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Think about it. When the Fender Telecaster was born, Elvis Presley was a schoolboy; rationing was still a reality in post-war Britain; and the Queen's old man, King George VI, was on the throne. Yet, here we are, 70 years later, whittling down the substantial number of models in the latest Fender catalogue to the 10 best Telecasters for your consideration.
Not counting the numerous Custom Shop models on offer, there are currently 36 Telecaster models available across the Fender and Squier brands. Priced from a couple of hundred sheets to over two grand, the intrepid enquirer will encounter Telecasters spec'd with a variety of tone woods, neck shapes, and pickup outputs. In other words, there's a Tele for everyone. Allow us to help you bag the one that's right for you.
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Best Telecasters: the history
Leo Fender wasn't a guitar player. He approached the creation of a new style of electric guitar as an inventor and engineer. Genius move one: he chose a solid body to counter the feedback problems inherent in the big hollow Jazz guitars that were all the go in the late 1940s. Genius move two: Leo's new guitar was designed with a removable neck so that a replacement could be ordered if the original was damaged, or the frets wore out. Now he was really on fire: the new guitar was lightweight yet practically indestructible. Punters also got two electric guitar pickups, and volume and tone controls that lay within easy reach.
By 1950, Fender had launched the single pickup Esquire guitar and the two-pickup Broadcaster. In an anecdote oft repeated, Gretsch objected to the use of the name Broadcaster. It sold a drum kit marketed as the Broadkaster. Never one to waste a thing, Leo snipped the Broadcaster part off of his headstock logos to produce the '51 era guitars Tele geeks describe as "Nocasters". By 1952, Fender settled on the name Telecaster for its two pickup solid body. It's been in production ever since.
What is the best Telecaster right now?
With the recent demise of the much-loved Classic Player Baja Telecaster, that void has been filled by the Mexican-built Vintera Series guitars. There are a few models available split into vintage correct and modern spec "modified" formats. Our personal favourite is the '60s Telecaster Bigsby with its slim neck and iconic vintage style vibrato.
Let's say your piggy bank has a bit more meat on its bones, you might want to consider the 70th Anniversary Broadcaster. This exquisite tone machine replicates the original 1950 guitar down to its body shape, fingerboard radius, and pickup spec. You also get the big "U" profile neck that is way easier to handle than you'd imagine. More on that in a bit.
Buying the best Telecaster for you
A great Fender Telecaster should sound the business before you even plug it into a guitar amp. Give one a good old strum and expect loads of sustain and a bright tone. If it sounds good acoustically it should be a winner when you amplify the thing. Remember that two identical Teles can sound and feel very different so it pays to paw at a few examples.
Early '50s spec models will have maple fingerboards which add to the guitar's inherent brightness. Notes will sound snappy. Later '50s and '60s style models generally come loaded with warmer sounding rosewood 'boards. Sub-$/£1,000 examples are now supplied with rosewood substitutes like Pau Ferro and Indian Laurel. These timbers look a bit like rosewood but can sound as bright as maple due to their hardness.
Speaking of wood. Fender recently announced that it is phasing out ash on its production guitars. Many Telecaster fiends regard ash, more specifically swamp ash, as the ultimate Tele body wood. We like it too but love alder just as much. In fact, alder works better for rock stuff in our opinion. Anyway, if you want an ash bodied Tele you might want to get a wriggle on.
Before we move on, the other big deal in Tele circles is neck size. '50s Broadcasters, Nocasters and Telecasters, and most of their reissues, feature huge necks. This beef was reduced gradually as the '50s rolled on from a V profile mid-decade to a rounder C shape around '58 when rosewood fingerboards were introduced. By 1963, slim C necks were all the rage before a slightly fatter profile was phased in around 1965. The most common neck size available today is the Modern C. This shape should accommodate most players but be sure to slap a bunch of different neck profiles in your palm.
The best Telecasters you can buy right now
1. Squier Affinity Telecaster
The guitar the term "bang for your buck" was invented for...
Price: $229/£219/€188 | Body: Poplar With Gloss Polyurethane Finish | Neck: Maple With Satin Urethane Finish, Bolt-on | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Indian Laurel Or Maple | Frets: 21 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: 2 x Standard Single Coil Tele | Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone, Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch | Hardware: Chrome Six-Saddle Hardtail With Cast Saddles, Standard Die-Cast Tuners | Left-handed: Yes. Natural Only (With Maple Fingerboard) | Finish: 2-Colour Sunburst, Arctic White, Black, Butterscotch Blonde (With Maple Fingerboard); Competition Orange, Race Green, Race Red, Slick Silver (With Indian Laurel Fingerboard)
Don't assume that the Squier Affinity Telecaster's bargain basement price means you're missing out on great tone. This guitar follows the classic Fender blueprint and, as any Tele freak will tell you, often it's the cheapest examples that can surprise you with great tone and feel.
First impressions are convivial thanks to an easy to love slim C profile neck, coated in a satin urethane finish to avoid a sticky situation when your palm gets sweaty. 21 medium jumbo frets and a modern 9.5" fingerboard radius make for a low action (aka string height) and slinky string bending.
The Affinity is available in a bunch of cool finishes, with a choice of maple and Indian laurel 'boards. It's also one of the few Teles that comes in a left-handed format, albeit in a natural finish/maple 'board only edition.
2. Squier Classic Vibe '70s Telecaster Deluxe
Better made than sine vintage originals...
Price: $449/£369/€366 | Body: Poplar With Gloss Polyurethane Finish | Neck: Maple With Tinted Gloss Urethane Finish, Bolt-on | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Maple With Tinted Gloss Urethane Finish | Frets: 21 Narrow Tall | Pickups: 2 x Fender Designed Wide-Range Humbuckers | Controls: 2 x Volume, 2 x Tone, Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch | Hardware: Nickel Vintage Style Strings-Thru-Body Tele With Chrome Barrel Saddles, Vintage Style Tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Black, Olympic White
As great as the Squier Affinity is for the price, the brand's Classic Vibe Series offers a significant jump in spec and feel for not much more money and is one of the best Telecasters if you’re on a tight budget. In the case of this '70s Telecaster Deluxe, you also get a lovely big slice of vintage cool on the side.
This is the Tele you buy if you like classic rock stuff. The Wide-Range humbuckers offer great note separation and clarity no matter how intense the distortion gets. Controls are more Gibson like with two volumes, two tones and a three-way pickup selector toggle switch.
A slim C profile neck makes this guitar even easier to love. We also appreciate the vintage feel of the 21 narrow tall frets and a proper gloss urethane finish. All in all, this is just about the coolest looking budget guitar you'll find under $/£500.
Still the best value for money Tele...
Price: $699/£599/€569 | Body: Alder With Gloss Polyester Finish | Neck: Maple With Satin Urethane Finish, Bolt-on | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Maple With Gloss Urethane Finish | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: 2 x Fender Player Series Tele Single Coil | Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone, Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome Six-Saddle Strings-Thru-Body Tele Bridge With Steel Block Saddles, Standard Cast/Sealed Tuners | Left-handed: Yes. 3-Colour Sunburst, Black, Butterscotch Blonde (With Maple Fingerboard); Polar White (With Pau Ferro Fingerboard) | Finish: 3-Colour Sunburst, Aged Natural, Black, Butterscotch Blonde, Capri Orange, Polar White, Tidepool (With Maple Fingerboard); 3-Colour Sunburst, Polar White (With Pau Ferro Fingerboard)
The Player is arguably the Tele that offers the best value for money. For a smidgen under $700/£600 you get a well spec'd, giggable tone machine with classic looks and modern playability. The latter is fuelled by the combination of a Modern C profile neck and 9.5" radius fingerboard, not to mention 22 medium jumbo frets.
If you're all about the classic two single coil Tele layout then you'll be more than happy here. The Player Series single coils pump out all the jingle jangle you can handle. That said, there is a two humbucker loaded version available for those looking for a bit more grunt. Also available soon is a Limited Edition Player with two Fender Custom Shop '51 Nocastet single coils in Butterscotch Blonde. That should be a bit tasty.
Read the full Fender Player Telecaster review
The Tele that thinks it's a Strat...
Price: $825/£829/€799 | Body: Alder With Gloss Polyester Finish | Neck: Maple With Satin Urethane Finish, Bolt-on | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Maple With Satin Urethane Finish Or Pau Ferro | Frets: 22 Narrow Tall | Pickups: Fender Vintage Noiseless Single Coil Tele (Bridge/Neck), Fender Vintage Noiseless Single Coil Strat (Middle) | Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone, Five-Way Pickup Selector Switch | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome Sux-Saddle String-Thru-Body Tele Bridge With Steel Block saddles, Deluxe Sealed Locking Tuners With Vintage Buttons | Left-handed: No | Finish: 2-Colour Sunburst, White Blonde (With Maple Fingerboard); Daphne Blue, Fiesta Red (With Pau Ferro Fingerboard)
The Telecaster owns country music. No Nashville session ace would dare enter a studio in Music City without a Tele. Often these players would customise their guitars to extract the maximum amount of tonal variation. That's what the Fender Deluxe Nashville Telecaster is all about.
Fender has added a middle pickup and a five-way pickup selector switch to allow this Tele to produce Strat-like "in-between" tones. Basically, we’re talking about the combination of bridge/middle or neck/middle sounds that Strat players like Jimi Hendrix loved. The pickups are Fender Noiseless models which offer classic tones with reduced hum, something that studio musicians, producers and engineers will appreciate.
Read the full Fender Deluxe Nashville Telecaster review
5. Fender Vintera '60s Telecaster Bigsby
The best Telecaster with built-in wiggle room...
Price: $999/£879/€845 | Body: Alder With Gloss Polyester Finish | Neck: Maple With Gloss Urethane Finish, Bolt-on | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Pau Ferro | Frets: 21 Vintage | Pickups: 2 x Vintage Style '60s Single Coil Tele | Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone, Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome Six-Saddle Jaguar Style Bridge And Licensed Bigsby B-50 Vibrato, Vintage Style Tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: 3-Colour Sunburst Only
The Telecaster and Bigsby vibrato have been mates since the early 50s. The iconic whammy bar was designed by inventor and motorcycle engineer Paul A Bigsby. He also built guitars that happened to feature headstocks with the tuners all on one side. Just like Fender but Bigsby got there first. We'll leave that there...
The Mexican-built Vintera '60s Bigsby features some distinctly vintage specification. The C profile neck has a 7.25" fingerboard radius and 21 vintage frets. That means you don't get quite the same low action as a modern 9.5" radius but it's still a great neck to play. In keeping with its '60s vibe the neck has a gloss finish but where you'd expect to find a rosewood 'board we get the more eco friendly Pau Ferro. The package is completed by a smooth operating Licensed Bigsby B-50 wiggle stick, natch.
A proper American Tele with a bit more attitude
Price: $1,149/£1,049/€1,045 | Body: Alder With Satin Polyurethane Finish | Neck: Maple With Satin Urethane Finish, Bolt-on | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Maple Or Rosewood | Frets: 22 Jumbo | Pickups: Fender Yosemite Single Coil Tele (bridge), Fender Performer Double Tap Humbucker (Neck) | Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone With Greasebucket Circuit, Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome Vintage Style Strings-Thru-Body Tele Bridge With Brass Barrel Saddles, Fender Classic Gear Tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: 3-Colour Sunburst, Vintage White (With Maple Fingerboard); Satin Surf Green, Aubergine (With Rosewood Fingerboard)
The Performer Telecaster Hum is the lowest price American-built model in the current Fender catalogue. What's "hum"? Well, this guitar features a humbucker in the neck position, just the way Keith Richards likes it. We should point out that the American Performer Telecaster is also available in a traditional, two single coil layout at the same price.
Players like a neck humbucker on a Tele for a number of reasons. Blues noodles like the warmth and sustain it can produce. Jazzers enjoy the depth it adds to their comping stuff. Rockers like the grunt it produces. This guitar also features the Fender Greasebucket tone circuit which allows you to roll off the treble without adding bass. That means you retain Tele clarity when you want to soften the Tele's trademark top end.
Read the full Fender American Performer Telecaster Hum review
7. Fender American Original '70s Telecaster Custom
A classic returns, in much better shape...
Price: $1,899/£1,789/€1,899 | Body: Alder With Gloss Nitrocellulose Finish | Neck: Maple With Gloss Nitrocellulose Finish, Bolt-on | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Maple With Gloss Nitrocellulose Finish Or Rosewood | Frets: 21 Vintage Tall | Pickups: Fender Vintage Style '70s Single Coil Tele (bridge), Fender Tim Shaw Authentic CuNiFe Wide-Range Humbucker (Neck) | Controls: 2 x Volume, 2 x Tone, Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome Vintage Style Tele With Slotted Steel Saddles, Fender Vintage F-Stamped Tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: 3-Colour Sunburst (With Rosewood Fingerboard) Mocha, Vintage Blonde (With Maple Fingerboard)
The '70s Telecaster Custom is one of the sexiest electric guitars ever made. Slung low around a cadaverous Keith Richards' shoulders it became a sought after classic despite being made during Fender's worst decade for quality control. Some examples weighed over ten pounds and had unnecessarily thick finishes.
The American Original improves on the '70s made model with a gloss nitrocellulose finish for the neck and body. One thing the original guitars did well was tone and this reboot captures that with a great sounding bridge single coil and an accurate remake of the iconic Fender Wide-Range humbucker, the latter perfected by pickup guru Tim Shaw. Yes, a lot of love went into creating this reissue. It's just a shame there isn't a black with maple 'board option like Keef's...
The 21st century Tele has arrived
Price: $1,899/£1,899/€1,999 | Body: Alder Or Ash With Gloss Polyurethane Finish | Neck: Maple With Satin Urethane (Gloss Urethane On Headstock Face), Bolt-on | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Maple Or Rosewood | Frets: 22 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: 2 x Ultra Noiseless Vintage Tele Single Coils | Controls: Master Volume With S-1 Switch, Master Tone, Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome Six-Saddle American Tele With Chromed Brass Saddles, Deluxe Locking Tuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Arctic Pearl, Cobra Blue, Mocha Burst, Ultraburst (With Maple Fingerboard); Texas Tea, Ultraburst (With Rosewood Fingerboard)
The new Ultra is as far away from a vintage spec Tele as you can get. This is the Telecaster hot rodded for players that want bang up to date tone and playability. For example, the rear of the body is contoured to allow easy access to the top frets. There's a 10" to 14" compound radius fingerboard to allow for the lowest possible action above the 12th fret, and easy chording in the open positions.
A pair of Ultra Noiseless Vintage single coils offer up classic tones without the background hum and there's the Fender S-1 circuit to switch between series and parallel modes for increased tonal variety. Figure in the locking tuners and a Modern D neck profile and you've got one of the best performing Teles ever made.
Read the full Fender American Ultra Telecaster review
9. Fender 70th Anniversary Broadcaster
The electric guitar that started it all...
Price: $1,999/£2,009/€2,199 | Body: Ash With Blackguard Blonde Nitrocellulose Finish | Neck: Maple With Gloss Nitrocellulose Finish, Bolt-on | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Maple With Gloss Nitrocellulose Finish | Frets: 21 Vintage Tall | Pickups: Fender Custom Shop Hand-Wound '50-'51 Blackguard Single Coil (bridge), Fender Custom Shop Designed '50-'51 Blackguard Single Coil | Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone, Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome Three-Saddle Vintage Style Strings-Thru-Body Tele Bridge With Brass Barrel Saddles, Vintage StyleTuners | Left-handed: No | Finish: Blackguard Blonde
Now you're talking! This is the Telecaster as Leo Fender originally envisioned it, right down to the Broadcaster decal on the headstock. This is the guitar most Tele junkies consider is the greatest spec ever. A lightweight ash body, the baseball bat "U" profile neck, the 7.25" fingerboard radius.
The idea of a big neck can be intimidating but many players forget all that when they've spent some time handling one. The reward is great tone and sustain, and you're less likely to suffer hand cramps than you will on a skinny modern neck profile. At the current price, this anniversary model is significantly more affordable than a Custom Shop version, but like those guitars it proves just how 'right' Leo and his team got it first time around.
10. Fender Parallel Universe Volume II Tele Mágico
It just got weird, man
Price: $2,299/£2,279/€2,499 | Body: Semi-Hollow Ash With Gloss Urethane Finish | Neck: Maple With Satin Urethane Finish, Bolt-on | Scale: 25.5" (648 mm) | Fingerboard: Flame Maple With Gloss Urethane Finish | Frets: 21 Medium Jumbo | Pickups: Fender Custom Designed Gold Foil Single Coils | Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone, Three-Way Pickup Selector Switch | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome Custom Cut-Off Tele Bridge With Brass Saddles, Gotoh Tuners With Pearl Buttons | Left-handed: No | Finish: Transparent Daphne Blue, Transparent Surf Green
And now for something completely different. Fender's second run of Parallel Universe models continues the theme of guitars that could have happened over the last 70 years, but didn't. The Tele Magico features a semi-hollow Thinline body, a flame maple neck with a soft V to C profile, and a Gibson spec 12" fingerboard.
This is a pretty guitar but the real beauty lies in the "Gold Foil" single coil pickups. Back in the 60s, Japanese manufacturers flooded the west with cheap guitars based on Fender designs. Many of these guitars had pickups with gold foil tops. Now, while the guitars weren't particularly great quality, the pickups produced a bright punchy tone that connoisseurs like roots legend Ry Cooder loved. These pups were often plundered and installed in better quality guitars. That's what Fender has replicated on this pumped Telecaster. It's yet another new twist on a guitar that's been around for 70 years.