Somewhere over the rainbow strap for guitar

Fender Telecaster: Electric guitar classics

G&B Classics! The mother of all electric guitars
by Franz Holtmann,

For a mature lady over 60 years of age, the Fender Telecaster is still in pretty good shape. There are things that are simply timeless, and to that we can count the simple but still convincing character Fender Telecaster without any restrictions.

In 1951 the "mother of all board guitars" saw the light of day after a few complications at birth under her final name, together with her deep-sounding brother Precision Bass and should prove to be a remarkable evergreen. As long as the electric guitar plays a role, the Tele will probably keep up, interfere, rightly refer to its indisputable merits, read the riot act of some competitors with ease, if not put them in the corner.
The Fender Telecaster is apparently so simple that it can also be assembled by unskilled workers - a flat board with a screwed-on neck and two pickups, that's it. Still a direct hit: If something fits, then it just fits! In retrospect, let's take a look at how and why this formative classic in guitar history came about, but also what effects it had on the music and the players.

Telecaster - The Pregnancy

Leo Fender is not really the father of the electric guitar in the true sense of the word - it was already in the air back then, so to speak, was almost inevitably invented in a general climate of inventive awakening, as if you couldn't avoid it. The industrial age brought rapid innovations in all fields. With the growing economy, however, the volume in cities also increased. For the guitars at the beginning of the century that meant nothing other than growing with them.

The "Battle of Width" produced immense body sizes in a race between manufacturers for a competitive sound volume, and in the 1920s attempts were made to gain extra volume using resonators. In addition to these purely acoustically oriented methods, there was also the New World, “physics” and “electricity” were the magic words here. Electromagnetic waves can be used to transform sounds.

Signals could be converted, transported and received over great distances at the speed of light - radio was discovered and began to establish itself everywhere. It was also possible to preserve sound material for a long time, there were microphones and record players. Sounds could be captured and transmitted in alternating voltages. So it is no wonder that people tried and tested everywhere to see whether the guitar could also be electrified with the new possibilities - here one tried it with the pickups of the turntables, there with microphones.
George Beauchamps, manager at National and a fanatical hobbyist, was one of those men with the right ideas. He developed a functional pickup for the guitar, the horseshoe pickup, which was built in series by the Ro-Pat-In company in Lapsteels as early as 1932 - and these were pure electric guitars without acoustic resonance bodies. Of course he was thrown out of the resonator manufacturer National ... The way to the board, radically renouncing the acoustic body of the guitar, took a little longer.


This is where Leo Fender steps in and prepares to write history. In contrast to the simple amplification of a given sound as with the body guitars from the renowned manufacturers Epiphone or Gibson, it should now be shown that the sound of guitars can be fundamentally redefined - an era was casting its shadow.

Tele - the birth

The story with the board is one of those things - paternity isn't quite as clearly established as in Boris Becker's laundry room affair. There were certainly contemporaries of Leo who wanted to dispute this invention. Merle Travis was one of them, because he had a real board guitar built by a certain Paul A. Bigsby as early as 1947. This was already equipped with the distinctive six tuning mechanisms on one side, which would later be a trademark of Fender.
The headstock with this lined-up peg arrangement goes back to old European models, just look at instruments by Johann Georg Stauffer from Vienna or early Martin guitars from the 19th century. This Travis / Bigsby headstock is also very similar to that of the later Stratocaster model. Leo had probably seen the Bigsby guitar too, maybe even borrowed it briefly. What is indisputable, however, is the fact that Leo Fender was the first to bring the solid body guitar (board guitar) into industrial series production and thus wrote music history.
In June 1950, the “Esquire” model with a single pickup on the bridge was announced in “Musical Merchandise” magazine, and in the course of the year the electric guitar came into the world, which is not only considered to be “the” classic among board guitars can, but is also still very popular today. At first, the revolutionary new model did not go well at all. Don Randall, head of sales for Fender products, had to take a lot of malice at the first music fair for this new product. “I just got laughed out of the place,” he remembers.

Snow shovels and canoe paddles were known as the "Esquire", there were no sales, and Fender had to survive a few dark months on the verge of insolvency. Only after the introduction of a 2-pickup model and the renaming to the more modern-sounding “Broadcaster” in November 1950 did things pick up - and for the first time sales worth mentioning were achieved. The name of the guitar, however, was again short-lived, as it was too similar to that of drum products from the renowned New York manufacturer Gretsch.
They came to an amicable agreement and Fender renounced the name, but still needed the existing logos by simply cutting off the broadcaster and just stuck the remaining word Fender on the head of the guitars - so the nameless one came about for a few months from February 1951 Curiosity "Nocaster". As in most other cases of Fender Electrics, it was Don Randell who coined the name "Telecaster", which is still valid today, with a view to the dawning age of modern television Took the headstock of the first large Fender guitar. The child had a name - the legend Fender Telecaster was born.

Telecaster godparents

It's not enough to have a good idea - you have to be able to sell it. George Fullerton, who had worked for Fender since 1947, reported on efforts to convince musicians of the new instruments. Perhaps the decisive breakthrough came with a visit to a nightclub in Los Angeles, where the pedal steel virtuoso Speedy West performed with his guitarist Jimmy Bryant. Leo and George had brought an early broadcaster with them, and after Jimmy had carefully looked at this strange new guitar during a break, he started playing it. After a short time, many visitors to the club, as well as the other musicians in the band, crowded around the stage and listened to these new sounds with open mouths.
The unusually flat action of the strings and the cutaway of the Fender Telecaster opened up the technical horizons and the experienced Jimmy spontaneously brought sounds that were previously unimagined to be heard. Of course, the instrument was wisely left to him and a real bush fire was lit in a short time. Speedy West was a star and his instrumental duels with Jimmy Bryant became a hit over many shows and TV appearances. So it wasn't long before everyone wanted to play a guitar like Jimmy's - and the machines at Fender were running hot.


Leo Fender was a brilliant and resourceful technician, but not even a trained engineer, as you often read, and certainly not a guitarist. He couldn't even tune the instrument and loved singing cowboys. Nevertheless, in addition to looking at the essentials, he must have had a feeling for the right details in terms of playing practice and sound development. Above all, however, he was lucky in choosing his advisors and employees such as George Fullerton, Freddie Tavares and others. But what exactly does it take to invent such an archetype of instrument history as the Fender Telecaster?
First of all, there is the absolute straightforwardness and practicality that makes our “Mother of Twang” stand out from the crowd - a robust instrument without unnecessary bells and whistles made for the honest worker who creates the sound with his fingers and gets the maximum out of the little. Third pickup, vibrato system, individual volume and tone controls, body contours? "They're for candy asses!" Take, for example, this popular story of Michael Bloomfield, who stumbled into a session with Bob Dylan in New York on a frosty winter's day with nothing but an unprotected telephoto in hand.
After hitting them on the studio wall to free them from snow, he grins at everyone: “Ready!” That says more about the workhorse Telecaster and its players than any description. In addition to the clarity of the function, it is of course the characteristic sound, the big bell, the universally valid "It don’t mean a thang if it ain’t got that twang" that made the Telecaster immortal. Twang - what is that anyway?

Not that easy to say. The dictionary information “buzzing”, “nosing” doesn't really apply to the matter. Let's at least narrow it down. We actually achieve the typical "twang" by playing a posture in which the string z. B. with a tight plectrum struck briefly and dryly, but rather pressed, so that in addition to the naturally vibrating tone, a slightly pressed "buzzing" rich in overtones is created. The sound appears pressed percussively, looks cushioned and opens with a slight booiiing (didn't I say that this is actually impossible to describe?). The Telecaster now sets this special tone light-footed and crisp like no other guitar, especially via its bridge pickup mounted on a metal plate.
The rest of the construction supports exactly the right frequencies and tonal properties, which we know and appreciate as a typical telephoto sound, with the fast sound reflex of a screwed maple neck and the resonance properties of the light ash. You have to learn to deal with this slightly cutting tone, it needs control and occasionally less is more here. When the bridge pickup is active, the bony twang of the bass strings is often easier to bear than the sharp, shrill tone of the high strings. If the player mutes (mutes) the strings with his right hand, wonderfully contoured sounds are created with, among other things. lots of country appeal.
The neck pickup is not necessarily the twang master, but it fulfills many tasks beyond the rather snappy, pressed sound development of the bridge pickup. He sings and has a tendency to ballads and blues, so he's quite flexible. In addition, both pickups merge together to create a wonderfully sparkling, bell-shaped, round sound that can be used in many ways.

Telecaster - success

What happened after the successful up-and-coming generation of guitarists of the 1950s with the Telecaster virus is largely known. Starting from the American continent with its country, rock 'n' roll, blues and soul, the ubiquitous Telecaster is gradually conquering the world. Although the Fender Telecaster soon after its market launch found its permanent place in almost every North American country band and thus ran the risk of becoming a synonym for this style, it gradually managed to quietly settle in too to fight in other emerging music genres. Electric blues pioneers like Muddy Waters and Albert Collins won new tones from the Telecaster, rock 'n' roll broke its ground and opened up hitherto unknown paths that were bravely treaded by young musicians like James Burton and the Telecaster opened the gates for them The explosive development of beat and rock music in the 1960s opened wide.

In America, the soul stars Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett and many more. a. talk about yourself; and behind many hits like, Dock Of The Bay ‘,, Midnight Hour‘ or, Knock On Wood ‘stood a man with his Fender Telecaster: Steve Cropper. It's hard to believe that a white R&B player like Cropper is behind these soul classics and not only wrote them as a co-author, but mostly also did the economical, tasteful guitar work. He also became known with the hits, Green Onions ‘,, Soul Limbo‘ and others. by Booker T. And The MGs, later through his work in the Blues Brothers Band - all handcrafted with the Telecaster. In England, all later guitar heroes in rock history made use of the Fender Telecaster. Whether Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend or Keith Richards, to name just a few, they all set telephoto sound marks with unmistakable fingerprints.

Some players also missed the Telecaster by simple mistake. One of the most important early exponents of the Stratocasters, Hank Marvin of the Shadows, came across the Strat by mistake while working for Cliff Richard. Actually, he really wanted the guitar that James Burton played in Rick Nelson's band as a role model, but at that time, until the end of the 1950s, there was still an import ban on American instruments to England as a result of the war.
However, they soon had a much-admired colored Fender catalog sent directly from California. The only indication of the Fender / Burton connection was based on a photo of the Rick Nelson Band, where the Fender logo could only be read on a headstock. But it was taken for granted that a legend like Burton would undoubtedly play the top-of-the-line instrument and Cliff then organized the private import of the first Fender Stratocaster to Great Britain. The Shadows sound is therefore the result of a mix-up (!!!); Marvin would certainly not have turned down the Telecaster played by Burton - but sometimes chance makes history.

The telephoto broadcast

The clear lines and the handy size of the Fender Telecaster had a clearly positive effect on the female half of the world's population - this made it Fender's most popular “girl's guitar”. Perhaps with women it is more the songwriters than the guitar heroines who use the Telecaster. It is probably the sound, the perfect complement to the voice that made Chrissie Hynde use the telephoto for songs like, Brass In Pocket ‘. It may be similar with Sheryl Crow, who also sits the Telecaster like a glove. , All I Wanna Do ‘- you can have fun with our good old guitar evergreen.

Or take Meredith Brooks, who likes to be seen with a '52 Relic Telecaster, but also has an original old, as she says her most important guitar model ever, and wrests more than just chords from this instrument: No, Meredith also mixes easily as a soloist on many a guitarist regulars' table and of course with good reason.
The telegenic women's squad can easily be expanded from Kristin Hersh and Sharleen Spiteri (Texas) to P.J. Harvey, the Canadian blues lady Sue Foley, the Australian singer / guitarist Suze De-Marchi (Baby Animals) to Jewel - all of these artists, and with the exception of Chrissie Hynde, all of them are all young women, use the old Telecaster , find the ideal complement in it. Apart from exceptions such as Bonnie Raitt and Leni Stern, we can definitely say: More clearly than with men, the female players prefer the Tele to the Strat.

Telecaster jobs

Whatever the case, the Fender Telecaster is deeply embedded in our sound awareness. If you take a closer look, it covers an immense range of application points in a wide variety of genres. There are worlds between James Burton and Keith Richards, Steve Cropper and Johnny Lang, Jeff Beck and Danny Gatton, between Andy Summers and Mike Stern - the list goes on and on. In addition to the classic Telecaster pickings of the country guitarists, we owe her, as you can already read above, numerous trademark sounds of music history. What would the Stones be without Keith Richards' telephoto board!
And Albert Collins on a Les Paul? Unthinkable! Otis Redding literally merges with Steve Cropper's Telecaster and the solo of the mother of all rock ballads, Led Zeppelins, Stairway To Heaven ‘, played Jimmy Page, on ...? Of course, a Telecaster, with which he also recorded the rock legend's entire first album! He probably also used the Telecaster on the frugal lead licks of Joe Cocker's hit, With A Little Help From My Friends ‘or the incredibly gripping solo of his late 60s ballad, Bye Bye Blackbird‘.

But also the sweat-soaked rock worker Bruce Springsteen seeks and finds his instrumental alter ego in it, Latino star Ricky Martin comes up with guitar hooks in classic Tele-Twang in his hit 'Living La Vida Loca', Robben Ford does not want without it them on the stage. Even jazz stars like Howard Roberts are committed to telephoto and take it with them to every recording session, not to mention the many young bands in which our protagonist is very cool and still very topical. Whether you go to Blur or Dylan, to P.J. Harvey or Tom Petty, going to a blues or punk concert: the Fender Telecaster is always there beforehand.
It is timelessly attractive, a classic without limits, which has remained true to itself, has nevertheless been modified over the years and is now available in many variants (see below). Once you start researching, you soon realize how selective the selection has to be. The "Big Twang Mama" eludes a clear assessment, does not want to be tied down to individual musical fields, today she owns the whole world, especially the one in which the electric guitar plays a role. With the telephoto in our arms, we can therefore look to the future with relative ease.
As long as something rocks and rolls and bluest, radio, pops or jazz somewhere, the Tele will be at hand and show us where the hammer is. So let's go into the next 50 years! P.S .: I beg your pardon? Are there still some important tele-players missing? Sure: Roy Buchanan, Peter Stroud, Robbie Robertson, Rich Robinson, Syd Barrett, Will Sergeant, Albert Lee, Sam Brown, Jerry Donahue, Will Ray, Joe Strummer ...

You can find more about the Fender Telecaster and other Fender guitars in our Fender special edition


From Guitar & Bass Fender Special 2001

Broadcaster, Nocaster & Telecaster


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