As detailed previously here, many players prefer the sound of a Stratocaster neck pickup to a Telecaster neck pickup, and the metal pickup cover is the primary driver of the difference in the sound between a strat neck pickup and a tele neck pickup (though it is not the only driver, removing the cover will absolutely increase brightness of the pickup and give it a more dynamic response). While you could purchase a new pickup for your tele to get you into strat-territory (see list of suggestions here), you may be in the same camp as me, which is to say that I disliked the tone of my tele neck enough to replace it, so I was willing to attempt an admittedly risky surgery on the PU to remove the cover. You may as well see what you can do with what you have before you spend your hard-earned money, right?
Before we get started, I want to give you a quick disclaimer: If you would be sad if your pickup is broken after this operation, I'd recommend you take it to an actual guitar repair tech for the surgery. I am by no means an expert, and the method I describe below may not work for your pickup. I gave it 50/50 my pickup would be broken after this surgery - you should prepare yourself for equal odds.
Ok, now that is said, let's dive into it.
The guitar we'll be working on is a walnut-bodied Telecaster I built for myself a few years back. I love the bridge sound (Lindy Fralin blues special) and the mojo of the guitar, but I never liked the sound from the neck pickup (GFS Professional 63 vintage). In fairness to GFS, which does make some nick PUs, I don't know that I like the sound of a tele neck PU in general, but I digress. The beautiful pickguard is by "Indian Iron" out of San Ramon, CA. Not sure if they are still in business, but the tooled-leather work is truly stunning.
First thing to do is to unscrew your pickguard:
Once the pickguard is off, unscrew the neck PU from the pickguard. See those two tabs in the below picture? Those will need to be bent back with a pair of pliers. There was a third tab on the other side where the wires go through the base plate - see that solder joint in the below pic? Basically there was a wire from that joint to the black ground wire - I cut that wire to "free" the other side of the cover.
For this PU I didn't need to warm it up at all to get the cover off. I just slowly wedged up each side in an alternating manner. Note that some recommend heating the pickup with a blow-dryer or a soldering iron applied to the top at low heat. Generally I would recommend avoiding heat if you can (as was the case here). The wax is there to prevent feedback in the pickup - if you get the wax flowing from heat you may introduce microphonics to the coil. One thing to note - the wire is very fragile - make sure that you aren't scratching it with your lever (here a flathead screwdriver) or pinning one of the leads going from the coil to your output wires. Again...there is risk in this operation.
Close-up of the bent-back tabs.
The cover is off! Straight to the rubbish bin. But the pickup looks like a mess...what to do?
To clean up the pickup, I used the back of my fingernail as a "scraper", and, with many passes, removed most of the wax. It doesn't look as bad in person as it looks in the picture below - frankly you can barely tell. If I wanted to go all-out, I would probably take some of the remnant wax and "color" all over the top of the bobbin with it, and then peel away what I could with my fingernail. That would likely lead to a more uniform appearance, but I didn't find it necessary. Acetone could potentially be used as well, but I didn't want to mess with it.
Fully assembled - the whole operation took <1 hour.
So...how does it sound? First of all I'm happy to report that the pickup still works, which was the first win. In terms of the sound...I love it. For this specific pickup I got probably 30% more output (really drives the amp front end hard now - had to lower the pickup substantially) and the "deadness" is gone and the high end is back. At least for this pickup I'm between Strat neck and P90 territory, which is great. My wife stopped by and said "hey that sounds like John Mayer", so you know we are close.
If you don't use your tele neck ever, are a bit handy, and have a decent risk tolerance, then go for it! I'm personally thrilled with the change.