fender tele tone

Top 5 Fender Tele Tone Tips

By Stefan Vos
In February 5, 2019
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Some background before we dive into my top 5 Fender Tele tone tips: When Leo Fender introduced the Fender Telecaster, early in 1951, it was derided by some as a “boat paddle” and “snow shovel”. You may still hear modern players affectionately refer to their Telecaster as a ‘plank’. Little did Leo or anyone else realise what a monumental shift this humble electric guitar signalled for the future of music.

The Tele has enjoyed an uninterrupted production run for nearly 70 years now, and although fashions and trends have come and gone guitar-wise, the Telecaster just seems to have cruised along through it all, quietly (and not-so-quietly!) appearing on countless recordings, crossing over diverse genres and proving time and again that while it may appear to be the epitome of primitive simplicity, it is nevertheless one of the most versatile tonal options around.

Fender Telecaster masters include such luminaries as James Burton, Roy Buchanan, Danny Gatton, Mike Bloomfield (Bob Dylan), Steve Cropper, Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin I), Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead), Mike Campbell (Tom Petty), Keith Richards, Brad Paisley and John 5 (who owns one of the most comprehensive Telecaster collections in the world <drool>).

In fact, the last few years have seen the Telecaster break away from its association with country artists, who have prized it for it’s trebly ‘twang’, to rise in popularity, becoming the in-demand axe, popping up everywhere in the hands of players from all styles of music, from metal to indie-pop, who sing its praises as their go-to number one. In fact, many session players claim that their trusty Telecasters can cover upwards of 90% of the tonal ground they are required to produce in most sessions. Check out Brent Mason, Josh Smith and Guthrie Trapp, among others.

I have been asked to play many a gig with the caveat, “Bring your Tele!” The Telecaster seems to be the ‘in’ guitar as much for the way it looks as for the way it sounds. Such is the fickle whim of fashion, and no doubt the next ‘popular’ guitar shape is just around the corner (Jazzmaster anyone?).

While the Tele is indeed a simple, no-frills guitar – bolt-on neck, two pickups – it has proven to be one of the most mod-friendly platforms for the tinkering guitar player. These mods can see the Telecaster become even more versatile, which leads me to my top 5 Fender Tele tone tips:

  1. Many players have opted to pop in some replacement pickups to ‘hot-rod’ their Teles. From Keef’s preference for a humbucker in the bridge position to The Boss’s predilection for Hot Rails-style higher-gain pickups, players keep discovering more colours on their tonal palettes by swapping out pickups.
  2. Bridge saddles are another common mod. Depending on the quality of the instrument, the traditional 3-saddle setup may prove troublesome intonation-wise. There are many aftermarket 6-saddle options available, and you can even mix and match the material each saddle is made from! Hours of fun.
  3. Add vibrato. Few guitars look as cool as a Telecaster with a Bigsby vibrato arm. Purists will caution with regard to tuning stability, but many players swear by them. Added cool factor!
  4. Another popular change is to swap the control panel so that the pickup selector switch sits toward the tail of the guitar, allowing for easier volume and tone control manipulation. This requires some rewiring. Tinker’s delight.
  5. Some go as far as upgrading the bridge plate. There are some great options available. You can even spring for titanium! Who Knew?

To think that the very first production electric guitar is arguably the most popular guitar in the world today, largely unchanged over the last 70-odd years (just think how much everything else, from the motor car to the telephone, has changed over 70 years), is mind-blowing! If you haven’t dipped your toe into the deep waters of Telecaster obsession, there’s no time to waste. Come on in, the water is fine!

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* Has played in the UK with the band Lightning Type on stages like the Camden Barfly, Dublin Castle and The London Astoria * Has recorded at Beethoven Street Studios, previously owned by Seal, through a mixing desk once used by David Bowie, with one of Brian May's amps * Has played with local rock superstars Cassette * Has been teaching for the last 10 years to all ages and levels * Listens to and enjoys playing ALL styles of music * Has spent years refining the POWER STANCE for maximum on-stage rocking * Has dedicated himself to the lifelong pursuit of ULTIMATE TONE: The Way of the TONE Master * Has never played "Guitar Hero"

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