The List




The List


Fender Telecaster

Sometimes the simplest designs are the best. Minimalism may have its detractors, but when executed properly, and in the right circumstances, it is an aesthetic philosophy that can result in the production of wonderfully elegant and functional items. And few items can be as elegant or as minimalistic as the Fender Telecaster - the guitar that helped to change popular music forever, and which has earned a place on The List both for the purity with which it marries form and function and for the overwhelming influence it has had on Western culture over the last half a century.

Developed in the 1940s and first produced commercially in the early 1950s, the Telecaster, as we know it today, with twin pickups and a truss rod, was originally called the Broadcaster until a dispute with Gretsch forced Leo Fender to change the name. Although it was not the first solid bodied electric guitar, it was the first that sold in any meaningful quantities, and, by dint of its simplicity, was relatively easy to mass produce.

Unlike traditional guitars, and even contemporary electrics, like the Les Paul, the Telecaster featured a solid maple neck that was bolted, rather than glued, to the body. This not only facilitated the manufacturing of the guitar, but also meant that necks could easily be replaced if damaged or warped (the latter being a common problem on the Esquire - an early single pickup incarnation of the Telecaster that did without a truss rod). The body itself was a single cutaway design with little ornamentation; unlike Fender's later Stratocaster, there were no ergonomic contours - it was just one big slab of wood.

Controls were limited to volume and tone knobs and a three way selector for the two single coil pickups - the bridge pickup providing a harsher, more metallic sound than the slightly softer neck pickup.

And that was it; no bells, no whistles, and certainly nothing as complicated as a tremolo. In fact, it wasn't until the mid 1970s that the Telecaster gained a six saddle bridge; formerly it made do with a three saddle item that could sometimes make setting intonation something of a compromise.

This lack of complexity has the useful side effect of making the Telecaster exceptionally durable. Unlike the heavier, but more fragile Les Paul, it can withstand some fairly brutal treatment - something that enabled Who guitarist Pete Townshend to prolong his auto-destructive instrument smashing on stage for longer that with his somewhat flimsy Rickenbackers.

Perhaps the best thing about the Telecaster, though, is that it does not impose a single predetermined tonal archetype on the guitarist - it is not inextricably linked with a single genre of music, and is versatile enough to produce a wide range of sounds.

From a purely aesthetic point of view, it avoids the rock clichés of the Stratocaster or Les Paul, and has a timeless appeal that is lacking in most modern guitars. In fact, we would go as far as saying that no guitarist should be without at least one.