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5 Best Telecasters Guitars With Maple Tops

Updated on November 13, 2017
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

2016 Fender Custom Shop Artisan Telecaster with spalted maple top
2016 Fender Custom Shop Artisan Telecaster with spalted maple top

Before Leo Fender landed on the name Telecaster for the guitar there were other names. The first ones had just the single pickup in the bridge position. But the major improvement, what made the thing absolutely perfect was the reinforcement in the neck. Once Leo figured out the neck needed something inside it to stabilize the thing, the solid body electric guitar idea was a wrap.

How many Fender Telecaster guitars there are in this world is anyone's guess. But the very first solid body electric couldn't truly be improved upon. Damned things can't be beat. Only thing that ever happens is a new shape and style of hardware.

A maple top on a guitar allows for all manner of figuring. The maple top is mostly something people love for its visual aesthetic value. There are contrarians out there who insist a maple top on a solid body guitar doesn't affect the tone at all. Myself, I'd recommend avoiding those people. They're likely just jealous of the guy with the flame maple top on his Telecaster.

So here in order of price, from least expensive to most expensive, are five outstanding Telecaster guitars with maple tops. The most expensive three are made by fender. One is a G&L production, and if you are educated, you realize that is a Leo Fender guitar as much as any that say 'Fender' on them. The first offering is from a much newer manufacturer, and is an import at a fabulous price, and with some great specifications besides the maple top.

Michael Kelly 1955 quilt maple top.
Michael Kelly 1955 quilt maple top.

1. Michael Kelly 1955 with Quilt Maple Top

One of the newest names on the scene represents one of the best deals. You hear a lot these days about international trade, and all Michael Kelly guitars are representative of that. The company is an American business venture, but the guitars are produced in South Korea.

Specializing in Fender style guitars, Michael Kelly offers a hell of a lot of fine specifications for extremely low prices. These guitars are built and sold so that the light in the wallet professionals, and struggling amateurs can have great stuff and not go into debt over it. Michael Kelly '1950s' guitars are all Telecaster style instruments. The 1955 models are my personal favorite, and it's because you just don't see these kinds of specs on guitars under a thousand bucks.

Quilt maple tops are not cheap things. It's wild how they are inexpensive here. The pickup configuration is yet another very attractive thing. That's a Rockfield humbucker in the bridge, and a mini-bucker at the neck position. Alone all of this makes these guitars a steal, but then look at the fingerboard radius. It's a compound radius, and that involves some machining to make. The board flattens out significantly as you travel up the frets to the shredder's territory.

Sometimes you just have to tip your cap, and say, 'God bless America.' International trade sure makes life better for those of us on the low income spectrum. Thank You, Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly 1955 Guitar with Quilt Maple Top features:

  • Construction Bolt On
  • Body Swamp Ash
  • Top Quilt Maple
  • Maple
  • Freeboard Radius Compound 10.5" to 16"

G&L USA ASAT Classic Bluesboy spalted maple top
G&L USA ASAT Classic Bluesboy spalted maple top

2. G&L USA ASAT Classic Bluesboy spalted maple top

G&L guitars is one of the two guitar manufacturing companies which Leo Fender helped to start after he sold Fender guitars to CBS. The other company Leo was a part of forming was Music Man guitars. G&L guitars has a USA division and an Indonesian branch.

The USA guitars are lots more expensive and thought to be of a much higher quality. This is not to say the Indonesian guitars are no good. There are nothing but glowing praise reports you can read all over the web about how good the G&L Indonesian guitars are for the amount you pay for them.

Anyway, the G&L ASAT is their Telecaster. Leo Fender didn't just start making the same guitars all over again with a new name on them. Leo loved to work on refining the things he'd already created. Specifically Leo loved guitar pickups. And the G&L ASAT guitars feature the newer thinking in how pickups ought to be.

The G&L Magnetic Field Design pickups use a ceramic bar magnet installed underneath each coil, with soft iron adjustable pole pieces to transfer the magnetic field to the top of the pickup. By contrast, traditional Alnico type pickups, such as used in the Legacy model, use non-adjustable Alnico pole pieces leaving the only adjustment being pickup height. The Magnetic Field Design has this adjustment, but further offers individual adjustment of each pole piece, letting the player effectively adjust the output of each string on each pickup. Magnetic Field Design yield about twice the output per wind, making the pickup quieter while allowing a greater overall output. The sound of Magnetic Field pickups is slightly warmer with a broader frequency response.

And on the subject of pickups, the G&L USA ASAT Classic Bluesboy has a humbucker pickup in its neck position. What makes the ASAT Classic a Bluesboy is the humbucker pickup. There are versions with a P-90, which is a single coil pickup, but a Gibson style pickup just the same, and there are versions with a PAF style humbucker.

The most of the ASAT Classic Bluesboy guitars you will see do not have any manner of maple top over their alder bodies. There have been limited edition runs of them though. There have been cherryburst finishes over the spalted maple, and natural finishes. They're available used, and in some cases new on big distributor sites such as Reverb.

G&L USA ASAT Classic Bluesboy features:

  • Solid Alder w/Spalted Maple Top and Rear contour
  • Hard Rock Maple neck with rosewood fingerboard
  • 1 5/8” Width at Nut
  • Medium Jumbo 6100 fretwire
  • Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Humbucker in neck position
  • Standard ASAT Classic in bridge position
  • Clear natural body finish
  • 12" neck radius
  • Non locking machine heads
  • G&L molded hard shell case
  • 3-position pickup selector with volume and tone

Fender Richie Kotzen Telecaster
Fender Richie Kotzen Telecaster

3. Fender Richie Kotzen Telecaster

I don't think you can say Richie Kotzen is underrated as a guitarist. He's extremely well regarded in circles of guitar and guitar music lovers. He's probably underappreciated as a musician in the commercial sense. Richie doesn't like being lumped into shred guitarist groups. He can do all the athletic guitar stuff in the world, but he doesn't like the categorization because he's really a guy who just wants to make good music.

Richie Kotzen is a working class guitar hero. He's a blue collar guy who works his nads off playing guitars and singing. So it is very fitting how his namesake Fender Richie Kotzen Telecaster provides so much bang for the bucks.

Richie Kotzen is a tonewoods believer. He specifically states that over his many years of playing many different guitars he realized the combination of swamp ash for the body of the guitar, combined with a maple top, maple neck and fingerboard, were what provided the tonality he most desired. So naturally the combination is evident on his Fender model Tele.

This is a fifteen hundred dollar guitar. And at that price point you can get some terrific bells and whistles. Richie likes his Telecaster with DiMarzio pickups. There is a Twang King model at the neck and a Chopper T at the bridge. There is a three-way blade pickup switch with "barrel" tip, master volume control and rotary series/parallel switch; so you can make this Tele sound much like a Les Paul when you desire to do so.

There are comfort contours in the body of this guitar in two different places. Traditional Telecaster guitars are wonderful, but for my money I'd have to insist on the contouring. You buy a fine guitar and the idea is for you to spend countless hours enjoying the thing. Brief specifications below:

Fender Richie Kotzen Telecaster features:

  • Flame maple top on an ash body
  • Satin-finish maple neck with a large "C"-shaped profile
  • 12"-radius maple fingerboard with 22 jumbo frets and pearloid dot inlays
  • DiMarzio Twang King (neck) and Chopper T (bridge) pickups
  • 3-way blade pickup switch with "barrel" tip
  • Master volume control and rotary series/parallel switch
  • Single-ply cream pickguard
  • Gold six-saddle through-body Telecaster bridge
  • Gotoh sealed tuners and gold hardware
  • Case sold separately

Fender Custom Shop Spalted Maple Artisan Telecaster, Roasted Maple Fingerboard
Fender Custom Shop Spalted Maple Artisan Telecaster, Roasted Maple Fingerboard

4. Fender Custom Shop Spalted Maple Artisan Telecaster, Roasted Maple Fingerboard

These Fender Custom Shop Artisan teles are going to be as good as it gets. These are four thousand dollar guitars. I haven't been able to find out how many were produced, but it apparently wasn't so many. They are available online via some big online distributors.

The natural finish of the spalted maple tops is not a veneer. It is an honest top. If you listen to the video I have here you can hear how amazing these guitars sound. Whether the maple top makes that much of a tonal difference is a matter of some debate. Maybe any Telecaster with such Fender Custom Shop pickups would sound that good? You could describe it as sparkle, spank, or twang. You could call that sound whatever you liked so long as you didn't call it common.

Another of the above and beyond the norms this guitar features is the roasted maple fingerboard. Why roast a maple fingerboard? It's more than just the darker coloring. The darkening of the maple makes it different, and visually appealing for its difference.

This process removes moisture and all kinds of other organic "impurities" that affect the stability of the wood and make it much more rigid while adding a deep and warm amber color for a natural vintage look. The sound is tight and punchy while still retaining the natural warmth of Maple in the midrange. Roasted Maple is highly recommended for touring musicians who value neck stability while traveling. ​

So the roasted maple necks are more than for visual aesthetics. Roasted maple necks are something used on high end guitars now, but I suspect they may become standard features for maple necks and fingerboards in the years to come. It works well enough as a simple fashion statement.

Another thing on this particular Telecaster which should be mentioned is its bone nut. There are many substances used in the creation of a guitar's nut. None of them are as good as bone when it comes to tone. The nut absolutely matters. All the other particulars and specifications for this great Tele are as follows:

  • Body Material:Alder with Figured Spalted Maple Top
  • Body Finish:Lacquer
  • Neck Material:One-Piece Medium-Roast AAA Birdseye Maple
  • Neck Shape: 10/56 Large "V"
  • Scale Length: 25.5" (648 mm)
  • Fingerboard Radius: 9.5" (241 mm)
  • Number of Frets: 21
  • Fret Size: Narrow Jumbo
  • String Nut: Bone
  • Nut Width: 1.650" (42 mm)
  • Neck Plate: 4-Bolt Custom
  • Neck Finish: Nitrocellulose Lacquer
  • Fingerboard: Maple
  • Position Inlays: Black Dot
  • Bridge Pickup: Custom Shop Handwound '58 Single-Coil Tele
  • Neck Pickup: Custom Shop Handwound '58 Single-Coil Tele
  • Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone
  • Pickup Switching: 3-Position Blade
  • Pickup Configuration:SS
  • Bridge: RSD Telecaster
  • Tuning Machines:Vintage-Style
  • Pickguard:1-Ply Gold Anodized
  • Control Knobs:Knurled Dome
  • Included Accessories: Case, Cable, Strap, CruzzTools Tool Kit, Certificate of Authenticity

Fender Merle Haggard Signature Telecaster
Fender Merle Haggard Signature Telecaster

5. Fender Merle Haggard Signature Telecaster

When you think of Merle Haggard you think of how a poor young man went from prison to musical stardom. You think of Merle Haggard and you think of how taking a very hard knock in life can be overcome. There is no magical formula, and there is likely some luck or divinity involved in it all. But the possibilities the life of Merle Haggard shows us are inspiring.

The Bakersfield Sound wasn't invented by the late and great Merle Haggard. And The Hag wasn't the first Bakersfield sound musician to employ the use of a Fender Telecaster, but when you think of the pristine sound of a Merle Haggard album, you know you can't sound like that without employing a Telecaster.

Merle Haggard was an accomplished guitarist himself. As he got older he found that playing guitar leads and doing vocals too was a bit taxing on him. So he employed guitarists, and so there were generally two Telecasters in his band on any given song. That one of the creme of the crop of all Fender Telecaster guitars is the Fender Merle Haggard Signature Telecaster is very fitting.

This guitar has looks to die for. It is anything but cheap or inexpensive. At just under seven thousand dollars the Fender Merle Haggard Signature Telecaster is more than a couple thousand dollars more expensive than their Custom Shop Artisan Telecasters sell for.

The Merle Haggard Telecaster is well regarded by all as being one of the best sounding of all Fender Telecaster guitars. The guitar, however, is built differently from standard American Teles in several ways. There is a laminated flame maple top on an alder body which is chambered. So the guitar will sound somewhat like a thinline semi hollow body Tele, and weigh about that much too.

The neck joint of this guitar is contoured so as to ease access to the upper end of the fingerboard. And the pickups used here are Texas Specials at both the neck and the bridge position. The switching between pickups is not a three way switch as one would assume, but instead it is a four way switch including a parallel option.

Fender Merle Haggard Signature Telecaster features:

  • Maple center block, select alder wings with tone chambers, laminated, figured maple top (urethane finish)
  • Figured maple neck (urethane finish)
  • C-shaped profile
  • Maple fingerboard (7.25" radius)
  • 22 medium jumbo frets
  • 2 Texas Special Tele single-coil pickups
  • Master volume, master tone
  • 4-position blade switch:
  • 1 - bridge pickup 2-bridge and neck in parallel 3-neck pickup 4-neck and bridge in series (fatter tone than Pos. 2 and more output than 1, 2, or 3.
  • Gold American Tele bridge
  • Gold-plated Fender/Schaller die-cast tuning machines with white perloid buttons
  • Gold-plated hardware
  • 1-ply ivoroid pickguard
  • 25-1'2" scale length

© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw


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    • Cee-Jay Aurinko profile image

      Cee-Jay Aurinko 16 months ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      I'm no guitarist, but after this, I'd definitely opt for a Fender.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 16 months ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      These images of the Fender instruments are striking! A friend of mine collected Fender guitars for several years and left them to his son when he died. I remember at least one Standard Stratocaster, but the custom Telecaster at the top of the page is gorgeous.