Fender describes the new Custom Deluxe Tele as being "designed for the working musician". What the company means by that is that it's taken the vintage blueprints of this stalwart model and added some modern improvements – in the pickup, bridge, fret and tuner departments – to create an instrument that at a casual glance looks like a regular model but which performs like a highly-tuned thoroughbred.
At around the two grand mark this guitar isn't what you'd call cheap, but we've become used to Anderson and PRS-type quality on even some regular production Fenders, so the relatively limited nature and that Custom Shop branding should appeal to the lucky folk able to afford this.
The Custom Deluxe Tele offers the kind of player-friendly mods that remove vintage idiosyncrasies and make for a more up-to-date version of a classic. The select ash body version only comes in two-tone sunburst and vintage cherry sunburst, and the latter of the two is what you see here.
"Don't believe the Tele's quiet good looks; this guitar could be the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing."
The point is to show the beauty of the ash's grain through the gloss nitro finish and it certainly lends interest to what is otherwise a pretty simple – dare we say plain – design. Cherry sunburst is not a colour for which Fender is particularly known, but most of those who've seen it think it's a great choice for this Tele.
Neck-wise, we see some light figuring of the maple, adding that extra touch of class to an already fine looking guitar. While not exactly a baseball-bat, it's a deliberate handful; a slightly slimmed down version of the early 'U'-shape maple necks of Broadcasters and the first 'blackguard' Teles.
It's hard to pick flaws, as the whole thing has been put together with robot-like precision while retaining the crucially organic feel that any musical instrument must have if it's to insinuate itself into your life as more than just a tool.The finish is buffed mirror flat; you couldn't get a cigarette paper between neck body join and the chrome hardware gleams.
Our Tele boasts Schaller locking and staggered tuners (less vital on a non-vibrato guitar but welcome nonetheless), and an upgraded modern bridge assembly. Unlike the traditional three-saddle 'ashtray'-style Tele bridge, the Custom Deluxe's is a flat, chromed steel base with a lip at the back into which the six saddle adjustment screws locate.
The bane of most Tele players' lives is the intonation compromise of six strings sharing only three saddles. Our guitar's six-saddle bridge fixes that in an instant and with each saddle solid brass but tastily plated in chrome, tone shouldn't be sacrificed.
Although we could see it scaring faint-hearted guitarists away, in the palm this big neck feels very comfortable and even playing for some length of time is not a tiring experience. It's no speed neck, but as speed players are unlikely to choose a Tele, its role as deliverer of great pop, blues, classic rock and country remains assured.
The 22-fret fingerboard (integral to the one-piece neck) features taller frets and a flatter radius. Allied to the chunky profile, this makes for a great sleazy feel. Dirty blues and skanky country licks fall off the fingers, while open chords feel like a light-strung acoustic – great for indie players. To anyone put off by our description of the neck's size, we'd say give one a try and prepare to be converted.
What hasn't been mentioned thus far is that this Custom Deluxe brags two of Fender's best ever pickups. At the bridge we find the mighty Custom Shop Hot Nocaster – a brute of a single-coil – and at the neck the awesome Twisted Tele. Forget skinny twang; these two are all-conquering tone-monsters that will amaze you and anyone who hears you.
They're big, fat, gutsy, warm and utterly musical. This reviewer has the exact same set-up in his own stage guitar and has never received so many compliments on his sound. The commonest question is: "How do you get so many great tones out of a Tele?"
Well, the Twisted Tele is like the best Strat neck pickup you've ever heard – but sweeter – and the Hot Nocaster is the snarliest thing this side of an angry Rottweiler. In the middle position the two combine to form one of the snappiest rhythm or lead sounds around.
Clean, all the tones are sparkly but fat; add a quality overdrive pedal or crank a good amp's gain control and the monster is certainly unleashed. Turn down the tone pot and your audience could be fooled into thinking you were playing a Les Paul. Don't believe the Tele's quiet good looks; this guitar could be the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing.
It's become something of a ritual of late to rave about new Fender guitars. But it's not hollow praise. This is definitely not just another Tele. Easy as it might be to deride Fender for milking the life out of a relatively small range of designs, the fact that they manage to constantly come up with something so worthwhile with just a tweak here and there is pretty amazing.
Yes, it's quite expensive, but it's a brilliant guitar in its own right. The modern twists on traditional themes bring a half-century-old design right up to date and the pickup choices are simply inspired.
Put the Tele through a great valve amp and you'll witness a thing of true sonic beauty. The only way for to discover if it's right for you is to visit your nearest dealer, try it out and decide for yourself. But we doubt you'll be disappointed.