History of the Fender Telecaster
As early as 1932, various companies and private guitar makers were experimenting with solid body electric guitars. It wasn't until 1950 that Leo Fender introduced the basic guitar that became the Telecaster. Both guitar designers and guitar players of that time marveled at the bright sound and lasting sustain of the early models. Already in place was Fender's Radio Service that repaired, then later designed amps for other instruments. The shop played a big role in getting the "Tele" off the ground with amps that could make the landmark guitar come to life.
The first factory-produced model featured a single pickup and was called the "Esquire" but had limited production because the lack of a truss rod in the neck that caused numerous problems. This was corrected, another pickup was added and the model bore yet a different name, the "Broadcaster." The Gretsch company had a line of drums at that time called the "Broadkaster" and since Fender was the new kid on the block, they abandoned the name and the "Telecaster" was born, the name being drawn from another new invention of that time, the television (a little known fact).
The current Telecaster Classic, Standard, and Deluxe models are manufactured in Mexico, Japan or Korea. Telecasters made in America include the Special Edition, American Standard, American Vintage and American Deluxe.
One of the design elements that makes the Telecaster stand out is the slanted bridge pickup that is incorporated into the bridge plate. This angle emphasizes the guitar's treble tone giving the guitar the bright sound that lends itself well to Country and Rock. The neck pickup has a warmer tone that works well for Blues and Jazz, making the guitar a versatile performer. The Telecaster's solid body makes for great tone and sustain and the guitar is known for staying in tune even under heavy use. Some have a difficult time separating the sound of the Telecaster from the Stratocaster but those that own the guitar clearly recognize and can describe the subtle differences.
Like its cousin the Stratocaster, the "Tele" has a maple bolt on neck and comes with either a rosewood or maple fingerboard with maple bringing about a brighter sound. The body is made from alder, ash or poplar and is available in a number of colors. Fender’s custom shop is known for producing special models that can be identified by the Custom Shop decal on the headstock.
Guitarists known for their Telecasters include James Burton, Steve Cropper (Booker T and the MGs), the late Albert Lee and Roy Buchanan, the "King of the Tele." Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page used a 1958 Telecaster (known as the "Dragon Telecaster") for the solo in the famous 1971 song, "Stairway to Heaven." And it's not unusual to see a Tele in the hands of Bruce Springsteen or guitar hero Jeff Beck. The Tele appears in Country music as well with Buck Owens being one of the first players of the instrument.
Just for Fun
The Parsons/White "stringbender," invented by Gram Parsons and Clarence White, included a device in the body of the guitar that changed the pitch of the B or G string by pulling down on the guitar's strap. The design never really caught on but the remaining stringbender models are highly prized.