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Fender Telecaster

Fender Telecaster
Manufacturer Fender
Period 1952 - present
Body type Solid
Neck joint Bolt-on neck
Body Alder or Ash
Neck Maple
Fretboard Maple/Rosewood
Bridge Fixed
Pickup(s) 2 Single-coil
Colors available
Various; originally blonde

The Fender Telecaster is a dual-pickup, solid-body electric guitar made by Fender. Its simple, yet effective design and revolutionary sound broke ground and set trends in the fields of electric guitar manufacture and popular music. Introduced for national distribution as the Broadcaster in the fall of 1950, it was the first guitar of its kind to be produced on a substantial scale. Its commercial production can be traced as far back as the spring of 1950, when the single- and dual-pickup Esquire models were first sold. From that time to the present, the Telecaster has been in continuous production in one form or another, making it the world's senior solid-body electric guitar (Duchossoir, 1991, 11-15).


Telecaster was developed by Leo Fender in Fullerton, California in the 1940s. Prior to its creation, the solid-body electric guitar had been created independently by several craftsman and companies, in the period roughly between 1932-1949, but none of these guitars had made a significant impact on the market. Leo Fender's Telecaster was the design that finally put the solid-body guitar on the map.

Fender had an electronics repair shop called Fender's Radio Service where he first repaired, then designed, amplifiers and electromagnetic pickups for musicians -- chiefly players of electric semi-acoustic guitars, electric Hawaiian (lap steel) guitars, and mandolins. Players had been 'wiring up' their instruments in search of greater volume and projection since the late 1920s, and electric semi-acoustics (such as the Gibson ES-150) had long been widely available. Tone had never, until then, been the primary reason for a guitarist to go electric, but in 1943, when Fender and his partner, Doc Kauffman, built a crude wooden guitar as a pickup test rig, local country players started asking to borrow it for gigs. It sounded shiny and sustaining. Fender got curious, and in 1949, when it was long-understood that solid construction offered great advantages in electric instruments, but before any commercial solidbody Spanish guitars had caught on (the small Audiovox company apparently offered a modern, solidbody electric guitar as early as the mid-1930s), he built a better prototype.

That hand-built prototype, an anomalous white guitar, had most of the features of what would become the Telecaster. It was designed in the spirit of the solid-body Hawaiian guitars manufactured by Rickenbacker -- small, simple units made of Bakelite and aluminum with the parts bolted together -- but with honest wooden construction. (Rickenbacker, then spelled 'Rickenbacher,' had also offered a solid Bakelite-bodied electric Spanish guitar in 1935, many details of which seem echoed in Fender's design.)

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.) Later in 1950, this single-pickup model was discontinued, and a two-pickup model was renamed the Broadcaster. The Gretsch company, itself a manufacturer of hollowbody 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, after the newly popular medium of television. (The guitars manufactured in the interim bore no name, and are now popularly called 'Nocasters.') The Esquire was reintroduced as a one-pickup Telecaster, at a lower price.


Leo Fender's simple and modular design was geared to mass production, and made servicing broken guitars easier. Guitars were not constructed individually, as in traditional luthiery. Rather, components were produced quickly and inexpensively in quantity, and these modular parts were assembled into a guitar in an assembly line. The bodies were band-sawed and routed from slabs, rather than being hand-carved individually, as with other guitars made at the time, such as Gibsons. Leo did not use the traditional glued-in neck, but a bolt-on neck. This not only made production easier, but allowed the neck to be quickly removed and serviced, or else replaced entirely. The electronics were easily accessed for repair or replacement through a removable control plate - a great advantage over typical construction, in which the electronics could only be accessed by taking off the pickguard after removing the strings.

In its classic form, the guitar is extremely simply constructed, with the neck and fingerboard comprising a single piece of maple, bolted to an ash or alder body that's inexpensively jigged with flat surfaces on the front and back. The hardware includes two single coil pickups controlled by a three-way selector switch, and one each of volume and tone controls. The pickguard is Bakelite (later plastic), screwed directly onto the body with five, and later, eight screws. The bridge (shown here without detachable bridge cover) has three adjustable saddles, with strings doubled up on each. Fender couldn't play guitar, and many believe that this contributed to the instrument's appliance-like design. It was, however, a very attractive instrument with an aura of the modern upon it, and it quickly gained a following -- and soon other, more established guitar companies (such as Gibson, whose Les Paul model was introduced in 1952; and later Gretsch, Rickenbacker, and others) began working on wooden solid-body production models of their own.

The original switch configuration used from 1950 to 1952 allowed selection of neck pickup with treble tone cut in the first position (for a bassier sound), and neck pickup with normal tone in the second position. The third switch position selected the bridge pickup with neck pickup blended in, depending on the position of the second "tone" knob. The first knob functioned normally as a master volume control. This configuration did not have a true tone control knob (Duchossoir, 1991, 15).

Typical modern Telecasters (such as the American Standard version) incorporate several details different from the classic form. They typically feature 22 frets (rather than 21) and truss rod adjustment is made at the headstock end, rather than at the body end, which had required removal of the neck on the original. The 3-saddle bridge of the original has been replaced with a 6-saddle version, allowing independent length and height adjustment for each string. The stamped metal bridge plate has been replaced with a plain, flat plate, and the bridge cover (which, while attractive, impedes players who like to mute strings at the bridge with the side of their palm, and makes it impossible to pick near the saddles, which produces the characteristic Telecaster 'twang') has been discontinued (for most models). Also different from the original is the wiring: The 3-way toggle switch selects neck pickup only in the first position, neck and bridge pickups together in the second position, and bridge pickup only in the third position. The first knob controls volume for all pickups, and the second knob controls tone for all pickups.

The Tele sound

The Telecaster is known for its bright, cutting tone. One of the secrets to the Tele's sound centers on the bridge. The strings pass through the body and are anchored at the back by six ferrules, giving solidity and sustain to the guitar's sound, but some are 'top-loading'; the strings pass through the end of and terminate at the bridge instead of going through the body. The original 3-saddle bridge resulted in good contact between the strings and the solid body, further enhancing sustain. 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 Clarence White), enabling a smooth change of pitch for a single string within a chord.


The Telecaster was important in the evolution of country, electric blues, rock and roll and other forms of popular music, because its solid construction allowed the guitar to be played loudly as a lead instrument, with long sustain if desired, and with less of the whistling 'hard' feedback (known in sound reinforcement circles as 'microphonic feedback') that hollowbodied instruments tend to produce at volume (a different kind than the controllable feedback later exploited by Jimi Hendrix and countless other players). Even though the Telecaster is more than half a century old, and more sophisticated designs have been coming out since the early 1950s (including Fender's own Stratocaster), the Telecaster has remained in constant production. There have been numerous variations and modifications, but a model with something close to the original features has always been available.

Signature Telecaster players

Many famous guitarists have used the Tele as their main guitar throughout their careers, making it their signature instrument. In the early days, country session musicians were drawn to this instrument designed for the "working musician." These included James Burton, who played with such stars as Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, and Merle Haggard (a Signature Telecaster model player himself). Burton's favorite guitar was his famous Pink Paisley model Telecaster. Danny Gatton blended diverse musical styles (including blues, rockabilly and bebop) with such great proficiency and clarity that he became known as the "telemaster." Roy Buchanan and Albert Collins proved the Telecaster equally suited for playing the blues. Muddy Waters also consistently used the Telecaster and Michael Bloomfield also used the guitar on his earlier works. Bob Dylan used the Telecaster during his touring in 1965/66. Soul sessionist Steve Cropper used a crisp, spare Tele sound to perfect effect with Booker T. and the M.G.'s.

With the development of rock, the Tele inspired and sustained yet another genre. On the psychedelic fringe, original Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett produced frenetic improvisations and bizarre effects on his famous mirrored Telecaster. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones has composed many classic riffs on his battered Tele. With endurance to match that of his guitar, Bruce Springsteen has given many energetic performances with his Telecaster. Another remarkable telecaster player is Andy Summers of The Police, perhaps the most popular rock music group of the early to mid-1980s. Summers's guitar playing defined much of the Police sound. At the nexus of pop, rock, soul and funk, musical prodigy Prince sported a pawn shop-purchased Tele in his teens and later in his career adopted a unique Telecaster-style model made by Hohner, one of Fender's competitors. Jimmy Page used a 1958 Telecaster on the first Led Zeppelin album, and also for the lead solo in the song "Stairway To Heaven." Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead has mainly used a Tele throughout his career. Thom Yorke and Ed O'Brien (also of Radiohead) have used Telecasters extensively. Joe Strummer (frontman of the legendary punk band The Clash) used his worn and battered black Telecaster with its distinctive "Ignore Alien Orders" sticker from the beginning of his musical career until the day he died.


  • Bacon, Tony (1991). The Ultimate Guitar Book. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN 0-375-70090-0.
  • Bacon, Tony & Day, Paul (1998). The Fender Book: A complete history of Fender electric guitars (2nd ed.). London: Balafon Books. ISBN 0-87930-554-1.
  • Burrows, Terry (general editor) (1998). The Complete Encyclopedia of the Guitar: The definitive guide to the world's most popular instrument. New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0-02-865027-1.
  • Denyer, Ralph (1992). The Guitar Handbook. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd. ISBN 0-679-74275-1.
  • Duchossoir, A. R. (1991). The Fender Telecaster: The detailed story of America's senior solid body electric guitar. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation. ISBN 0-7935-0860-6.
  • Freeth, Nick & Alexander, Charles (1999). The Electric Guitar. Philadelphia: Courage Books. ISBN 0-7624-0522-8.
  • Wheeler, Tom (et. al.), edited by Trynka, Paul (1993). The Electric Guitar: An illustrated history. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-0863-7.

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Fender Telecaster