I got my Fender Telecaster in 2006 on a trip to New York. I had just finished my Leaving Cert exams and was getting away from the stress and drama of it all by joining my Mum and Dad on a trip to the US. I didn’t buy the guitar myself, it was a gift from my Dad after having successfully diverted our course towards Manny’s on 82nd Street (I think).
The place was full of amazing guitars, I was happy just to look but knew it was a chance to get my first electric at a good price (compared to prices at home). For $150 I left with a Solid Ash body Mexican Telecaster 60th Anniversary Edition. I was delighted, more so to have my first electric guitar rather than to specifically have a Telecaster. It was nice to finally have one after having played acoustic for so long… It also looked pretty cool which was important.
Up to that point I had played a semi-acoustic Takamine with my band. Running it through a heavy metal distortion pedal it generated some insane sounds (and vicious feedback!!). I’d say my stubbornness to stick with acoustic influenced the raw gravelly sound of the band for some time, I really had no interest in changing and our lead guitarist had a sweet Strat to offset my influence. I loved the acoustic sound, and still do, but this guitar helped us move into a more stable and refined sound: allowing us to be a bit more mainstream and do a few more gigs.
From 2006-08 I played the Tele on stage, mainly funk and blues riffs – I played it to death and it served me well. It got its first tune up just before some studio recording in late 2007… I left it in to get cleaned and to “improve the electronics” it came back slightly cleaner and sounding exactly the same… I guess I wasn’t sure what I was after. For the recording I ended up using an American Tele in the studio as suggested by the tech… It did sound better in ways but I still regret not just sticking with my own – I can hear the difference today, you just know.
I moved to Paris for a year from 2008 – 09 and brought the Tele along as part of my makeshift studio. I had been getting more and more interested in my own electric compositions and the Tele was a guitar I could bring, play and record without much hassle. Mid to late 2008 it featured on a lot of tracks I recorded – mainly as wandering guitar solos or ethereal super reverbing tones. It was clear that the Tele was not giving the cleared sound and I decided to replace the neck pickup with a standard Vintage Seymore Duncan pickup. Lacking any soldering equipment (or ability!) I simply twisted the new wiring into the existing set up. It worked great and I quickly recorded a new song with the results.
While in Paris I also killed time by applying black vinyl lettering to the body of the guitar. I was definitely influenced by a similar design on Karl Hyde’s guitar from Underworld, but I was also getting quite passionate about the meaning behind my work and saw it as a place to combine my words and music. I planned out and executed my own “repaint” without paints, adding every letter by hand and trying to maintain its relevance by using quotes from my writing. The result was quite pleasing and surprisingly impressive and professional looking. I was starting to take ownership of the guitar I never really wanted… I had finally found a way to make it my own and define it against the rest.
Even though it was a Mexican Tele and the sound was never going to be the best I was always quite impressed with the body and the action. However following Paris I knew I needed to either improve what I had or get something better… But had I a need? I was no longer in a band and my electronic music barely had room in the live show to include it… It was token at best. And so, like my guitar playing it fell by the way side for some time before I finally shook a leg and took care of the issues.
By the time I got round to really making this Tele my own I was in a very different place. I had graduated and was pursuing a Masters.. I had found a knack for web design and development and my Electronic Music was good… But not fulfilling. I played guitar but only for myself and without the drive of a band or with and purpose. I was very lost in that respect. In a way, the Tele was more of an object to improve rather than an instrument at this point… A mini project to make look good and show off rather than a tool. I had grown to love Telecasters as a design and I wanted to make my own special … Unique.
In 2011 I added a B5 Bigsby… Nothing like an awesome hunk of metal to make an all American guitar look more American. My mindset when holding the drill above its perfect body was that it was not an expensive guitar in the first place; it’s never going to be a better guitar without some sort of action; there was no way I’d let anyone else do this; i’d have only myself to blame if it went wrong. It wasn’t a very pretty operation but the final results were pretty good. I also replaced the bridge pickup with a heavier sounding lil’ 59 to give it a bit more character when I needed it. Something unique to play off the neck pickup. It is a far hotter pickup but it does add something unique.
The job was blotchy and I made mistakes: bad drilling, backwards wires, dodgy soldering… But I had done it and was happy to say I did. Most of all I felt it looked cool which to be brutally honest was the main goal. In that respect I had also removed the lettering from the front of the body as the Bigsby ruined the horizontal spacing and deserved the clean body against which to stand out.
Never the less the sound issues remained, bad earthing and dodgy connections made the guitar unusable for recording and a short meant the tone pot was useless.
I am now at a stage where my frustration with my own progress as a musician and devotion to the art has driven me to seriously consider why or what I am doing. I still loved the instrument as an object and fetishise over them in shops and online. Yet I want to step back into an expressive role and concentrate on its use as a tool and what it really means to me – how it has played a role in my life since 06.
This year I fixed the electronics myself… I did this because it was the only bit that actually really matters. It’s the bit that allows the guitar to be a tool, to do its job. Up to now I have been content to make it all look awesome, but really that was just a lie to convince myself I am still involved. I am not and won’t be until I try again. This year I have insulated the cavities with copper tape, replaced the input cup with and electro socket and replaced the jack with a newer.. Better model. I have also replaced broken screws, earthed the bridge and strings, fixed the wiring and tone and improved the action. It sounds….
It sounds like my guitar. Mine.
I need to do something with it.