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The 5 Best Telecaster Guitars Available

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.


I always wonder whether or not Leo Fender ever doubted himself. I wonder did he look upon his first Broadcaster, the guitar which went on to become the Telecaster, and think the thing would flop. Could be he just kinda shot in the dark on the design, hoping for the best. Or, he may have been the kind of person who knew for certain his creation would become iconic and barely, if ever, improved upon.

It's been well over a half century since then, and the Telecaster has as loving a crowd of players and admirers as it ever had. Probably, it is even more loved today. Will be even more loved still in another generation later. Damned thing is perfect.

The first useful solid body electric guitar has spawned countless siblings produced by persons from all over the world. Countless renditions and variations exist, none of them can be claimed to be improvements except subjectively.


Country and Western guitar?

Leo Fender wasn't even in the guitar business. He was in the business of repairing radios, and the newfangled devices called pickups, which guitarists were clamping onto their acoustic guitars to amplify the sound. But Leo decided to make an all solid wood guitar prototype, and soon enough these country and western music guitar pickers were asking could they borrow Leo's creation to use in the clubs. The thing worked better than did their acoustic guitars with a pickup clamped onto it.

So Leo saw that an all solid body electric guitar was a viable product. It was just that the folks who'd attempted it hadn't had much success. But Leo knew lots of guitarists, and Leo was a real craftsman. The kind of craftsman who's craft is literally artisan in nature. An artist.

The first run flopped. The necks had no truss rods in them. They proved unstable. Most of them were returned to Leo, even. These were called Esquires. There were fewer than 50 Esquires ever produced.

So Leo created the Broadcaster. But another guitar builder filed a lawsuit because they had a line of drums, of all things, named the BroadKaster. So the Broadcaster became the Nocaster, and then the Telecaster. It was always the same guitar, it just took the third try to find the name which would fit, and become icon.

The guitar was the original honky-tonk electric solid body guitar because it was the first successful solid body electric guitar. Played using the neck pickup the guitar had and has a distinctive twang tonality. Playing on the bridge pickup and the guitar could cut plumb through just about any other noise going on around it. Rock n Roll music hadn't been created just yet, and when it did get created, the Telecaster was right there in the thick of it.

American Nashville B-Bender Telecaster, Maple Fingerboard, 3-Colour Sunburst


The b-bender Telecaster

It was widely noted early on by all comers how the Tele could be used to mimic the sound of a steel guitar. But the guitar is very utilitarian, it has more uses than that, but still, could more be done? Of course.

Clarence White was famous in bluegrass circles as a flatpicker. Merle Haggard and Buck Owens were doing something over in California in rebellion of Nashville, and it was called the Bakersfield sound. Clarence got a job playing electric guitar with The Byrds, he wanted to capture that Bakersfield sound, but be unique. So he and Gene Parsons come up with a plan. A perfectly good Telecaster got sort of butchered, but the results proved worthwhile, and long lasting. Pretty soon there was a wall of guitarists in front row for the later day country rock incarnation of The Byrds, and they were all trying to figure out just how in the hell Clarence White could make his Telecaster do what it did.

Jimmy Page had to have one too. So did lots of others. The Tele was already a winner, but the Parsons/White B-bender was a Tele with a secret weapon.

Clarence died young. He was the victim of a drunken driver, and the original b-bender Telecaster passed into the capable hands of Marty Stuart.

Never doubt Fender knows a good thing when they see it. The b-bender was patented by Parsons and White, but Fender incorporates a b-bender in production model Telecasters should you desire it, and they are available all over today. It is a cool bit of hardware. No, a b-bender isn't necessary for great music, but if it suits you, have at it.

Now the Fender American Nashville B-bender Telecaster is not a recreation of the original b-bender instrument. The Fender American Nashville B-bender is a 3 pickup Telecaster which also features a b-bender. And it has a maple fret-board. The Telecaster has plenty of twang regardless of the fretboard, but the maple fingerboard incorporates just a tad more twang than does a rosewood fretboard. The middle pickup on this guitar is a Strat pickup.

So this guitar is not for the blackguard Tele purists, but it is, after time has passed, now something you can consider both traditional and classic - as the b-bending device is nearly synonymous with the Telecaster guitar. This guitar ain't cheap, and it isn't inexpensive. It is reasonably priced at about $1,699.

Fender American Nashville b-bender Telecaster specifications:

  • Body shape: Single cutaway
  • Body type: Solid body
  • Body material: Solid wood
  • Body wood: Alder
  • Body finish: Gloss Urethane
  • Neck shape: C modern
  • Neck wood: Maple
  • Joint: Bolt-on
  • Scale length: 25.5"
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Satin Urethane
  • Fretboard Material: Maple
  • Radius: 9.5"
  • Fret size: Medium jumbo
  • Number of frets: 22
  • Inlays: Dot
  • Nut width: 1.687" (42.8mm)
  • Pickup Configuration: SSS
  • Neck: American Standard single-coil Tele
  • Middle: Texas Special single-coil
  • Bridge: American Standard single-coil Tele
  • Control layout: Master volume, tone
  • Pickup switch: 5-way
  • Bridge type: Fixed
  • Bridge design: 6-saddle string through body
  • Tailpiece: B-Bender system
  • Chrome Color Tuning machines: Die-cast sealed
  • Special features: B-Bender system
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Country of origin: United States

Fender American Nashville b-bender Telecaster

Fender Brad Paisley Road Worn Telecaster


Fender Brad Paisley Road Worn Telecaster

Brad Paisley has long been one of the finest guitarists in country music. He really wants to show you that he's a great guitarist, and it's pretty dang apparent. He's everything you think of when you think of a classic Telecaster player. Lots of freaking twang comes out of Brad's hands, and in those hands is nearly always a Fender Telecaster.

Brad's Tele isn't just any Tele though. We've got some seriously cool specifications here. The paisley theme Tele pre-dates Brad by many years. It's mere coincidence his name is Paisley, but it is ever so fitting he chooses the paisley finishes, this one is also 'road worn,' which is to say, it is 'relic' guitar, appearing to be aged from the day it comes out of the box.

The tonewoods on this guitar are very different from standard Telecaster designs. What you have here is much more what one would think of as a tonewood sandwich. This body is spruce, then paulownia, and then spruce. Paulownia is a tree which grows across eastern Asia. I'm personally excited about new tonewoods. Because of the spruce on either end of these guitars, it's a much louder instrument to play completely unplugged. A nice quite room, and you won't need an amplifier to practice.

Plug this guitar in, and the pickups are hotter than typical telecaster pickups are. It's the 'twisted Tele' pickup in the neck, which is supposed to provide a bit more of the Stratocaster neck pickup tone. The bridge pickup is Brad Paisley's specific design. The nitro finish is not something you usually get on a guitar out of Mexico, but because of the exceptional tonewood combo, the nitro finish should really allow for the guitar to 'breathe.'

Fender Brad Paisley Road Worn Telecaster Guitar features:

  • Body shape: Single cutaway
  • Body type: Solid body
  • Body material: Solid wood
  • Top wood: Spruce
  • Body wood: Spuce/paulownia/spruce
  • Body finish: Relic Nitrocellulose
  • Orientation: Right handed
  • Neck shape: C
  • Neck wood: Maple
  • Joint: Bolt-on
  • Scale length: 25.5 in.
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Relic Oil
  • Material: Maple
  • Radius: 9.5 in.
  • Fret size: Medium jumbo
  • Number of frets: 21
  • Inlays: Dot
  • Nut width: 1.65 in. (42 mm)
  • Neck: Twisted single-coil Tele
  • Bridge: Custom Brad Paisley Spec Vintage-Style Telecaster
  • Active or passive pickups: Passive
  • Series or parallel: Series
  • Control layout: Master volume, tone
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Bridge type: Fixed
  • Bridge design: 3-Saddle with Compensated Brass Saddles
  • Tailpiece: String thru body
  • Nickel Chrome Color Tuning machines: Vintage-style
  • Special features: Tonewoods, Electronics
  • Case: Gig bag
  • Country of origin: Mexico

The Merle Haggard Signature Telecaster


The Merle Haggard Signature Telecaster

The late Merle Haggard was long a Telecaster picker. Oh, he'd have a guitarist in his band, but Merle could also play guitar very well. As he got on in years, he found it was exhausting to sing his songs and play the guitar parts too.

It's probably no coincidence one of the holiest of holy Telecaster editions is a signature series guitar with the name of one of the holiest of holy country and western voices on it. The Merle Haggard Tele is unmistakable in its beauty and quality. Just like the sound of ol' Merle's voice, this guitar is a legend.

But this is not a blackguard purists Telecaster. The flame maple top is not something normal on a Tele. There are loads of other adjustments made to these guitars - and be sure you know, they were made to please the great Merle Haggard, first and foremost.

Fender guitars are all traditionally bolt on neck guitars. Gibson guitars are traditionally set neck guitars. The Merle Haggard Tele, also known as the 'tough dog' Tele, is neither of those. For this is a neck-through Telecaster. What does that even mean? It means the neck of this guitar is part of the body. The neck and the body are literally one piece. Yes, this is an expensive aspect of guitar construction. You can expect the ultimate amount of sustain from such a design.

These Telecaster guitars are not cheap or inexpensive. I'm seeing them used from between seven and a half thousand on up to ten thousand. They look beautiful in every way. A lot of them are going to be just hedge fund collector guitars, assets instead of instruments. I hope that if you buy one you play the hell out of it.

Fender Merle Haggard Signature Telecaster Specifications:

  • Maple center block, select alder wings with tone chambers, laminated, figured maple top (urethane finish)
  • Figured maple neck (urethane finish)
  • C-shaped profile
  • Maple fingerboard (7.25" radius)
  • 22 medium jumbo frets
  • 2 Texas Special Tele single-coil pickups
  • Master volume, master tone
  • 4-position blade switch:
  • 1 - bridge pickup 2-bridge and neck in parallel 3-neck pickup 4-neck and bridge in series (fatter tone than Pos. 2 and more output than 1, 2, or 3.
  • Gold American Tele bridge
  • Gold-plated Fender/Schaller die-cast tuning machines with white perloid buttons
  • Gold-plated hardware
  • 1-ply ivoroid pickguard
  • 25-1'2" scale length

Fender Custom Shop Merle Haggard Signature Telecaster Demo & Tone Review

Ritchie Kotzen with his Fender Signature Series Telecaster


The Ritchie Kotzen Telecaster

The Telecaster I want to own is the Ritchie Kotzen Signature Telecaster. It's not that I'm in love with the music of Ritchie Kotzen so much. I do love me some Ritchie Kotzen, but it's his guitar itself I think I love the best. Why?

I study the exact specifications of guitars. I think a lot about such things. What the guitar looks like does matter to me, but not so much as the totality of its specs. I used to think I was weird in this way, then I got to know guitarists on the internet, and I realize a hell of a lot of guitarists are the exact same way - they think about specs, and then they think about specs some more.

I totally trust the Fender corporation to make terrific pickups for their guitars. I mean, Leo Fender was originally a guy who repaired these newfangled devices known as pickups. He did that before ever building a guitar. But the last time I owned a Fender solid body I had some Dimarzio pickups put in it. Yes, my Fender Strat was a cheaper one, and I upgraded it. I'm still fond of Dimarzio, and I'm hardly alone in that way. The Ritchie Kotzen Tele comes with Ritchie's picks of Dimarzio pickups in it. Ritchie always sounds terrific.

Then there is the rest of it. The aesthetic appeal. I like a flame maple top because it is beautiful, and I will never be able to afford a Merle Haggard Tele. The body is Ash as always, but the maple top allows you to get a Les Paul like sound out of the thing. It makes it easier to get that metal crunch. The forward pickup is still going to bring out all the country twang one can desire.

I especially want the maple fret-board. If I buy a Tele I want buckets of twang country bliss at my fingertips. The maple fret-board helps make that happen. Yes, you can sound amazing with the rosewood fingerboard too. I know this, you know this. The thing is, I adore the way the maple fretboard looks when it is seriously played-in. You know what I'm talking about if you are reading this page. I mean the sweat and wear in stains on the thing. That makes you look like one hell of a guitar playin' hoss head. And if the wear in stains ain't there yet? Get busy, bud.

The Ritchie Kotzen Tele is also a fat neck Tele. Before buying this guitar, you need to play one. Or at least you need to know about the fat Fender necks. And does your hand size fit the neck. The gold hardware contrasts with the rest of it to provide visual aesthetic perfection, but this is my opinion. These guitars are also priced just right. Fifteen hundred bucks new.

Fender Richie Kotzen Signature Telecaster Specifications:

  • Flame maple top on an ash body
  • Satin-finish maple neck with a large "C"-shaped profile
  • 12"-radius maple fingerboard with 22 jumbo frets and pearloid dot inlays
  • DiMarzio Twang King (neck) and Chopper T (bridge) pickups
  • 3-way blade pickup switch with "barrel" tip
  • Master volume control and rotary series/parallel switch
  • Single-ply cream pickguard
  • Gold six-saddle through-body Telecaster bridge
  • Gotoh sealed tuners and gold hardware
  • Case sold separately

Richie Kotzen from The Winery Dogs Discussing and Demonstrating His Signature Fender Telecaster


Fender 1952 Reissue Telecaster

For the blackguard purists, there can be no better new Telecaster than a 52' reissue. This is the most true to the originals as Fender makes. It's the blond on black pick-guard and maple fret-board twang monster guitar.

For the American Vintage '52 Telecaster, Fender tracked down several of the original '52s and exhaustively analyzed them to ensure a painstaking level of vintage accuracy. Every facet of the original instruments - including minute details such as curves, perimeters, radii and more - was examined, measured, evaluated, and ultimately incorporated into the American Vintage '52 Tele. What you see in this remarkable guitar is more than the sum of its parts. It's a highly playable, eminently musical-sounding re-creation of an iconic instrument that changed music forever.

The tweed hard-shell case is also a must. This is the purist of the pure, unless you can afford to spend thirty thousand dollars for an actual 1952 Telecaster. Or even more for a Nocaster, or more still for a Broadcaster. These guitars cost only $1,999 new, and the usual situation is half price for used ones, unless they are mint or near to mint condition. Here is a list of the exact specifications.

Fender American Vintage 1952 Telecaster Specifications:

  • Body shape: Single cutaway
  • Body type: Solid body
  • Body material: Solid wood
  • Top wood: Not applicable
  • Body wood: Ash
  • Body finish: Gloss Nitrocellulose
  • Orientation: Right handed
  • Neck shape: U
  • Neck wood: Maple
  • Joint: Bolt-on
  • Scale length: 25.5"
  • Truss rod: Standard
  • Neck finish: Gloss Nitrocellulose
  • Fretboard
  • Material: Maple
  • Radius: 7.25"
  • Fret size: Vintage-style
  • Number of frets: 21
  • Inlays: Dot
  • Nut width: 1.65" (42mm)
  • Pickup Configuration: SS
  • Neck: American vintage '52 Tele
  • Middle: Not applicable
  • Bridge: American vintage '52 Tele
  • Fender brand passive pickups
  • Series or parallel: Series
  • Special electronics: Vintage wiring
  • Control layout: Separate volume, tone
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Bridge type: Fixed
  • Bridge design: 3-saddle vintage-style
  • Tailpiece: Not applicable
  • Chrome Color Tuning machines: Vintage-style
  • Number of strings: 6-string
  • Special features: Pickups
  • Case: Hardshell case
  • Accessories: Vintage six-saddle bridge and modern wiring kit
  • Country of origin: United States

Fender American Vintage '52 Telecaster

I want to thank each and every person who took the time to read this article. It will be continually edited as the years pass, to suit what I think, and hopefully what readers will also appreciate, as best.

All feedback is appreciated. If there is anything which doesn't jibe with what you feel is true here, then feel free to leave a comment, or I can typically be contacted in various and sundry places where my name is used.

I limited this article to Fender guitars. I'm well aware there are other manufacturers making their own copies which may be more pricey and even more true to the original Broadcaster and Nocaster which famously became the Telecaster.

Telecaster guitar virtuoso Danny Gatton

Questions & Answers

Question: What are the differences in a ‘52 and a ‘63 Telecaster?

Answer: I can't speak for what difference would be most important to you, but I can tell you what difference between those two-year model Teles would be most important to me, or most noticeable to me, and that would be the difference in the fretboard radius of those two models. The 1952 would have a much rounder fretboard radius, which would be something a player would generally find easier for the playing of chords. The 1963 has a flatter radius of 9.5", and though this isn't particularly flat, the flatter a fingerboard radius is, the more likely one is to find it more comfortable for single note soloing.

© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw


T. MOORE on May 25, 2019:

Why not show the Waylon Jennings Telecaster with the Earl Scruggs key.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on May 03, 2016:

Thanks for validating my thoughts on the Kotzen Tele, Tekky!

Speaking of Japanese builders, have you ever had the chance to play a Tokai Breezysound Tele? Those are getting a cult following.

Randy Godwin - we're now on Spinditty. Gibson is doing chambered bodies on some of the Les Pauls for weight relief. I wonder do they still sound as good.

Tekky on May 03, 2016:

Nice article, i have one of the Kotzn teles and i think it's hands down one of the best quality guitars fender makes, including custom shop. Those Japanese guys know how to make guitars.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on April 24, 2016:

I've owned both a 76 Strat and a Silver Anniversary Les Paul, Wes. Both had their own particular sound but the Les Paul was a heavy bastard. I was happy when a break came! LOL!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on April 24, 2016:

I've never owned a Tele. I used to own a Strat. I liked the Strat but got disappointed in my playing with it, I couldn't do that head banging stuff half as well as the two older guys I knew. But I'm long out of high school, haha!

So I want a Telecaster. I'd love to have a Les Paul but I think I prefer that twangy stuff these days :)

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on April 24, 2016:

Wesman old Todd, great to see you've written another great guitar review! I have an old Telecaster which I picked up somewhere in my long association with old Hippies and musicians during my time as a band member. I frequently lament the many guitars which have passed through my hands during my salad years. As do we all...... :)

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on April 24, 2016:

Thanks MJR Lormans! Wish I had one!

MJR Lormans on April 24, 2016:

The Fender 50's Classic Player Baja Telecaster (Desert Sand colour with maple neck) is my favourite Tele...much bang for the buck...great guitar

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