A lot about the Fender Telecaster has changed over the course of its fruitful existence. Originally released in 1948 under the name “Broadcaster”, one constant throughout the first mass-produced electric guitar’s lifespan has been the iconic single cut silhouette. Its inventor, Leo Fender, continued to refine the neck shape and the sound of the pickups, as well as touch up a few aesthetic appointments during his time as head of the Fender brand.
Guitar builders of all different backgrounds have had a good crack at their own versions of the Telecaster. That’s why there really is something here for everyone. But those first 30-odd years – 20 of them captained by the legendary Leo – gave us the three defining models of the Telecaster, officially referred to by decade: the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Fender made small tweaks to the Tele each year as production grew, so nowadays it’s simpler to categorise these most noticeable features by a longer time period. That’s why you’ve got Fender and offshoot brand Squier referring to a handful of their ranges by decade, including the Vintera, Classic Vibe, American Original and Custom Shop lines.
Following a trademark dispute with guitar building competitors Gretsch, Fender decided to refresh, rename and re-spec the original Broadcaster. The final outcome was the first recognisable Telecaster which we all know and love today. It’s a design we regularly rely on to make contemporary music. The classic “Tele twang” is a timeless sound that works brilliantly for pretty much everything, from pop through to rock and more niche genres as well as providing a blank slate for intrepid guitar effects.
The secret ingredient to ‘50s Tele tone is of course the single coil pickups. Each individual Tele made at the time sounded slightly different, so there was a bit of pot luck with which one you got to try out at the guitar store. Variables like magnet type and number of windings hadn’t been standardised across the production line. What we can say about them as a collective is that they sound warm, articulate and punchy, thanks in particular to the flat pole pieces.
One aspect a lot of players find tricky to navigate on a ’50s Tele is the old school neck. It might feel a little on the clunky side if you’re accustomed to a modern guitar setup. Saying that, many love the thicker neck shape filling out the palm of the fretting hand, and the rounded fretboard ideally suited to fretting chords and big string bends.
‘50s Tele Key Features
- Ash wood body
- Maple neck and maple fretboard
- Two low output single coil pickups
- 7.25-inch fretboard radius
- Deep “U” shape neck pattern
- Three-saddle fixed ashtray bridge