What You Need To Know About Telecaster Pickups

Posted on January 04 2023

The stock neck pickup on Fender's Telecaster isn't a popular option among some guitarists. The difference between the Telecaster pickups on the bridge and neck is night and day in a way that doesn't sound very good together—they seem too different. When it comes to sounds that musicians love, the crystal-clear twang of the bridge pickup is beautifully loud and the most common. The stock neck pickup doesn't offer that same clarity or volume, and the two clash hard against each other to create an uneven tone. So what do you do? In a guitar that offers two pick-ups, it's a shame to be stuck using only one if you want a good sound. Your guitar supplies and parts all lend themselves to your sound. So, here is what you need to know about telecaster pickups.

The good news is that pretty much everything works well in the neck position of a Tele. Despite the occasional clash, even the original pickup can sound sweet to the right person. The issue is when it comes time to install a new neck pickup. Unless it's a drop-in Tele design, there's the issue of enlarging the pickup cavity and buying a new pickguard. And while replacing a stock bridge pickup is less expensive, they are both costly jobs to tackle without taking care.

You could even embrace vintage sound. We have a fantastic set of recreations from vintage Telecasters that are designed to sound responsive and be well-defined. Swapping stock Tele pickups for these handmade replacements will give your ax the old-school feels you desire. 

What Causes The Tonal Sound?

The magnetic field generated by the electromagnetic coils inside a pickup converts string vibrations into electrical currents that can easily pass through the wiring and connect with amplifiers and speakers. With this design, both bridge and neck pickups have certain tonal qualities that directly affect the guitar's sound.

Telecaster pickups were traditionally wound with plain enamel-coated magnet wire, and these pickups used a thicker 42 AWG wire. Early Tele pick-ups had a fullness closer to a P-90, but later pickup with the 42 AWG wire produced that familiar Tele twang. The reason Telecaster neck pickups can sound so wooly is partly because of their history. Initially, switch positions had a volume control and a blender control for bridge and neck pickups on the early Broadcaster.

When a tone control replaced the blender control, the bass and neck switching was retained. The bass setting became even darker in 1952. Since running pickups without tone controls mean the treble roll-off isn't present, the cover was perfectly fine with its darkening effect. As soon as the tone control replaced the blender control, the metallic cover's sonic influence became more pronounced. That made the sound muffled and weak.

When it's not made of German silver, the metal cover results in a muffled sound. Removing the cover can enhance a stock Telecaster pickup's tone, but then the coil wire may be exposed. You can protect it by wrapping some pick-up tape or installing an open-frame replacement metal cover, but you'll need to look at your guitar supplies carefully.The problem with removing the cover may be that the treble response and loudness increase. With a small and squat coil shape in the stock Tele pickups, it creates a woolier tone. The classic Tele tone with both pickups engaged hadn't been intended, and instead, there was originally a 'bass preset.' Stratocaster neck pickups were more popular for quite some time, but that doesn't mean that the Telecaster can't match them.

Drop-in Tele pickups are one of the better options for replacing a stock neck pickup. Take the Retro Wind Telecaster Pickup. Monty's took everything good from a '68 Telecaster pickup and tweaked it to perfection, including the neck pickup. It's more chimney, with a bell-like tone, more like a Stratocaster neck pickup, and more open than stock Tele pickups. Finally, an articulate and sparkling set without Telecaster's "ice-pick" problem.

"Ice-Pick" Problem?

The vintage Telecaster could get a little "ice-picky." The neck pick-up was dead and wooly. Yet a multi-pickup guitar is supposed to give a tonal variety. Tone is a never-ending quest that stems from knowing your equipment well and how to play. Teles are brighter than a Les Paul, and occasionally that can create microphonic feedback, which players call the 'ice-pick' problem. 

The other problem with a stock Tele pickup is that it isn't particularly loud. For most rock music, this won't be much of a problem, but in a lot of music, the low end of the signal chain doesn't reach a point of diminishing returns. You have to decide if you're willing to live with less volume when you're practicing or if you need something louder—a louder pickup would do the job, even though they aren't ideal for rhythm playing.

Post-1965 Fender

Some guitarists like to claim that post-1956 Fender guitars are inferior to their 50's, and early 60s counterparts, but there is something to be said for a '68 Telecaster pickup. Late '60s Telecaster pickups have a slightly lower output, which helps smooth out the tone. The thinner magnets combined with less wire gives a narrower coil, boosting the top end for cleans and more scooped-out mids. The top-end is bright without straying in 'ice-pick' territory.

The Telecaster really is a guitar with a long history, and despite the occasional downfalls of its stock neck pick-ups, it is one of the most long-lasting guitar models that has seen a share of variations and specialty models. Each of these models helped shape the history of rock and country music with their unmistakable twang.

Almost all of us are chasing a "dream sound" that comes with practice and guitar supplies. The right gear influences your sound. This is most true of the Tele pickups, so if this type of sound doesn't work for you, maybe it's time to look at a vintage recreation for a different sound or another style, like a mini-humbucker. Stock pickups have changed dramatically over time, especially in how they're manufactured, so if you're searching for a vintage sound, try a recreation from Monty's in your Telecaster or one of our modern-day configurations like the Danish Pete! Get a better sound with our Telecaster pickups today.

Recent Posts