Happy Birthday, Tele
February 28, 2011 5:24 PM   Subscribe

The Telecaster Plus of the 90s was the finest guitar ever made.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 5:31 PM on February 28, 2011

Rad. My first, and still most favorite guitar.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 5:31 PM on February 28, 2011

Had a Tele bass on loan for about three months in the mid-90s. Still miss it. I like my P-bass just fine, but there was something about the Tele I just loved.
posted by mwhybark at 5:33 PM on February 28, 2011

I saved for three months last year to buy one of these and holy crap I absolutely love it. It's got that great rounded single coil sound that rumbles the four 12" speakers I plug it into like few other guitars I've ever heard. Listening to this piece, putting this post together and typing this up makes me regret leaving it at the practice space. I just like looking at it. It's a handsome guy.

Still, I had to take the knob plate off and turn it around so I'd stop knocking the pickup selector switch.
posted by Maaik at 5:44 PM on February 28, 2011

Here's a bloke playing one of those.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:53 PM on February 28, 2011

Wow, never heard Danny Gatton before, wonderful. Makes me want to get a tele again.
posted by hellslinger at 5:54 PM on February 28, 2011

Post CBS Tobacco Sunburst through a '67 Twin Reverb Blackface. Most favorite and awesome Rigcake. Ever.

Happy Birthday, Tele!!!
posted by Artichoke Dance Off!! at 5:56 PM on February 28, 2011

Not bad for a slab of wood with a neck.
posted by tommasz at 6:08 PM on February 28, 2011

All I can think of is Roy Buchanan covering Hey Joe on that sweet early 50's Tele. Great Post.
posted by priested at 6:13 PM on February 28, 2011

How, exactly, did Leo Fender get so much so right? The Tele, the Strat, the P bass, the J bass, the StingRay, the L2000; the guy didn't play a note!
posted by Wolof at 6:17 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

So I'm curious, can you really tell the difference between a Telecaster, Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul, etc. when all other variables are equalized (e.g., same amp, speakers, etc.)?

Has anyone made recordings that would show off this difference?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:42 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I love my Tele Thinline! Now if only I had time to play it...
posted by limeonaire at 6:42 PM on February 28, 2011

I've played Telecasters as my main guitars for nearly 30 years, a bunch of them (in the middle somewhere) as a professional musician. I've loved several. Nothing plays or sounds like a Tele, and the musical genres I love most owe a great deal to the capacities of that remarkable instrument.

Or as Merle would say, "Mister Roy Nichols . . . ." (YouTube)

Plus them suckers are downright indestructible. The more you beat them up, the better they play. What else is like that?

Thank you, Leo Fender. From the bottom of my chicken picking heart.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:49 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wolof: luckily, he met George Fullerton. George played guitar in a band and was an actual luthier. Leo had a radio store and worked on electric lap-steel guitars. He didn't play guitar. Not at all. G&L Guitars...'G' was George, 'L' was Leo. I knew George for 28 years.

If you play guitar, I'd just like you to do the memory of George a favor. I'd like you to look up George Fullerton, maybe read one of his books about the invention of the Tele and the P-Bass and the Strat...and while you read the book, please keep in mind that George was literally the most humble, modest man I've ever met. We were good friends. I asked him to consider addressing some of the...misperceptions that have arisen about who made what, who thought of what and who was really good at suggesting which name to put on things.

He would not let me say a word about this when he was alive. Nobody cares now, do they? It's like a mountain: you put your name on it from a warm office thousands of miles away, and who cares about the men who actually climbed the thing?

He'd be...unhappy about me saying this, but I do get tired of this fine man being overlooked because of good PR.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 6:55 PM on February 28, 2011 [13 favorites]

I'm a humbucker (and Gibson) guy, but I do love me some Tele (give me one in blonde, please).
posted by uncleozzy at 6:59 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

CheesDigestsAll: I can tell the difference. For example, the primary difference between the bridge pickup on a Tele and on a Strat is the Tele pickup has a baseplate that focuses more of the magnetic field up around the strings. This gives it that distinctive Tele twang.
posted by Ardiril at 7:00 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

George Fullerton obit, LAT, 2009.

Flower, sling the links, clearly it matters a lot to you.
posted by mwhybark at 7:01 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

from the LAT obit:
"Leo's domain was the lab: innovation, getting ideas together on the conceptual level. George's domain was the shop," said Richard Smith, curator of the Leo Fender Gallery at the Fullerton Museum Center and author of "Fender: The Sound Heard Round the World." Fullerton "made the machine that threaded the guitar necks. He came up with the neck shaper and all these unique tools they used. If Leo had problems, [Fullerton] needed to solve them."

George would sit and his kitchen table and sketch and figure and dream out loud. I did not understand a word he was saying- guitars cry if I look at them. But just watching his hands, seeing his eyes look off at something only he could see- he didn't need a lab.
Credit where credit is due and someday all this will be forgotten, and it's not the first time America has been distracted by loud noises and bright lights...but...look, if you like the instruments, ya oughta read the books.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 7:28 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

CheeseDigestsAll--Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan played Stratocasters; Jimmy Page, and, of course, Les Paul used Les Pauls; Steve Cropper and Vince Gill use Telecasters; they all use others, of course, but typically these. To hear the signature Telecaster sound, listen to almost any Otis Redding recording, especially the slow 6/8s--Steve Cropper is playing the Telecaster. There's nothing else like it. The electo-magnets on the pick-ups on these guitars are all wound differently, so different harmonics are accentuated.
posted by carping demon at 8:02 PM on February 28, 2011

So I'm curious, can you really tell the difference between a Telecaster, Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul, etc. when all other variables are equalized (e.g., same amp, speakers, etc.)?

A Les Paul makes your shoulder sore but allows you to speak with the undead.

A Strat is lighter, but you can only talk to mermaids.

A Tele pretty much makes you immortal.

So there's a bit of a difference.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:38 PM on February 28, 2011 [14 favorites]

For those who worship in the church of guitar, it holds sacred status as the eldest of the electric guitar's holy trinity: Stratocaster, Les Paul and Telecaster.

my 335 insists that's a holy QUADitry
posted by pyramid termite at 8:53 PM on February 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

which is not to say my squier affinity telecaster doesn't kick all kinds of butt
posted by pyramid termite at 8:56 PM on February 28, 2011

For classic Tele exploitation, I tend toward Danny Gatton and Jimmy Bryant, though Scotty Anderson deserves mention (and a listen) here.
posted by methinks at 8:57 PM on February 28, 2011

Seems a shame not to link to the two most famous Tele users out there:


posted by wabbittwax at 8:57 PM on February 28, 2011

I got a Les Paul as a very generous gift a couple years ago and while I'd always known they were different beasts, I didn't realize just how different until I plugged the LP in. I'd played a Strat for years beforehand. I was kind of ashamed at how much I disliked what I heard at first. Where I was used to the wide open tone of that middle single coil, I was getting a squared off wave that begged to be cranked up really loud. Nothing wrong with that, just didn't jibe with what I do.

When I switched to the Tele, I got much closer to the sound I was hearing in my head.
posted by Maaik at 9:04 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

So I'm curious, can you really tell the difference between a Telecaster, Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul, etc. when all other variables are equalized (e.g., same amp, speakers, etc.)?

the listener can with enough experience - but a guitar player playing one detects all sorts of differences - the fenders are longer scale than the gibsons - they react differently to one's touch - they tend to draw different kinds of licks from the player - i've been playing that 335 for most of my life while a friend of mine preferred strats - i often wondered about some of the things he played - they didn't seem like the kind of things i came up with on my gibson

i finally got a rough but ready chinese strat copy and found much to my surprise that i was playing the same kind of things that he played

i never knew people who played telecasters - when i got that squier, i quickly discovered that it's got a great rhythm sound that a gibson or a strat really doesn't have

and, of course, there's other brands of guitars, many of which have their own unique sounds and personalities waiting for the player to discover them - this is why musicians accumulate many different guitars - each one does something the others don't

the same thing goes for basses
posted by pyramid termite at 9:13 PM on February 28, 2011

I'm not sure what the other players here think, but in the presence of moderate gain and distortion on a tube amp, the differences between those styles of guitars become very apparent to me.
posted by hellslinger at 9:19 PM on February 28, 2011

So I'm curious, can you really tell the difference between a Telecaster, Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul, etc. when all other variables are equalized (e.g., same amp, speakers, etc.)?

I can tell the difference between two of the same bass or guitar. Different ones are incredibly easy to hear the difference.

As far as people doing recordings to test this, I've seen that done on forums. The same part played by the same player using 5 different guitars or basses.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:39 PM on February 28, 2011

my 335 insists that's a holy QUADitry

I have an Epiphone Dot, but yeah, I'm with you on that, p t. The first 3 Deep Purple records (on Tetragrammaton) or the first few minutes of Rush's 2112. Also, early BeBop Deluxe but I doubt few here have heard of them.
posted by Ardiril at 10:04 PM on February 28, 2011


(holy crap, an obsessionist site! yay!)
posted by mwhybark at 10:35 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

good god, they used actual vintage parts!
posted by mwhybark at 10:41 PM on February 28, 2011

my 335 insists that's a holy QUADitry

If it's good enough for Ted Leo, it's good enough for me.
posted by Maaik at 3:54 AM on March 1, 2011

The Tele I bought when I was 24 is still with me, and remains my favourite guitar.

Tele + AC30 = ATTACK.
posted by Decani at 5:20 AM on March 1, 2011

I'm a less-than-average leisurely guitar hobbyist. I just like to plink around and play songs for my kids. I've always thought of the Tele as a really great rythym guitar that can vault into the realm of amazing in the right hands.
posted by Shohn at 5:52 AM on March 1, 2011

CheesDigestsAll: "all other variables being equalized" still leaves lots of room for variation within the guitars. Most obvious is that the pickups are different and that leads to a very different sound. It's really not a "for experts' ears only" sort of thing.
posted by entropone at 6:36 AM on March 1, 2011

can you really tell the difference between a Telecaster, Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul, etc. when all other variables are equalized

Keith Richards - who may be presumed to know something about guitars - has said that he only needs 15 minutes to get any of them sounding the way he wants.

Hyperbole, perhaps. But I'm guessing the differences are fairly minor.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:43 AM on March 1, 2011

My band's got a telecaster. Well, it belongs to one of the other people in the band. It's a Mexican tele but he put in some better pickups. Damned if I can remember what they are, tough - I'm not the gearhead.

But hell if that guitar wasn't the best one to play I've ever played. Beautiful tones - jangly to be all REMish, but embraced some warm distortion when we wanted to get messy, and it took to screaming out some noiserock like a damn champ. Sigh.

As it rocked too and fro, it knocked many a beer onto a neighboring amplifier.

Good times.
posted by entropone at 6:43 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bill Kirchen's ode to the Tele: Hammer of the Honky Tonk Gods
They put six strings on a maple stick,
Stuck it on a slab of ash,
Sold one the Luther, threw in a pick,
Sent him out with Johnny Cash.

Albert Lee on a Tele with Emmylou Harris doing Luxury Liner.
Bill Kirchen, Hot Rod Lincoln.
The Hellecasters (3 Teles), doing Orange Blossom Special.
And Junior Brown playing his guit steel -- some Telecaster bits left in there somewhere -- playing My Wife Thinks You're Dead and Freeborn Man.
posted by Killick at 7:42 AM on March 1, 2011

Thing about the Tele--when I first got it, I didn't break it in, so much as it broke me in. I was used to the slender curve of my Strat's upper bout. A couple practices and a show with the Tele left me with quite a strawberry rash on my picking arm. I figured that in with the cost of playing such a great instrument. I still have a semi-permanent rough patch there, halfway between my wrist and elbow.
posted by Maaik at 8:02 AM on March 1, 2011

I love Telecasters, but I suck at guitar, so I'm not worthy of one. I did, however, make a point of getting a cheap Elgin Telecaster copy.
posted by Gelatin at 8:33 AM on March 1, 2011

Fuckin' A.

My tele is an '82-or-so squire from the era when they were building them better in japan than the states. She's got new pickups of some sort and the frets were redone by someone very, very good. Before I bought it for the princely sum of $250 (sales tax included!), I presume it was owned by a jazz player because the wear on the neck indicates a fondness for keys like B-flat and F and other such horn-friendly chords. And the first thing I did when I got it was to flip the control plate around. Best mod ever followed closely by swapping out the stacked knobs on a Danelectro.

No fucking clue why that guitar was so cheap. It's not even one of my favorite class of cheap instruments, the 60s classic that was butchered to fit a floyd-rose in the 80s. Scare off the collectors and you've got a working musician's best friend.

One would be remiss to neglect Leo Fender's work with Music Man, though. There is a certain perverse brilliance to building an amp with a solid-state preamp and a tube power section. By a kind of unlikely series of events, the Music Man version of the Twin (I forget the model name) with a single 15" speaker that Leo Fender personally built for Jerry Byrd is sitting in my step-dad's basement about seven miles from where I'm sitting.
posted by stet at 10:26 AM on March 1, 2011

My only real complaint about Tele's (and the same applies to Strats) is I cannot get the rhythm tone that I want. Teles and Strats have nice rhythm tones that have their place, but not THE go-to tone I want when I play rhythm. That's why I have the Dot.
posted by Ardiril at 11:05 AM on March 1, 2011

I haven't had a problem with mine--but then, I haven't dropped it and totally effed up a cable and the jack like I did with my LP that one time (oops!). What's your particular beef with it?
posted by Maaik at 11:25 AM on March 1, 2011

I think one of those semi-hollow Teles with the humbuckers would give me the rhythm tone I want, but I am on the side who argues that those aren't really Teles.
posted by Ardiril at 12:05 PM on March 1, 2011

Maybe it isn't a "real" Tele, but the 2001 '72 Reissue Tele Thinline I'm using in my profile pic is the best damn guitar I've ever played in my life. It's like a cross between a Strat and a Les Paul-- big chunky distorted rythym tones and lots of clarity on the leads, plus a jangly clean sound. The controls never get in my way like they do on a Strat, and that natural ash body with the white pearloid pickguard is just beautiful. I was a Les Paul guy before I got it, but I hardly pick those up anymore.

First thing I did to it was take out the input cup and replace it with a plate lifted off my cheap Washburn, not because I was worried about it coming out but because you can't use a right angle plug with those things. I hate having a straight plug sticking out of the bottom of a guitar, it looks bad and is just begging to get broken off.
posted by InfidelZombie at 1:36 PM on March 1, 2011

Does your Thinline have a single coil bridge pickup or a humbucker? It's humbuckers in Teles that put me in the 'it's not a Tele' crowd. I would probably like them more, but as a lefty, I rarely see one that I can play. Thinlines with P-90s, I think, would be awesome.
posted by Ardiril at 2:50 PM on March 1, 2011

I can talk guitars all day.
posted by Ardiril at 2:50 PM on March 1, 2011

Humbucker in the bridge. Doesn't bother me that people don't care for those, in fact that's probably why I got it so cheap. ($425 used.) All I care about is how it sounds playing with the band, and to me it sounds fan-fucking-tastic.
posted by InfidelZombie at 5:09 PM on March 1, 2011

Man, I haven't had a problem with the input cup (I was about the type "jack cup" and thought that I better mention that, because it sounds funny), but now I'm considering changing it out. It does bother me that I can't use a right angle plug on the thing and I don't want my guitar to just prolapse during a show.

I'm also thinking about changing the tuners. I've got the slotted top ones where I've gotta guesstimate how short to trim the string before I start winding it. That's kind of irritating. I'm also considering having the pickups rewired to play in series as well as parallel, but that's down the road a bit.
posted by Maaik at 7:24 PM on March 1, 2011

It's humbuckers in Teles that put me in the 'it's not a Tele' crowd.

i can understand that - but keith puts humbuckers in the neck position and you're not going to tell him it's not a tele
posted by pyramid termite at 11:08 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a Les Paul, at the time my guitar teacher had a classic blonde Tele. He approved of my Paul, but I remember him looking me in the eye and say, "You can't hide behind a Tele, it KNOWS." He was right. It didn't suit me and every mistake I made came belting out of the amp in glorious jangling warm tones. My Paul on the other hand was nice and forgiving, it used mellow distortion to soothe me into thinking my lazy fingers were playing, even when we both knew it wasn't really true. I played a friends Tele about a year ago, the first time I've touched one since sitting in that practice room back in Jr. High. It KNEW. I couldn't hide, I was lazy and my riffs were weak and sucked. I sold my Paul not long after, how could I keep a partner that was always lying to me? My Martin regards me warily but tries to sing along, my Kay archtop doesn't care what I do as long as there's a bottle(neck), but that Tele, it saw and in a split second it knew and wasn't about to let me get away with it. Don't try to act smart around a Tele, they KNOW.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:03 AM on March 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I used to have a '63 tele, oh what an instrument. I loved it but it did not love me back. I just did not get along with the neck shape, I really am a Gibson man. A good example of why I didn't get along is that Roy Buchanan clip at the end of the NPR link at the top of the OP. You can really play a Tele, but you have to really play the Tele. If your fingers can dance like Roy Buchanan, you can really play the hell out of it. I can't dance like that, I kinda stomp. When I played the Tele, I felt like I had a little narrow pedal steel guitar around my neck. I remember Roy Buchanan saying he started playing the pedal steel but found he could get all the same sounds out of a Tele with just his fingertips. That pedal steel sound wasn't what I was looking for, it's a little too shrill for my taste.

Anyway, I have a personal beef with the Tele, because of a local Telecaster driver. About a year ago, I went to a local gig and just as I walked in the door and passing by the speaker stacks, he cut loose with a high pitch slide guitar lead from an Allman Bros. song. I got about 2 seconds in the club and POW I could tell I had a major hearing loss, I ran back out the door. I had to go to my otolaryngologist and have my hearing tested. Now I have a very interesting "notch," all my hearing at the frequency of that Tele note was destroyed. Dammit, Telecaster.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:23 AM on March 2, 2011

I have three very non-traditional Teles (Nashville B-Bender, '72 Tele Deluxe and a custom Warmoth no-caster/Tele I made myself) and I love them all. Thanks for the post!
posted by brand-gnu at 12:39 PM on March 2, 2011

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