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Installing a Tone Control Plate on a Vintage Modified ’51 Guitar

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We’re excited to see that Fender has re-released their Vintage Modified ’51 guitar because it has so many good features going for it. A comfortable and lightweight body, hardtail bridge, cool vintage vibe and an awesomely low price. However, no guitar is perfect, especially at this price/value point. For example, that factory 3-way selector just feels strange as a pickup selector. Also, it has no tone control of any kind and the factory control cavity route doesn’t leave you with many options to add one.

So, we came up with our Tone Control Plate to improve those shortcomings. Your Vintage Modified ’51 gets an ergonomically angled pickup toggle switch, it re-uses the stock 500K volume pot as your new push-pull tone pot, and the volume pot is moved further forward where it’s easier to reach. Plus, you get the bonus of using one of those super-smooth blue Bourns 82 volume pots, although others will fit in there too.

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VM51 Stock Cavity
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Remove all the hardware and give yourself a clean area to work on. We’ve also removed the neck to make things easier, but you could leave that on, if you wish. Protect the top of the body with low tack tape and find the 3 holes that mount the template- 2 control plate holes and 1 bridge hole.

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Mount Routing Template

Using 3 of the screws that attach your bridge to the body, snugly (but gently) screw down the routing template. You only need just enough force to keep the template from moving around on you.

A sharp router bit is essential and a 1/2″ diameter by 3/4″ cutting length bit works perfectly.

VM51 Routing Template
VM51 Cavity Route
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Route the Guitar Body

Nothing else smells like basswood!

You don’t need to route all the way down to the floor of the cavity. As you can see, the new area of the route is about 1/16″ higher than the factory section, which is fine. Don’t take the chance of plunging too far with your router and boring a hole through the back of your guitar!

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Paint the Control Cavity

Take the time to shield your guitar from excess noise and hum with some conductive paint. The key with this paint is layers. You want a few of them (at least) and you want the previous coat to be good and dry before the next coat. Don’t rush it. Multiple distinct layers are what let the paint work, not one thick layer.

VM51 Shielding Paint
Loaded Tone Control Plate
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Assemble Tone Control Plate

Assemble your chosen parts on your tone control plate. You’ll need to use a small body volume pot (like this Bourns 82) and also a short toggle switch (not the long Les Paul toggle). Angle parts like in the picture and double check into your control cavity. Then pre-wire the plate with your favorite tone capacitor.

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Wire your Guitar

Hook up your pickups (these factory wires were long enough, barely) and jack (swapped for a Switchcraft and added a longer shielded wire). Don’t forget to attach the ground wire from the bridge or to ground the conductive shielding paint!

VM51 Guitar Wiring
Tone Control Plate Main
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Screw down the Tone Control Plate and take her for a test drive! Whether you’re heading for the crossroads or down the highway to hell, make sure you’ve got the windows rolled down and the amp turned up!

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Difficulty Level

While this project certainly isn’t as simple as our bolt-on products, we’ve taken some of the hard work out of it by designing the routing template and figuring out the parts layout. I’d probably call this a Difficulty Level of Medium. You’ll obviously need a wood router and be comfortable using it, but you probably don’t need any uncommon woodworking or special luthier skills. This guitar is certainly inexpensive enough to even make this your first guitar project that makes sawdust. There is nothing like creating wood chips to bring you closer to your guitar!

If you’re not comfortable with altering your own guitar body, then inquire about having us do that part for you! You’ll disassemble your guitar and send us just the body. We’ll route the body, paint the cavity, and send it back to you along with one Tone Control Plate. You’ll just have to assemble and wire!

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