The Esquire Project Part II


Update 23 February: Now with cool bridge cover!

At least cosmetically, the Esquire won’t get any better than this. I still have wiring work to do–regrounding, particularly, as well as shielding, and I’m going to change the so-called “tone shaping capacitor” to achieve the famous half cocked wah tone (I can’t see why I’d ever use the standard Esquire forward position tone).



Update: Completed Esquire, 9 February 2009

I still need a bridge cover, but this is more or less “complete.” It works, sounds awesome, but still needs some tinkering. This is one cool guitar. I have no right to have a guitar this cool, except that I actually built the damned thing.


Progress as of 26 January 2009.

Rather than go back to the original post, I decided to make a new post for the actual build of the Esquire.

I initially had trouble¬† lining up the screw holes in the neck with the screw holes in the body. I thought I’d have to putty the holes and drill new holes, but after some manhandling I managed to make it fit pretty well–I had to hold the neck really tight into the pocket (and I can only hope I didn’t mess anything up at this point). Here’s a picture of the joined body and neck:


The perspective is a little weird on this picture, but that’s because I was standing down at the body end taking the photograph. At any rate, this alder tele body is beautiful. It even smells nice.

One will note that the neck says “Fender Telecaster Custom” on the headstock instead of Fender Esquire. That is a little unfortunate, but I don’t feel inclined to do anything about it. In many ways, this Esquire is simply a customized Telecaster, anyway. The neck here came from my Squier Tele Custom, in fact (I procured a Fender decal on ebay and sanded off the Squier decal–I know, I openly admit to snobbery). Its radius is 7.25″, which is the same as the original Esquires, but it (rather pointlessly) has 22 frets instead of 21.

Before anything else, I’ll have to get a soldering iron and solder the wires. At any rate, this process seems pretty straitforward.

27 January:

The Esquire is up and running, by which I mean it is wired and strung, but is pretty fucked up. I’m enjoying the pleasures of intonating a 3-saddle bridge, which is to say I can’t get it intonated well. Worse that that, however, is the buzz. Obviously I missed wired a grounding wire somewhere, or else my soldering was so bad it somehow made the guitar buzzy when plugged in. So I’ll probably have to take off both the control plate and bridge to get it fixed.

Here it is thus far:


What else? Oh, yes, I also noted that the damned American-made bridge uses standard English measurements, rather than metric, so my Allen keys won’t fit the string saddles, which means I can’t lower the strings until I get a new key. And even more annoying: I assumed standard 50s reissue control knobs would fit the pots, but they don’t, of course. The Esquire pots have too great a circumference. Of course, I rarely use the knobs anyway: I like my tone hot and the volume all the way up.

3 February Update:

The buzz and hum problem: Well, I took the Esquire to the technician at Ludlow Guitars, a tall, skinny dude named Eric. He took one look at the Esquire wiring and said, “I don’t want to work on that.” He couldn’t understand it, since he’d never wired an Esquire, only standard Telecasters. J.J. didn’t know from Esquire wiring, either. This shows you how rare the Esquire is, I suppose. Anybody who has one knows how to wire it himself. ‘Cept me.

The Ludlow guys did offer advice, however, about adding more grounding. I’m going to run a naked copper wire from the pickup to the bridge screws and a shielding ground wire from the tone pot to the ground screw in the control cavity. Of course, to do that I need some wiring, but my local hardware shop in DUMBO didn’t have anything suitable. I need to make a trip to Radioshack. I’ll also get an Ohm meter and check all the connections, I suppose. And see if I can’t find copper shielding tape.

On the subway back to Brooklyn, an old African American dude got very excited about my guitar and wanted to hear all about it. He was a bass player back in the day. Damn, I love New York.


65 Responses to “The Esquire Project Part II”

  1. Well, I did succeed in intonating this thing reasonably well, but the buzz is intolerable. I might have to take it to Ludlow Guitars to they can do it the right way.

  2. No updates, other than to conclude, after searching the internet for wiring diagrams, that my wiring isn’t “wrong,” it is simply “bad.” Somewhere along the circuit the grounding isn’t functioning properly.

    Also, everything I’ve read says the knobs should fit. Baffling that they don’t.

    Well, I’ll take it into Ludlow next week and have an expert look at it. Or perhaps, I’ll take it in tomorrow morning. Hmm, that’s a better idea.

  3. choppernewt Says:

    Or right this second. You know that’s where you’re going to end up.

  4. That’s true, but I’m stuck in Queens until nearly 6 pm, and what started as a ton of snow is now becoming a torrential rain. On my way in tomorrow I’ll stop off … wait a second… damn, I just checked their hours and they don’t open until noon. Can’t go until next week. I guess that gives me more time to fuck around with (or further fuck up) the wiring myself.

    Of course, I realize a single coil pickup buzzes like a beehive anyway, but what I’ve got going on is more like a very large angry beehive on steroids, and it stops when you touch the bridge or control plate. But I thought I hooked the pickup ground wire to the bridge just fine. I wonder if there’s another ground that I didn’t know about.

    On the plus side, the guitar plays like a dream.

  5. type “buzzing telecaster” into Google and you realize just about everybody who has a Telecaster with single coil pickups is trying to get rid of the noise. There are zillions of increasingly elaborate suggestions: shielding the cavities with copper foil, aluminum foil underneath the pickguard, various byzantine ground wiring schemes, standing in a certain place in one’s room, properly orienting your body toward Mecca.

    My favorite suggestion: throw the guitar out the window.

  6. I enjoy the line “It even smells nice”.
    I now imagine Matt sitting on the floor, cradling his guitar and gentling sniffing it.

  7. Anyone check out clustermap lately? We got some Hawaii hits and some Canadian too!

  8. Yeah, we’re famous (except that we’re not). We have been getting hits from Insomnia Radio recently, and we were up there a long time ago. But that Way Back song is amazingly catchy.

    And, yes, I did lie on the bed with the guitar and breathe its scent (and got a little woozy from the nitrocellulose). The laquer on the guitar is incredibly thin, which looks and feels great–I suspect it will age very quickly, too, but I think that’s the point. The coating is to help the body dry out sooner.

    Tonight I’m going to take the strings off, check the wiring, and raise the pickup, like a lot.

  9. C’mon… don’t you sit around the house at night just smellin random things? I know I do!

    “Whatcha doin?”

    “Just smellin’ stuff…”

  10. Herne! Welcome back.

  11. I missed Herne. He’s like the 7th Beatle.

  12. Re: the Esquire. I took the strings off and checked it out, I can’t see anything wrong. I moved the bridge ground wire, but not sure it makes any difference. I think the pickup is just going to be buzzy, especially in front of a computer monitor. It’s about twice as buzzy as the humbuckers on my black tele–but I can tone it down quite a bit with the noise gate. Unfortunately, I can’t now give it a try since I yanked the strings off and I don’t have any more.

  13. Being industrious, I actually put the strings back on–not an easy task, since I’d already cut them.

    With the noise gate cranked up, the buzz is almost tolerable. Now I know the guitar does sound cool, though. The high E seems a little weak, however. I wonder if this is from having the pickup too high or too low. If it’s too high, the magnet will eliminate sustain; if too low the volume will be too low. Hmm…

  14. choppernewt Says:

    Herne is the 6th New Kid On The Block.

  15. Herne is the 32nd Sha-Na-Na.

  16. What’s really amusing about this post is that I’m just taking to myself about boring shit and you guys are cracking jokes. This is what my teaching is like, and you guys are the bad kids in the back of the room. The kids my wife calls “the low riders.” They slouch in their chairs, pull ball caps over their faces, quip one liners to each other and shoot spit balls. I love it.

  17. choppernewt Says:

    Yeah, you know on the dashboard how you only see the first part of the comment, I saw Matt’s comment and I was all set to be all “just like your classroom!” and then saw that he’d in fact done that himself. The problem with the analogy is that hopefully there’s at least one kid in the class paying attention, whereas in this case, we troublemakers are in fact the only ones here.

    Herne is like any member of Kajagoogoo other than Limahl.

    I love this game!

  18. Herne is to the Lizards From Afar as Cameron Crowe is to the Allman Brothers.

  19. I’d join in, but I’m busy talking about my Esquire. I just won some new control knobs (for $7): this time American made ones, so I hope they fit. I found out why the other ones didn’t fit: they were Japanese and made for the split shaft potentiometers, which the Esquire doesn’t use.

    Isn’t your tele a Japanese model, Chopper? I don’t think yours would look right with chromed brass vintage style knobs, though.

    I have a winning bid so far for an Esquire pickguard, but I always get beat at the last minute for those, so I’m not hopeful.

  20. Sorry Matt. I hope you enjoy playing with your knob.

  21. I always enjoy playing with my knob. One can turn it up or down, but mostly I just turn it up.

  22. Speaking of playing, Pent-boy, you could always go really cheap and get a drum machine like this:

  23. Hoo ha! Do I love ebay. Just won a real Fender Esquire pickguard for $15, less than half the retail price.

    Only one piece left to obtain: the ashtray bridge cover.

  24. pickguard:

    control knobs:

    Then there’s the bridge cover to acquire.

    And finally, I’m going to need copper shielding tape, I think, no matter how good the rewiring I get from Ludlow Guitars:

    Recording in front of a computer monitor gives me a little EM hum even with the humbuckers in the black tele.

  25. Listening to both versions of Armor this morning.
    1) Like the first one better
    2) Still think is too long (Maybe take out the “[one verse no vocal]” sections?)

  26. Both versions? You mean you don’t like the electric guitar? I’m going to change that guitar, or let Chris do a track–but there MUST be an electric guitar, man. There MUST!

    The song isn’t too long. Wait until you hear the vocal track. Why must songs be 3 minutes? Why be constrained by such structure? Anyway, I’ll make up for it by making the next song 1:30.

  27. I can wait until I hear the vocals…but I’m telling ya, it’s too long.
    If it’s one thing I know, it’s length.

  28. The chicks don’t prefer brevity, man.

    Your attention span doesn’t quite run to 6 minutes? Anyway, I could cut out some time by shortening the bridge and instrumental sections, or by cutting out the introduction guitar. But a long song doesn’t bother me at all–I’ve always liked prog rock and very long songs. Not that this song is really prog–it’s straightforward indie rock.

    At this point I’d be most willing to take out the non vocal verses between the choruses and the sung verses. That might cut a little over a minute. The finale of the song, too, just goes on and on–I imagined possibly fading that out, so that would cut time, too. Just wait and see. Worry about something else, like getting a new drum kit.

  29. So are you going to send out your vocal demo for it?

  30. Monday. Maybe Tuesday. When I’m back in NYC.

  31. Maybe with the vocals it won’t seem as long. (I think I’ll end up being right…I usually am.)

  32. You’ve never been right about anything.

    I remember when I first started listening to Yes “Close to the Edge.” The song seemed interminable, but the more I listened to it, the more I liked it, the more it seemed just the right length, so that eventually the song seemed rather quick–at about 15 minutes.

    If we do decide Armor is too long, I’ll probably have to re-record the whole thing, and that might be a while since I have the acoustic guitar here in Ohio and all my other equipment in New York. Not that there’s any big rush.

  33. I’m not saying long songs are bad…when content requires. I just don’t know if this content requires it.
    I’m also not suggesting we cut it down to 3 minutes…or 1 minute 30 seconds…maybe a minute or so could be taken out.

    I’m only arguing the point because I really like the music. That hook is fantastic.

  34. Well, that’s positive. Perhaps I can record a vocal demo track soon.

  35. Update on the Esquire Project above.

  36. As a minor update, I think I have it figured out. I rigged a temporary wire (actually a bit of guitar string) from the tone pot to another ground point in the control cavity and it brought the hum down to about -50db, which is so slight it’s not a problem (and I can use the noise gate to get rid of that). I’ve found that if the hum read at about -35db or higher it is too loud. -50 is bearable. At any rate, through an amplifier this wouldn’t be noticeable. It’s the computer monitor that really brings out the hum.

    As a test I then plugged my other tele in with the same set up and while I was holding it the meter couldn’t even read any hum. If I set it down, the hum climbed up to about -75db (I couldn’t hear anything).

  37. I thought you were taking it to the guitar place to have it re-wired.

  38. Yeah, read the February 3rd update in the main article above–but in short, the guy at the shop didn’t understand Esquire wiring. It’s all up to me, man.

  39. Stopped in a hardware store on the way in to campus today and bought about two feet of the thinnest sheathed and braided copper wire they had, along with new wire cutters. It’s still a little bit thick for the tiny electronics in a guitar, but it just might work for two ground wires. If so, the Esquire will be all set for action.

    I hope when I arrive home this eve the pickguard and knobs will have arrived–they are the final pieces to add.

  40. All appropriate appendages are crossed.

  41. Whoo! The Esquire is now built. Is it perfect? Nope. I soldered a ground wire from the tone pot to the screw in the control cavity and then wound some naked copper wire from the pickup to the bridge screws, but the thing still buzzes–but with the noise gate turned up it is bearable. I’ll work on it more later.

    One problem was the wiring I bought was indeed too thick, as I thought it would be, but that only made it hard to work with. Should still function, so I’m not sure what all the noise is about.

    The pickguard and knobs also arrived and are installed. I still need a bridge cover, but as that’s purely cosmetic, it’ll wait until I have more cash handy.

    Pictures next week, as I left my camera in Ohio by accident.

    Now the only question is: where do I put the LFA sticker?

  42. On the back, upside down…then you can do the Bon Jovi guitar flip-up move and show everyone the sticker on the back.
    Richie Sambora.

  43. Well, I put it on the pickguard. I figured it had all this empty space….

  44. Have I mentioned how goddamned cool this Esquire sounds? It not only looks good, it sounds like it has teeth–not rich and dark like the black tele custom, but bright and angry. Clean it has an edgy twang; overdriven it sounds furious.

    I jammed this morn and decided I will definitely do a remake of Chopper Newt’s alt-politico-punk jam “Whoops Democracy,” whether the other Lizards are on board or no. This guitar is perfect for that song. Remaking that song will be pure nostalgic bliss.

  45. Or Yoko…it would be good for Yoko…

  46. It would, indeed. I’ll remake that one, too.

  47. As a very minor update, my ebay streak continues apace: I won a Fender gig bag for only $10 (these things go for $50 new) for the Esquire. It costs more to ship it to me than what I paid for it, but still less than half of retail.

    Will post a completed pic of the Esquire this evening.

  48. Those “gig-bags” must be pure profit. I bought my wife an acoustic guitar for Xmas. (Apparently she had always dreamed of learning to play…but it was the first I had heard of it…) They threw in a “$50” gig-bag for $15.

  49. Yeah, well, throwing in a gig bag to sweeten the deal on a good guitar is standard procedure, although I’m sure you’re right that the gig bags can be had wholesale for practically nothing. I never used them in the old days–only nice hardshell cases back then. But these be recession times. Who would have thought I could afford deluxe equipment when I was a college kid but would have to go economy when I made over $60k? Not me. Life ain’t rational.

    What kind of guitar did you buy your wife? I shouldn’t ask because I have a crappy Korean acoustic (sorry, Korea). A guy I used to know in Ohio wanted to jam when he discovered I played guitar, so I went over to his house one eve and found he was a rank amateur playing a $2000 Guild acoustic. I refused to be friends with him after that. Goddamned yuppies. It reminded me of when I used to race bicycles on my $400 hand built racing bike against yuppies on $4000 Lance Armstrong Trek replicas. Maddening.

    BTW, Chopper, do you still have your “Die Yuppie Scum” t-shirt? I need that shirt.

  50. New pic of the Esquire at the top of the post….

  51. Well, it was only a few hundred bucks on sale at Xmas time.

  52. choppernewt Says:


  53. I think he was talking about the acoustic guitar I bought for my wife, Matt.
    Geez…it’s always all about you, isn’t it?

  54. Yes, it is.

    Your wife’s guitar looks nice, too.

  55. As a very minor update, I just bid on a bridge cover–seeing as how I’m so rich and can afford endless guitar equipment. But mostly because 1) I felt like it, and 2) the damned string height screws on the vintage saddle really dig into my hand when I do any sort of string muffling.

  56. Uh, lost it. Well, it’ll come around again. Nothing is ever gone forever on ebay.

  57. I actually gave up on ebay and ordered the cover from the guitar parts resource web site, along with some wire and copper tape–now we’ll see if I can’t finally get rid of that goddamned electrical hum!

    For my next Esquire update: rewire the forward switch position. I have no idea how to do this, but apparently it’s possible to add a different capacitor and get a (Pent can now start with the jokes) “cocked wah” tone instead of the standard forward position tone, which is a very weak sound with the top end rolled off.

  58. I don’t have any capacitor jokes.

  59. I’ll cock your wah cold.

  60. dope scumbag Says:

    Hope this isn’t insulting cuz it’s pretty base, for guitar electricals, but your buzz issue rings familiar. Maybe it’s this:
    i recently made this mistake myself replacing the output on a johnson bass —
    make sure you have ground going to ground and hot going to hot on the output.
    i reversed it and had hella hum, this with no distortion gain at all.
    Once i got past my I-would-never ego, i put it back right – all cured (other than a you-idiot feeling, which may dissipate esp. if i hear that one other person ever made the error).

    [Anyone who knows the cheapness of johnsons’ pickups may want to state that that is a source of buzz, but the originals are no longer on it.]

    I’m enviously stamping foot like Rumplestiltskin cuz i wanna make an esquire too.

  61. Thanks for the tip. I did think of that already, but I’m pretty sure I got it right. However, perhaps I’ll unsolder the wires, reverse, and see what happens.

    I’m using the fender hot alnico 3 pickup, which I think is high gain enough that it’s going to buzz no matter what–especially when recording in front of a computer monitor.

  62. Just to put this issue to rest: I checked the output jack wiring, and it is correct. I have the hot to hot and the ground to ground, so that’s not what’s causing the buzz. It’s just a buzzy hummy guitar. I’m pretty sure it’s the pickup. But, except for that hum, the pickup sounds good–quite hot. There must be way to tame it….

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