Buying Guide:Fender Telecaster Electric Guitar


Fender Telecaster Electric Guitars

How to Choose the Tele That’s Right for You

Fender Telecaster

Contents

Introduction

Leo Fender and his team introduced the Telecaster in 1951. It became the first mass-produced and successful solidbody guitar. Originally, Leo intended the Telecaster to sound more like the sound of a steel guitar, but it instantly appealed to guitarists in many popular music genres. The precursor to the Telecaster, the Esquire, was the first (limited) production model Fender solidbody guitar. It was introduced in early 1950 and then renamed Broadcaster. Because Gretsch had trademarked the name Broadkaster for some drums, Fender renamed its solidbody guitar the Telecaster when it was released in 1951. The Esquire was reintroduced as a single-pickup version of the Telecaster in early 1951.

 

Here are just a few of the innovations that have helped create the Telecaster legend:

Fender Telecaster
Bolt-on neck
  • Single cutaway, solid ash body
  • Bright, twangy tonality
  • 2 single-coil pickup array
  • Headstock with single-side tuners
  • 3 adjustable bridge saddles
  • Bolt-on neck
  • Easy to repair/customize
  • Mass-produced for low cost

 

This Telecaster Buyer’s Guide will give you all the information you need to make the best choice by covering these topics:

Artist Series James Burton Telecaster
Artist Series James Burton Telecaster
  • Find out why Telecaster guitars are so popular and who plays them.
  • Learn about Tele families and models so you can tell an American Deluxe from a Custom Classic.
  • Become familiar with the features that go into specific Telecaster models, so you can decide which one has the features you want.

Famous Tele Players

What do guitar players Brad Paisley, Bruce Springsteen, Muddy Waters, and Steve Cropper have in common? They’re well-known Tele players. Some guitarists are so closely identified with the Tele that Fender has created a model for each with their name on it. No other guitar has had such widespread popularity in so many musical styles as the Telecaster. Here’s a list highlighting some of the more famous Tele players from each genre.

  • Country - Albert Lee, Brad Paisley, Merle Haggard, Clarence White
  • Rock - Keith Richards, Joe Strummer, Bruce Springsteen, John 5
  • Psychedelic Rock - Syd Barrett, Jeff Beck, Zoot Horn Rollo
  • Pop - James Burton, G.E. Smith, Andy Summers
  • Blues - Mike Bloomfield,Albert Collins, Muddy Waters
  • Jazz - Jimmy Bryant, Mike Stern, Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts
  • Soul - Steve Cropper, Freddie Stone

 

To see all the players we’ve spotted sporting a Tele, check out our list of major Tele players.

Fender Highway One Series Telecaster Electric Guitar

Basic Telecaster Features

Although there are many variations and exceptions, let’s start with a list of typical Tele features:

  • Solid body - made of ash or alder
  • Bolt-on neck made of maple
  • Maple or rosewood fingerboard
  • Nitrocellulose lacquer (vintage), polyurethane or polyester finish (modern)
  • 2 single-coil pickups
  • 3-position pickup switch
  • Master tone and volume controls
  • 21 or 22 frets
  • 25-1/2" scale length
  • fretboard radius (modern), 7-1/4" (vintage)

Tele Features

(that help you tell one model from another)

The materials used as well as the decorative and functional features can all be used to tell one Tele model from another. Here is a list of most of the features and options for Telecaster guitars you’re likely to encounter:

Fender Telecaster
  1. Solid Body - Single cutaway made of ash or alder (poplar and basswood also used)
  2. Finish color - Choices vary according to model. In addition to sunburst, there are a number of what Fender calls Custom Colors.
  3. Bolt-on neck—usually maple
  4. Fingerboard (also called fretboard)
  5. 2 pickups (usually single-coil or a combination of single-coil and humbucker) SS/HS/SH
  6. Hardware

Telecaster Families

Tele models can be broken down into several main families:

Squier Telecaster guitars

  • Affinity
  • Standard
  • Obey Graphic
  • Vintage Modified

Fender Telecaster guitars

  • Standard
  • Deluxe
  • Classic Series
  • Special Editions

USA Telecaster guitars

  • Highway One
  • American
  • American Deluxe
  • American Vintage
  • Artist Series

Fender Custom Shop

  • Custom Artist
  • Custom Classic
  • Time Machine

Telecaster models

Squier by Fender Telecaster Guitars


Squier

Since 1982, Squier by Fender has been making high-quality, low-cost, entry-level Tele models and other Fender guitars and basses. Squier Telecaster guitars are made to Fender design and specifications and are not copies, but genuine Tele guitars.

Squier Affinity Tele Special
Squier Affinity Tele Special

Affinity

  • Solid alder body; thinner: 1-1/2" depth
  • Maple C-shaped neck
  • Polyurethane finish (body and neck)
  • 9.5" fretboard radius
  • 21 medium jumbo frets
  • 2 single-coil pickups
  • 3-position blade pickup switching
  • 6-saddle top-load bridge
  • Standard die-cast tuners
  • Chrome hardware
  • 1-ply white pickguard
  • Made in China
  • Squier Standard Tele
    Squier Standard Tele

    Standard

    • Solid Agathis body; 1-3/4" depth like most Fender models
    • Maple C-shaped neck with rosewood fingerboard
    • Polyurethane finish (body and neck)
    • 9.5" fretboard radius
    • 22 medium jumbo frets
    • 2 Alnico magnet single-coil pickups
    • 3-position blade pickup switching
    • 6-saddle top-load bridge
    • Standard die-cast tuners
    • Chrome hardware
    • 3-ply parchment or 4-ply tortoiseshell pickguard
    • Made in China or Indonesia
    • Squier Obey Graphic Tele
      Squier Obey Graphic Tele

      Obey Graphic

      • Solid Agathis body with Obey collage graphic
      • Maple C-shaped neck with rosewood fingerboard
      • Polyurethane finish (body and neck)
      • 9.5" fretboard radius
      • 22 medium jumbo frets
      • Pickups:
      • 3-position blade pickup switching
      • 6-saddle top-load bridge
      • Standard die-cast tuners
      • Chrome hardware
      • No pickguard
      • Made in China or Indonesia
      Squier Vintage Modified Tele
      Squier Vintage Modified Tele

      Vintage Modified

      • Indian red cedar body (polyurethane finish)
      • Maple C-shaped neck (gloss polyurethane finish)
      • 9.5" fingerboard radius
      • 21 medium jumbo frets
      • Pickups:
      • 5-position blade pickup switching
      • Vintage 6-saddle bridge
      • Standard die-cast tuners
      • Chrome and black chrome hardware
      • 3-ply pickguard
      • Made in China or Indonesia

      Fender Telecaster Guitars

      Fender Standard Telecaster
      Fender Standard Telecaster

      Standard

      Simple yet versatile with vintage styling.

      • Alder body
      • Polyester Finish
      • Modern C-shaped maple neck
      • Satin polyurethane neck finish
      • 21 medium jumbo frets
      • Maple fingerboard
      • 9.5" fretboard radius
      • 2 Hot Standard Tele single-coil pickups
      • 3-position blade pickup switching
      • 6-saddle string-through-body bridge
      • Chrome hardware
      • Fender Ping standard cast/sealed tuning machines
      • 3-ply pickguard
      • Made in Mexico
      Deluxe Series Nashville Power Telecaster
      Deluxe Series Nashville Power Telecaster

      Deluxe Series

      Hot-rodded Tele guitars that have special pickups, active electronics, or vary from standard or traditional Tele models in some way with factory-fitted after-market modifications, and imported vintage-style hardware.

      • Alder or ash body with polyester finish
      • Maple, modern C-shaped neck with satin polyurethane finish
      • 9.5" radius maple or rosewood fretboard
      • 21 medium-jumbo frets
      • 25.5" scale length
      • Tex-Mex single-coil pickups
      • 5-position blade pickup switch with Strat-O-Tone
      • Vintage 6-saddle string-through-body bridge
      • Fender Ping vintage-style tuning machines
      • Chrome hardware
      • Made in Mexico

      Classic Series

      Each instrument is the result of collaboration between Fender's world renowned Master Builders and the company's state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. Classic Series Telecasters offer Custom Shop features at a modest price.

      Classic Series ’50s Telecaster
      Classic Series ’50s Telecaster

      ’50s Telecaster

      • Ash body (polyester finish)
      • 1-piece maple C-shaped neck (gloss polyurethane finish)
      • Maple 7.25" radius fretboard
      • 21 vintage-style frets
      • 2 vintage-style single-coil alnico magnet pickups
      • 3-position blade pickup switch
      • Vintage 3-saddle strings-through-body bridge
      • Knurled chrome knobs
      • ’50s Custom Colors
      Classic Series ’60s Telecaster
      Classic Series ’60s Telecaster

      ’60s Telecaster

      • Alder body (polyester finish)
      • Maple C-shaped neck (gloss polyurethane finish)
      • Rosewood 7.25" radius fretboard (gloss polyurethane finish)
      • 21 vintage-style frets
      • 2 single-coil alnico magnet pickups with aged covers
      • 3-saddle strings-through-body bridge
      • Fender Ping vintage-style tuners
      • Chrome hardware
      • “Top Hat” switch tip
      Classic Series ’72 Telecaster Thinline
      Classic Series ’72 Telecaster Thinline

      ’72 Telecaster Thinline

      • Semi-hollow ash body (polyester finish)
      • 1-piece maple U-shaped neck (gloss polyurethane finish)
      • Maple 7.25" radius fretboard
      • 21 vintage-style frets
      • 2 Fender Wide Range Humbucking pickups
      • Vintage-style Strat string-thru-body hardtail bridge
      Classic Series ’72 Telecaster Custom
      Classic Series ’72 Telecaster Custom

      ’72 Telecaster Custom

      • Alder body (polyester finish)
      • Lightly-tinted, maple U-shaped neck (gloss polyurethane finish)
      • Rosewood or maple 7.25" radius fretboard
      • 21 vintage-style frets
      • 1 Fender Wide Range Humbucking pickup (neck)
      • 1 Tele single-coil pickup (bridge)
      • 3-position toggle switch
      • Vintage-style string-thru-body Tele bridge
      • Chrome hardware
      • “Top Hat” switch tip
      Classic Series ’72 Telecaster Deluxe
      Classic Series ’72 Telecaster Deluxe

      ’72 Telecaster Deluxe

      • Alder body (polyester finish)
      • 1-piece maple C-shaped neck (gloss polyurethane finish)
      • Maple 12" radius fretboard
      • 21 medium jumbo frets
      • 2 Fender Wide Range Humbucking pickups
      • 2 volume, 2 tone controls
      • 3-position toggle switch
      • Vintage-style Strat string-thru-body hardtail bridge
      • ’70s large Stratocaster headstock
      Classic Series Player Baja Telecaster
      Classic Series Player Baja Telecaster

      Classic Player Baja Telecaster

      • Ash body
      • 1-piece maple soft V-shaped neck
      • Maple 9.5" radius fretboard
      • 21 medium jumbo frets
      • 1 Custom Shop “Twisted” Tele single-coil pickup (neck)
      • 1 Custom Shop Broadcaster single-coil (bridge)
      • 4-position blade switch with 2-position push-push S-1 switching (8 pickup settings in all)
      • 3-saddle string-thru-body Tele bridge
      • Gotoh Vintage locking tuners
      • “Custom Shop Designed” neck plate

      Special Edition

      Special Edition guitars offer unique features on a Tele while remaining affordable and offering great value for the money. Made in Japan or Korea.

      Special Edition Koa Telecaster
      Special Edition Koa Telecaster

      Special Edition Koa - the only non-Custom Shop Telecaster constructed with exotic Hawaiian koa

      • American basswood body with koa top
      • Birdseye maple modern C-shaped neck
      • Rosewood 9.5" radius fretboard
      • 22 medium jumbo frets
      • Seymour Duncan APTR-1/APTL-1 Alnico Pro single-coil pickups
      • Vintage-style bridge with 3 brass saddles
      Special Edition Lite Ash Telecaster
      Special Edition Lite Ash Telecaster

      Lite ash - the tonal quality of lite ash body

      • Lightweight ash
      • Birdseye maple C-shaped neck/fingerboard with 9.5" radius
      • 22 medium jumbo frets
      • Seymour Duncan APTR-1/APTL-1 Alnico Pro single-coil pickups
      • Vintage-style bridge with 3 brass saddles
      Special Edition Custom Telecaster Spalted Maple HH
      Special Edition Custom Telecaster Spalted Maple HH

      Custom Telecaster Spalted Maple HH

      • Mahogany body with spalted maple top
      • 1-piece mahogany, set in, slim C-shaped neck
      • Rosewood 15.75" radius fretboard
      • 22 jumbo frets
      • 1 Seymour Duncan SHPGP-1B Pearly Gates Plus humbucker (bridge)
      • 1 Seymour Duncan SH-1N RP Reverse Polarity humbucker (bridge)
      • Master tone control with push/pull coil splitting
      • 6-saddle strings-thru-body hardtail bridge
      • Cream colored body and neck bindings
      • Graphite nut

      USA Telecaster guitars

      U.S.-built models of worldwide icons with a wide range of series, each with a different combination of traditional Tele features and modern technology.

      Highway One Series Telecaster
      Highway One Series Telecaster

      Highway One Series

      Entry-level U.S.-made Tele

      • Alder body (Satin nitrocellulose lacquer finish)
      • Rosewood or maple modern C-shaped neck (Satin polyurethane finish)
      • 9.5" fretboard radius
      • 22 jumbo frets
      • ’70s styling
      • Greasebucket Tone Circuit
      • Upgraded hot alnico 3 single-coil pickups voiced for more modern distortion-friendly tones
      • Deluxe Fender gig bag
      American Series Telecaster
      American Series Telecaster

      American Series

      Modern day version of an American icon

      • Alder or swamp ash body
      • Sharper ’52 style body radius and contours
      • Polyurethane finish
      • Rosewood or maple modern C-shaped neck (satin polyurethane finish)
      • 9.5" fretboard radius
      • 22 medium jumbo frets
      • Hand-rolled fingerboard edges
      • 3-ply parchment pickguard
      • 2 American Tele single-coil pickups
      • Master Delta Tone
      • Staggered tuning keys
      • Molded Fender case
      American Deluxe Series
      American Deluxe Series Telecaster

      American Deluxe Series

      Everything you could want in a Tele: The traditional look and feel of a classic Telecaster guitar with a little extra juice under the hood.

      • Premium alder body with tortoise shell top binding
      • Modern C-shaped maple neck
      • Contoured back
      • Maple or rosewood fingerboard
      • Satin polyurethane neck finish
      • 9.5" fretboard radius
      • 22 medium jumbo frets
      • 2 Samarium Cobalt Noiseless Tele pickups
      • S-1 switching system
      • Master no-load tone control
      • American Tele bridge with 6 chromed brass saddles
      • Abalone inlays
      • Highly detailed fret and nut work
      American Vintage Series ’52
      American Vintage Series ’52

      American Vintage Series

      Replicas of original vintage Tele models made to same specifications.

      • Premium ash (’52) or alder body with bound top and back (’62)
      • V-shaped neck: U-shaped (’52) or C-shaped (’62)
      • Maple (’52) or rosewood (’62) neck
      • Nitrocellulose lacquer body/neck finish
      • 7.25" fretboard radius
      • 21 vintage-style frets
      • Vintage body radius
      • Vintage pickups and 3-position pickup switching: Position 2—neck pickup with tone control (bright vintage circuit), Position 3—neck pickup with no tone control (dark vintage circuit)
      • Original vintage-style Tele bridge with 3 brass saddles and ash tray bridge cover
      • Capacitor and wiring diagram for updating to modern switching circuit
      • Vintage hardware
      • Vintage tweed hardshell case
      • Comes with other extras—ashtray bridge cover, wiring kit for conversion to modern switching, vintage leather strap, cable, polishing cloth

      Vintage Hot Rod

      Hot rodded versions of vintage Tele models.

      Vintage Hot Rod ’52 Telecaster
      Vintage Hot Rod ’52 Telecaster

      Vintage Hot Rod ’52 Telecaster

      • Premium ash body with thin nitrocellulose lacquer finish
      • Vintage body radius
      • 1-piece maple U-shaped neck
      • Satin finish on the back of the neck
      • Modern 9.5" fretboard radius
      • 21 medium jumbo frets
      • 1 Custom Vintage Tele single-coil pickup (bridge)
      • 1 Seymour Duncan vintage mini-humbucker (neck)
      • Vintage pickups and 3-position pickup switching: Position 2—neck pickup with tone control (bright vintage circuit), Position 3—neck pickup with no tone control (dark vintage circuit)
      • Vintage-style Tele bridge with 3 compensated brass saddles
      • Vintage hardware
      • Vintage tweed hardshell case
      • Comes with other extras—ashtray bridge cover, wiring kit for conversion to modern switching, vintage leather strap, cable, polishing cloth

      Artist Series

      Artist Series Telecasters are designed in collaboration with the artist who endorses the guitar. They include James Burton, Muddy Waters, G.E. Smith, John 5, and Jim Root. The signature of the artist appears on the guitar and usually features some unique specs that provide part of the artist’s “special tone recipe.” Made in USA, Japan, or Mexico.

      Artist Series J5 Triple Tele Deluxe
      Artist Series J5 Triple Tele Deluxe
      Artist Series Muddy Waters Telecaster
      Artist Series Muddy Waters Telecaster

      Fender Custom Shop

      Hand-built by craftsmen in the United States. The goal is to create what the artisans at the Custom Shop say are “the best playing-, sounding-, and looking-guitars the world has ever seen.”

      Custom Artist Series

    • The Fender Custom Shop produces two lines in the Custom Artist Series: the Signature and the Tribute.

    •  

      Custom Artist Signature: A guitar created with the input or specifications of a famous artist is called a Signature model. The Fender Custom Shop has produced a number of Signature Telecaster guitars in its Custom Artist series that are handcrafted to the exacting personal preferences of famous Tele guitarists such as Merle Haggard.

    •  

      Custom Artist Tribute: The Custom Shop faithfully replicates a famous guitar that was used by an artist who is no longer living such as Albert Collins. The actual instrument the artist played is loaned to, or acquired by, Fender to meticulously reproduce the guitar.


      Custom Classic

      Built by a team of artisans, Custom Classic models are Custom Shop versions of the American Telecaster Series that faithfully reproduce the features that made the Tele famous.

      Custom Classic Telecaster
      Custom Classic Telecaster

      Custom Classic Telecaster

      • Premium ash body with urethane finish
      • Maple, large C-shaped neck with polished satin urethane finish
      • Rosewood or maple fretboard
      • Modern 9.5" fretboard radius
      • 22 medium jumbo frets
      • 1 Custom Vintage “Twisted” Tele single-coil pickup (bridge)
      • 1 Classic Tele single-coil (neck)
      • 4-position pickup switching: Position 1 - bridge, Position 2 - both pickups in parallel, Position 3 - neck pickup (standard Tele), Position 4 - both pickups in series—fatter tone than Position 1, more than Position 1, 2, or 3.

      Custom Classic Telecaster Thinline
      Custom Classic Telecaster Thinline

      Custom Classic Telecaster Thinline NOS

      • Semi-hollow premium ash body with nitrocellulose lacquer finish
      • 1-piece maple U-shaped neck with light tint nitrocellulose lacquer finish
      • Maple fretboard
      • Modern 9.5" fretboard radius
      • 21 medium jumbo frets
      • 1 Custom Shop Broadcaster single-coil (bridge)
      • 1 Custom Vintage “Twisted” Tele single-coil pickup (neck)
      • 3-position blade pickup selector

      Time Machine Series

      A limited edition series of guitars from the Fender Custom Shop. Each model from the Time Machine Series re-creates a classic guitar from a specific year. Examples include Tele models from ’56, ’60, and ’66.

    •  

      A Custom Shop model may be available in one of three variations—or Custom Shop treatments:

      • NOS (New Old Stock) - As if the guitar was discovered in a warehouse after many years, never played, and showing no signs of age or wear.
      • Closet Classic - Built to resemble a guitar that has been hidden away for years in a closet. Slightly worn and yellowed from age, the finish has minor checks and cracks.
      • Relic - Shows natural wear and tear from years of heavy use—nicks, scratches, worn finish, rusty hardware, and aged plastic parts.

      Here are each of the Custom Shop treatments for the Time Machine ’63 Telecaster:

      Time Machine ’63 Telecaster NOS
      Time Machine ’63
      Telecaster NOS
      Time Machine ’63 Telecaster Closet Classic
      Time Machine ’63 Telecaster Closet Classic
      Time Machine ’63 Telecaster Relic
      Time Machine ’63
      Telecaster Relic

      Here is a comparison chart of the Tele models.

      Price Ranges

      Given what we now know about the various Telecaster families and features, we can break them down into several rough price categories, working our way up from basic, introductory guitars to more full-featured guitars.

    •  

      Examples:

      • Inexpensive - Squier, Standard
      • Mid-Priced - Deluxe, Classic, Highway One
      • High End - American, American Deluxe, American Vintage, Artist Series
      • Collectible - Custom Shop (Custom Artist Series and Time Machine Series)