Telecaster Bridge Pickup Feedback Reduction Tips
If you are like me and love the Fender Telecaster but cannot deal with the unwanted microphonic feedback from the bridge pickup then this article will help you with tips to reduce or eliminate it.
The first issue is the pickup itself. The pickup must be wax potted. This is a process of dipping the pickup in a wax bath to solidify the coil windings around the bobbin and magnet poles. This is not as easy as it sounds. There is a method and a science to it including wax material, temperature of the wax and duration of the bath. Some manufacturers even use a vacuum system to completely impregnate the coil. All current production guitar pickups are wax potted so this variable is eliminated. On some vintage units however the wax potting step was either done very quickly or skipped to speed up production making for a highly microphonic pickup. Some players choose to replace the vintage unit with a current production model. Lindy Fralin pickups of Richmond, Virginia offers repair and potting services and also has a full line of replacement pickups for many applications The next thing to look at is the elevator plate. This is the steel plate (usually copper plated) that is attached to the bottom of the pickup bobbin. This plate serves two purposes, first to reflect the magnetic field up toward the strings (increasing midrange frequencies) and second to mount the pickup to the bridge plate.
The elevator plate must be secured to the bottom of the pickup and it is a major culprit for unwanted microphonic feedback. Many years ago I owned a 1960 Fender Custom Esquire. A Burgundy Mist, double bound beauty. The pickup was extremely microphonic and you could actually speak into it and hear your voice through an amplifier! To secure the elevator plate to the bottom of the pickup you can use aquarium silicone sealer that comes in a tube. You can get this from any hardware store. Spread a little on the elevator plate and secure it to the pickup bobbin.
During the 1950’s and into the mid to late 1960’s the height adjustment for the bridge pickup was achieved by a #6-32 machine screw and a small piece of rubber surgical type tubing acting as a spring. The tubing is non-magnetic and does not transfer vibrations thus contributing to a damping effect reducing the microphonic condition. In the mid to late 1960’s the tubing was replaced with small, steel springs which actually enhanced the unwanted microphonic effect. On some vintage Telecasters the tubing can dry out and become deformed taking the shape similar to a donut. This leaves the pickup slightly floating and adds to the problem and not to mention the lack of height adjustment. Replacing steel springs or deformed tubing will help in microphonic reduction. Replacement tubing is available from Fender and can be purchased online from Guitar Parts Resource along with many replacement guitar parts.
The last part we will look at is the bridge plate. Vintage Telecaster bridge plates are made of steel which is a ferrous metal. This actually contributes to the tone of the Telecaster by becoming part of the pickup, magnetically speaking. The bridge plate must be secured to the guitar body to reduce the unwanted microphonics. You can use rubber cement for this and it is available in any office supply store, hobby shop or even supermarket. Before you install the bridge plate with the pickup to the guitar body, coat the bottom of the bridge plate liberally with the rubber cement.
The result is twofold from the rubber cement. First it secures the bridge plate to the guitar body and second it has a gasket effect damping some of the microphonics. Another way to avoid unwanted microphonic feedback is to use a non-ferrous bridge plate such as stainless steel or brass. The tone will change with the use of a non-ferrous bridge plate however becoming more focused and less twangy. Some players actually prefer the tone that a non-ferrous bridge plate produces and not to mention the reduction of microphonics. Danny Gatton fashioned a stainless steel bridge plate for his heavily modified, vintage Telecaster with the help of his father. Another Tele player that prefers the non-ferrous tone is Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Some of his Tele’s are set up with brass bridge plates. As a side note these particular guitars are set up with 5 strings and tuned to open G although this is a subject for a future article. A great source for high quality replacement bridge plates is Glendale Guitars. They have an array of different models to choose from.
And so if your pickup is properly potted with the elevator plate secured with tubing for height adjustment and a properly secured bridge plate then you will have greatly reduced or eliminated the risk for unwanted microphonic feedback from your Telecaster.