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Top 5 Most Versatile Telecaster Style 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.

Fender American Professional Telecaster Deluxe ShawBucker

Fender American Professional Telecaster Deluxe ShawBucker

The Original Telecaster, Hammer of the Honkey Tonk Gods

Leo Fender clearly intended two things with what became the Fender Telecaster. He intended to make the first successful solid body electric guitar, and he intended it to be easily mass produced. That he succeeded on both points is beyond question.

Mr. Fender had been repairing pickups, which were new devices used to amplify guitars, in southern California. The musicians who employed him were primarily country and western style guitarists. Jazz musicians were also using amplified guitars, but the Charlie Christian style of pickup was not what Leo opted to use on his Telecaster.

Jazz guitarists like Charlie Christian gravitated to Gibson guitars and their warmer sounds. When Chuck Berry started the rock and roll guitar revolution in the mid 1950s, he also went the Gibson way. These things do not show the Tele to be a country and western guitar, but because country and western folks preferred the great Telecaster twang, it seemed the guitar was meant to be the hammer of the honkey tonk gods.

Today's Versitile Telecaster

By the mid 1960s the rock and roll revolution was in full swing, and there were more people playing the Telecaster for this music than I could possibly name here. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page were moving the music to something called hard rock. By the late 1960s, Jimmy Page was playing things which were arguably among the first recordings of metal music.

There wasn't a question that a Tele could be used for anything, but Page moved on to a Les Paul for playing the heaviest material. There were so many other solid body electric guitar models available by then. The Telecaster seemed to become once again what it had originally been, the hammer of the honkey tonk gods.

For our purposes here, we're going to take a look at what is available now, and there has never been a better time to buy a Telecaster. Today there are Teles available in numerous price ranges, and with all manner of modern equipment and specification.

I've no interest at all in ripping on the traditional T-style, but for people who are not so affluent, and want a Tele which can also do the job in more genres by having a wider range of tones, this is the article for you.

Specifically, these Teles are more suited to heavy rock or metal than the traditional ones. There's no reason, of course, that any of these wouldn't make for country and western play. Are you a blues guitarist? I've never known of a guitar that wasn't suited to playing blues music.

I'm going to order the instruments on the page from least fancy to fanciest, and of course, this translates as from least expensive to most expensive. All of these guitars are guitars I've played, and would like to own. Strengths and weaknesses, and what each would be best suited for are also major points of consideration to be discussed.

Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus

Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus

Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus

Typically priced at $499, the Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus is not only one of the most versatile Teles you could ever hope to own, it's one of the single best solid body electric guitars in the universe at under $500.

For the money, this guitar offers a ridiculous amount of utility, versatility, and value. This is a professional guitar that comes at beginner guitar prices. Any which way you slice it, this is a jackpot. For more experienced guitarists who want a platform to mod? Here you go.

What makes this guitar so versatile? It's the pickup configuration. The humbucker in the bridge position is equipped to be split, so it also functions as a single coil. The middle pickup is a Strat style pup, and the neck pickup is a traditional Tele pup.

The Modern Player Tele Plus can have a player going from James Hetfield style rhythms to playing Buck Owens Bakersfield country in seconds. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm the kind of person who listens to both those kinds of music, and I will certainly attempt them both on guitar too.

You might wonder why a guitar I say is so great costs so little. There are two reasons for this, but only one reason could be construed negative for the purchaser. This guitar is made in China, and that helps keep the price so wonderful. The guitar's body is also made of pine.

Yes, the body is made of pine. No one can say pine does not make for a completely competent tonewood. The thing is, pine is a soft wood. So this guitar could acquire dings and dents much more easily than others. So long as it is cared for, there is no problem.

Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus Solidbody Electric Guitar features:

  • A modern take on a traditional solidbody electric guitar
  • The original Tele tonewood combo, including a pine body and a maple neck and fingerboard
  • Flexible HSS configuration features both Strat and Tele single-coil pickups
  • Coil-splittable humbucker at the bridge
  • Vintage-style 6-saddle string-through-body hardtail Stratocaster bridge
Modern Player Telecaster Thinline Deluxe - 3-Color Sunburst

Modern Player Telecaster Thinline Deluxe - 3-Color Sunburst

Modern Player Telecaster Thinline Deluxe

Like the Fender Modern Player Telecaster Plus, the Modern Player Thinline Deluxe, in my estimation, makes for not just one of the most versatile Telecasters you can buy, but one of the single finest electric guitars one could purchase for the money.

This is a very different guitar, however, as it is a semi-hollow body, and its pickups are vastly different. The body itself is of mahogany, and this tonewood, when used for bodies of electric guitars, is something very well known, loved, and desired.

Mahogany bodies were always one of Gibson's major features, and P90 pickups were Gibson's own design. P-90s have been in production since 1946. The only reason they are still in use today is because they are absolutely wonderful.

The P-90 pickups allow one to dial in quite a lot of the traditional T style twang, and it also allows you to set the controls for a whole lot of growl and crunch. These are single coil pups which can just nearly get you the tones of a PAF humbucker. The semi-hollow body here additionally allows one to get much warmer tones, like one would often use for playing jazz.

The use of mahogany for the body, the P-90 pickups, and the control scheme of this guitar all scream Gibson. The scale length, the neck, and the body shape are all Fender. This guitar combines some of the best classic elements of the two most prestigious and reputable US guitar manufacturers, but the guitar is made in China, so it sells for just $499.

I could go on and on here about how and why I think this is such a wonderful guitar. It's one of the ones I most want to own myself, and it is all because it can do so much, and cover so many stylistic grounds, and for so little money. The only thing it isn't especially suited for is thrash metal, and even in that genre, if someone wanted to, I bet they could use this and get the job done.

Fender Modern Player Telecaster Thinline Deluxe features:

  • Classic Tele style with a unique twist
  • Chambered mahogany body is light on your shoulders and heavy on tone
  • Dual MP-90 single-coil pickups provide plenty of bite and growl
  • String-through-body configuration adds remarkable sustain
  • Vintage-style 6-saddle hardtail Stratocaster bridge lets you lock in your tuning
Michael Kelly 1955 Model

Michael Kelly 1955 Model

Michael Kelly 1955 Model

Michael Kelly guitars are pretty new to the scene. They are making a splash though, and they do this by being extremely competitive. This is a company out of Florida, but the guitars are produced in South Korea. It's Asian manufacturing that allows us blue collar folks to get these kinds of instruments at under a thousand dollars.

I'm thankful for that. So what's the story here? What's this thing's super power? Primarily the Michael Kelly 1955 Tele style guitar stands out from the rest for its fingerboard. Now, sometimes folks don't think too much about fingerboards, and then other sorts of players find the fingerboard extremely important. This is a compound radius fretboard.

What is a compound radius fret or fingerboard? All the term means is the radius of the fingerboard changes, or is not constant throughout. In the case of this guitar, and every single other compound radius fingerboard guitar I can think of, the fingerboard gets flatter as you travel up the neck.

Well, what good is that? Think shredding. If you are a shred style guitarist, then you absolutely want a flatter fretboard radius so you can do that sweep picking thing you love to do, and especially further up the neck. Now, this guitar's fingerboard radius starts out flatter than the typical Tele's does, but by the time you get past the 12th fret, brothers and sisters, you've really felt it flatten out.

Both the pickups on these guitars are by Rockfield, and both can be split for single coil tones, or used as humbuckers. When you split the mini-bucker at the neck position, you get tones very much like a traditional Tele, when not split, the mini bucker can provide wonderful thicker rhythm tones for rock and blues music.

The Rockfield SWC pup at the bridge is well known to fans of BC Rich guitars. It's a great all around rock and metal player's pickup, of the Alnico V persuasion. It's a hot wound pickup, and so it will drive you into distortion quite fast and well. When split you get some nice clean bell tones, just as you'd want from a Tele style guitar.

Michael Kelly 1955 Model Electric Guitar features:

  • Quilt maple top on swamp ash body
  • Maple bolt on neck with rosewood fingerboard
  • 10.5"-16" compensated fingerboard radius
  • Rockfield SWC Humbucker-L at bridge
  • Rockfield Mini Humbucker-L at neck
  • Traditional Telecaster style bridge
  • Great 8 Mod - Master Volume (push/pull coil tap) - Master tone (push/pull coil tap) - 3 way blade switch
  • Die Cast machine heads
Schecter PT Fastback IIB

Schecter PT Fastback IIB

Schecter PT Fastback IIB Electric Guitar

Schecter was originally a guitar parts manufacturer. Pete Townshend started using guitars made entirely from Schecter parts, and so Schecter started making whole guitars. Today Schecter is one of the go to brands for the hard rock and heavy metal guitarist, and it all started right here with Schecter PT models.

While Schecter guitars are manufactured in Asia, all which are sold in the USA, they are set up in California before being shipped to retailers. Schecter is totally representative of the new age of cooperation in manufacturing and distribution of consumer goods.

The beauty of the PT Fastback IIB is twofold, first you have the terrific humbucking pickups, and secondly you have the Bigsby vibrato.

Here in our current consumer paradise world, there are many many vibrato types for guitars, but the Bigsby was the very first successful and reasonably stable one produced. Bigsby units also behave in such a way because of their design, which others simply can not. Want to bend entire chords? You want a Bigsby.

Schecter Diamond SuperRock pickups are what are had here, and these are quite nice. They are also available to be split in the traditional manner, and so you can get the wide range of tone combinations the push/pull pots on a humbucker guitar with coils splits allow. These pups utilize a unique bilateral gauss field and .25" nickel plated high carbon steel pole pieces, these humbuckers deliver a unique tone that is both musical and articulate.

Schecter PT Fastback IIB Electric Guitar features:

  • Bolt on neck construction
  • Body made from Alder
  • 1-ply creme binding
  • Maple neck
  • Rosewood fingerboard
  • Dot fingerboard positioning markers
  • 25.5" length of scale
  • 22 X-jumbo frets
  • 14" fingerboard radius
  • Thin C neck profile
  • 1.653" width at nut
  • Graph Tech XL ivory tusq nut
  • 2-way adjustable truss rod with Allen nut
  • Schecter Diamond SuperRock Custom Alnico pickups at neck and bridge
  • 2 volume, 2 tone control knobs with 3-way pickup selector switch
  • Push-pull tone pots for coil splits
  • Chrome hardware
  • Bigsby Flat Top B50 with roller TOM bridge
  • Grover tuning machines
  • Metal knurled knobs with set screw
Fender American Professional Telecaster Deluxe ShawBucker

Fender American Professional Telecaster Deluxe ShawBucker

Fender American Professional Deluxe ShawBucker Telecaster

All the previously discussed instruments represent outstanding values. They are all absolutely wonderful guitars priced well below a thousand dollars. The Fender American Professional Deluxe ShawBucker Telecaster is something else entirely, however. The finer things in life are usually found in another price bracket.

It's an American professional because it is built in the USA, and marketed towards professional guitarists. No, you don't need to be a paid musician to own one, you merely have to be able to afford it.

We're talking $1500 here. In reality, that's not so expensive for something so fine as this, and especially when you realize that when cared for properly, (as with any guitar) it will outlast your own lifetime.

The term 'Deluxe,' when used with a Telecaster has everything to do with its controls and pickups. The Deluxe Teles are what Fender came up with to compete with Gibson's Les Paul. A Deluxe Tele usually has two humbuckers, the LP style three way selector switch, and the two volume and two tone controls positioned on the guitar like they would be on a Gibson Les Paul.

The real stars of the show on this guitar are its pickups. They're called ShawBuckers after their designer, Tim Shaw. Guitar pickups are something people get very into, and critique as though they were bottles of fine wine. This is all well and good, and Tim Shaw is one of the more well known people in the high end pickups field.

Mr. Shaw learned his craft from another major figure in the industry, the great Bill Lawrence. He's worked for Gibson guitars, and now Fender, so Mr. Shaw is an extremely learned figure in guitar building. The ShawBucker pups are yet another take on the work of Seth Lover, the creator of Gibson's PAF pickups.

My opinion is these are outstanding, the thing is the ShawBucker pickups pair best with Marshall amplifiers and heavy distortion. Fender's own amplifiers do not really suit this style of guitar so well, but people have been pairing Fender guitars with Marshall amplifiers for many decades now, and that's how I'd do it too.

Fender American Professional Deluxe ShawBucker Telecaster Features

  • A Telecaster design that blends the best of modern and vintage construction
  • Balanced-sounding alder body
  • Maple neck with comfortable Deep-C profile
  • Rosewood or maple fretboard
  • 22 Tall narrow frets
  • 2 Shaw-designed Shawbucker humbucking pickups are balanced across the positions
  • Deluxe 4-knob control layout
  • Narrow-tall frets are the most requested size in the Fender Custom Shop
  • 6-saddle hardtail bridge
  • Comfortable 9.5" fretboard radius
  • Dual action truss rod
  • Newly designed "ashtray" bridge

Parsing It Over

Money is always a major consideration in a person's life and lifestyle. I'm always so very pleased these days with just what a poorer person can get in a guitar. Without being overtly political about it, it's Asian manufacturing which is to thank for the amazing choices musicians have these days in terms of very good instruments available at under $1000.

The first two Fender guitars represent more bang for the bucks than most any other electric guitars I could possibly name. They both just happen to be Telecasters, and their being manufactured in Asia is what makes it all possible. It would be hard for me to say one of those two is better than the other. I've personally got a strong love for P-90 pickups, so my own choice there is pretty clear.

The Schecter guitar and the Michael Kelly guitar both sell at just under six hundred dollars. I consider the two as equals, although it is very clear that Schecter has a much more established reputation. Were someone choosing between those two guitars, the entire deal comes down to fingerboard versus vibrato. If you want a guitar with an ultra modern shredders fingerboard, you go for the Michael Kelly. If you want to rock the Schecter brand, as many now do, and you also get the legendary Bigsby vibrato.

In the general sense, American manufacturing is always superior to Asian. That's a generalization, of course, as Japanese manufacturing is every bit as good as American. There is no question the Fender American Professional Deluxe Shawbucker Telecaster is the best guitar here, the thing is, it cost three times what the two Asian Fender guitars cost. Is it three times better? I'm going to say no.

The most operative descriptive word in the title Fender American Professional Deluxe ShawBucker Telecaster is the word 'professional.' If you're getting paid to play the guitar, then there is no question you want the best you can get. For someone getting paid to play, then that guitar truly is worth three times the price of the first two Fender Teles, and the ShawBucker pups, able to provide both chime, crunch, and clarity, make the case for the winner. Thanks for reading.

© 2019 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 23, 2019:

Thanks Liz, that's certainly what I'm going for.

Liz Westwood from UK on January 23, 2019:

I am impressed by your detailed knowledge and well-structured hub.