Bruce Springsteen on his iconic $180 'Born to Run' Fender Tele/Esquire: "It's been in every club, theater, arena and stadium across America"

Bruce Springsteen has given guitar fans some rare insight into his beloved "mutt" Fender Esquire/Telecaster, which has been his number one guitar since he bought it five decades ago.

During a recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert promoting Renegades - co-authored with Barrack Obama - Springsteen took the opportunity to talk about the treasured Tele that famously graces the cover of his masterpiece album, Born To Run.

"I've played this guitar for 50 years. I bought it when I was 22 years-old for $185 on Highway 34, I think, in Belmar, New Jersey from a great guitar man named Phil Petillo, and I've had it ever since.

It's kind of a Mutt, it's made-up of two different guitars. But this guitar has been in every club, theater, arena and stadium across America, and most of the world. So it's been around a bit."

Colbert asks, "It's not the only guitar you play in-concert though, right? What does it feel like when you go from another guitar to this one?" To which Springsteen answered, "Well, this feels like my arm. If I have this guitar, it's like I don't have anything on. This became an extension of my body. Anything else I pick up, it's a guitar…But i don't play it much on stage these days because I sort of put it out to pasture, it's done so much good work for me.

As noted, Springsteen's "mutt" is made from an Esquire neck and a swamp ash Telecaster body, which had reportedly undergone many modifications prior to Springsteen purchasing the instrument.

According to Fender, the guitar was previously owned by a record company, and was reportedly loaded with four pickups, designed to be plugged direct into a studio desk in order to enable session guitarists to earn four times their fee by performing four different-sounding guitar tracks on a song. 

This modification meant that the guitar had been heavily routed to accommodate the additional magnets, making the guitar incredibly light. Petillo reverted the guitar to a dual-single coil design with a six-saddle bridge, and also installed his trademark, triangular Petillo Precision frets in the neck.   

The guitar was Springsteen's go-to instrument for nearly every performance throughout his career until, as he said, it was retired from the road in the mid-2000s. However, the guitar has made multiple appearances on The Boss' album covers. Aside from Born To Run, it graced the sleeve of his live compilation, Live: 1975-1085, as well as 2021's Wrecking Ball.

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.