Julian Lage once performed a whole tour on his Telecaster’s bridge pickup to “settle a bet” with himself

Julian Lage
(Image credit: Steve Thorne/Redferns)

Julian Lage has admitted that he once played a whole tour on his Fender Telecaster’s bridge pickup to prove to himself that he could handle the treble.

Lage was discussing the merits of the Telecaster as a jazz guitar on Rick Beato’s YouTube show, and explained why he typically only uses the Ron Ellis-designed Ellisonic pickup at the neck – even if some of his friends try to get him to use the snappier sounding single-coil at the bridge. Well, it is a case of been there, done that.

“I love it. I did a whole tour once almost to settle a bet, to see if I could do a whole tour on the bridge pickup with my trio,” said Lage. “And on nights one and two, I would go back to my room and my ears would be ringing. ‘This is terrible. No one asked me to do this. It’s a little bit messed up.’ 

“But then, after the first couple of days, I became obsessed, and because all these overtones were coming through these backline amplifiers, and it felt raw, and it felt beautiful.”

If you are lucky enough to catch the jazz guitar phenom live, chances are you will find him with a vintage Telecaster replica made by Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Baños of Nacho Guitars, Valencia. The rig will be simple. There will be a Black Panel Fender Deluxe Reverb, maybe a small pedalboard with a Shin-ei B1G boost pedal and a Strymon Flint reverb/tremolo pedal, too. 

Lage says he built up a resistance to the bridge pickup’s clarity but the experiment was not to be repeated. At least not onstage.

“I kind of built up some nerve around it where I thought, ‘This is great.’ When I came back I couldn’t jump off the diving board again,” he said. “I did it. I proved to myself I could do it. I think I am going to live here [neck pickup] where I have just a little bit more versatility.”

Lage has never been afraid to cut loose and experiment on the electric guitar. In 2021, he told MusicRadar that he taped a stethoscope to the back of his Telecaster because he wanted to hear everything.

“I had to play really quiet because stethoscopes are designed to pick up your heartbeat through your muscles, tissue, blood and everything,” said Lage. “But I wanted to hear what that under a microscope thing was like and it was so revealing. I could only handle it for about a day and then thought, ‘This is abusive!’”

Where some players take fright from a treble, worrying that it’s too bright, Lage makes the case for us dialing in a little more. He will practice on his Telecaster through the bridge pickup, DI’d through the computer with no reverb, no effects to take the edge off. If it sounds good like that, it’ll sound amazing when it is EQ’d.

“I feel like treble is my best friend, and it is rewarding when I use it well, and it is also very revealing – for better or worse – at other times,” he said. “Anything worth playing is worth playing bright.”

The moral of the story? Don’t be afraid of a little treble. It can help you work in a mix, and it can be a great teacher, too.

“I remember hearing Derek Trucks in an interview talking about the importance of making treble your best friend,” said Lage. “Turn it up to 10 on your Fender Twin, which we all know is very bright and loud, and study it.”

You can check out Lage’s conversation with Beato above, in which he shares a very touching story of his father making him a plywood replica of Bruce Springsteen’s Tele when he was four years old. If you are wondering how Lage sounds on a vintage Stratocaster? Well check out this footage of him demoing a 1960 Strat below.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.