Updated date:

5 Best Non-Fender Telecaster Guitars

Wesman Todd Shaw started playing the guitar when he was 12 years old. He loves nothing more than to pick one up and pluck some strings.

The image is a Tokai Telecaster.

The image is a Tokai Telecaster.

First there was the Fender Esquire. It was a single pickup version of the Telecaster, but it didn't have a truss rod in the neck, and failed as a product. Then there was the Broadcaster, a Telecaster - but a lawsuit took the name away, and the guitars became Nocasters.

By the time the instrument became named once and for all time the Telecaster, the thing was a perfect product. It couldn't be improved upon. Everyone wanted one. But not everyone could afford one.

As you can well imagine, Japanese guitar builders could produce very nice Telecaster guitars and sell them for less. Fender utilized Japanese builders for themselves too. But not all the instruments we will discuss here are from Japan.

The Telecaster 'recipe' is perfect for mass production

The Telecaster was and is a revolutionary product. The simple design can easily be mass produced. The Telecaster is like the Ford Model-T in this way. But cars have been massively improved. The solid body electric guitar has not.

Repairs and upgrades of materials are easy to perform with the Telecaster. The recipe of the thing is simple. Materials aren't hard to come by either. The necks are screwed in. But people describe them as bolt-on, despite this not being exactly truthful. At first the entire neck was a single piece of maple. This isn't true so often now. And a rosewood fingerboard is preferred by some players. The maple fret-boards were extremely unorthodox at the time. They make a difference, as players well know, insofar as the tonality is concerned.

Bodies can be either ash or alder. George Harrison made a rosewood Telecaster cool. But such instruments aren't keeping with Telecaster traditions. Two single coil pickups, of differing nature, and simple controls anyone can comprehend and utilize are the order of the day every day for a Telecaster.


The Tokai Breezysound Telecaster

Tokai made Telecasters so good there were people saying the Tokai guitars were better than the Fender versions, and they also cost a lot less. Now there is more to the story than that. There usually is. Whether or not there was a cease and desist letter from an attorney, or not is something I've not been able to find out.

Tokai didn't just make one model of Telecaster. They made many grades of Telecaster. They made cheaper ones with lesser materials, and they made much more expensive ones. The upper grade Tokai Teles were the ones thought to be better than the Fenders. But this was relative to that time period. A time long past. In other words, in the 1980s the best from Tokai was thought by some to be better than the Fender American Standard Telecasters.

Of course this is the opinion of the Tokai owners. Why would it not be? But when you read the same thing said by many different persons you have to consider they just may have been right. Guitar players tend to own more than one guitar, and they forever love to get their hands on guitars they don't own, so as to see how they feel about them.

The Tokai Breezysound Telecasters that were produced in the 1980s are becoming a bit of a cult legend in solid body electric guitars. You see one, and you may want to buy it up even if you don't play guitar. Because they're becoming collectible, and more expensive, these Breezysound Tokai Teles. During the 1980s Tokai changed the way they do their logos more than once. These were likely attempts to avoid litigation. Also, headstock shapes changed for the same reasons.

How does one know the cheaper Tokai Telecaster from the premium ones? The numbers are how you know. An TTE-50 is a lower grade guitar than an TTE-80. I believe from the research I've done the TTE-120s are the highest grade. There are higher numbers for the TTE series of Telecasters. There was a b-bender version, a rosewood version, and versions with lots more abalone inlay. Then, there are the ATE Breezysound Tokai Teles. The ATEs are less traditional in their build specifications.

Because these Tokai Teles are so highly regarded, their prices have become pretty elevated. We're talking about guitars produced in the 1980s. All of them will have some mileage on them. The TE-80 Breezysound Tokai Teles are frequently selling for around $900 dollars. I've read that in Europe the TE-50s sell for the equivalent in Euros.

Tokai Breezysound Telecaster ATE70 made in Japan

DeTemple Telecasters


DeTemple Spirit Series '52 Model Telecaster

Michael DeTemple is an accomplished guitarist himself. He's also a highly regarded guitar builder. He specializes in Fender style instruments. His Spirit Series '52 Telecaster is getting a lot of acclaim around the world. Vince Gill plays one frequently.

These guitars can be thought of as luxury guitars. DeTemple makes a premium instrument where every detail imaginable is sculpted into perfection. These guitars are neither cheap nor inexpensive.

The Fender Blackguard Telecaster folks will adore the DeTemple Spirit Series '52 Telecaster guitars. They are the purists dream. These guitars are more beautiful than the originals by Leo Fender, as DeTemple is using a flamed maple fingerboard. It is a visual aesthetic, but it is mighty pleasing to behold.

Finely machined parts made from titanium - this is a guitar for the most serious of aficionados. It even has a Mastodon ivory nut, switch tip, and string trees. DeTemple makes his own pickups, and the man is absolutely what you would consider a master-craftsman in every way.

The Telecaster is a very lightweight guitar. These weigh in a six and one half pounds. Everything is made in the USA, and exceeds conventional standards by long stretches. They sell for eight thousand dollars new. The finer things in life are not inexpensive.

Rock N' Roll Relics Gilby Clarke Telecaster


Rock N Roll Relics Gilby Clarke Telecaster

Rock N' Roll Relics is a small company. But they produce a lot of extremely cool guitars. The Gilby Clarke is not the only Telecaster produced by the company. It's just the one I like the best, and it is a great example of what Rock N' Roll Relics does as a manufacturer.

The black and white flag is very rock and roll. It's very country and western too. The guitar is aged. Aged solid body electric guitars is absolutely all the rage these days. Ageing and a nitrocellulose finish both contribute to this instrument's outstanding visual aesthetic. But the sonic offering is on the level too. These guitars are reasonably priced new at $2,895. Here are further specifications:

  • Body: Ash
  • Neck: Maple
  • Fretboard: Maple
  • Neck Shape: C .840 – .960
  • Frets: 21
  • Nut: Hand Cut Bone
  • Tuners: Gotoh Vintage
  • Bridge: Gotoh w/ Brass Compensated Saddles
  • Pickups: D. Allen Specials
  • Potentiometers: 250K Emerson Custom w/ Solid Brass Shafts
  • Capacitors: .047 Russian Military
  • Finish: Nitrocellulose
  • Case Included

Gilby Guitar Signature Guitar Demo

G&L ASAT Classic


Best bang for the buck - the G&L Tribute ASAT Classic

This may seem shady to you, but it isn't. Yes, of course G&L guitars are Fender guitars. Except they aren't. Yet they are. What am I talking about? Well, Leo Fender sold his guitar company a long time ago. But Leo couldn't stop building guitars, so he formed G&L. So G&L is a Fender instrument.

Originally Leo Fender was a radio repairman. He had most notably acquired a reputation as a man who could make and repair pickups for guitars. His G&L ASAT guitars are Telecasters with later day Leo Fender innovations.

G&L instruments have never been widely distributed. They are highly respected. Of course Leo Fender has been gone from the world for some years now, but G&L are still in business, and still make some very fine guitars. They sell for amazingly low prices too.

MFD or magnetic field design pickups are in use here. These utilize a ceramic magnet alongside the soft iron pole so as to allow the player to adjust the output for individual strings. So the later day Fender (G&L) Tele guitars will have a different tonal character than their cousins produced by Fender.

A lot of guitarists are tonewood fanatics. What is important to know about G&L ASAT Classic Telecaster guitars is the ones with fancy finishes like in the photo I'm using above this text, those are swamp ash bodies. Standard finishes are alder body guitars. G&L Teles have other upgrades not found on standard Fender Teles. Things like bone nuts make a difference. It's nearly scandalous how low these guitars sell when compared to a Fender.

G&L Tribute ASAT Classic features:

  • "Swamp Ash body on translucent and burst finishes, Basswood on solid finishes Hard-Rock Maple neck with Maple or Rosewood fingerboard Leo Fender-designed G&L MFD single coils made in Fullerton, California 3-position pickup selector, volume, tone 18:1 ratio, sealed-back tuners Traditional boxed-steel bridge with individual brass saddles Case sold separately"
  • Hard-Rock Maple neck with Maple or Rosewood fingerboard
  • "Leo Fender-designed G&L MFD single coils made in Fullerton, California"
  • "3-position pickup selector, volume, tone"
  • "18:1 ratio, sealed-back tuners"

G&L Tribute ASAT Classic

Eric Clapton Blind Faith model Telecaster by Bill Nash guitars


Bill Nash's T-52


Bill Nash Guitars - he builds many T-style instruments, all of them are terrific.

As mentioned and as the reader here likely knows already - relic guitars or aged guitars are the height of fashion these days. Bill Nash does aged guitars exclusively. People are raving about his work for its quality.

Nash guitars are known to have an outstanding level of attention to detail done with them. From internet forums where regular sorts of guitar players hang out, and all the way into the big shots who're interviewed in the big guitar magazines, Bill Nash guitars are being praised. People are shouting praise from the mountaintops.

Nash Telecaster or T-style instruments come in any configuration you can want. And as you can see, this even includes a Strat neck.

The Nash T-52 is probably the most widely distributed Nash Tele as it is an aged version of a '52 Fender blackguard Tele. So you look like you own a Tele from the early 1950s with this guitar. The T-52 is butterscotch and blond. But the neck pickup is available as a humbucker. So even the traditional T-52 has options.

Pickups are a big part of the appeal of Bill Nash guitars. He uses Jason Lollar hand wound pickups in all of his instruments. You also get upscale upgraded equipment like Gotoh tuning machines, Tusq nuts and Nitrocellulose lacquer. I'm pricing the T-52 Teles on the web from $1,800 - just over $2,000.

Nash T-52, ORGANic 15 Amp, Lollar pickups

Questions & Answers

Question: I got a telecaster it sounds good plays and feels good the only words on it are "King" on the headstock. Would you know anything about a telecaster with the mark "King"?

Answer: If I'm right, then these are made in Kitchener, Ontario by a man named Dwayne King. Mr. King likes to make his own Telecasters, and one of the signatures of his work is the guitar should have a very nontraditional material for its pickguard. Sometimes King uses wooden pickguards, often he even uses leather.

"King" is a bit of a generic name. So there's no way for me to know whether or not your King Tele is one of the made in Canada ones, or is something created somewhere else.

Question: Are there certain years when USA Fender we’re using cheaper components? Are there certain years to avoid?

Answer: This is a delicate subject. I do not want to offend people, but I also want to give a good and reliable answer to this. The early 80s were not so great. I'm not saying every Fender from the early 80s was bad. I'm merely saying that sometimes things slipped through quality control that were not up to snuff. A lot of people feel the same way about the Fender production from the 1970s. My own opinion is the early 80s were the worst years. You could land a real winner from those years, or a real loser.

© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw


Dave on January 04, 2020:

I'd say a vz custom t. Boutique quality at a market place prices.

Fast Freddie on September 23, 2019:

Forgot to mention Warmoth it’s a top contemporary contender

cwheat01 on May 15, 2019:

the two best non-fender Tele's i have experienced are:

--best dollar-for-dollar tele-- SPARXX Guitarworks


--best high-dollar -- Lucky Dog Guitars


i have spoken to both Freddi Sparxx and Anthony Sims on several occasions- they are both very good guys and very passionate about guitars, and supportive of the guitar-building community (both are very helpful with advice and suggestions, even if it means they don't get to sell u something, bc they know how tough it is to build your own)...

i will eventually own multiple guitars from both guys; If u check their sites out, tell them Chuck Wheat sent you!

chuck on May 15, 2019:

the very best non-Fender tele i have played is a small operation called SPARXX Guitars ... they are cheap, too...

David Semar on May 09, 2019:

Tokai is no joke. I have a Tokai acoustic that's a copy of a Hummingbird and it's amazing. Also, Bob Lanzetti from Snarky Puppy played one for the longest time. Until he got his own signature model of course.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 26, 2019:

@Mac - absolutely they did.

Mac cicogna on January 26, 2019:

Fernandez made a decent Tele

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on December 29, 2018:

Thanks very much, Kelsey Austin, I'm pleased to have done something useful!

Kelsey Austin on December 29, 2018:

I learned quite a bit from this very well researched article on Telecaster Style guitars. You brought several brands to my attention that I otherwise would not have known about. The Tokai section is especially informative for Tele owners.

I have heard great things about Rock N Roll Relics. Another "boutique" Telecaster Style guitar maker is Veritas Guitars. They make a Bigsby equipped Tele called the "Portlander".

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on November 14, 2018:

I'm completely unfamiliar with the brand, Sylvain, but it's not really possible for someone to be as familiar with them all as I would wish to be.

Sylvain on November 14, 2018:

Actually i think the best choice for a reasonable price is the 228 model from Hahn guitar.

Snapshot on October 13, 2018:

I've never played one but from all accounts John Suhr teles are top shelf.

Dmarqus on August 25, 2018:

Soooooo Where's H.S Anderson Madcats? Reissues Or Vintage Both Are Top Notch

Chuck Wheat on May 31, 2018:

You need to check on Sparxx Guitarworks' teles - especially the snakehead teles... Freddi Sparxx really outdoes the competition for the price...

billy on August 25, 2017:

tokai are the best --even chinese ones blown the fender mexico away...

Eddie Shap on May 27, 2017:

How about Tom Anderson?

Timo on May 26, 2017:

Hoe could you forget the best: Tom Anderson Guitars

Rob on October 04, 2016:

Apparently, the author has never played a Carvin TL60...

Tom1992 on May 05, 2016:

Loved this!

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on May 05, 2016:

Wes me old mucker, how's things? Have I got news for you! On the Net why not click around to find the Stones' exhibition, EXHIBITIONISM at the Saatchi Gallery in London SW3.

The guitars and basses loaned by the lads, the stage garb, stage sets for different US and European tours etc... you name it, it's there. Over the PA as you go between rooms there's a variety of tracks and a mock-up of a recording studio with interviews, consoles where visitors can remix tracks (guitars, bass, drums, vocals and backing...) Take a look at the Hub "Get Off Of My Cloud" for a full lowdown. The final treat - with 3D glasses - is the final number in the 2013 Hyde Park Concert, "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" with Mick Taylor guesting in the line-up. He joined them for "Midnight Rambler" halfway through the gig as well. His appearance might have suffered with excesses, but his playing is no different from when he was with them in the 70s. Shame he left but it's how Ron came to be one of the lads and we ain't looked back since.

Worth a visit if you ever got here, it's on up to 4th September this year. Almost as good as being at a Stones' gig (got the Hyde Park dvd? Includes a double cd plus extra tracks).

Rock on Wes!

Kaili Bisson from Canada on May 05, 2016:

Wow, what a really informative and well-researched article!

Gennady Barsky from Fort Lauderdale, FL on May 05, 2016:

Loved this!

Related Articles