The Fender Telecaster: Country Twang to Indie Rock, is the Original Still Best?
Broadcast to the Masses
The Fender Telecaster is the legendary forefather of mass produced solidbody guitars. Released to rave reviews in 1950 (originally released as the single pickup Esquire, then the dual pickup Broadcaster that year) and relatively unchanged in the nearly 65 years since its birth, the Tele was a landmark in human ingenuity. Instead of the typical handmade, individually constructed guitars prior to the Telecaster, Fender decided to use an assembly line to construct the guitars, speeding up the process and churning out guitars to the masses, a process that is still used effectively to this date.
While the Telecaster has expanded its feature set through the years to broaden its appeal, the foundational features that made it unique in the 1950s still make it a lusted after guitar today. Chief among the features are the common pickup configuration incorporated in the Tele: two single coil pickups. The tone generated from pickups such as these are what has made it a mainstay in the country music genre. Tonally the Telecaster would be considered cutting, bright and mellow. In the 1970s Fender made models available that included a humbucker in the neck position, a move that drastically altered the fanbase of the guitar. Since then, Fender has occasionally experimented with other pickup options, as can be seen in some of the current models below.
Body wood is typically alder or ash, both noted for their balanced but somewhat bright tone. Through the years some models have incorporated other tonewoods, such as mahogany, but alder and ash remain the most common. With the inclusion of a maple neck and fretboard- still the most common neck configuration- the Telecaster makes for a bright, snappy guitar.
Another feature common to the Telecaster, unlike its Strat brother, is the string-through-body design. Rarely seen with a tremolo style bridge, the Telecaster's bridge tends to add extra sustain to notes due to its closer contact with the body wood itself.
While the Telecaster is most frequently constructed as a solidbody guitar, there are still models in production today that incorporate the single f-hole semi-hollowbody design, known as a Thinline. Thinline Telecasters tend to have a bit warmer tone and are frequently paired with a mahogany body.
Compiling a list of famous Telecaster users would take too much time, as it's a veritable list of "who's who" among the ranks of elite guitarists. Some of the notables from the past and present who claimed the Tele as their own include:
Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend (The Who), Mike Campbell (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Steve Howe (Yes), Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds), Albert Collins, Andy Summers (The Police), Bob Dylan, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Merle Haggard, George Harrison (The Beatles), Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones), Waylon Jennings, Alex Lifeson (Rush), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Brent Mason, James Burton, Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Glen Campbell, John Jorgenson (Hellecasters), Jim Root (Slipknot, Stone Sour), Johnny Hiland, Muddy Waters, Joe Strummer (The Clash), Keith Urban, John 5 (Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie), Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World) and Chris Shiflett (Foo Fighters).
Today there is an abundance of Telecaster models to suit players of every genre. While it could be said a few years ago that the metal genre was untapped, the release of the Jim Root and John 5 signature models cured that ailment.
One item to note before jumping into the different models is that Fender releases a wide range of Special Edition guitars on a frequent basis, so those models will not be covered below.
Standard- The Tele Standard is one of the more common guitars on the market today. For a small price of $499 you get a Mexican made Fender guitar that is more than worth the price. The Standard would be considered your typical Telecaster: alder body wood, dual single coil pickups for the traditional Tele twang and a maple neck/fretboard for added brightness and note definition.
Blacktop/Modern Player- New twists on classic designs, the Blacktop and Modern Player series are affordable and add uncommon features to the classic Tele shape. The Blacktop series offers dual humbucking models and a unique baritone guitar (B to B tuning with a 27" scale). The Modern Player series has a semi-hollow model with dual P-90 pickups (Modern Player Telecaster Thinline Deluxe) and another model (Modern Player Telecaster Plus) with a humbucker in the bridge, Strat style single coil in the center and Tele style pickup in the neck. Prices range from $399 to $449.
Deluxe- There are four models Fender currently lists as falling into the Deluxe series (not to be confused with other models having "Deluxe" in their title). These could be considered slightly unusual Telecaster models, such as the Acoustasonic Tele (Telecaster with a chambered body and piezo pickup in the bridge), two versions of the three pickup Nashville series, and the Blackout Tele, another three pickup guitar. For those who like the shape of a Telecaster but want totally different tones, this is a good place to start looking. Prices are $599 to roughly $1000.
Classic/Classic Player/Roadworn- The line that consists of the Classic, Classic Player and Roadworn series is quite diverse these days. Taking guitars that were popular in their era and making them affordable, players will find diversity among each of the guitars in this series. From the original single pickup Esquire released in 1950 to the Thinline '69 and '72 models, each stands out on its own. The Classic and Classic Player series currently offer fourteen different models to choose from. The Road Worn series is much smaller, with only two models at the moment, but offers a classically appointed Telecaster with an abused, worn down look to it. Prices range from $799 to $899.
Cabronita- The Cabronita is quite the unique bird among Telecasters. Currently available as a solid body or Thinline, it offers two Gretsch style pickups and a single volume knob. While scaled back and somewhat minimalist, it's a great addition to the Telecaster family for its unique and incomparable tone. Prices for non-Custom Shop Cabronitas currently run between $599 and $749.
American Special- The American Special is the most budget-friendly American made Telecaster that Fender currently offers. While you still get the traditional alder body/maple neck configuration, a dual set of Texas Special pickups are added for some extra heat. Electronically speaking, the biggest improvement is the addition of a Greasebucket tone control, which allows you to cut back on the treble without adding muddiness and low end. While most American made Fenders come with a hardshell case, the American Special series includes a gig bag. $799 is the price for keeping it in the U.S.A.
American Standard/Deluxe- The American Standard and Deluxe series are, simply put, incredible guitars. Giving you a wide range of features across a broad spectrum, you can truly select a guitar you want with options that matter to you. Most are available in alder or ash body wood, maple or rosewood fretboards and a nice range of colors. While the American Standard series come loaded with Custom Shop pickups, the Deluxe series includes noiseless pickups (both models feature dual single coils), the versatile S1 pickup selector (allows more pickup voices than a standard 3-way switch) and the ability to bypass the tone control for a hotter, purer signal. Depending on features, prices run between $1099 and $1699.
American Vintage- The American Vintage series currently includes three popular Telecaster years- 1952, 1958 and 1964- and offers users a guitar that feels, sounds, looks and plays like a guitar of its era. From the pickups to the bridge, neck and fretboard material, players who are lucky enough to have played an original will most likely be quite surprised at these meticulous models. Prices are $1999.
Artist- There are currently eight artist models available with specifications unique to each guitar. Two James Burton models, GE Smith, JIm Adkins, Jim Root, John 5, Chris Shiflett and Richie Kotzen currently head up the Artist line up. Prices range from $649 to $1649.
Select- Fender's Select series is always a notable line to check out, as they offer each model in limited numbers for a short period of time. Hardware and wood quality are of impeccable quality and each guitar is absolutely stunning to behold. Currently Fender offers seven Telecaster models in their Select line, including two Thinlines, three carved tops with different body woods, a dual humbucker version and a more traditional version. Prices start at $2149 and reach $2499 for the carved tops.
Custom Shop- The Custom Shop is without a doubt where purists and those with loads of cash will want to look. Offering up not only a wide range of high end models to exacting specifications but also the option to design your own guitar, Fender Custom Shop models are awe-inspiring enough to have an entire column devoted solely to them. When the term "Master Built" is included in the model, it means the guitar was built from start to finish by only one master luthier. Prices tend to start in the high $2000s and the sky is the limit from there.
What's the best Telecaster pickup configuration?
The Fender Telecaster has been there, done that about a million times already and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The Tele will celebrate 65 years of service before we know it and after another 65 years come and go, guitarists the world over will most assuredly still be singing its praises.
Are you a Tele fan? Let us know why and what your favorite model happens to be!
© 2013 Robert Allen Johnson