The Telecaster: The Tele is a chameleon, or even an oxymoron. Its past is sorted and confusing. All at once it’s simple, basic and plain while at the same time complex tonally, refined in craftsmanship, and beautiful to behold. It likes all kinds of music, but very few seem to believe it. Let’s just say The Telecaster would have a hard time finding a date on Tinder.
It reminds me of a joke: Buck Owens, Joe Strummer, Danny Gatton, George Harrison and Prince all walk into a bar. The bartender walks over to the juke box with a fresh crisp bill in hand, and says: Hey Y’all! Anyone got a request?
Maybe you will become a Tele believer (or at least get the joke) by the end of this article.
It’s very simple to say the Tele is the forerunner of all electric solid body guitars to come, but it is so much more. To some, it doesn’t matter; there is no “other guitar” The Tele has as many faces and personalities as the people who play them. Some are casual with a Tele: It’s a favorite, but not the favorite guitar in their stable. Some Tele players are devotees of a nearly religious fervor. Anything but a Tele is sacrilegious. The latter will have a collection resembling something like: 27 guitars. 25 of them are Teles. The other two being dear old Dad’s hand me down Herringbone D-28 and 1955 Gretsch Country Club that he won in a card game from an ex-member of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.
The types of Tele players you might encounter are many and varied, but they do seem to fit quite neatly into a few categories. If you play the Tele, or simply love its tone, sit back, and enjoy with a sense of humor. You may in fact recognize yourself as one or more of the Tele’s many types of players and admirers.
The Tele was the one that started the…. Not here, OK?
If you are a devoted Tele player, all the history and development is familiar. It’s like trying to tell the history of Pizza in NYC, to the “original Ray”. So, we will save a detailed development of the Tele for another time. Instead, let’s observe the multitude of styles and players this “every mother’s son” of a guitar attracts. The Tele is a terrific and versatile design, but far from being the Swiss Army Knife of guitars.
Some Telecasters are played by people who wear overalls. If they are very good at their craft, they probably play to people in fine tailored suits. Telecasters are also played by people in fine tailored suits, quite possibly to an audience that wears overalls.
Maybe more than any other electric guitar, the Tele has reached the true status of “Icon”. A word used so often, it has become diluted. In the case of the Telecaster, the carelessly tossed around term ‘Icon’ is used at full strength
You have to admit, these days everything is an “Icon”, or “iconic”.
Blue suede shoes? Icon.
Your old high school sneakers? Not Iconic.
Know what I’m sayin?
It’s a Model T. It’s a Rat Rod T-Bucket. It’s a beat-up flat bed. It’s an El Camino. It’s also a Tesla, Ferrari, and an Alfa Romeo. Some “Telecasters” are Cobra Kit cars, and a few are go-carts.
Types of Tele players
The Telecaster Virtuoso Type or Simply “Telecaster Player”
The Telecaster virtuoso is often referred to as simply a “Telecaster Player” It’s not that he plays a Telecaster, it’s that he ONLY plays a Telecaster. His favorite Tele has its own spot in bed, with its own pillow. Oh yes, he is a Telecaster player, not a guitar player, not an electric guitarist, but a Telecaster Player. The idea of something aside from a Tele is vulgar, if not blasphemous. Touching a model aside from a Tele may cause this kind of devotee to boil his hands before he returns to his Tele. He is likely scary good at his craft. This Virtuoso player has many Telecasters, because they all are different, even if they look exactly the same. They all have the classic three barreled saddle, with pickup/bridge combination, and they darn tootin’ ain’t got any kinda top loader bridge. The pre-58 string-through-the-body design is always favored. “Black Guard” neck and ash body are also nearly always a must.
This type of Tele player may have one with a humbucking neck pickup, or even a Nashville mod (added Strat pickup in the middle). None of these variants are considered blasphemous. You won’t see any six-saddle bridge (Ma! This thing won’t intonate!) tremolo bar, or EMGs. The body of the guitar will be traditional Ash, Alder, or maybe knotty Pine. Flame maple top? (Maybe). He is traditional in his choice of Tele, but won’t turn his nose up to a custom-made job, if it’s superb. What about the finish? Might be blonde, sunburst, or a standard Fender color, or it can be painted with hot rod flames, pinup girls, or covered in stickers that include any kind of car parts, tractors, or anything that runs on diesel. He does not use a backup guitar. He uses a backup Tele. Duh!
A true “Telecaster Player” is a Tele master, and every one of the Tele’s strengths is utilized to the fullest. “Behind the nut” bends, or use of a custom installed “B” or even recently popular “G” bender for pedal steel sounds. He will commonly play with pick and fingers, and even employ a “Banjo roll” right hand technique. Famous players in this set are guys like John Jorgenson, Albert Lee (British, and in many ways one of the first to dominate this virtuoso Tele style), Will Ray, Vince Gill, Brent Mason, Redd Volkaert (If you don’t know about this guy, find out fast), Jerry Donahue, Brad Paisley (when not gigging with insurance-selling quarterbacks), Roy Buchanan and of course, the man who used a hole saw on many a vintage Telecaster headstock, so he could hang ’em on a nail on his barn wall: the late great Danny Gatton. Most of the true masters, the “Tele Players”, lean towards a mashup of country, finger style, jazz, blues and rockabilly playing style. Gatton called it “Redneck Jazz”. They are the traditional Tele Masters, the Virtuoso players, and the guys that make the Tele “Say its name.”
The Bakersfield Outlaw Tele Player
The hot dusty desert border town of Bakersfield was far enough away from Los Angeles (and certainly from Nashville) to develop its own identity. Breaking away from the Nashville formula, the Bakersfield sound was a couple clicks closer to Rock and Roll. It is said that Bakersfield is the place that a Tele was first plugged into a Fender Bassman amp. The magical combination creates a sound that makes angels weep and devils dance.
Buck Owens and his musical soul mate Don Rich, liked the clean, bright twang of a Telecaster. It was thick enough to fill the band’s sound, and bright enough to cut through the new electric bass, and drum kit, with astounding definition.
Breaking away from the orchestrated Nashville sound, Owens, Rich, and the Buckaroo’s Tele heavy sound spawned a whole new style. Coupled with the “Freight train” back beat, the Telecaster carried the harmony, riffs, and solos, replacing the Nashville formula: Banjo, Piano, Mandolin, String section, and occasional electric Gretsch. “The Buckaroos” were a band, not a studio session. Don Rich’s Tele riffs defined the new Country/Pop/Rock music sound. This sound reached the ears of future stars like Merle Haggard, who ran right out and stole himself a Tele, and even joined the Buckaroos for a time. Waylon Jennings got himself a Tele as well. Long before Waylon and Merle, Johnny Cash bought a Tele for his guitarist (ok, it was an Esquire, but what’s one pickup between friends?) The haunting bottom end of “I Walk The Line” helped define how the Tele would be used to help drive a song down a dusty Winnemucca road. Telecasters provided the backdrop for the new “outlaw sound”. The guitar of choice for the growing electric guitar heavy sound of the early 60s had arrived, riding in on a Red, White, and Blue Tele.
While the Country/Western/Bakersfield Tele player helped the Telecaster become the object of desire it rightfully is, it also in a way, hurt the Telecaster’s appeal.
A great electric guitar in most cases, is limitless in its stylistic application, but does have a tendency to be ever connected with a style, or group of players. The Tendency to pigeon-hole a guitar as “made for a specific genre” is common, but simply not true. The Tele is most often associated with country players, like the greats out of either Nashville or Bakersfield. That makes it a country player’s axe, right? Well not exactly; Rage Against The Machine’s acrobatic guitarist Tom Morello said: “It’s ironic as the Telecaster is not a ‘heavy metal’ guitar, yet it was the guitar that played all of the Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave riffs that are in drop-D tuning.” Proof positive the Tele’s application is not only ok, but will excel in the Modern Metal arena. This is also proof of the genre specific stigma attached to the Tele.
American “Electric Blues” Tele pioneers
It has been said that Robert Johnson invented the blues, or at least bought a new style and popularity to the centuries old form of “Folk Music”. He is said to have gone to the crossroads, where he had an appointment with the Prince of Darkness (no, not Ozzy). Johnson sold his mortal soul, in exchange for the inspiration and talent that made him the father of Modern Blues. While the sale of his soul is likely to be fictional, Johnson arguably did more to develop and popularize the blues than anyone else. If he did sell his soul to the Devil, the Devil was in no hurry to collect. Mr. Johnson lived for ten years, after the supposed supernatural doorbuster deal. He also survived being poisoned at least three times (for messing around with a club owner’s wife). If Johnson is the father of acoustic guitar blues, it is said that Muddy Waters is the father of electric guitar blues. It is sometimes said that Muddy Waters invented “electricity”. Other early electric blues artists include T-Bone Walker, and Memphis Minnie, famous for her song “When the Levee Breaks”.
It was Muddy Waters that brought the modern solid body to the masses, rather than Memphis Minnie and her electric National, or T-Bones’ electric Archtop.
Muddy? Nothing got his Mojo workin’ like one of his many Teles, including what would posthumously become the Fender “Muddy Waters signature model Tele”, in flashy, but classy, Dakota Red. Muddy Waters records have as much “Raw Power” as any Iggy and the Stooges record, and the Tele is a big part, of the big sound.
Soon, other American electric blues guitar players like Albert “Ice Man” Collins and Paul Butterfield’s Mike Bloomfield adopted the Tele, and along with it, its unique sound. They didn’t call Collins the “Ice Man” for nothing; Collins set his amp with a treble-strong tone. Coupled with his aggressive attack, Collins Riffs could make a man shiver, showing another dimension the Tele had to offer.
So these early Tele blues players influenced young, white America? Sure did, but the sad truth is many of the true American pioneers of the art form didn’t get the credit they deserved until Electric Blues was repacked and returned to the USA, via the ‘British Invasion”
The “British Invasion” Tele players.
Funny, I guess. It took what was called the “British Invasion” of Rock and Roll in the middle 60s to introduce the American sound to most Americans. That sound was rich with Telecasters, and/or English players trying to get a Tele sound out of a Rickenbacker, or Gretsch, and sometimes a Gibson. Fender was less commonly available to a European than companies that already had a foothold in Europe, than the upstarted self-distributed Fender Company. The Blues/Rock band that was taking London by storm in the early 60s was the infamous Yardbirds. The Yardbirds lay claim to the Holy Trinity of English lead guitarists: Eric “Slowhand” Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. This trio were the first “Guitar Heroes” of Rock and Roll. Aside from a love for American music, the one thing they all had in common during the time spent in the Yardbirds was the… Telecaster.
Clapton joined the Yardbirds with his Valco built budget model Kay. The hollow body Kay was simply not enough of an instrument for the task. This was the dawn of the Lead Guitarist as we know the role today. The Guitar Hero, the Rock Star. The guy you wanted to be like.
Yardbirds manager, the globe-trotting entrepreneur and London club owner Giorgio Gomelsky, loaned a Fender Tele to Eric Clapton to play in the Yardbirds. Clapton used it to rip listeners a new a** with an Albert Collins inspired tone, and wicked technique on solos like the one in “Ain’t Got You”. Clapton quit the Yardbirds at the dawn of their success. It can be said without much fear of contradiction that Clapton’s explosive lead guitar work brought on the Yardbirds success. Nobody in London wanted to follow up Clapton. That is, until Jeff Beck sauntered in. Not only did he have Clapton’s job, (and big scary shoes to fill) but he got to do it on the very same Tele, lent to Clapton. Beck unleashed “Train Kept a Rollin’”, “Over Under Sideways Down”, “New York City Blues”. During his time with the Yardbirds, a torrent of terrifying, terrific Tele titillation ensured the playing on his borrowed Tele, and his now infamous Esquire (yup, a Tele with only one pickup) would influence generations to come.
The next member to quit the Yardbirds was Bass Player Paul Samwell Smith, making room for session guitarist Jimmy Page to join, who eventually took over Jeff Beck’s roll as master of the Telecaster (Jimmy had his own Tele, that would eventually receive its famous dragon paint job).
Page put his own stamp of electric guitar mayhem on the band, and pushed the Tele into even more manic and wild territory.
The Yardbirds dissolved, leaving Jimmy at the helm. With a tour to fulfill, he created the New Yardbirds, now known as “Led Zeppelin”.
One of Rock and Roll’s first massive Blues/Metal/Hard Rock bands the world has ever known. The influence of Led Zep on Rock music and the role of the Tele is just as relevant as it was back in the Yardbirds days. What is not commonly known is just how much Page used the Tele on Zep records; the debut album is nearly all Tele. The guitar solo in “Stairway to Heaven”? Not the iconic Burst, or even double necked EDS-1275. Page reached for his faithful Tele. The Tele tone on Led Zeppelin songs “Communication Breakdown”, and “Good Times, Bad Times” is quite a bit different from the not so long ago Bakersfield sound, but the world is far from knowing all the humble Tele has up its sleeve, when played by the right kind of Tele player.
The Rock Star Tele player, Mods and Sods
There are many that called the Tele “my go to guitar” by the 1970s. The Tele was born in the 50s, and found usefulness in the late 50s and 60s. The 70s was the decade the Tele reached a kind of immortality, and at the same time also a kind of death. CBS Era Tele’s can be very fine guitars, but materials and craftsmanship were on the decline. Telecaster quality began slipping in the late 60’s and by 1975, the Tele had mostly become a TSO. (Tele shaped object).
**To owners of late 70s Teles. Yes. I know your 77 Tele is the exception, ok? We all good? **
The Tele as we knew it in the 50s was seemingly gone for good. They had gone the way of Marlon Brando and Elvis. Doubled in weight, and halved in performance. Not everything was negative at Fender CBS, though. Fender now had Telecasters in a number of different configurations, including the Thinline (two versions), Tele deluxe, and more to come. Many players sought out older maple neck models of the 50s, both for tone and playability. Some were pleased with Fenders new earth tone colors, natural Ash, and Mocha. Players were divided. It seemed counter intuitive to want an old Guitar, instead of a new one. Americans were not yet used to decline in quality that followed the post-war decades.
This is the time law suit-era Japanese copies started to pop up. If not superior, at least they were cost effective competition to what Fender was producing under CBS management. Around this time, after-market companies popped up with replacement pickups, hardware, and more. Tele players suddenly had after-market choices galore. Humbuckers in the neck position (“Keef” mod), B benders (thanks to Clarence White), an extra single coil in the middle with a 5-way toggle like a Strat (Nashville mod), or a simple thing like flipping the control cavity to more easily access the volume control for pedal steel sounding swells. Let’s not forget the “brass nut” (the gullible customer mod).
Some of the Tele players put down their old faithful axe in favor of the Strat after seeing how Jimi Hendrix manhandled a Strat into submission. Both Clapton and Beck admit it was Hendrix that made them set their Tele and Gibson down, in favor of the nearly forgotten three pickup, twang bar, offset body Fender called the Stratocaster.
Not everyone wanted to be Hendrix (probably a good thing, because nobody has been able to become Hendrix, to date). The chameleon-like Tele found a home in the hands of a wide swath of players for the same reasons it did to begin with: its simple design and clear, strong articulate tone. This era produced a Tele player that was more satisfied with a great backing instrument.
Already touched on in the British invasion section of our Master of the Telecasters article, at this time the Tele was alive and well in the hands of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, if not so much live, it was well used in the studio. George Harrison was a convert to the Tele, after receiving his Phil Kubicki-built all rosewood “Let it Be” sessions Tele. Harrison would play Teles quite a bit for the remainder of his career and life, though not exclusively.
Keith Richards and the Tele became inseparable. Richards says he got his favorite Tele around the “Exile On Main St”. Era. He was writing in alternate tunings (open G) and developing a new style. Richards found the Tele was a perfect choice for the post-Brian Jones Rolling Stones. Its clear voice and bright tone flipped a switch in Richards somewhat baked medulla and the rest is history.
People call Keef the greatest rhythm guitar player of all time. He was also one of the greatest Riffthm (yes, I just made the word up, but you all know what I am saying) guitarists. He and his Telecaster are most certainly among the greatest riff making duo Rock and Roll will ever know. Keith played everything from Les Pauls, the famous clear Dan Armstrong, to custom-made 5-string guitars from the father of the boutique guitar, Tony Zemaitis. He also dabbled with makers like Newman Jones before making the Tele his number one choice. Of Keith Richards we can surely say: nobody expected him to outlive the Nixon era, but he still walks the earth, and still uses a Tele to drive the world’s greatest Rock and Roll band. Keef and his Tele are like Thor and his hammer, The Doctor and his TARDIS, Evel Knievel and a body cast: Seldom seen apart. The Stones sold more Telecasters than Ronco sold Veg-o-Matics.
The Rolling stones are a constant, but the times were a changin’. On both sides of the Atlantic, a new, harder driving style of music was brewing. Amps got bigger, and grittier. The humbucker-equipped Les Paul was recently reintroduced (along with the Flying V) and the ever-popular SG was a staple for the new Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Glam-Rock and even Art Rock sounds. Gibson guitars were the go-to guitar for what Frank Zappa called music made by “snotty boys with lipstick on”.
Soon, Disco reared its rear. Blue jeans, Frye boots and pukka beads gave way to Disco Chic. Not even country music was 100% safe. George Jones replaced his Nudie suit with a nice, spill-proof leisure suit. KC spread “sunshine” without a guitar in sight, and lest we forget “The Village People” (not one Tele in the whole village? C’mon, guys!) Remind me to avoid that place…
The Tele became the ‘Anti-Glam’ guitar in the hands self-styled “every man” recording stars. Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen holds onto his mongrel parts Tele on the cover of his breakthrough “Born to Run” album cover, as if it was every bit the old friend Clarence Clemmons was. Bruce Springsteen was no doubt a Rock Star, but a very different type. Not a Spaceman, like Ziggy Stardust, or a spokesman for corn pone one-liners like Owens and Hee-haw. Bruce is by no means a slouch guitar wise, but can’t touch the molten hot riffs of the boys from the Yardbirds. Nor did he try to match riffs (or shots) with Bad Boy Keef. Was he more in line with Chess records blues god like Waters? Nope. Bruce was the guy down the block. He was singing about his would-be sweetheart, while changing the oil in his beat up Skylark. He didn’t wear a crown or a glittered do-rag (no offence to Steve Van Zant); he wore a baseball hat. He was a jock, or at least watched sports on TV. What did this kid down the block, everyday working-class guy play? The chameleon of guitars of course! The understated humble Tele. A luxurious Gretsch White Falcon or a Flying V would blow his cover. In all fairness, it is said that Springsteen chose his part Tele/part Esquire because it was a lot lighter than the Les Paul he owned. Either way, the Tele will always have a connection to the working man.
The Tele sort of became the Anti-Rock Star choice. Again, due to its cut through the noise tone, no frills styling. In the hands of the Clash’s Joe Strummer, the Tele was pure rebellion (just like mom used to hate) for a new generation. Strummer had the love and disdain only the Punk Rock era could muster. His well beaten up Tele was painted and painted again. It was covered with stickers and primer. Strummer loved his Tele but he sure didn’t want anyone to know it: he was the anti-Rock Star. He and Bruce Springsteen had more in common on the matter than either would ever openly admit. How can one be humble, or a champion of the working man, with a posh, shined-up valuable guitar? The answer of course was the no frills, working man’s electric. Also the hard living, devil-may-care choice of Chrissie Hynde. Like her choice of guitars, Hynde is tough and sexy, while leading the Pretenders from the London underground to the top 40, never without her Tele.
Add tool of the down trodden, the man who lost his girlfriend to the captain of the football team, the disillusioned self-styled London street punk, and the sexy but dangerous cat with claws. The Tele was always more than just a guitar. It was now the anti-status symbol for some.
The 80s “Tele” Player and its unlikely heroes, and the custom after-market “Tele”
Towards the end of the decade, more custom pickups, custom modifications, and custom builders became available to the average person. You didn’t have to have a full-time tech/luthier on payroll for custom work. In fact, the whole guitar world was about to change. In the late 70s, Pete Townshend got himself a Telecaster shaped guitar made by a company called Schechter with humbucking pickups that gave it a fuller sound than a traditional Tele. Soon, it was on MTV in heavy rotation. “What is that Tele? I have to look into that! If Townshend plays it, it must be what I need!” At the same time a band called “The Police” was starting to get noticed in Britain, and soon the USA. Andy Summers, the guitarist of the recently popular, and about to explode trio, had a modified Tele custom with a built-in preamp, along with other modifications that helped alter its tone in ways a Tele didn’t sound before. It also was seen often on the new music video network, MTV that was reshaping popular music, once again. Combined with his chorus pedal, Andy Summers filled the small groups sound with icy, shimmering tone, not expected from a Tele. The Tele is now claimed by Punks, aging rock stars, county music staples, and the new wave of guitarists to come, all at the same time. For a minute or two, nobody was sure how to pigeonhole the Tele. It was the only time in history thus far that the unanswered question’s answer was revealed: the Telecaster is for everyone! Of course, as the 80s progressed, nobody remembered. In fact, the 80s confused everyone.
I decided! I want a Tele. What’s that model that Purple Rain guy plays?
Prince exploded from dance-oriented albums like Love Sexy, to the crossover breakthrough monster that was Purple Rain. The production had drum machines, rich synth layering, and a new-wave, dance feel, for the most part. It was anything but country, classic rock, or blues.
Prince screams like James Brown, prances like a well lubed peacock around a stage with a man in scrubs at the keys, and a pair of ladies who seem to enjoy each other’s company more than the keyboard they are playing. Just when it looks like a scene from Caligula is about to pop out, someone tosses Prince the last thing on earth you expect to see: A Tele. Our Peacock pal proceeds to drop the jaw of every guitar player watching, as Prince tore the Tele to shreds. Credenza style solos like “Let’s Go Crazy”, and wild Hendrix-inspired madness that is the intro to “When Doves Cry” only serves to showcase what a Tele master this man was. A new style, a new brand of Tele (technically not a Tele; Prince played a Tele inspired Hohner Madcat model) and a new guitar hero emerges from the clap tracks.
By the mid to late 80s, tons of companies aside from Fender made Telecasters. Sometimes called TSOs, and TSGs (The not so good, Tele Shaped Object, to the sometimes fantastic, Tele Shaped Guitar). Fender began to make numerous variations of the Tele to keep with the times: the introductory Bullet series Tele, the active electronic Elite Tele, Contemporary Tele, HMT (Yes, but no prize awarded….the Heavy Metal Tele), Tele Plus, and Tele plus Deluxe, with strat style twang bar.
Fender also reached to its former glory and reissued the 1952 Telecaster, starting in 1982, in the last gasps of the CBS era. Fender is soon sold to investors that are interested in returning Fender to a top shelf manufacturer. CBS Fender becomes FMIC and its decline in quality is halted and reversed.
The stage is set for any player from any playing style to grab a Tele that best represents the style of guitar they want, from the most traditional; to the something that only has its shape in common with the original design.
Bring them on, the new breed of Tele Heroes. The sons, of the sons, of the sons of the pioneers
Tom Morello got himself a Telecaster by pure coincidence. He didn’t aspire to be a Tele player, just a modern electric guitarist. Tom’s Tele found him. Accounts of what kind of Tele Morello has varies (even from Morello’s own mouth). The acrobatic guitarist, with more tricks up his sleeve than Harry Houdini, is well known for his role in the band “Rage Against The Machine”. Morello played the role of guitarist, and as a kind of DJ. Morello approximated the sounds of a DJ scratching, and was able to create sample-like sound effects with his volume and toggle switch, along with a small, uncluttered pedal board. Tom is famous for his custom-built locking tremolo “Super Strat” guitar named “Arm the Homeless”. His other mainstay is an American Standard Tele with a 1982 serial number, that was most likely built in the late 80s (It’s common to see early 80s left over from CBS era stickers, on FMIC Corona plant Standard Strats and Teles. Regardless, of its birth year, it’s a non-custom shop, stock, everyday Tele. Aside from some added stickers (some guys will just not leave well enough alone, and leave the stickers and magnets to the fridge), but all else is stock. Morello loves its “springy” sounding neck pickup, and claimed to have played every Rage, and Audio Slave song, that uses “drop D tuning” both live, and in the studio. Tom Morello, a forward thinking guitar player, and spearhead of the rap/rock hiphop/metal mashup, has come full circle as sideman to Bruce Springsteen, and his Tele, still warm in is hands from the “Born to Run” days.
Who was that masked Tele player?
Hard Rock, Heavy metal, and Glam rock, and even pop music, have never been strangers with elaborate costume, make up (not just a touch of rouge, either), and even full face covering masks. Remember Alice Cooper? (No, son, you are not bringing an Alice Cooper record into this house), Ziggy Stardust (Rock music’s first, but not last spaceman), Kiss (duh), theatrical freak show GWAR, Ronnie James Dio (or is that his real face?) and Nu-Metal’s 9 piece, masked marauders, Slipknot. No.4, the diabolical S&M jester, is none other than Jim Root, and his unmasked Tele. Jim (the Jester, Superbee, #4) Root relied on his dual custom made, EMG active pickup distinctive White and Black Tele for the driving riffs, and cutting solos that made him not just a member of Slipknot, but an influential modern Metal player. In 2012 Fender made Root’s custom Tele an official signature model, available for all, not just masked metal gods. The Tele has come a long way from its early 50’s beginnings. In fact, if Jimmy Bryant had a vision of Jim Root in his Slipknot gear, he’d have hidden behind his covered wagon set for about a week, telling tales of 6”6’ demons. What could possibly be more unlikely than the masked #4? Country chicken picker extraordinaire, and master shredder, John 5, that’s who. Growing up influenced equally by Roy Clark and Randy Rhodes, John Lowery is equal parts hard rock innovator and traditional Telecaster player. Before rising to Fame as John 5 with Marilyn Manson, John played with acts like David Lee Roth, Rob Halford, as well as K.D Lang. Country roots and a rock and roll heart, John gravitated to the Tele looking a bit like a heavily tattooed blonde version of the Joker, in full makeup. John’s playing is no joke. He will scare the daylights out of young children, as easily as LA’s or Nashville’s best players. Fender didn’t stop with one or even two signature models, all based on the Tele. I wonder what Buck Owens would say if he could see his red, white, and blue Tele done up John 5 style. Anyone who knew Buck Owens would tell you that…ah, never mind. Of course he’d love it.
For the ongoing love of a Telecaster
The Tele has absolutely become an American treasure. Telecasters have never been out of production at Fender. A boast Gibson’s venerable Les Paul model can’t even make. Closing in on 70 years old, the Tele shows no signs of age, and reminds us of the picture of Dorian Grey.
Tele style guitars are built from parts, and part kits, from a galaxy of aftermarket parts, and as complete instruments. In fact, the Tele is the small block Chevy of guitars. There is a Tele style guitar builder in every zip code. Tele Builders are as common as Elvis impersonators and just as hit or miss. Some are nothing but horrible junk that’s not worth the bolts that hold the neck on. *Note from author: “No man, not the ones you make from cabinet grade plywood bodies and those expensive pickups you’ve read about on the Tele forum”*. Some are masterworks, like those of Bill Crook, and the makers of high quality parts and complete instruments like the Glendale Guitar Co, just to name a couple. Tele style guitars built outside Fender are sometimes in a vintage style, as well as modern variations of the “county music” guitar that turns out to be great at everything. With a Tele, or Tele-like guitar being handed to this, the next, and generations to follow, the Tele may well outlive the smartphone. Hell, it’s already buried Broadcast Television from where it derived its name. It has also outlived vinyl, the 8-track, the cassette tape, CD’s, the iPod, and vinyl….again!
If you are not already a True Believer in the Telecaster, next time you stop into a Sam Ash store, why not try that old faithful riff you love to play so much…..on a Tele.
Looking to buy a Fender Telecaster? Check out our Fender Telecasters Buyers Guide to find the right one for you!