Fender Standard Telecaster
$549 at Sweetwater.com
People have very definite opinions about guitars, and even the best-intentioned will show some bias when reviewing a guitar.
So it might be useful for you to know my opinions/biases before we dive into the review of this mid-priced Fender Tele.
First, we have to talk about scale length.
I have been playing guitar since the 70s. So you might be surprised to hear that I didn't care about scale length until this past year. But now it is a VERY IMPORTANT TOPIC in my mind. I guess you would say that I have come face to face with the decisions about tone that scale length forces you to make.
If you don't know what scale length is, let me explain.
Scale length is the distance from the bridge to the nut on your guitar.
You might think that every guitar is the same length from bridge to nut. You would be mistaken. They vary.
There are two main groups:
Fender guitar necks are generally 25.5 inches long.
Gibson guitar necks are generally 24.75 inches long.
So a Fender, like this Tele, has a neck that is 3/4 inch longer than the neck on a Gibson Les Paul.
So what does that mean and why does it matter?
The answer to this question comes from Steve White, the host of the Full Access feature "Ask a Guitar Tech" and the best guitar technician I have ever had the pleasure to meet.
Steve explained it this way:
"On a longer neck, the strings have to be tightened more to produce the same note a shorter neck would produce at lower tension. This higher tension gives 25.5 neck guitars a twangy, well-defined low E string, which many people prefer to the way the low E string sounds on a 24.75 neck guitar. However, on the high E string, the opposite is true: people may find the longer neck produces high notes that are too shrill, and prefer the high notes from a shorter neck."
I told you all that just to say this: I am beginning to think that I prefer a longer 25.5 scale length guitar just like this Tele.
Ok, on to the review:
I have never seriously considered buying a Telecaster. I have wanted to have a Telecaster, but it has been down the list below a Les Paul and a Strat. I know that for many country and blues players, the Tele is the first choice in a guitar. But for me, being a rocker, my prejudice has been to think of it as a worthy second guitar.
This has been compounded by the situation I have noticed over the years, that there wasn't really a low-priced Telecaster. Every Tele I saw in a store was over $1000.
So after our reviews last year of several Les Paul models, and my knowledge of the many low-priced Stratocaster models from Fender, I thought for this year we should look for a lower priced Tele and see if there was such a thing, and give it a review.
So in the mail from Sweetwater comes this beautiful red "Midnight Wine" Tele.
Here's my initial reaction:
It comes with a gig bag. None of the Epiphones in this price range did. Nice touch. The bag has a Fender logo on it, and has both a handle and a set of backpack straps.
The guitar is beautiful. The wine-red stain is variated, showing off the solid alder body to good effect.
My initial impression is that the build quality is excellent. So is the factory setup.
The neck is maple on both sides and very slippery and thin. It feels like you can travel the neck very quickly. Sometimes a maple neck seems lacquered, and sometimes a painted neck sort of sticks to your palm. Not the case here. Lots of mobility.
The action is low without being so low that you have to play delicately. I have been surprised by the different action on the different guitars I have tested. A good guitar tech can significantly change the action once you buy the guitar. However, when it arrives just the way you like it, so much the better.
A Telecaster has two pickups, and a selector that allows you to play the bridge pickup, the neck pickup, or both together.
The neck pickup has that full twangy sound that people call "hollow" or "round." It is very gratifying. Definitely start there.
This guitar is fun to play. The hollow sound, and the slick maple neck, made me instantly think to dive into my bag of blues tricks.
I played some classic blues rhythms that a friend taught me years ago. I have embellished them with some in-rhythm leads and of course some turnarounds. This guitar made it easy to bring those alive, and the turnarounds sound very sweet with the pickup selector in the neck position.
The bridge pickup has a brighter sound. Much brighter. I test these guitars through Native Instruments Guitar Rig (an amp simulator) and use the stock amp settings so I don't get too distracted and can test a variety of "simulated" amps. I found the bridge pickup a bit too bright for these settings.
It could be that Steve White would recommend adjusting the pickup down a bit to take the edge off. Alternatively, you could adjust the amp settings. The amp settings might be overly bright in the first place. But they work great with the bridge pickup setting.
The in-between setting gives the combined sound of both pickups. This has the effect of giving you the twangy hollow sound of the neck setting, just a bit brighter. It works well.
I was very impressed with this guitar. I hadn't really expected to like it so much. J.D. Jarrell (one of our country instructors) always talks about his Tele, and so I was curious to see if there was something I was missing in overlooking this guitar. It turns out there was.
I may have to bring my Strat into the office to have a showdown with this Tele before we give it away. I still have one more week to go....
Just reply to this thread before Friday March 13th to enter the contest.
We'll ship this guitar to one lucky reader after we pick the winner.