The Nashville Tele Problem
Last Updated: April 21st, 2020
Nashville Telecasters are an interesting hybrid of two of the most popular guitar styles out there. Nashville Teles offer a Telecaster body and feel, and Stratocaster pickup layout. By adding a middle pickup in between the Neck and Bridge pickups of a Telecaster, you can get more of that traditional Strat ‘Quack’ out of your Telecaster.
Adding a Middle Pickup might seem like an easy modification to do, but be forewarned: it’s not that simple. There’s a problem with pickup polarity that I’m calling the “Nashville Tele Problem’. Single Coil pickups have two critical aspects to their pickup polarity: Coil Direction and Magnetic Orientation. For more information on this subject, check out our article on pickup polarity here.
The pickups in a Telecaster feature a standard wound Bridge, and a Reverse-Wound, Reverse-Polarity (RW/RP) Neck. See below for an illustration:
One can argue that these two pickups are in the best possible situation: they are In-Phase and Hum-Cancelling. For more information on how Humbuckers work, check out our article on that here.
The Nashville Tele Problem:
Now, let’s add a pickup in the middle of them. For a thought experiment, I’m just going to add a random polarity Strat pickup. Adding this pickup creates a new issue: We are out of phase in Position 4 (Middle & Neck). If we reverse the Strat’s pickup coil direction and magnetic orientation, we will be out-of-phase tone in Position 2 (Middle & Bridge). The idea here is that just ‘putting a pickup in between’ can cause a few issues.
As a reminder, reversing the coil direction of one pickup will make the pickup out of phase with another of the same magnetic orientation. To put it back in phase, you need to reverse the magnetic orientation as well. See below for an illustration:
Simply reversing the leads in the control cavity does not solve this issue. Doing so creates a few other issues: Single Coil pickups will have ‘Hot’ magnets and covers, and will hum and buzz when touched.
Best Case Scenario:
The best-case scenario is to have the same polarity as your Bridge or Neck. You will at least be in phase, but not hum canceling. Take a look at the illustration below – here we are putting in a standard polarity Reverse Middle Strat Pickup in between:
Keep in mind, there are players that actually like this setup. If you use one of our Blender Pots, you can still achieve Hum Cancelling in the Bridge and Neck. So, dealer’s choice!
The Real Solution:
The real solution to the Nashville Tele Problem involves reversing the phase of one of the Telecaster’s original pickups. If you made the Neck the same polarity as the Bridge, you could put a RW / RP pickup in between. You’ll then have Hum-Canceling and correct phase in the entire guitar.
To reverse the phase of one of your pickups, it will need to be wound and magnetized opposite of what it is currently. This operation is time-consuming and expensive, so it’s worth looking at purchasing a calibrated set of pickups instead.
At Fralin Pickups, we make customized sets for our customers all the time. It’s a lot easier to do it when we make the pickups, not reverse them after they are wound and magnetized. If you are looking at converting your Telecaster into a Nashville Tele, take a look at our Telecaster Pickups and Stratocaster Pickups. You can select a Set of Telecaster Pickups and a Single Strat pickup and use the ’Order Notes’ field on the checkout screen to request a Nashville Polarity. We will make them customized for you – free of charge.