2020 is a massive year for Fender. It marks 70 years since the launch of a groundbreaking electric guitar design that would soon evolve into the Telecaster.
While there is no shortage of vintage-inspired Telecasters on the market, it would be remiss not to mark the occasion with something special. This one-year-only model reanimates a guitar that was produced by Fender in very limited quantities before Gretsch challenged them over the Broadcaster name in 1951.
You know the rest of the story. The Broadcaster decals were snipped off at the Fender factory, launching the Nocaster period until later in the year the guitar had officially been renamed the Telecaster and a new era for guitars had begun.
Only 250 or so Broadcasters were produced, but with its Butterscotch Blonde ash body, the black pickguard and the ‘ash tray’ bridge (this comes with the removable cover), it looks reassuringly familiar. That it needn't have evolved any in 70 years speaks to how Leo Fender got it right at the first time of asking.
This is the most expensive vintage Telecaster of the US production models. The next stop is at the Custom Shop. This is a special release, of course, so there is some case candy to sweeten the deal. Alongside the ash tray bridge cover you'll find a thin leather strap in the specially embroidered tweed hard case.
There's more. The Broadcaster arrives wired like contemporary vintage Teles but inside the case there is an original Broadcaster wiring kit so you can retrofit the original 'blend' Broadcaster circuit. It's a nice option to have, especially if you really want to get into the headspace of 1950 – and who wouldn't after a year like this?
That said, it's a bit of a fiddle to execute this mod, and the kit, such as it is, comprises one 15kohm resistor that you could get anywhere.
As for the dimensions, the Broadcaster is strictly old-school, with a 7.25" radius maple fretboard on a generously fat U-profile maple neck. That period detail continues with the black phenolic pickguard, the narrow-tall frets and uncompensated brass barrel saddles, right down to the same slot-headed screws that Fender used back in the day.
The serial number is stamped on the bridge plate as per the original models. One difference – and one you certainly wouldn't begrudge Fender – is a commemorative anniversary heel-plate. This, allied to the limited run, makes the Broadcaster a decent prospect for collectors.
As for the pickups, we have Fender Custom Shop Designed ’50-’51 Blackguard single-coils, a 3-position toggle pickup selector with 250kohm master volume and tone pots.
Performance and verdict
The Broadcaster weighs in at a reasonably 7.85lb. A good old lump of wood. You can see the grain under the finish. It's not as yellow as other Butterscotch Blondes we have seen. The neck offers plenty to hang onto, measuring 22.7mm deep at the first fret, 25.5mm at the 12th. Nut width is 41.4mm.
Tall frets can give some the heebie-jeebies but on this lacquered 'board they don't sit out too proud. This feels right all over: it is a comfortable neck. The vintage fretboard radius causing no issues with choking even has we bend notes at various positions up and down the 'board.
While some will buy into this because of the period-correct detail and so forth, or maybe simply because of the novelty of a 2020 special run guitar, but this is for anyone who is looking for a pro-quality US-built vintage Telecaster.
• Fender American Original 50s Telecaster
Big neck, big sound? In this case, yes, even before we plug in there’s a superb ringing sustain. As we said it’s no lightweight either. Sophisticated? No. Raw rock ’n’ roll? It’s the epitome.
• Fender Deluxe Nashville Telecaster
This is a Tele with Nashville in its name and in its tones, but it also translates to a kinds of styles and might just be the most versatile version of the Big F's workhorse super champ we've played.
On the neck pickup, we found some sublime tones. They were more Strat-esque than expected, with some of that harsh Tele treble smoothed off the top, and it makes for a perfect complement to the flat-pole bridge single-coil.
In the bridge position, there is a typically assertive treble response and a fairly hot performance. As you crank the amp this rounds out nicely with a detailed and musical midrange. It will make itself heard in a mix.
Should that treble find itself a little pugnacious for the inner ear, the tone control does a fine job of locating those lower-mid frequencies and housetraining the top end. The Broadcaster is a straightforward plank of wood but it sure has a lot of tone to explore.
Is it an essential purchase? There are alternatives, not least from the American Original Series' 50s Tele, but then the Broadcaster takes the vintage spec that little bit more seriously. Factor in the case candy and X factor that comes from having a special edition Blackguard on your hands, and you could make a very persuasive case for the Broadcaster.
Sure, it's a vintage-style Telecaster, one among many, but there are few things better in life than a vintage-style Telecaster, and this one is pretty darn special.
MusicRadar verdict: A meticulous replica of Fender's first two-pickup production model, the Broadcaster has the 1950 wow factor in its favour and ample Blackguard mojo.
The web says
"It’s a tribute that’s more focused in detail than the decade-specific American Original ’50s Tele and, certainly from our experience of the real thing, gets as close as today’s modern manufacturing and production business model allows. As we said, the Custom Shop version will narrow the gap further but that does come at a more elevated price."
"With its relatively light body, full but not unwieldy neck and rolled fingerboard edges, we feel right at home with the 70th Anniversary Broadcaster. Following a quick intonation adjustment and raising the top E string slightly to cure choke out, we’re pleased to discover a lively and resonant Blackguard that tunes up smoothly and is easy to play."
"It rates as one of the best vintage-style Fenders around and is a fitting tribute to how perfectly right Leo Fender got it the first time. And with ash becoming a rare commodity, it makes a lot of sense to snap up a 70th Anniversary Broadcaster while they’re still available."
- ORIGIN: USA
- TYPE: Single-cutaway solidbody electric
- BODY: Ash
- NECK: Slab-sawn maple, ‘50 Broadcaster ‘U’ profile, bolt-on
- SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
- NUT/WIDTH: Bone/41.84mm
- FINGERBOARD: Maple (neck face), black dot markers, 241mm (9.5”) radius
- FRETS: 21, vintage tall
- HARDWARE: 3-saddle vintage-style strings-through-body Tele with brass barrel saddles, vintage-style split post ‘Fender’ logo’d tuners – nickel/chrome plated
- ELECTRICS: Fender Custom Shop Designed ’50-’51 Blackguard set, 3-position toggle pickup selector switch, individual pickup volume and tone controls
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.57/7.85
- OPTIONS: None
- RANGE OPTIONS: American Original ’50s Telecaster ($1,999 / £1,699)
- LEFT-HANDERS: Yes, American Original ’50s Telecaster ($1,999 / £1,699)
- FINISHES: Blackguard Blonde – all gloss nitrocellulose
- CONTACT: Fender