Building my own Jimmy Page Telecaster

Ever since I started working on my own guitars, it’s been hard for me to buy a guitar off the shelf – not necessarily because I’m that great of a guitar technician, but mostly because I’ve been able to make guitars just the way I like them. A recent experience that exemplified that feeling was when I was sitting in a guitar store earlier this year, holding a $2,000 guitar, thinking to myself: “My guitar at home, that I put together from used parts, with Tegan and Sara stickers on the back and a tremolo cavity that I’d hacked away at with a file to make room for a slightly different-shaped replacement (a Gotoh 510, if anyone’s curious) sounds and plays better than this”.

About a month ago, I was browsing the inventories of various guitar part suppliers when something caught my eye. It was a Telecaster-style body, shaped from a single piece of ash, with a beautiful grain pattern, that weighed around 4lbs. Relative to other commonly used woods in guitar-building, ash tends have more variability in weight, and combined with the fact that guitars are usually made out of two or more pieces of wood glued into one, it’s rare to find these attributes together.

I thought back to a guitar that I’d been coveting for a while – Jimmy Page’s signature white-blonde Telecaster. Besides the fact that it cost $2,500, the reason I never bought it was because there were a few things about that guitar that I wish I were different, and it’d seemed like a terrible decision to pay that much for a guitar, only to then put in more time and money modifying it into something less valuable than if I had kept it in its original condition.

With that guitar in mind, I clicked “purchase”.

Staining and Finishing

A few days later, it arrived, in a box full of shredded paper to protect it. After admiring the grain pattern up close for an inordinate amount of time, I set to work staining it with a white, alcohol-based pigment. A few coats later, I had come close to the shade of white I wanted and was afraid to apply more stain, for fear of washing out the grain pattern even further.

Over the next week or so, I applied a few coats of finishing oil a day, leaving at least a 4-hour drying time each coat. As it turned out, the oil finish lifted a bit of the stain, resulting in an unintended, but not unpleasant “white chocolate cake”-colored finish. A few days after I applied the last coat of oil, I buffed in a final coat of wax.

(L to R) Fresh from the factory, after a few coats of stain, and after about 15 coats of finishing oil. (Below) The same, from the back.

Acquiring and Refurbishing a Neck

The next step in this build was to find myself a neck with a rosewood fingerboard (like the one on the Jimmy Page Telecaster) that I would be able to work into playable shape, but that also wasn’t too expensive. I managed to find this old unbranded neck off Reverb for cheap.

However, it did have a number of issues.

Firstly, there was an old screw with a broken-off head embedded in the wood. The previous owner had drilled a hole right next to it, perhaps to try and extract the screw, but had apparently failed. I was able to remove the stuck screw by using my smallest drill bit to drill around the screw, making room for the pair of needle-nosed pliers which I used to grip and rotate the shank.

Secondly, the neck came with a headstock that was painted black. From the quality of the paint job, it was clear that this was not done at the factory (unless the factory happened to employ an amateur like me). I considered leaving it, but eventually, curiosity got the better of me (not to mention that the guitar I was trying to emulate did not have a black headstock). To my horror, the previous owner had inlaid their initials into the headstock. However, this also gave me the chance to learn how to make a headstock veneer (see below)

Thirdly, the frets that came with the neck were tiny – both skinny and short. These were common on guitars in the 50s and 60s, although you can sometimes still find them on contemporary guitars aimed at recreating instruments from that era. I ended up refretting the guitar with my favorite sized frets.

Fourthly, the plastic nut was completely worn out and would have had to be replaced anyway, even if I didn’t want to do a refret.

Finally, the edges of the neck were not rolled (i.e., the fingerboard and the side of the neck met at a 90-degree angle), making it uncomfortable to play. This was something I would address when I refretted the guitar.

Making a Headstock Veneer

After removing the stuck screw, the next thing I did was to make a veneer for the headstock. I pieced together the general concept in my head: (a) find some wood veneers, (b) cut it roughly to shape, (c) use steam (I used my kettle) to pre-bend the arched bit, (d) glue it to the headstock, making sure to use multiple clamps to get full coverage, (e) use a sharp knife to trim it to shape, (f) sand off the remaining edges to blend them in, (g) carefully re-drill the holes for the tuners, and (h) oil and wax the surface to protect it.

That said, this was straddling the territory of what was actually Google-able, so I had to fly by the seat of my pants for lots of the process.

After trying a few hardware stores in the city without luck, I turned to eBay and managed to find a set of wood veneers of various species of woods. I sorted them in order of how good I thought they would look, and did a dry run with an ash veneer. Ultimately, I chose to use a pine one, both because its reddish hues matched the color of the fretboard, but also as a secret homage to the early Telecasters in the 50s that were made of pine.

The Refret

I chose to refret the guitar with Jescar EVO Gold FW47104 fret wire. This is a common gauge used on many modern guitars, and I like it because it’s not too tall or wide, but just large enough that my fingers barely brush the fretboard while playing, providing enough contact to feel “connected” to the instrument, without too much friction from fingertips rubbing against the fretboard.

I wish I had taken better “before” pictures, but I had done a couple of refrets before and didn’t think this time was particularly notable, and it’s also hard to get good process photos because the operation involves using a soldering iron to heat the frets while using a pair of pliers to slowly extract them. With two hands already involved in the process, it would have been hard to operate a camera.

It took me a few hours to (a) remove the old frets, (b) hammer in the new ones, (c) cut the fret ends, (d) file down the remaining stubs till they met the neck, (e) file and shape the ends of the frets, (f) crown and level the frets using sandpaper, a sanding block, and a crowning file, (g) roll the edge of the fretboard and smooth out the fret ends, (h) polish the frets using sandpaper and micromesh.

(above) Post-refret

Replacing the Nut

After refreting the guitar, I had to replace the nut, as the new, taller frets sat higher than the nut (thus, none of the strings would have been able to ring when the guitar was played “open” – when no frets are pressed).

First, I had to remove the old plastic one. There are many ways to do this, but one which I had successfully used in the past was to use a hammer and wooden block to gently tap the base of the nut, causing it to pop out of the slot. However, this time, mishap struck, and after the gentlest of taps, the top of the fretboard, together with the plastic nut, disintegrated and broke off! Thankfully, the break was clean, and with my newfound wood-gluing experience from making the veneer, I was able to repair this fairly easily. If you look carefully at the “after” photo, you might be able to spot a couple of lines from where the break happened. And if you can’t spot them, I guess I did a good job!

Next, using sandpaper and a set of nut files, I shaped a new nut made of unbleached cow bone that I had ordered online. To save some effort, I bought one that was close to the width and breadth of the nut slot, and that had pilot grooves cut into the top to guide where the strings would go.

Lots of filing, sanding, and polishing later, I ended up with a result I was pleased with. I did end up cutting the nut slots as low as possible, so they might have to be filled with bone dust and re-cut in the future, but that’s not too difficult to do.

Soldering the Electronics

One of the changes I wanted to make to the original Jimmy Page guitar was the pickup configuration. I wanted something a little more versatile, and I loved the pickups on the Music Man St. Vincent signature guitar I used to own, so I decided to replace the traditional Telecaster neck pickup with a mini-humbucker. I also wanted to be able to split the humbucker with a toggle switch, to produce something similar to a single-coil tone. After some experimenting, I wired a 2.2K ohm resistor to the switch, which results in a “partial” coil split, and thicker tone when the coils are split.

I’m Done!

After a couple of weeks work, I assembled everything and set up the guitar, which included a couple of finishing touches: Knobs from a Jazz Bass, oversized strap buttons, and a Gotoh bridge with cut-off sides.

In case you wanted to hear what it sounds like:

Me covering “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”

A guitar part I wrote for Alessia Cara’s “Sweet Dreams”

A Squier HM Bass

A couple of months back, I tried playing a fretless bass, and really wanted one of my own. After hunting around on Reverb for a bit, I found this gem.

In the late 80’s, Fender moved the production of its Squier line from Japan to Korea (I wrote about my Japanese-made Squier here). Together with this move, they also started producing a line of “HM” guitars and basses, meant to capitalize on the popularity of heavy metal at the time (hence, “HM”). The line lasted several years and production ended in the early 90’s.

This bass guitar is an example of one of the basses produced during this time. It has a precision bass-style split-coil pickup in the middle, as well as a jazz bass-style pickup nearer to the bridge. The previous owner added locking strap buttons (that I don’t use and will replace at some point) and lost the original knobs (the ones in the picture are replacements).

However, the biggest, most obvious modification to this guitar is that it’s fretless! The work looks really well done – the fret slots look well filled in, and the fretboard is smooth and level. However, I do find the decision to modify this particular bass an interesting one, from a purely cost perspective: The cost of removing the frets professionally probably cost half the value of the bass itself. To me, that’s a sign that the previous owner cared about the instrument, which is why I bought it.

Playing a Fender Custom Shop Strat

Earlier this month, I was back home on vacation and got to play some of my dad’s guitars. I recorded this on a (if I remember correctly) 59′ replica Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster. In the background, from left to right are: a Martin D-45, a Japanese-made Epiphone Casino, a Gibson Hummingbird, and another custom shop Telecaster Deluxe.


This was my first “real” guitar. We all have that friend who borrows something and then breaks it or doesn’t return it. Well, I was that friend, but to my dad, because this guitar looks almost nothing like how it did when he gave it to me (Google “black 57 Stratocaster reissue” – that’s what it looked like before). For starters, this guitar was black, and had a one-piece maple neck. It’s now yellow (after being all-black, white, then red), and has a rosewood neck. Having said that, I’ve owned this guitar for about 15 years now, which means it’s been this way longer than the state it was in when it left the factory (I believe late 90s).

It has a classic bell-like Stratocaster sound:

In contrast, I played the same piece (more or less), with my other guitar (above), which has “hotter” pickups. With headphones, you might be able to hear that the tone is thicker and warmer:

Five (+1) Guitars, One Solo

I recorded all the guitars with volume and tone pots set to 10, and switched to position #2 (middle+bridge; except the St. Vincent which was neck+middle+bridge, because it has its own switching).I used Reaper with the S-Gear VST.

These are the guitars:

#1: 1987 Japanese Squier

#2: Fender Player Series body, one-piece Warmoth pau ferro neck, pickups from The Creamery

#3: 57′ AVRI body, Warmoth rosewood neck, Kinman Blues pickups

#4: 1998 MIM Deluxe Super Stratocaster with Seymour Duncan humbuckers (bridge: JB Jr., middle: duckbucker, neck: lil’ ’59)

#5: Squier Hello Kitty Stratocaster Mini

#6: 2016 Music Man St. Vincent Signature (all-rosewood neck)

Hello Kitty

A few weeks ago, I found this at my local Guitar Center for $50. I also saw a small, pink Vox amp that was sold on the same day; it looked like a small child had quit his/her hobby.

This particular guitar had a set of cheap trapezoid tuners on them, which are notoriously poorly built. I had some spare Fender vintage-style gold tuners lying around, so I immediately swapped them out. True to their reputation, a few of the old tuners fell apart immediately after I removed them.

I’m also thinking of replacing the wiring/pickups, but honestly they already sound pretty good. Here’s a short clip:

A Pointy Bass

Earlier today, I bought this Jackson JS2 bass guitar. My first stringed instrument was actually a Yamaha bass that I played for a few months before switching to guitar, and sticking with that for the last 18 years.

I’d been wanting to pick up the bass again for a few months now, and had been going back and forth between a Sire V3, an Aerodyne Jazz Bass on Reverb that the owner had fitted with Nordstrand pickups (that eventually got sold anyway), but when I saw this on sale at my local Guitar Center, I thought it was perfect. I wasn’t sure how committed I’d be to learning it, so I didn’t want to spend a ton of money, and at $250 with a gig bag, this was a steal.

I don’t know enough about bass guitars to know what to look for in detail, but the workmanship on this thing is pretty great. It has a maple neck and a rosewood fingerboard with really cool “shark fin” inlays, and the fretwork looks and feels excellent. I can’t speak to the quality of the pickups and electronics, but it sounds… like a bass:

I’m sure that as I get better, I’ll know whether or not this needs an upgrade, but for now, it sounds pretty great just going straight into Reaper (my DAW), with a compressor and pre-amp VST.

The thing I love the most, though, is the pointy headstock. As I was fawning over this thing in the store, I realized, somewhat ironically after playing Strats for the last 18 years, that my tastes for guitars and bass guitars were the polar opposite: While I dislike pointy guitars (e.g., Ibanez RGs), I wasn’t a huge fan of the Jazz or P-bass shape.

Overall, I’m really pleased with it. I’ve already spent the whole afternoon learning how to mute the strings with my right hand, and I can’t wait to practice more.


I recently got a new set of guitar pickups from The Creamery, which is a one-man hand-wound operation in the UK.

They’re slightly higher output than typical Startocaster pickups, and comparable to the output from my MIJ Squier (which has ceramic pickups in them). However, unlike the Squier, these don’t get as muddy under distortion.

Here’s what the neck (rhythm part) and neck+bridge (lead) sound like:

A Player’s Player’s Stratocaster

Most guitarists are pretty habitual – we might have different guitars, but they tend to be the same “kind” of guitar.

I’m a Stratocaster “person” – while I might “want” all sort of guitars, the guitars I end up “needing” tend to be Strats. I like the prototypical sparkly tone that its single-coil pickups produce, and the “quacky” sounds from the in-between pickup positions (i.e., using the neck and the middle pickups together, or the middle and the bridge pickups). I like how the neck is bolt-on, so if I ever have to ship a guitar, I can just disassemble the entire guitar. Most of all, I like its rounded edges, and how it looks like a rocket ship – in contrast, I think the Telecaster looks like a cheese board.

However, there are a few things about the Stratocaster that annoy me (and I’m sure, other guitarists). Thus, I’ve built this guitar, that address most (if not all) of these foibles.

First, the bridge pickup on most Strats sound like someone taking an ice pick to your ear. The lower output from a single-coil (vs. a humbucker) and the position of the pickup combine to result in an extremely bright, “trebly” sound. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for Strats to come in a HSS (humbucker, single-coil, single-coil) configuration, with the bridge pickup being replaced by a fatter sounding humbucker. However, the ones on the market tend to use uncovered humbuckers (with the magnetic pole pieces exposed), which, in my opinion, look messy. Thus, I opted to put in an EMG H4 in this guitar, which stands out with its blacked-out cover.

Secondly, the bridge on vintage Stratocasters are of a classic, but obsolete design. These have six screws bolting the front of the bridge to the body directly while allowing the rear to float (for use of a “whammy” bar). However, the tuning stability of this design has always been questionable, to the point where many players such as myself opt to “deck” the bridge (tightening the balancing springs until the bridge lays flat and is immobile). For this guitar, I found the body of a new Fender Player Series Stratocaster, which uses a 2-point tremolo, on eBay.

Thirdly, a Stratocaster normally has three knobs: a master volume, and two tone knobs that traditionally adjusted how much treble bled through on the neck and middle pickups. However, I’ve never used them separately, and more importantly, having three knobs means that the one nearest to the bridge blocks my picking hand when I want to rest it there. Thus, the simple solution was to have just a master volume and master tone (controlling all three pickups), which leaves more space around the bridge.

Finally, the most important part of a guitar is probably its neck, as it’s the part that you’re in contact with the most. For this build, I used a one-piece pau ferro neck made by Warmoth. Besides having the benefit of not needing to be finished with oil or clear-coat, it also looks super cool because of its unconventionality; Strat necks tend to come in one of two flavors: all maple, or maple back with a rosewood fingerboard.

Some additional specifications for guitar nerds:

  1. The pots are 500K CTS pots, and the volume has a built in treble-bleed.
  2. The neck and middle pickups are from a late 90s Deluxe Super Strat.
  3. The neck has a thin C-shaped profile with stainless-steel 6150 frets.
  4. The string tree is a Graph-tech design from the early 2000s – they make a different version now.

A Fender Firebird

Of all the mythical creatures I don’t believe in, the phoenix is my favorite. Throughout my life, I’ve learned and grown the most following abject failure (usually after I’d said to myself “I got this, 100%”), and so the mythology of a creature that is reborn and rises from the ashes is one that really speaks to me.

In the case of this guitar, the “rebirth” analogy applies, too.

It started out life as a late 90s Fender Deluxe Super Strat, which was made in Mexico for around either years, until around 2004, before being replaced by another model, the Deluxe Players Strat. As far I as I know, the two are very similar, with the main differences being the pickups and neck radius (the latter having noiseless pickups and a flatter neck). Here’s a photo of what it looked like originally:

Fender Deluxe Super Strat

Anyway, back to the rebirth analogy: After some back and forth on Craigslist, I met the owner at a small coffee shop in the Lower Haight, and I found that it was her ex-boyfriend’s, and that he had left it as a “gift” when they broke up (which I assumed to mean he was simply too lazy to take it with him). I ended up buying it for a steal, but needless to say, I had a strong desire to wash the instrument of its sordid history.

So, I commissioned my friend Molly Michelle Smith to paint the beautiful phoenix motif that stretches across the entire guitar:

The design covers the back too:

I think it looks great.