Music
Again, rather than offer an exhaustive list, here are a few of the makers that offer vintage-flavored Tele pickups.

Amalfitano Pickups

Bare Knuckle Pickups


Don Mare Pickups


Harmonic Design

Joe Barden Engineering

Kinman Pickups

Lindy Fralin Pickups

Lollar Pickups

Seymour Duncan

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