The Fender Telecaster is a legend. It’s working-man’s royalty among guitars. It has been, and still is, played by some of the most influential musicians of all time. You see Teles played customized by players (hot rodded), and you see them played by the greatest guitarists just stock out of the case, built to Mr. Leo Fender’s original designs. The Telecaster is one of the simplest guitar designs ever put to market (and continues to be one of the most successful).
The Telecaster was the first mass-produced Spanish-style electric guitar, though it was released originally by a different name. Fender introduced the guitar in 1950, and it was called the Broadcaster (for double pickup versions) and the Esquire (for single pickup versions). But Gretsch took Fender to task for the Broadcaster name (as they already had a drum kit called the Broadkaster). So, Mr. Leo changed the name to Telecaster, and so begins the dominant era of the electric guitar. Check out Fender’s History of the Telecaster.
Fender made their guitars so they could be worked on (like a person might work on a cool car, kinda worked on). That was part of Mr. Leo’s vision. The necks are bolted on and can be easily removed for easy replacement, or even travel if necessary. The bridge system is simple. And the tuners are all on the upside of the headstock, making it easier to tune the guitar while playing it. It was a guitar designed for the working musician and for the every man.
Not only is the guitar wonderfully simple, but the sound is fantastic. The Tele twang-and-snap, the hot single-coil pickups, and that rounded tone (almost like a pedal steel) combine to make a sound that is legendary and unmistakable. It has been the defining sound of country music from the 50s until today. While simultaneously, the Tele symbolized arm-in-the-air rock-n-roll by being iconically associated with Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen. It has been influential in other genres as well (I play one in my post-hardcore band).
Here’s an early example of Keith Richards playing a Tele (before the more iconic imagery of him with his honey blonde Tele.
And of course, The Boss also played a honey blonde Tele as well.
And don’t forget, my favorite of all of these, Waylon Jennings…
The Telecaster is a giant for sure. Today they are played and bought and sold daily by players all over, and they are also collected at very high prices. Maybe none more than those in the collections of Joe Bonamassa and his fellow collectors. Listen to Joe discuss his 1951 Nocaster. These were Teles with no markings that Fender had already made when they had to stop using the Broadcaster name. The moniker was just removed from the remaining guitars and they had no name beyond Fender. These were Nocasters. So, as you can imagine… they’re pretty rare.
So even though he kinda hates on those of us with Reverb pages, he shares an interesting perspective about guitars, and boy does he love them. I didn’t collect guitars in the days before Reverb. So, it’s all new and exciting to me.
Another cool thing about Teles is that they are accessible. If you can’t get the classic American Made Telecaster Standard, you may be able to get one made in their modern manufacturing facility in Ensenada, Mexico. Or from one of their other locations as well, each within a certain price range. Then, there is the Squire Telecaster, which is a licensed product but of very high quality for its price range.
Check out this great comparison of the Mexican Made Tele with the American Made Tele.
Truth is… they’re all great guitars! The Telecaster continues to be one of the great standards of the electric guitar. Hats off to you, Mr. Fender. Well done, sir. It seems you got it right from the beginning.