Greatest Hits of the Telecaster
by Daniel Brooks
Few guitars have had as broad, as lasting and as powerful an impact on as many kinds of music as the Fender Telecaster. Initially introduced as the Fender Esquire in 1950, with a single bridge pickup, it was the first electric guitar to be produced in sufficient numbers to make it both inexpensive and widely available enough to appeal to a wide range of musicians.
Ever since the 1920s, guitarists had been experimenting with pickups and amplification. The long-standing popularity of the guitar as a folk or parlour instrument made it a natural for more popular forms of music created by larger bands, but it had to be amplified to be heard among much louder brass, wind and percussion instruments. A traditional hollow-bodied guitar could only be amplified so much before it began to resonate with the output of the amplifier to create a feedback loop, which would not be considered musical until decades later. To address this problem, some luthiers experimented with a few notable solid-body designs, but none proved to have any significant or lasting appeal.
In the 1940’s, Leo Fender was working to create a better pickup and had thrown together a crude guitar for testing his experiments. When his friends began asking to borrow the guitar for gigs, Leo recognized the opportunity and got to work with his partner, Doc Kauffman, on a better design they might be able to market. With an aesthetic nod to the narrow-waisted body shape of the traditional Spanish guitar, Fender and Kauffman created a beautifully simple and utterly innovative design with a single cutaway, a bolt-on, one piece maple neck, an adjustable bridge, and a removable control plate that allowed easy access to the electronics. When this first, limited run of Esquires sold out, Fender upgraded the design with a truss-rod reinforced neck and a second single-coil pickup and renamed the guitar the Fender Broadcaster. Gretsch, however, already had a “Broadkaster” line of drums and claimed Fender’s guitar violated their trademark, so, Leo took a cue from the growing popularity of television, a new cultural sensation in 1951, and renamed the guitar, one last time, to the Fender Telecaster.
The basic design of the Fender Telecaster has never gone out of production in the decades that have followed. There have been new developments in pickups, electronics, bridge designs, body and fretboard materials and finishes, all of which are reflected in the abundant varieties of Telecaster models available today, but the original design is still available. The Tele’s simple but rich and powerful tones range from the viscerally gratifying depth of the neck pickup to the twangy clarity of its bridge pickup for a malleable but powerful voice that finds its way into the most surprising of contexts.
From the Americana of Roy Buchanan to the psychedelic vision of Syd Barrett, from the country genius of Clarence White to the soulful funk of Prince and mojo of Muddy Waters’ blues, the spectrum of musical expression that has been played on a Telecaster is delightfully overwhelming, and quite probably beyond the scope of this article, but here are a few we’ve found that continue to inspire. As always, we would love to hear who you would put on your list.
Albert Collins - If Trouble Was Money
The Rolling Stones - Happy
The Clash - London Calling
The Police - Driven To Tears
Led Zeppelin - Dazed and Confused
Redd Volkaert - Telewacker
Danny Gatton - Funky Mama