10 of the greatest Telecaster tones ever

(Image credit: Neil Godwin/Future)

The Telecaster design evolved from Leo Fender's prototype to being sold in just a couple of years, and 70 years on it's still making history in the hands of players all over the world. And still proving its versatility.

Here's ten moments the Tele played a starring role in the hands of players making history.  

1. Stairway To Heaven – Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)

1959 Fender Standard Telecaster

Jeff Beck gave his then‑Yardbird bandmate Jimmy Page his first Telecaster back in 1966, and the Zeppelin guitarist would later customise it with a dragon motif, coining its name, the ‘Dragon Tele’.

 It was used exclusively on the first Led Zeppelin album in 1968, proving that, in the hands of one of the guitars greatest players, a Telecaster can do a mean Les Paul impression when required. 

But the Dragon’s star moment would come when it was plugged into a Supro amp for its owner’s greatest guitar solo.

2. Jesus Just Left Chicago – Billy Gibbons, ZZ Top (Tres Hombres, 1973)

1952 Fender Telecaster 

More Gibbons

Though tone king Gibbons is synonymous with his Pearly Gates Les Paul, ZZ Top’s third album is his Fender moment, with righteous high gain. And the often purposefully vague Gibbons revealed in Rock + Roll Gearhead that he used a ’52 Broadcaster on this slow blues (although Fender changed the Broadcaster’s name in 1951).

3. Killing In The Name Of – Tom Morello, Rage Against The Machine (Rage Against The Machine, 1992)

1982 American Standard Telecaster 

Morello's RATM guitars

(Image credit: Joby Sessions / Future)

"To me it always sounded right to my ears" 

Proving a Telecaster with single coils (Tom nicknamed his black Standard ‘Sendero Luminoso’) through a Marshall JCM800 can still handle drop D heavy groove riffs with ease, Morello then adds a DigiTech Whammy-assisted solo that’s as revolutionary here as Zach de la Rocha’s lyrical polemic.

4. Me Neither - Brad Paisley (Who Needs Pictures, 1999)

1968 Paisley Telecaster 

Seconds into his up-tempo tongue-in-cheek love song, Paisley twangs himself into the hearts of country picking fans.

His Paisley Tele (of course) goes through 1962 and 1960 Vox AC30s, with a little slapback echo from a Way Huge Aqua-Puss delay.

Paisley truly announces his prowess in the solo duels with the band on this. Immense hybrid picking with snap and bounce aplenty, plus a touch of vintage-style overdrive from the amps.

5. (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay – Steve Cropper, Otis Redding (Single, 1968) 

1963 American Standard Telecaster 

Following the initial initial session playing acoustic on the song he had finished with Redding in Memphis after the singer approached him with its genesis, Stax producer and Booker T guitarist Cropper overdubbed the iconic weaving electric fills on a white Tele through a little Fender Harvard amp.

6. My Iron Lung – Jonny Greenwood, Radiohead (The Bends, 1995)

1992 or 1993 Telecaster Plus 

This tobacco ’Burst Telecaster is the guitar most associated with Greenwood, modified with a coil-split on its Lace Sensor pickups for tonal versatility, as well as a kill switch. 

It’s the use of a DigiTech Whammy’s harmoniser mode one octave up here (while retaining the original note) that give the arpegiatted verses such an otherworldly, robotic feel.

7. The Messiah Will Come Again - Roy Buchanan (Roy Buchanan, 1972)

1953 Fender Telecaster 

A true master of the instrument, Buchanan’s virtuoso Telecaster workouts were hugely influential. This track shows the singing emotion Roy could conjure with his Tele ‘Nancy’; a classically-inspired melody builds tension before 16th-note triplets up the E string in a last third that cries with expression. No effects necessary.

8. Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Brian May, Queen (The Game, 1980)

Fender Telecaster (year unspecified)

More May

(Image credit: IK Multimedia)

In pictures: Brian May's other guitars 

Brian May actually put down his Red Special to use one of Roger Taylor’s natural-wood Telecasters in order to nail the '50s throwback style on this song’s rockabilly solo. 

Its status as a wonderful anomaly is further added to by the fact producer Reinhold Mack put May through an unfamiliar Mesa/Boogie for it.

Both he and Freddie played Teles for the song live – May's was a black 1978 model. 

9. Funky Mama – Danny Gatton (88 Elmira St., 1991)

1990 Telecaster signature 

Gatton's sheer versatility meant he consistently pushed the Telecaster’s tonal capabilities, adjusting his controls on the fly. 

This is a heady dose of rockabilly jazz-blues on a higher plane, with an organ-like rhythm tone thanks to his hybrid picking and tone control towards the end of the live Austin City Limits version even creating a wah effect.

10. Grace – Jeff Buckley (Grace, 1994)

1983 'Top Loader' Telecaster 

Proof of how atmospheric a clean Tele can be with creative chordwork – even in standard tuning – is right here. 

Jeff’s borrowed blonde Tele (now owned by Muse's Matt Bellamy) was loaded with a Seymour Duncan Hot Tele Lead pickup in the bridge position that he added himself. 

The 'Top Loader' part of the '80s model's name refers to the bridge – the strings pass through the bridge only instead of through the body. 

In the studio he opted for the chiming cleans of a rented Fender Vibroverb ’63 reissue with Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier.

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.