I recently composed a blog in response to an email from one of my pickup affectionados in Germany asking a question that I realized is of ULTIMATE importance in Strat tone: “what is the best distance from the pickup to the strings for the best results?” Since that time, I have received several requests to do a similar blog on Tele pickup height adjustment … and so, here we go!
Once again, I need to make it clear that I am talking about real-deal vintage pickups and real-deal quality pickups like the ones made by Jason Lollar, Curtis Novak, Lindy Fralin, And myself. Those crappy Ceramic Bars glued next to steel slug things that come standard in so many inexpensive Tele’s and Tele copies today cannot really be made to sound good, so a trip to the waste-basket is the only course of treatment for them.
I also MUST mention that these are my personal recommendations. You may be going for something totally different, and as such may want to totally disregard my suggestions; if so, I fully understand, and rest assured, my feelings will not be hurt in the least bit.
I prefer to use a digital caliper to take measurements, but a quality luthier’s ruler will do fine if you have excellent vision! Okay, so with no further ado, here are my suggestions and reasons why.
Low E: 4.46mm / 0.175"
Hi E : 5.0mm / 0.198"
(Measurements from the bottom of the string to the top of the magnetic pole piece)
As with Strats … but even MORE so with Telecasters, folks will often place the bridge pickup too high (close to the strings), with a VINTAGE set this destroys the tone, making it sound too narrow, focused, brittle, and harsh. The reason so many folks get used to placing this pickup as close as possible to the strings is because it gives more output; however, this will result in the terrible Tele icepick! Also notice that I generally position the bridge pickup with the high strings just slightly farther from the pickup than the low-strings. Once again, many folks do it the other way around, but I believe my setting results in a much more balanced and uniformly useable bridge-position. As with all truly fine Tele sets, my pickups certainly do NOT suffer from this lack of Tele bridge spank!
Low E: 5.00mm / 0.198"
Hi E : 3.50mm / 0.138"
This is a bit closer to the strings than many folks go with, and I should mention that this measurement is from the metal COVER on a Tele neck pickup to the strings … remember the actual magnetic pole pieces are a half a millimeter or so below the cover … so it’s not really quite as close as these measurements may make it seem. It, by chance you are using a fully un-covered neck pickup, like my Velvet Telecaster set, then you will want to measure to the magnetic pole-piece and add aprx. .5mm to each setting. Okay, there are three goals here. First, we want a great neck tone that sings beautifully and does not fall apart into mud even with a lot of gain added. Second, we want to be able to roll the tone back a little and have a truly rewarding experience playing big Jazz chords and lines. And last, we want to ensure it blends perfectly with the bridge pickup for a rewarding and beautiful middle position..
A couple of final important notes:
First, don’t be confused by the typical lack of adjustment screws showing on the Tele neck pickup, simply remove the pick-guard and you will find them hiding beneath!
Second, if the bridge pickup uses rubber grommets (tubing) as tension devices (rather than springs), and these have shrunken due to age or over-tightening, you might need to replace them. If the tensioning devices on the three mounting screws do not provide enough tension (force) holding the pickup to the Tele bridge-plate, unacceptable noise/feedback may occur. And, if you do replace them, also make sure the copper/steel base-plate remains firmly against the bottom of the pickup, or the same noise may occur!