I’m not ashamed to say that I love my Fender Telecaster. It’s a solid relationship now, even though my natural guitar promiscuity has led me astray on various Gibsons, Hofners, Epiphones and Ibanez’s over the years. So what is it that keeps me coming back to this no-frills, simple work-horse of a guitar? For me, it’s all in the tone. The Telecaster has a unique sparkle and full-sounding jangle that I simply haven’t found on any other model of guitar. I guess it has something to do with it’s solid, plank-like body and simple pick-up combination, but it’s how it sounds to my ears – rather than it’s production spec – that interests me. And it’s a tone that keeps me returning time and time again for recording the rhythm parts on my songs. It’s no surprise that the Telecaster is the darling of Nashville and the main guitar in many country players’ armouries. Now, I’m no country player, but it just naturally begs to be played with little country / bluegrass pull-offs and hammer-ons to get the maximum jangle and flavour from the chords you play. But the Telecaster can equally get low down and downright dirty if you want it to. Just look at the trademark greasy licks and riffs of Keith Richards for ample evidence of that. Other players also seem to get very attached to their Telecasters. Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi have been using the same two Teles for (seemingly) their entire career, and Joe Strummer’s mainstay Tele is now almost an icon in it’s own right.
An important distinction I’d like to make is that I’m pretty much a rhythm guitarist, and I can see that the Telecaster might not have the range of tones and bite that a lead player might require (compared to, say, a Stratocaster or Les Paul). But that didn’t stop Jimmy Page playing the studio solos on ‘Stairway to Heaven’ with a Telecaster, or David Gilmour wringing his usual silky, understated brilliance out of one on many of his Pink Floyd and solo recordings.
I also have to say that the Telecaster has great looks.. It’s a simple, clean design that hasn’t changed since it’s first production model in 1950, and hopefully never will. I’m particularly fond of the white, natural purity of the one that I have, and it’s body and natural neck can only get more beautiful with age (unlike me!).
Anyway, enough of my romantic gushing – here’s a little bit more (proper) history for you…
The Fender Telecaster was developed by Leo Fender in Fullerton, California in the 1940s. The hand-built prototype, an anomalous white guitar, had most of the features of what would become the Telecaster. The initial production model appeared in 1950, and was called the Esquire. Fewer than fifty guitars were originally produced under that name, and most were replaced under warranty because of early manufacturing problems. In particular, the Esquire necks had no truss rod and many were replaced due to bent necks. Later in 1950, this single-pickup model was discontinued, and a two-pickup model was renamed the Broadcaster. From this point onwards all Fender necks incorporated truss rods.The Gretsch company, itself a manufacturer of hollow-body electric guitars, claimed that “Broadcaster” violated the trademark for its Broadkaster line of drums, and as a newcomer to the industry, Fender decided to bend and changed the name to Telecaster.
The Telecaster is known for its bright, cutting tone. One of the secrets to the Telecaster’s sound centers on the bridge pickup, which has more windings than the neck pickup and hence has a much higher output, sometimes having twice the inductance of the neck pickup. At the same time, a capacitor is fitted between the slider of the volume control and the output, allowing treble sounds to bleed through while the mid and lower ranges are dampened. A slanting bridge pickup enhances the guitar’s treble tone. The solid body allows the guitar to deliver a clean amplified version of the strings’ tone. This was an improvement on previous electric guitar designs, whose hollow bodies made them prone to unwanted feedback, and which sometimes suffered from a muddy, indistinct sound. These design elements allowed musicians to emulate steel guitar sounds, making it particularly useful in country music. Such emulation can be enhanced by use of a B-Bender (B-string bending device co-introduced by country picker Clarence White), enabling a smooth, precise change of pitch for a single string within a chord.
So here’s to the noble, simple Fender Telecaster….