The guitar is one of the most popular and emotive musical instruments of the last century – a powerful tool, many famous musicians have become legendary alongside their signature guitars. Here begins our look at 10 of the best classic guitar makes, starting with the Fender Telecaster.
State of the Art
In the late 1940s, inventor Leo Fender set about making an electric guitar that would be resistant to the feedback associated with amplified hollow-bodies. His concept was realized in 1950 with the Fender Esquire, a single-pickup solid-body guitar, followed shortly after by the Broadcaster, a twin-pickup version.
In 1951, the name of the latter guitar was changed to Telecaster, in order to avoid infringing on the Gretsch Company’s drum line, as well as to suggest state-of-the-art technology, similar to the name television.
In making the Telecaster, Fender set out to create a dependable, minimalist guitar – one that would sound excellent while being cheaply and efficiently manufactured. Accordingly, the Telecaster was devoid of the select tone-woods characteristic of acoustic guitars, stripped of superfluous ornamentation, and constructed from easy-to-assemble parts.
Yet the Telecaster featured a number of innovations in addition to its solid ash body. Its bolt-on, one-piece maple neck could easily be replaced, and the neck’s truss rod allowed for precision adjustment. The guitar’s 21 frets were set directly into the neck, precluding the need for a separate fretboard and, to some ears, enhancing the sound. The Telecaster’s fully adjustable metal bridge, the first of its kind, could be tweaked lengthwise as well as raised or lowered. Furthermore, the bridge allowed the strings to pass through the body, arguably enhancing the tone.
Initially, western-swing players were drawn to the instrument’s cutting, twangy tone. As the Telecaster’s reputation spread, it became the country-music guitarist’s instrument of choice.
But the instrument came to be associated with a variety of genres. Bluesman Muddy Waters used a Telecaster to create his signature electric sound, as did a diverse set of other legends including modern jazzman Mike Stern and punk rocker Joe Strummer, frontman for the Clash.
Controls: Three-way switch, tone, volume
Characteristics: Versatile, bright, twangy sound
Played by: Jimmy Bryant, Roy Buchanan, James Burton, Danny Gatton, Albert Lee, Keith Richards, Muddy Waters
Image of American Vintage '52 Telecaster courtesy fender.com
If you want to learn more why not take a look at our comprehensive book Rock Guitar Heroes – jam-packed with information and photographs, it features some of the famous superstars to be associated with the Telecaster. If you love all things guitar, we also have some great foiled journals with guitar designs on the cover, such as a white Gretch, or Gibson Les Paul.