Hot-rodding the Hot Rod - 2011 Fender American Nashville B-Bender Upgrades

Submitted by Kenny on Mon, 09/14/2020 - 12:48

Back in the mid-2000s, I fell in love with the idea of a Fender Telecaster with a B-Bender, but I didn't want to have someone put a B-Bender in an existing Tele for a couple of reasons (cost, heavily modifying a stock guitar, etc.). Fender made the American Nashville B-Bender Telecaster, but it was out of my price range at the time and then they discontinued it. BUT THEN they brought it back in 2011! I jumped on the opportunity and my lovely, wonderful, thoughtful wife agreed to get it for me for Christmas and my birthday (they fall really close together and I often combine gifts to get something bigger). I had to wait a few months, but it finally arrived and it was fantastic!

Must-do Mods and Costmetics

I wanted to do a few things to customize it to my own preferences. First, like all of my Fenders, I put installed straplocks because I'm terrified of my guitars falling when the strap slips off. Second, I like all of my Fenders to have white pearl pickguards and black pickup covers. That look is kinda my signature style for my Fenders. This guitar already came with a white pearl pickguard, so I just had to add a black pickup cover for the middle pickup.

2011 Fender American Nashville B-Bender Telecaster with upgraded costmetics

Got it on Lock!

That was all I did to my B-Bender Tele for a while, but a few years later, I started getting the itch to do some more customizations to that guitar, so I installed Fender locking tuners after getting them on my Fender Mod Shop Stratocaster and loving them. They don't do much for fixing tuning issues (not that my guitars have any tuning issues), but they sure are convenient when changing strings or needing to loosen them for maintenance. Plus, they are super easy to install.

Fender locking tuners

Take the Bridge to Twang City

Next, I wanted to try a vintage-style Telecaster bridge with 3-brass compensated saddles. As it turns out, it's really hard to find one that works on a modern American Tele because the new ones use a 3-hole pattern instead of the vintage 4-hole pattern. Also, no one makes a bridge with an extra hole for the B-string to pass through for the bender. I finally found a Kluson vintage-style bridge with brass saddles that would fit the American hole pattern. As I expected, I had to drill a hole (and dremel it out a bit so it's smooth) for the B-string to pass through. The new bridge works great and gives my B-Bender Tele more of that classic twangy sound.

American Nashville B-Bender Telecaster stock bridge and Kluson vintage-style bridge

2011 Fender American Nashville B-Bender Telecaster with Kluson vintage-style bridge

Kluson vintage-style bridge with B-string hole for B-Bender

Pickup Headaches...and Help from a Friend

WARNING: I am not a pickup expert. I'm about to say some stuff that may not be completely accurate. I am not a pickup expert. :)

I've replaced pickups in my guitars before, but I generally try to swap entire sets so that I don't have to deal with the intricacies of phase and winding and all that stuff, so I barely know anything about those things. That being said, this is my experience in swapping pickups in this guitar, so if I'm mistaken in this, I'd love to hear from someone who knows better than I do about this.

Okay, back to the story. When I found out that Seymour Duncan had announced the Brad Paisley La Brea signature Telecaster pickups, I knew I had to try them. I did a little research, but obviously not enough from what you're about to read. I ordered the La Brea pickups from Sweetwater and dropped them into the B-Bender Tele and, while I'm not a soldering expert, they worked on the first try...sorta. If you're not aware, the switching on this guitar is like a Strat rather than a Tele:

  1. Bridge
  2. Bridge and middle
  3. Middle
  4. Middle and neck
  5. Neck

In positions 2 and 4, you should get the quacky sound like a Strat. After installing the La Brea pickups, the guitar worked fine in positions 1, 3, and 5. However, in positions 2 and 4, the tone was extremely thin and not like a Strat at all. I was getting sound out of both pickups, but it just didn't sound right when the new pickups were combined with the middle pickup.

I had read that Seymour Duncan's support was great, so I started with them and, while they were friendly and responsive, they were unable to help much. Oddly, I couldn't send the pickups to them to swap for a different winding (if that had been the issue) because of the deal they have with artists and how they can't do any customizations to the pickups. I thought that was an interesting fact. Also, they seemed to think the issue was that the Tele pickups were opposite wound (bridge one way, neck the other) so I couldn't solve this problem in a Nashville Tele. (Disclaimer: it's possible that I didn't fully understand the response from their support agent.) However, with positions 2 and 4 both sounding weird, I thought that it meant that the middle pickup was the one that didn't work with the others. Seymour Duncan support did tell me that their pickups are wound opposite of how Fender does them, so that gave me another clue, but I wasn't sure what to do, so I just left the guitar hanging on my wall for a couple weeks.

I follow Zac Childs on YouTube because he's extremely interesting and knowledgable. Last year, he published a video about the La Brea pickups and I learned that he used to be Brad Paisley's guitar tech. While watching one of his recent videos, I realized that I could ask him and he might be able to help, although I didn't really expect an answer. Sure enough, he responded quickly with a great suggestion to try swapping the wires on the middle pickup. Later that weekend, I gave it a shot and it worked! My Nashville B-Bender Tele was back to normal, but with the new La Brea pickups in the bridge and neck and the stock Texas Special in the middle.

I'd like to give a very special thank you to Zac Childs for helping with this. (I did drop some money in his PayPal tip jar for this time and knowledge.) I'm sure it wasn't much for him to reply to my comment, but it saved me a lot of hassle and I really appreciate the help.

So what exactly happened and what fixed it? Here's a diagram illustrating what I believe happened and why switching the wires on the middle pickup fixed it:

Nashville Tele Pickup Compatibility

Parts list

 

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