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Fender "Special" Telecaster

THE FENDER TELECASTER is without doubt a Granddaddy among electric guitars. Developed by Leo Fender way back in 1948, the Telecaster soon became the professional guitarist's workhorse. Why? It was simple in design, high in quality, and one of the few things in life as reliable as your average Volkswagen.

All this was before the dawn of rock 'n' roll, and the Tele's twangy tone soon established it as a favourite with Country & Western players. With the arrival of swivelling hips and quivering lips, the Tele was somewhat eclipsed by the flashier Stratocaster. And while the passing of time has seen the development of SuperStrats, MegaStrats and GigaStrats, the Telecaster has made few concessions to technology, or even fashion. In '68 and '69 a few offered lavish paisley and floral finishes (now resurrected, for all you fashion victims) but at heart the guitar has remained the same - timeless.

Still, as we all know, change is here to stay. In common with some other Fender models, Telecaster production shifted to Japan in the early 1980s and the Far East range of Fenders was born.

It's worth briefly explaining the difference between Fenders of different origin, as the range is pretty wide.

You may be familiar with the Squier range - not exactly copies, as they are built in Korea from the original Fender blueprints - easily identifiable from the Squier logo on the head-stock. Then there are the Fenders made in Japan, including the Special range and a number of reissues of vintage models. Then there are the top-of-the-range American models, with US-built hardware and impeccable attention to detail - unless you've got £700 plus to blow, they're not worth thinking about seriously.

The model on review here is a "Special" Fender Telecaster from Japan, and at £250 it's about as cheap as you'll find a plank bearing the illustrious logo. In keeping with its forebear of 40 years ago, the Special Tele is of a refreshingly simple design. The body is made from a single piece of ash, with a single cutaway, and has few contours. Yet it's an attractive slab. The neck is crafted from maple and is attached to the body by four screws. The head is the trad Tele design, with the Gotoh machine heads mounted on one side. The bridge enables the height of each individual string to be adjusted. It consists of a master saddle, with six separate bridges, each with two small screws for raising or lowering that string - a simple but effective way of allowing subtle adjustments to the action.

The electrics are also very simple: two single-coil pickups, single volume and tone controls, and a three-way selector switch. Only the rear pickup (mounted on the plate which houses the bridge) is adjustable by way of three screws.

The sum total of aesthetic adornment is a white plastic scratchplate and the Fender logo on the headstock. So basically, nowt seems to have changed.

Thankfully, this impression is more than skin deep. The Tele is a very comfortable instrument to play - well-balanced and having a certain air of quality about it. The lacquered neck is slim and nicely rounded, a great advantage for someone with small hands (such as I), and features black dot inlays. The fingerboard has 21 frets and access to the top frets is provided by a single cutaway. The heel (where the neck joins the body) is square, and some might find this getting in the way of top-register soloing. The frets reveal no rough edges, and the action is superb. With the light string tension, it wasn't long before I was gleefully strumming away, wishing I was James Burton (the renowned Tele twanger, who's played with both Elvises).

A wide range of tones is available from the three pickup positions. The neck position gives a wonderfully clear booming tone - if you're not familiar with Telecasters, this might come as some surprise as the neck pickup looks like one of the weediest ever made. But fear not, its appearance belies its sound - simply the biz for rumbling bass riffs. The middle selector position activates both pickups and gives a well-rounded tone, best suited to chordal work. But somehow I kept flicking to the rear pickup position, giving the Telecaster sound. This is something others might try and emulate, but there's nothing like the real thing. Coupled with the light action and strings, it's a strong invitation to hone your "rockabillyness" to perfection.

Although designed as an all-round guitar, it seems as though the Tele is best suited to a fairly clean, trebly sound. After all that's what made it famous. Sustain is excellent, and I thought it would probably lend itself to searing, distorted solos. However, with my amp adding some buzzsaw overdrive the Tele did seem to lose its character somewhat, and I soon returned to pastures cleaner.

It's not easy to pick faults with the Special Telecaster - but I'll have a go anyway! The tone control, in common with many passive systems, seems pretty redundant, especially on the neck pickup. Turning it down merely rolls off the highs and doesn't really add to the sound. Tone adjustment via the amp seemed more fruitful. Additionally, a few of the screws attaching the scratchplate were slightly skewed. Not a disaster, but from an illustrious name like Fender, one does expect that little bit extra, doesn't one?

Well that, m'lud is the case for the prosecution. But the verdict is simple - the Fender Special Telecaster is a special instrument. It simply oozes character, and in this respect, the fact that its design remains much as it ever was is a plus point. Whether the Telecaster design is appealing is, of course, a matter for the individual, but its longevity is surely a testament to its excellence. The logic is simple: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

At £250, this is not a particularly cheap guitar. But then again, for your wad you get a slice of American rock heritage (even if it has been "Japanised") and an exceptionally playable guitar - just like your Granddaddy had...



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Boss MG10 Practice Amp

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Meinl Meteor Turbo Cymbals

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Phaze 1 - Apr 1989


Gear in this article:

Guitar > Fender > Special Tele

Gear Tags:

Electric Guitar

Review by Michael Leonard

Previous article in this issue:

> Boss MG10 Practice Amp

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> Meinl Meteor Turbo Cymbals

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