Monday, September 19, 2011
Adjusting the neck pickup height on a Fender Telecaster style guitar
The neck pickup on this Telecaster needs to be raised. However, as is the case on most Telecaster-style guitars, there are no height adjustment screws in sight. There is a way to adjust this, but it’s not entirely obvious. Although the following steps might seem like a lot of work, you can easily do this in 20 or 30 minutes.
Before starting, you should really ask yourself why you want to adjust the pickup height. A common mistake is to think that if you move the pickup as close as possible to the strings, you can get a more powerful and better sound. However, as you move the pickup closer to the strings, the pickup magnets can start to influence the strings themselves, even dampening them and affecting the sound in a bad way. For this reason you need to be careful not to raise them by too much.
The pickup on THIS guitar is noticeably low and the output is much quieter than the bridge pickup. I could lower the bridge pickup instead, but I already like how it sounds and don’t want to mess with it, so I’m going to raise the neck pickup.
Before continuing, let’s take some measurements. Press down on the last fret of whatever string you want to measure and then use a ruler to deduce the distance between the pickup and that string. Do this for both of the E strings and also measure one of the middle strings. The reason you need to measure one of the middle strings is that, since this particular pickup is curved on top, it could be closer to the strings in the middle than at the edges. What you don’t want to do is adjust it nicely at the edges only to find that it ends up far too close in the middle.
After measuring this pickup we find that we have a good 4 mm at each E string and just under 4 mm in the middle, so the plan is to raise it up by 2 mm at both ends.
First thing we should do is slacken the strings. You might be able to get away without doing this, but it certainly makes things easier.
Now remove all of the screws holding the scratch plate (pickguard) in place.
Lift up and remove the scratch plate. The pickup will stay attached to the guitar, so make sure you take this into account as you lift out the scratch plate.
You will now see that the pickup is screwed into the body of the guitar with two screws.
Before making any adjustments, it’s time to measure the pickup height again. That way, after we make any adjustments, we can measure how much the pickup has moved (since we’ve slackened off the strings, we can’t compare to our previous measurements now). This pickup is measuring approximately 4 mm above the guitar body at both ends. Remember that the plan is to raise this one by 2mm at each end, so we will raise it to 6 mm above the guitar body.
Although not necessary here, I have unscrewed the pickup completely just to show you what we’re dealing with. As you can see, there are two springs on the pickup screws. This allows you to adjust the height by simply turning the screws. Some Telecasters do not have these springs, however, and if that is the case for you, I recommend adding some now. Otherwise you will only be able to raise the height by propping something under the pickup, such as washers or coins. A cheap and simple method is to steal the spring out of a cheap ballpoint pen, cut it in half, and slide one half over each of the screws, although if you prefer you can get proper pickup springs or tubing from any number of sources.
Rotate the screw at each end to adjust the height (anti-clockwise [counterclockwise] to raise the pickup and clockwise to lower it – note that this is the opposite to most pickups). Keep measuring the height after each adjustment until the pickup is where you want it. Remember that in THIS case the plan was to raise it by 2mm, so we want it to sit 6mm above the guitar body. Your guitar will most likely be different.
If you want to experiment a bit, you could tighten your strings again and play a while to try out the new pickup height. Once you’re happy, you can replace the scratch plate. In this case, we already have the pickup height we want, so I’m going to go ahead and replace the scratch plate now.
If you haven’t already done so, tighten up the strings and enjoy your guitar's new sound!