"You don't have to spend a lot of money" – Joe Bonamassa explains the keys to more Telecaster tones

Joe Bonamassa
(Image credit: Guitarist / YouTube)

We already know Joe Bonamassa can showcase the versatility of the Les Paul for days, but he's showing the Telecaster plenty of love in Guitarist magazine's new video from his LA Nerdville base that looks like it's built from vintage Fender combos. And there's good news and bad news…

We say bad, it's just a mod you might need to unlock the full potential Joe is illustrating in this video with a 1954 Blackguard Tele. You don't need an uber-valuable vintage Tele like Joe, just vintage Tele wiring – something you can buy as a prewired loom from Stewmac in the US and Monty's in the UK, then install yourself or get a pro to solder a couple of connections for you. 

Joe illustrates the three main tones of a vintage Tele – and he notes that the neck [front] pickup is in the middle position in the selector on his vintage guitar. Then Joe illustrates a fourth sound by 'wedging' the Switchcraft control. But he's just getting started.

They're really the most expressive instrument

He talks through the playing and tone effects of the bridge cover on '50s Teles (that anyone can buy for their ashtray bridge) and showcases Danny Gatton-style volume swells. 

"They're really the most expressive instruments," says Joe. "Leo got it right the very first time. There's something magical about a flat-pole Tele pickup – they'll sting you, they can be as sweet as you want it to be."

And Joe also points out, they're accessible.

"You don't have to spend a lot of money – you can get a Squier Tele, you can put a flat pole reissue [pickup] in it and you can rule the world with it. It really is absolutely the go-to guitar for a lot of players.

"There's a video of Jeff Beck saying you can do anything with it – and he was right."

But the '50s wiring mod does make a big difference too. It changes the way the tone capacitor is wired. The concept of '50s wiring can be applied to Les Pauls, Strats, 335s and most other electric guitars too; changing the interaction between the volume and tone pots to unlock a lot more scope. 

The guitar will sound brighter even as you dial back the volume control to reduce gain through an overdriven amp. The tone control itself also becomes much more responsive and doesn't drop off after a set point in the sweep. I upgraded a Les Paul Junior-style guitar with a 50s wiring harness from James' Home Of Tone and the difference was huge. And oddly, I have a Mexican Fender Duo-Sonic HS that came wired in the '50s style as stock – which is certainly unusual, especially as it's not a vintage reissue. 

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.