Despite being well over half a century old now, for many players, the Telecaster will always represent the pinnacle of electric guitar design.
With an arguably less flashy, more workmanlike image than the curvaceous lines of the Stratocaster, and a raunchier set of basic tones, it’s also one of the few electric guitars that excels in virtually every musical setting imaginable, barring perhaps extreme metal, without fitting new pickups.
From the Squier Affinity range, right up to the Custom Shop Time Machine models, Fender makes a Tele for every pocket. As you might expect, the American Vintage ’52 Tele is largely a slavish reproduction of the guitar that started it all.
Fender tries to ensure that each guitar in its American Vintage series feels like a special package. On flipping open the catches on the attractive tweed case, apart from the fruity aroma of nitrocellulose and the plush orange of the case interior, we are greeted by a generous complement of ‘case candy’. Along with the guitar itself, you get an assortment of goodies.
A rather short leather strap of US origin, guitar care kit and a vintage style lead are accompanied by, in this case, a slightly ill-fitting ashtray bridge cover, a modern six-saddle replacement bridge and a capacitor and wiring diagram for converting the guitar to a more modern specification… but more on that later.
On removing the ’52 from its case, the nitrocellulose lacquer has that familiar aroma and slight stickiness, although initial impressions are that the butterscotch finish applied to the one-piece ash body is just a touch too dark in hue and too thick and glass-like to really capture that vintage vibe in the way that the Custom Shop Time Machine Fenders do.
That said, an NOS Nocaster will set you back £2099, so therein lies the difference. If you like the aged look, then the only answer that doesn’t involve sandpaper is to distress it the old-fashioned way… by gigging the hell out of it! So, rather than evoking the worn-in comfort of your favourite pair of jeans or an old leather jacket, there’s something a little stiff and new about the immediate feel of this guitar.
The ’52’s vintage profile frets are immaculately fitted with no sharp ends, yet the gauge of the fretwire seems a fraction fatter and a little closer to medium than some we’ve encountered. But there are plenty of impressively vintage-accurate features and the attention to detail is apparent in the choice of slot rather than crosshead screws, even down to the neck bolts and tuner screws.
The neck itself is one piece of maple with traces of a light flame on the back, while the ‘U’ profile is a decent rounded palm-full, without quite being as chunky as the Nocaster spec. With a less flat playing surface than most modern Teles, the ’52 fights back deliciously and provides the perfect platform for emotive lead playing and gritty, aggressive rhythms.
The ’52’s wiring is authentic, and may prove somewhat alien to even die-hard Telecaster fans. Instead of the usual bridge, both pickups in parallel and neck selections, from right to left we get the bridge single-coil, neck pickup and a second, woollier version of the neck unit; a lower output pseudo bass tone dating back to 1950, a year before a certain Clarence Fender finalised his Precision Bass design.
A conversion kit allowing you to convert the guitar to a ‘modern’ wiring configuration is supplied but surely players would prefer the guitar wired more familiarly, as has been standard since 1967, with an optional vintage wiring kit supplied? As a result, straight out of the case there is no nasal twin pickup setting.
Powering up a nice small valve combo with a little break-up dialled in, it really is arresting to note just how satisfying and rich the unadorned sound of a good Telecaster can be. The '52 is a delight, with a rich woodiness and an earthy character infusing the instrument's characteristic spank.
Apart from the missing middle position due to the vintage-authentic wiring, there's everything else you could want from a Telecaster here, from the authoritative raucous bark of the bridge pickup to the gorgeous, buttery neck unit that begins as a perfectly balanced, mellow clean voice and gets fluid and fiery as you wind up the gain.
If you don't own a Telecaster of some description, the most pressing question really is why not? The biggest competition that both of this guitar faces is probably from within the Fender catalogue itself as, these days, there's a Telecaster to suit virtually everybody with any number of additional features. The '52 harks back to a time when you could buy only one type of Telecaster, and all these years down the line, it goes a long way towards proving that sometimes less really is more.