Telecasters – what?

Guest post by The Mystery Strummer

We can argue what the first successful mass produced solid body electric guitar was, but if the numbers were put on a graph, people would have to agree the elephant in the room is the Telecaster, in the same way the VW Beetle cannot be denied its place in history. Without the rounded edges of the Strat, the Telecaster looks to some like a plank of a school project that you might have done yourself with the bandsaw during A Levels.

So how is it that this guitar is coming up for 70 years in production? How is it that loads of top players have them as their weapon of choice, when they were so early in the evolutionary chain?

Well, the crocodile has been around for 85 million years, and no one thinks it can’t snap a good game when it needs to. Something just came out as a solution 85 million years ago, and that design still works as well today as a killing machine.

Welcome to the Telecaster

There is a joyful simplicity in just how the Tele is stripped down to its essentials, like a Bauhaus artefact that works as good as it did in the 1930s. Aesthetics aside, it’s the physics of what makes it what it is that are of more significance to me.

In no particular order:

• A small headstock that doesn’t stifle the neck.
• No upper cutaway for the fretboard, making the body support the neck joint just a little bit more.
• The absence of any middle pickup, so players can really dig in with their plectrum or fingers.

All these things set it above other guitars to me, which can be mimicked easily enough by PRS or whoever, but the thing to me which makes the essence of a Telecaster is the bridge pickup plate.

By way of history, Leo Fender started out making lap steel guitars, and put metal plates around his pickups to shield them from radio interference. When he made his solidbody guitar, the bridge pickup looked mysteriously like those on his lap steel guitars, also set inside a metal plate. I consider it to be the defining feature of a Telecaster to this day, allowing the bright twang we know from country to be dialled down to the rock of Keith Richards, and onwards still to other masterful players’ styles. Between the two pickups and a tone knob, there are most of the colours on the palette that you will ever need. Start digging into a huge number of great songs in history, and you’ll find the person always pictured with the Les Paul or Strat actually used a Telecaster on their biggest hits.

So, maybe you think this story opened your mind to try the guitar? Beware! One Telecaster can easily become two, and then the third or fourth might not be so far behind, because once you get how unmolested a pickup is inside a Telecaster, you want to see one with a P90 in it. Then a humbucker. Then something off a Gretsch. Then a version with a resonance chamber in the body. Then one that truly mirrors the thick neck and punchy pickups from 1952. The next one never seems a long step away, but one day you can wake up owning seven, like the writer of this post did (in my defence, I keep one in the office, and one at my parents’, in case of emergency).

Essentially, the point I am making is that, right now, I just need a Custom, to complete my collection. And a Thinline. And an authentic 1964 reproduction model from Fender. And an American Vintage 1958.