Premier Guitar

Tele Control Plate Mods

March 9, 2012


Fig. 1 The reversed control plate with the 3-way switch at the rear. Fig. 2. Wiring for the reversed control plate with the volume pot in the front position, tone in the middle, and a standard configuration (neck/dual/bridge) for the 3-way pickup switch. Diagram courtesy of Seymour Duncan Pickups Fig. 3. A replacement control plate with angled switch slot. Fig. 4. A Gibson-style 3-way toggle switch replaces the stock Fender lever switch. Photo courtesy of Florian Lüttke and UniCut Guitars (unicutguitars.com) Fig. 5. The wiring diagram for a 3-way toggle switch that replaces the stock Tele 3-way lever switch. Wire A is the neck pickup hot, wire B is the bridge hot, and wire C runs from the toggle’s output to the volume pot input. Diagram courtesy of Seymour Duncan Pickups

Now that we’ve completed our discussion of ways to shape the Tele’s fundamental sound [“More Primary Tele Tone Mods,” March 2012], it’s time to dive into some easy wiring modifications.

As we know, the standard configuration of a Telecaster’s control plate is a 3-way switch, volume pot, and tone pot. Some guitarists don’t like this design because it interferes with their technique, perhaps causing them to hit the switch during a solo or interfering with volume knob swells. Others want the tone pot in the first position for manual wah effects. These tweaks are easy to execute with a “Tele reversed control plate” mod. Let’s look at three options.

The quick-and-dirty method. Remove the two screws holding the control plate, turn the plate 180 degrees, slide it back into position, and put the two screws back in— finished! With a little luck, all the wires will be long enough to accommodate the reversal. (If you discover that any of the wires aren’t long enough for this reversal, you’ll have to do a little soldering and replace them.) Looking from neck to endpin, the configuration now is tone pot, volume pot, and 3-way switch.

There’s a downside to this: Now the front knob is the tone control and the 3-way switch is reversed, thus engaging the bridge pickup when the 3-way switch is pointing to “neck pickup only” and vice versa. If you don’t like that, try the next alternative.

The MacGyver method. Remove the knobs and switch tip, loosen the two nuts securing the pots, remove the two plate screws, and gently lift the plate off the cavity. Again turn the plate 180 degrees to place the switch at the rear. Remove the switch and reverse it—now it will select the pickups in the traditional way. At this point, you have the option of removing the pots from the plate and reversing their order, too. It’s your call whether you want the volume or tone knob closest to your hand. Either way, your plate will look like Fig. 1.

All your wires should be long enough for this mod, except maybe the one that runs from the volume pot to the switch. Replace this one with a longer wire, reassemble, and wail. Once the longer wire is in place, you can reconfigure your guitar any way you want in a few minutes without changing any wires ever again, and all options are available: You can decide if you want the volume or tone pot closest to your picking hand, and whether the 3-way switch is reversed or in its normal orientation.

The all-new method. I usually unsolder all the parts and re-install the pots and switch on the control plate in the desired orientation, and then rewire the complete circuit. This is the most time-intensive method, but it’s the approach that allows you to use the neatest wiring. Fig. 2 shows my favorite wiring diagram for the reversed control plate, with the volume pot in the front position and a standard 3-way switch setup.

Another common problem has to do with the placement of the 3-way switch on the Tele control plate. Some players don’t like how the switch is aligned in a straight row with the pots. I think Leo Fender’s idea was brilliant: The switch tip points toward the engaged pickup! But I also understand how those used to other guitars—a Stratocaster, Les Paul, SG, ES-335, or PRS, for example— may find this awkward. If you’re in this camp, let’s see what alternatives you have.

Strat Style. As you all know, the Stratocaster’s 5-way switch is angled. If you prefer this position, you can buy a control plate with an angled slot for the Tele’s 3-way switch (Fig. 3). Simply replace the stock control plate with one of these, and you’re done. Keep in mind, however, that on some Teles you’ll have to slightly enlarge the electronics cavity to fit the new plate— and this depends on the switch. Note: You can’t use a 5-way super-switch with these angled plates.

Gibson style. If you want to follow the Gibson switching logic (switch up = neck pickup, switch down = bridge pickup) or you like the Gibson-style 3-way toggle switch better than the Fender 3-way lever switch, this mod is for you. You need a control plate with a big hole for the toggle switch instead of the slot for the lever switch (Fig. 4).

The wiring is basically the same as with the lever plate, but you’ll have to substitute the new toggle switch for the stock switch. Unsolder the three external connections from the Tele 3-way switch. Look for a hot wire from the neck pickup (wire A), a hot wire from the bridge pickup (wire B), and the wire running from the 3-way switch’s output to the volume pot’s input (wire C). Follow Fig. 5 to re-connect these three wires to the 3-way toggle switch. If you want to reverse the neck and bridge pickup positions, simply exchange wires A and B. Connect the toggle switch’s ground lug to the case of one of the Telecasters pots.

Next month, we’ll launch into mods for the Esquire. Until then, keep on modding!