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The 5 Best Telecaster Guitars Available

Updated on July 26, 2017
Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

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

Brad Paisley with his G-bender Fender Telecaster.


Brad Paisley and the G-bender Telecaster

Now you may think me a tad shady here, sheisty even, but I swear my intentions are pure. The Brad Paisley Fender Telecaster is not yet in production. It will debut, or is supposed to, later in 2016.

When the guitar hits the market, it is sure to be a hit, for it will employee not a b-bender, but a G string bender. Brad already has one, if not more of them - so it is going to happen.

The Brad Paisley G-bender mechanism is built by McVay, so it isn't using the exact same apparatus as the Parsons/White b-bender. The G-bending mechanism can bend the G string up a whole step. Paisley sounds terrific playing the thing in the demo. Brad says he had had someone build something like this for him years ago, but soon we'll all have the possibility of owning such a thing.

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. 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 Re-issue 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.

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
  • 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
  • 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)
  • Pickups
  • Configuration: SS
  • Neck: American vintage '52 Tele
  • Middle: Not applicable
  • Bridge: American vintage '52 Tele
  • Brand: Fender
  • Active or passive: Passive
  • Series or parallel: Series
  • Piezo: No
  • Active EQ: No
  • Special electronics: Vintage wiring
  • Controls
  • Control layout: Separate volume, tone
  • Pickup switch: 3-way
  • Coil tap or split: No
  • Kill switch: No
  • Hardware
  • Bridge type: Fixed
  • Bridge design: 3-saddle vintage-style
  • Tailpiece: Not applicable
  • Tuning machines: Vintage-style
  • Color: Chrome
  • Other
  • 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. When the Brad Paisley guitar is in production, the article will be edited.

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


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    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 16 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

      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.

    • profile image

      Tekky 16 months ago

      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 profile image

      Randy Godwin 17 months ago from Southern Georgia

      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 profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 17 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

      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 profile image

      Randy Godwin 17 months ago from Southern Georgia

      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 profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 17 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Thanks MJR Lormans! Wish I had one!

    • profile image

      MJR Lormans 17 months ago

      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