The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
The Fender Telecaster is a historic instrument with origins dating back to the dawn of solid-body electric guitars. Musicians love the Tele today just as much as they did back then, and it is one of the most popular guitars of all time.
While it is most commonly associated with country music, blues and rock, the Telecaster can get the job done in just about any genre. Even heavy metal shredders have been known to employ modified Teles. There is really nothing this guitar can’t do.
Fender knows when they have a good thing, and they also know a great instrument shouldn’t come cheap. Nobody would argue that Fender’s American-made guitars aren’t worth the asking price, which is usually a bit steep. These are among the finest instruments a guitarist can own, and they are worth every penny.
But what about the student, hobby guitarist, or working musician? For many players, American-made Fenders are simply too expensive. But if you’re a guitar player on a budget Fender still has you covered with their Mexican-made lineup of guitars and basses.
You know Fender is among the top guitar brands in the world. The Player (MIM) Telecaster looks just like a real Fender because it is the real deal, not some copy. And you can land one for less than half the cost of the American version. If the Telecaster is your dream guitar you can make it happen.
So what’s up with this Made-in-Mexico thing, and what’s the difference between a MIM Fender and the American-made version?
According to many players, not as much as you might think.
The Player Series Telecaster
It is worth noting that Fender has replaced the orignal MIM Tele, the Standard Telecaster, with the Player Telecaster. The Player Series is a basically a significant upgrade to the Standard Series for Teles, Strats and bass guitars. They are still made in Mexico, so as far as build quality a reliability goes they are essentially the new MIM Fenders. However, there are some updated specs.
For the Telecaster that means improved pickups, an extended fingerboard, a more traditional body shape and other upgrades. The Standard Telecaster is still available in many shops, and I still recommend it as a fine guitar, but going forward the Player Tele is going to be Fender's new intermediate-level guitar.
The rest of this article discusses the Standard Tele and it's contemporary instruments. Fender has upgraded their whole lineup, so be sure to check out their site for the most up-to-date info on their gear.
The Player Series Tele
About MIM Fenders
So what does Made in Mexico mean to you? The Player line of Fender guitars is much less expensive than the American versions of these classic instruments. Fender cuts cost in a few ways.
As you probably expect, they use components that aren’t quite as high-quality as the ones in the USA guitars. But they also outsource their construction across the border to Mexico.
Fender’s USA shops are in California so this isn’t a big jump geographically, and their Mexican facilities are well-run compared to many overseas plants that put out cheap guitars.
Point is, even though you might prefer to buy an American-made guitar if you can, you don’t need to feel guilty buying a Mexican Telecaster. You’re still supporting an American guitar company.
Player Series Fenders might not be as perfect as their USA-made cousins, but they’re still pretty darn good guitars, especially for the price. Many working players use their MIM Fenders on gigs and leave their pretty American guitars at home.
Or, they might swap out parts until they have a custom Telecaster that beats even the best American Tele.
If you’re looking for a great guitar for a reasonable price right now, MIM Fenders are one of the best options out there.
MIM Tele Tonewoods and Construction
The Telecaster is about as simple as a guitar can get, and for many players that is the beauty of it. Its single-cut solid-body design was revolutionary in 1950, back at a time when most electric guitars basically looked like acoustic guitars with cords sticking out of them. It hasn’t changed much since, and the Telecaster is still the same classic design.
Tele bodies are made of alder, a snappy tonewood also used in Stratocasters.
For the neck and fingerboard, you have a choice between one-piece maple or maple with a rosewood fretboard.
The maple fingerboard will sound brighter where the rosewood will round the tones off a bit. For the classic, twangy Telecaster sound maple is probably the better choice, but this decision is up to personal preference of course.
The bridge is one of the most beautiful things about the Telecaster. While not as high-quality as on the American version, it’s still a big part of the Tele sound. It’s a big bridge, and it extends all the way out under the bridge pickup. Along with the string-through-body, this provides a solid tether for the Telecaster tone. Some players like to swap out the stock bridge for a vintage bridge with three T-shaped saddles rather than the six-saddle modern version.
Pickups and Electronics
The pickups are standard Tele single coils, and this is another component that Telecaster owners love to customize. While the stock pickups are fine, there is an array of choices out there, from vintage tones to hotter sounds.
One of the great things about owning a MIM guitar is that you never have to feel bad about modding it!
Like the rest of the Telecaster, the controls are simple and classic. A three-way selector switch controls the pickups, along with one tone knob and one volume knob. The bridge pickup is thin and twangy for that vintage rock sound. The neck pickup is more guttural and reeks of a country vibe. The middle position of the selector switch activates both pickups.
Fender Telecaster Sound
You don’t have to worry about your made-in Mexico Tele pulling its weight when it comes to sound. Even though it’s a less-expensive Fender, it’s still a Fender through and through. And remember, you can swap out any components you wish, from pickups to pots, to get that perfect sound you’ve always been looking for.
Hear the MIM Telcaster
Made-in-Mexico Telecaster vs USA Tele
So far this article has discussed all of the great things about the Standard Telecaster, but now we will take a look at what this guitar is not. One of the biggest knocks against the MIM Tele is simply that it is not an American Telecaster.
American Fenders are amazing instruments. These are the guitars you pass on to your kids or grandkids, the classics that you cherish as they get older.
The Player Telecaster is simply not that kind of guitar. Your MIM Fender can last you for years, even decades. You may love it to the end of your days, but it won’t be worth much in twenty years. Except, of course, to you.
MIM vs USA Tele Differences
So what’s the difference between MIM and MIA Fenders?
Let’s start with the body and the finish. USA Fenders are made with select pieces of wood and finished with a thin urethane.
MIM guitars get a thicker polyester finish, and the wood used, while good quality, isn’t as choice as that of the USA Fenders. The thinner finish means the wood used in the American guitars has more influence over the tone than in the MIM Telecaster, and we know great tone starts with great wood.
The pickups are another key part of the tone. While the stock pickups on the Mexican Tele are just fine, Fender Custom Shop pickups are legendary.
The bridge and tuning pegs are higher quality hardware, meaning they’ll not only be more reliable but also contribute to the sound of the guitar.
All around, the American Telecaster is just a better guitar than its Mexican cousin. The question you need to ask yourself is whether or not the cost justifies taking the plunge on a real American-made Fender.
When it comes down to it, you are deciding between a very good guitar and a great guitar.
Other Telecaster Options
You know Fender isn’t going to leave you hanging with just two choices of Telecaster, right? There are about as many different Teles out there as there are flavors of ice cream. You don’t have to look very far to find one that exactly meets your needs.
If you’re having trouble deciding between the American Tele and the MIM Telecaster, you may want to consider the American Special Telecaster. American Special Fenders are made in the USA, but not quite at the same quality level as a true American Tele.
They started out as the Highway One series, but in recent years Fender has changed their name and seriously upgraded their specs. The American Special Tele has the same alder body, but with a thin Urethane gloss finish. It’s got Texas Special pickups, a nice upgrade from standard Tele pickups, and improved electronics like the Grease Bucket tone control. The three T-saddle bridge tops off the vintage vibe of the American Special Tele.
Fender American Special guitars are a nice middle-of-the-road option between the MIM and MIA instruments. You can still mod them without feeling bad, but they are a major step up from the MIM models so you might not feel the need to make any changes.
That Tele Vibe
If you’re looking for a Telecaster it’s not likely any other guitar will do. Stratocasters are cool, but not quite the same. The Gibson Les Paul is a great guitar, but it doesn’t have that Tele twang. If you want a Tele, you know you need a Tele.
Fender has so many options out there for Tele lovers it is hard to imagine you won’t find what you’re looking for. However, if you find your dream guitar costs more than you really want to spend, you can always choose the MIM Telecaster and upgrade it with your own custom modifications.
On the other hand, the MIM Tele might be all you ever needed in a guitar. It sounds great, is built to last, and comes in at a reasonable price. Even though it is made in Mexico, it is a real Fender guitar.
Good luck choosing the best Fender Telecaster for your needs and budget. Hopefully you found this review helpful!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Guitar Gopher (author) on August 05, 2020:
Had an insightful comment from a reader called "twohackers" which unfortunately included an email address as the user name. Repost if you wish, without the email.
BTW, your MIM Telecaster is fine with me. :-)
Ymel on May 04, 2020:
If it is about the 'tone' - I take of the finish from the MIM and put a thinner lacquer on it - done.
Tuner pegs? they do the job.
Neck/shape? - identical
Pickups? change any time
Bridge? change any time
Gigging? rather with a MIM or and the post just forgot about it: a MIJ!
oh and China made legit Modern Players (or maybe with a different subname)
Guitar Gopher (author) on July 24, 2019:
@SAmmy - I agree that those Strat-style headstocks look a little off on a tele. Still, it's a great guitar. Congrats!
sammy on July 23, 2019:
Bought a 2012 MIM Fender Deluxe 72 Tele a few months ago from a pawn shop with P90 pickups & it sounds just fine to me,,damn good in fact. The only problem I've had with it is it don't look as good on the stage as it did in the hock shop. I think it's the over size head stock I don't like.
Larry R Franklin on April 06, 2019:
Bought my midnight wine MIM tele new in 1998. Still enjoy it as much today as I did then. Great guitar.
Edward Wrann on October 20, 2017:
Thanks for the help. I paid 380 for it and i think i paid a little too much. But if it plays well I'll be ok with it.
I bought it from a bass player who said it sat in the closet for several years. The neck is true but it does need some TLC.
Guitar Gopher (author) on October 20, 2017:
Hi Edward. When you say "reworked" do you mean fitted with aftermarket parts? Obviously the easiest thing to do is just talk to the former owner if you can. If you can't do that you'll have to do a little detective work, and see if you can find some pics and specs online from 2000 and spot any differences.
Honestly, if you are liking the guitar I wouldn't worry about it too much, though I understand there is a need to know what's going on with your instrument. Good luck!
Edward Wrann on October 19, 2017:
Hello All, I'm new here because I was looking into MexiFender Teles. I just bought a 2000 that has a pretty good sound but "how would I know if it's been reworked?" It has been played a lot (I can tell by the wear), and it has been in a closet for the past three years. Neck seems good but I had to adjust the bridge (it was buzzing) and adjust intonation.
I like what people are saying about the Mexican Teles.
Derek Henderson on July 31, 2017:
I've used several American made Fenders over many years and with the bias on American Fenders being better I have to disagree. Fender were churning out rubbish when CBS took over and by the early to mid 70's Fenders straight out of the box were unplayable and had badly fitting necks ( often needing shimmed) and the intonation was never good. With the advent of Tokia they had no choice but to step up and think about the players rather than the dollar as quality control was non-existent and mass production was the premise. I own Japanese and Mexican Fenders and they are superb with only minimal upgrades, ,pots, capacitors, maybe the odd pickup but that's it. So enough of the bias, maybe a price drop in import duties may secure more USA sales , but that's a different bias.
Bobby on July 19, 2017:
I have a MIM Tele. Awesome guitar with that true Tele pop that I was looking for. Who cares where they are made if you get that sound and feel you're looking for half the price. Probably not everyone's choice but it sure works well for me.
RUSSELL OLDHAM on July 03, 2017:
I HAVE HAD A MEXICAN TELE FOR TWO YRS NOW PLAYS ABSOLUTELY AWESOME
peter M on June 23, 2017:
I have a MIM Tele and Strat plus a MIA SG ,they all have there own sound that fits most of what I play. They all rock the house down any time . cant say anything negative about fender of Gibson . as long as they are made in north America.
Karl Wash on May 20, 2017:
I live pretty lean like a lot of folks do so i opted to buy MIM and mod it out. Got a 2012 Standard MIM in Olympic White w/ maple neck, swaped pickups with dual SD Hotrails. I play metal and its a dream to shred! Would love to own a MIA some day.
Peter M on May 12, 2017:
I have a MIM tele and strat and happy with the feel and sound of them both. Can't put them down . one rocks and the other roles.
Christopher on November 25, 2016:
Since I was young I always wanted an American Standard and now as an adult can afford it. I now have a 2012 American Standard Telecaster and I'm thrilled with it.
That said, I'm happy that there are so many high quality options coming from Mexico and Asia these days so younger kids can afford a decent instrument (was not the case in my day, we played on a lot of crap including god awful amps).
John on September 03, 2016:
Sad that most people would buy a MIM Tele. Nobody has USA pride anymore? You can easily buy a used USA tele for maybe $100 bucks more or even less than a new MIM.
I'd be damned if Waylon would even play a Mexican Tele. Shameful
Gaston on August 26, 2016:
Well,I have 3 Mexican telecaster.I have one that has humbuggers on it. The other two are normal tele's. For one thing not one sounds the same and I like them.
The other day I went to my Long and Mcquade in Moncton,nb,Canada during the week when there's no one there and I tried the most expensive American tele and an Mexican tele in the same amplifier I have. Which is a fender hot rod deluxe 111. And I didn't find any difference in the tone or playability Except the price. Some may find a difference. I didn't.
wally on July 28, 2016:
I have a 2012 mim telecaster and it is just a great guitar, really well made. When the guitar is in tune, it sings... Classic tele tones, with a hot neck pickup that sounds like prime rib...
While the mim might be a shade less than its American-made brother in fit and finish, the difference wasn't big enough for me to justify another 800 out of pocket. But, try playing a few guitars, sometimes the one you pick wont be determined by where its made, but by how it feels and sounds. -wally
old mark on July 14, 2016:
Mine is great! Sorry about yours, Jimmy...
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on June 01, 2016:
Gosh dang, Big Jim, sure didn't sound like trash in that video up there.