It’s the granddaddy of the electric guitar.
I know, I know, it may not be the coolest guitar to own… it’s funky looking, and horror of all horrors, every cowboy hat wearing, horse riding redneck musician on CMT has one slung over his shoulder. (Not to mention every electric player on a Gaither Homecoming video.)
It’s not sleek like a Strat, nor grungy like a Les Paul. So if you’re not from Alabama or Kentucky, why own some twang? (no insult if you’re from Alabama or Kentucky, I love Alabama and Kentucky people… really… I do!)
Ok… ok… I’ll say it, I’m a Tele player, and no, I’m not a country musician. In fact, I’m about as Yankee of a guitar player as you’ll ever find. So I have a selling job to do. In the next few minutes, maybe I’ll convince you that these hillbilly git-fiddles are alright, and under the right circumstances, they’re cool.
First, a history lesson though.
The Fender Telecaster is the oldest mass produced solid body electric line. It began life in 1950 as a single pickup guitar called the Esquire. (Not to be confused with my beloved Fender “Squier” brand name.) But later that year, the single pickup model was discontinued and replaced by a double pickup model called the Broadcaster… [broadWHAT???] …ok, there’s a reason you probably haven’t heard of the Broadcaster… apparently Gretsch had a drum kit called the Broadkaster, and they sued Leo Fender over the name. Ultimately he dropped it and replaced it with the name Telecaster… as a tribute to the early iterations of those 42 inch plasma thingys sitting in our living rooms. (Note: for a limited time, some models were unnamed. As a result, they picked up the nickname “Nocasters” by players and collectors.)
Most Tele’s have bodies made of Alder or Ash, while the neck is maple with either a rosewood or maple fretboard. The pickups are a pair of single coils… the neck one’s called a ”lipstick” pickup because of the cover on it. One major difference between old Teles and modern ones is the vintage instruments have three saddles on a bridge, (two strings rest on each one…) while modern ones have six. Vintage guitar players say that the old three saddle guitars have greater sustain, but adjusting their intonation is quite a trick.
Now that the history lesson’s done… what’s the deal with a Tele? (Especially for worship guitarists.)
There’s much more to the Tele than twang. The Telecaster design is in fact one of the most versatile guitars you can buy. (Note: a it’s a super choice for a first electric.) Of course, with a Fender twin amp you’ll find tones that are right at home in the Grand ‘Ol Opry. But run through a clean Class A amp, the Tele will jangle much like a Strat… the difference is the Tele has a little more full sound to it’s tone.
Once you overdrive a Tele though, it will growl with a much thicker and fuller sustain than a Strat. Tonally, the Tele’s a great compromise between the clean and trebley jangle of a Stratocaster and the thick low growl of a Les Paul. (And best of all, it doesn’t weigh ten tons like an LP… )
You may know that the Standard Telecasters come in three separate lines. The first Standard Tele is the one made in Southeast Asia. This model is the cheapest, and the low price reflects the quality and craftsmanship of the components. (I’m exempting Squier Tele’s from this list, which are marketed under Fender’s low cost brand name.)These guitars have more neck and intonation problems. Also, the quality on hardware and electronics is minimal, so the pickups aren’t going to turn many heads.
The second Tele line the MIM (Made in Mexico) Telecaster is a favorite of modders and guitar experimenters. MIM’s are a super overall value, being a great balance between price with performance. The Mexican Tele uses some cheaper hardware and electronics, but the wood construction is usually solid, (and if your a customizer, you really don’t care much about hardware and pickups.) The quality control on MIM’s is usually pretty good, yet there are some very bad apples in the barrel. So pay close attention.
The third series, the American Standard Tele is the top of the heap of mass produced Teles. The guitars are assembled in the US and use better bridges, hardware, and electronics. The stock pickups on American Tele’s are pretty good, my guitar still has them. Fender also has the Highway One line which is a mid line between the MIM and American Tele. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but the big difference between the H1 and Am is the quality of the finish on the body…) One thing is if shopping around, you can usually find a used American for the same price as a new MIM.
From there, you go into Fender’s upper range, like the Deluxe and Custom Shop guitars. Also some modified Tele designs are very popular, like the 72 Thinline Reissue, (which replaces the single coils with Humbuckers.) Last I knew, Jon Buckland from Coldplay played one.
Whew… there it is, the full run down on the wonderful guitar named after the TV. I’ve fired off my best evidence against it’s country music roots, but… I see your still skeptical of buying a twang factory. It really isn’t that bad…seriously. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe Bruce Springsteen, Keith Richards, Andy Summers, the Edge, or Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead can convince you instead.
Well, I’m out… hmm… what did I… hey has anyone seen my snakeskin cowboy boots around here?