QUICK HIT: A simple Fender Modern Player Telecaster pickup and hardware upgrade template.
In this build guide we're taking a mid-range Fender Telecaster, the Modern Player Thinline model with P90 pickups, and upgrading to a more robust pair of Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups for a little more growl along with a smoother jazz-like finish and a distinct '50s tone.
We'll also replace the stock bridge with a Callaham American hardtail bridge and swap out the four tone and volume knobs.
For a broader list of recommendations, checkout our best guitar pickups article.
Here's what the guitar looks like out of the box:
The pickups and original bridge are Fender stock. Not awful, but nothing to write home about and easy upgrade fodder. The knobs are a kind of hard plastic, so we'll swap those out with chrome-plated Ernie Ball Telecaster knobs.
Here's what we'll end up with:
The body design is a semi-hollow mahogany, which means our base model is solid and worth the investment. It's essentially an economy guitar from Fender that can be dramatically improved by some simple upgrades.
We like the maple fretboard and will keep the ferrules that can be seen holding the strings in place on the back of the guitar's body.
Here's everything we'll be using:
Fender Modern Player Thinline Telecaster
Seymour Duncan Antiquity P90 Soapbar (neck)
Seymour Duncan Antiquity P90 Soapbar (bridge)
Callaham Vintage Hardtail Bridge
Elixir Nanoweb Lights, 10 - 46
Ernie Ball Telecaster Knobs, Chrome-Plated, 2 sets of 2
Approximate Total Cost: $850
If you buy the Seymour Duncan Antiquity P90 pickup set, you'll need two versions of the same pickup, one for the neck and one for the bridge. In this set, the bridge version is wound to be slightly brighter and more aggressive than the neck pickup.
Together, the pair will give your Telecaster a lot more growl and bite along with a smoother jazz-friendly appeal to help balance things out. Mids and treble are both voiced a little stronger in this set, per the Alnico 2 magnets and custom coil winding. Chords sound full and well-rounded while melodic note runs are sweet and bright, hinting at an early '50s Les Paul.
You'll need to remove the strings, knobs and face plate in order to remove the stock P90s that come with the guitar.
Once the original pickups are out, go ahead and install the new ones, then put the plate back on.
The Bridge and New Strings
You'll need to take the stock strings off the Telecaster in order to remove the bridge and the ferrules from the back of the guitar's body. Keep the ferrules close and set the original bridge aside.
Note that on a hardtail bridge, the screws are under the saddles, meaning you'll need to turn the saddles to the side in order to install the new bridge.
This video from Fender details the process pretty clearly.
You can see in the photo below that the three holes for the screws are nestled in between each saddle. As demonstrated in the video, you can temporarily turn the saddles to the side in order to install the new bridge.
Once you have the new bridge installed you can run your strings through the back of the body and through the bridge, using the ferrules to hold them in place.
Now that everything else is back in place, remove the four knobs and replace them with the new Ernie Ball set.
They're really just a "finishing touch" and I personally tend to prefer the knobs without numbers (and that aren't made of plastic). You can certainly leave this mod out, or choose a different set of knobs if you prefer.
Your Questions and Ideas
Have a mod or part that you know would work particularly well with this Fender Telecaster Thinline pickup mod?
Maybe you disagree with the choices we've listed?
Let us know in the comments section below. If you have an idea that holds water, we'll add it to the list so others can benefit as well.
Likewise, if you have an idea for a guitar (electric or acoustic) build, you can drop it there as well and we'll look into it.