Is the neck pickup on a Telecaster worthless?
It's time to talk about the mini single-coil in the Fender Telecaster.
The traditional pickup layout on a Telecaster is an overwound single-coil pickup in the rear and a mini single-coil (often mistakenly identified as a lipstick pickup but it's not) in the front. And more often than not, the rear pickup is trebly and twangy while the front pickup is quieter and has noticeably less treble response compared to the rear.
Whether it's a cheap Squier Affinity Telecaster, a midgrade Fender Standard Telecaster, or the more expensive Fender American Special Telecaster seen above, if the guitar has the the overwound/mini pickup layout, that front mini pickup is usually a bit on the quiet side.
Is this normal? More often than not, yes it is.
If you take a look at replacement front pickups for the Telecaster by Seymour Duncan, you'll notice immediately that nearly all of them are low-output by design with emphasis on the bass frequency. Such examples are the Alnico II Pro Tele and Antiquity Tele.
...but is installing a high-output, high-treble front pickup in a Telecaster a good idea?
I personally wouldn't do it because it ends up being a bit of a clacky mess where tone is concerned.
If I really wanted a high-output front pickup in a Telecaster, I'd go S/H or HH. An example of S/H is Fender Classic Series '72 Telecaster Custom or Squier Vintage Modified Telecaster Custom. An example of HH is Fender Standard Telecaster HH or the Squier Vintage Modified '72 Telecaster Thinline.
Is there an easy and cheap way to get more treble response out of the Telecaster front pickup?
Using a thin pick that flaps will make your strings "ping" more, and yes it really does work to get greater treble response out of the Telecaster front pickup since the guitar already rings and twangs by design.
I would try using a thin pick first before doing anything else. Sometimes a change of pick is all you need to get the sound you want out of your guitar.
So is the front pickup on the Telecaster worthless?
...but I can understand the argument from those who say the Fender Esquire and Gibson Les Paul Jr., both of which traditionally have just one single-coil rear pickup, is all anyone ever needs out of an electric guitar.
I wouldn't even own a Telecaster if it didn't have a front pickup. While I can see the value of guitar minimalism, I do actually use the front single regularly. Going without it would not make me a happy camper, so I'm glad it's there.
Do I feel the need to have greater output and treble out of the front pickup? No. All I did was adjust a few presets on my RP360, grab a thin pick when I need a little extra treble and that's pretty much it.
I've found that the lower output of the front single is actually better for both chording and soloing. Strings are heard more and pick strike heard less, both of which are very good things.