Since this is my first blog entry for Fat Tone, I may as well come clean about something: I am guilty of woefully underestimating the Fender Telecaster. Yes, it’s true; way back in the early 1980s, when I first started paying close attention to the kinds of guitars that my favorite musicians played, the Tele was just about the last guitar you could have convinced me to buy. Sure, heroes of mine like Bruce Springsteen, Chrissie Hynde and Joe Strummer of the Clash all played Teles, but that was part of my problem — those three were great front-people, as opposed to great guitarists. Bruce, Chrissie and Joe had me convinced that the Telecaster was little more than a cool-looking prop, good for chanking out a few rhythm chords while you posed and strutted and let your lead guitarist handle the heavy lifting. Great guitarists play Les Pauls and Strats, I thought at the time; and anyway, what self-respecting guitar-slinger would want an ax with only two knobs on it?
It took a few years, but I eventually realized that the no-frills simplicity of the Telecaster — an only slightly evolved cousin of the Broadcaster model that Leo Fender first mass-marketed in 1950 — is exactly what makes it such a great guitar. Other guitars may give you a myriad of tonal options to play with, but the classic Telecaster is all about six strings, a block of wood, and a single-coil bridge pickup. While the Tele’s straightforward tone is ideal for use with an arsenal of effects (as Andy Summers of the Police or Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood can certainly attest), it also really reflects the personality, character and emotion of the player, because its spartan sound leaves no place to hide. It’s kinda like having a cable patched directly from your heart and into the amplifier.
Listen to Steve Cropper’s switchblade jabs on Booker T and the MGs’ “Green Onions”, Syd Barrett’s sturm-und-clang freakout on Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” Jimmy Page’s classic “Stairway to Heaven” solo, or Keith Richards’ grinding “Start Me Up” riff — those are just a few prime examples of the Telecaster’s raw and visceral magic. The cutting attack of the bridge pickup also makes the Telecaster ideal for country and blues lead playing, which is why folks like Waylon Jennings and Muddy Waters made the Tele their guitar of choice. No wonder other guitar companies through the years have repeatedly turned to the Tele for inspiration, most recently in the case of St. Blues Guitars’ Bluesmaster II model, or Peavey’s Omniac series. After all, there are plenty of great guitars out there, with as many pickup, tone and wood combinations as you can possibly imagine; but sometimes, simple really is the best way to go.
— Dan Epstein