Micawber is the name Keith Richards gave one of his modified 1953 Fender Telecasters. Keefer’s Telecaster sound and vibe was the inspiration for this project.
Keith Richard’s Micawber has changed quite a bit over the years. It is supposedly a 1953 Blackguard Fender Telecaster, but is no longer close to stock or original anymore. Keef has adapted it to his needs. From these more recent pictures shows that the knobs are not original 1953 as they look less domed. At one time after the Gibson P.A.F. Humbucker was added it still sported a standard Telecaster bridge with the 3 barrel brass saddles and a Stratocaster switch tip. By 1981, Micawber had the brass bridge with 6 saddles and the Dunlop strap locks shown in the pictures. All of Keith’s Open-G tuned telecasters have the E string and saddle removed.
Micawber doesn’t have a serial number as it would have been on the original bridge (Fender did not start putting serial numbers on neck plate to later in 1945). The bridge pickup isn’t a standard Telecaster pickup. Apparently it is an old Fender lap steel pickup mounted with only 2 screws as it likely has no backplate. If you look at the wear you can see that Keith strums over the neck. The 17th fret marker even fell out during a show in Glasgow in 2003.
Along with the control knobs, switch tip and strap buttons it has had various refrets and different sets of tuners installed over the years. Although, I am not looking to build a clone, I will incorporate many of these things into this project to pay tribute to this iconic guitar.
The project starts out with a MJT aged ash body I won in an auction on eBay. I will also be using aged hardware from Matt Jenny at MJT.
Basically this is a Blackguard guitar with modified pickups and bridge. I will using a Don Mare 0038 10K Keefer pickup that is wound with the thinner 43 gauge vintage enamel wire on AlNiCo 3 magnets for the all important bridge position. These pickups are very similar to what Fender used in the early lap steel guitars. They were also used in the very earliest Fender Broadcasters. The pickup is loud with pushed mids, a very early Broadcaster tone. The neck position will have a P.A.F. style humbucker.
Worn SH-55 Seymour Duncan/Seth Lover Pickup:
Part of a special run from the Seymour Duncan Production Floor Custom Shop, this Seth Lover humbucker has a slightly worn nickel cover. With less shine than a usual nickel cover, these covers emulate the look of a pickup that’s seen a well-played gig or two. This pickup has a single-conductor wire and un-plated screws.
Designed jointly by Seymour and humbucker inventor, the late Seth Lover. Just like the original 1955 P.A.F.s, the SH-55 utilizes a nickel silver cover and long-legged nickel silver bottom plate, butyrate plastic bobbins, plain enamel wire, Alnico 2 bar, wooden spacer, and black paper tape. To be completely true to the original design and tone, the pickup is not wax potted. The tone is vintage P.A.F. The unpotted cover gives a slightly “honky” microphonic quality. Vintage style single conductor cable standard. This should make a great neck pickup for this project.
I ordered a brass bridge plate with six separate saddles like Keefer’s from Armadillo guitars. Keefer actually removes the low E string only using 5 saddles as he plays this guitar mostly tuned to Open-G. He usually tunes the 5 strings G-D-G-B-D for those famous riffs for “Honkytonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” “Beast of Burden,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Happy” and “Start Me Up.”
I will order a Blackguard style neck from Musikraft and have MJT do the nitro finish on it.
There are many stories revolving around Micawber and I have no idea which ones are factual. The guitar is an iconic guitar and has been a large part of the Stones sound since “Exile on Main Street.” Keith Richards named this guitar after a Charles Dickens character from novel “David Copperfield.” Seems no one really knows why, other than allowing him to nickname the guitar.
The pickups and bridge on the Micawber Telecaster are certainly not stock. The standard steel three barrel bridge that all early Telecasters have was replaced many years ago with a brass one with six saddles. Likely to intonate better. There are many debates how the brass bridge affects tone. The bridge pickup supposedly has been rewound by Fred Stuart at Fender using thinner 43 gauge vintage enamel wire on AlNiCo 3 magnets that he calls a Lap Wrap. This is a lot like the pickups from the early lap steel. It is quite possible the there is no base plate on Micawber’s bridge pickup (like the old Fender Lap Steels) as it appears in pictures that it is mounted with only 2 screws.
The neck pickup is said to be an old Gibson P.A.F. Humbucker. Another story is that it is mounted backwards because his guitar tech did it by accident and Keith liked it that way so it stayed. Also it could possible be very slightly brighter mounted this way. I don’t think it would make that much difference, but no way to know unless you compared them.
From Premiere Guitar Article on Micawber:
Eric Clapton gave the guitar to Keith on his 27th birthday. This was prior to the band going to France for the Exile On Main St recordings – they exiled themselves. Originally, there was a single-coil in the neck. The guitar was stolen from the band in France, but Keith did get it back. At the start of the ’72 tour, the single-coil was still in place, but soon after Keith put in the humbucker.
“To this day, it’s Keith’s number one Tele. There’s a brass bridge on it, and it’s always in five-string tuning, never six-string; in fact, the saddle for the low E is gone. Also, the pickup isn’t the original; it’s a pickup for a Fender lap steel.
“One of the fret markers on the neck is gone – again, from the wear of Keith’s pick. That’s just the way he plays. You can almost measure a direct line on the guitar to where Keith’s hand comes down. To say he plays the shit out of his instruments, particularly this guitar, would not be an overstatement.”
Keith only uses 5 strings tuned G-D-G-B-D on this guitar. According to Keith it is “5 strings, 3 notes 2 fingers and ONE Asshole.” Likely the Low string is removed to give the root note on top. Basically Keith strings and tunes his Telecaster like a banjo!
Keith uses many Telecasters. One he calls Malcolm is set up almost identical to Micawber. Malcolm is supposedly a 1954 Fender Telecaster with brass bridge and neck P.A.F. Humbucker.
The Armadillo brass Micawber bridge has arrived. It is a well made heavy piece of hardware.
Parts from MJT have also arrived. Body looks nice relic as always from Mark and Matt Jenny. Aged hardware is here as well and should go nicely.
Some parts have arrived.
Degreased CTS pots from Callaham. These pots are high quality CTS audio taper potentiometer with +/- 10% tolerance that have had grease removed that frees the pots up considerably. Gives the pots a vintage played feel and are great for volume swells. Way less drag. You can do this yourself to new CTS pots, but I just order them this way and pay the up charge.
There is lots of debate to exactly how Keith Richard’s Micawber Telecaster is actually wired. His 3-way switch is almost always seen in the position closest to the bridge pickup and rarely in any other position. I have seen only one picture with the 3-way switch in the middle position and I have never seen it in the position closest to the neck.
To my ears, there is is more than just bridge single coil sound coming from his Telecaster in position closest to the bridge. Plus I have heard Keith claim he added the P.A.F. Humbucker to add dynamics and harmonics to his sound. So I think he does not use standard modern Telecaster wiring where position 1 is bridge, position 2 (middle) is both pickups and position 3 is neck or even the vintage where position 1 is the bassy mode.
I think Keith’s Micawber is a modified Broadcaster Blend wiring where in position 1 (toward the bridge) is a “blend” mode were the “tone” pot is actually blends the bridge and humbucker in the neck. The middle position is neck pickup alone (no blend) and the position 3 is neck pickup with capacitor engaged and is quite dark. Anyway, this is the way I will be wiring this guitar as I think it will be the most useful.
Most guitars with humbuckers tend to use 500K pots to brighten up the sound with 250K pots many times too dark. Most early Telecasters with single coils use 250K pots to avoid and ice-picky sound and making the pickups too shrill. So I will be using the above wiring diagram as a starting point and will try out some variations with caps, resistors and maybe pots if needed. What I am hoping for is to get a great blend circuit in position 1 and a good neck only in position 2.
Seymour Duncan/Seth Lover SH-55 Custom Shop Humbucker pickup has arrived. The included pickup ring as expected was too thick for this project. The included pickup ring is meant for a carved top guitar. Luckily, I had a black thin flat pickup ring left over from another project that is perfect.
Installing aged knobs with flatter tops and Dunlop strap lock buttons to match the REAL Micawber.
I ordered a Blackguard Telecaster neck from Musikraft. With the Blackguard necks you select a neck based on the Telecasters in Nacho’s Blackguard Book by serial number. The neck will be made to the same specs as that vintage guitar. You can change a few parameters as I did. I changed the radius to 9-1/2 from 7-1/2. I like the 9-1/2 radius better and many older Telecaster end up closer to this after refrets.
SERIAL NUMBER: 2283 – 1953 (Select Grade Birdseye)
SHAFT WOOD: Maple
NUT WIDTH: 1.650 (41.91mm)
TRUSS ROD: Vintage Single Acting Adjust @ Heel
FB RADIUS: 9-1/2
FRET WIRE SIZE: Medium 6105 Nickel Silver
BACK PROFILE: As Per Serial Number
FINISH: Raw No Warranty (shipping to MJT for finishing)
MOUNT HOLES: Drill Neck Mounting Holes
NUT INSTALL: Install Slotted Bone Nut
Don Mare “Keefer” bridge pickup has arrived.
The Musikraft neck is back from MJT with aged nitro finish and it looks good. I have applied a Fender restorative waterslide decal to complete the vibe.
Taped up the neck with plastic after applying the decal so I can spray some clear satin nitro lacquer to protect the decal. This usually take a few coats. Spray let dry for 12-24 hours and spray again. As soon as dry with a few coats I will put the aged Kluson tuners on.
Guitar has been assembled and I did a preliminary setup. Still testing different wiring options on the old time blend circuit. I have few parts I am waiting for to complete the wiring. But the guitar is playable.
The Fender waterslide is applied to add to the vibe of an old blackguard Telecaster. The neck is a Fender licensed neck from Musikraft that has been built to replicate the specs for serial number 2283 out of Nacho’s Blackguard book which was a 1953 Telecaster.
I ended up using the Blackguard “blend” circuit from Nacho’s Blackguard Book as a guide, but added a “no load” pot to get a great blend between neck humbucker and bridge single coil. I can not get all bridge or a blend between both pickups when the switch is in the bridge position.
I am experimneting with some different capacitor values. So far I have seen the .05mF makes the Duncan PAF neck pickup much too dark. Using a .022mF was better. Tried a .015mF and then a .012mF and was lots better. The “blend” for the pickups was still was not as nice as I liked. With this I was not able to dial all bridge pickup without some Humbucker neck pickup. So I added a Fender “no load” blend pot. This allows for bridge only and neck and bridge. I am still experimenting a bit to find what I consider the sweet spot. I could always just go to standard modern Telecaster wiring.
Keith Richards – About the Telecaster
Johnny Starbuck, Keith’s Guitar Tech shows Micawber and other guitars
The Rolling Stones – Honky Tonk Women – Keith Playing Micawber
With Sheryl Crow
The Rolling Stones – Can’t You Hear Me Knocking – Malcolm on this one I think