What is it?
The 1970s were not kind to Gibson. They weren't kind to Fender, who were under CBS's ownership and scaling back on quality to satisfy the beancounters. The electric guitar suffered.
Time can be the great healer, though, and a half-century on people are reevaluating Fender's 1970s models and finding some things to like – certainly on the design front. If corners were cut in production, many of the designs hold up, and reworked by today's Fender, they are very different beasts indeed.
The American Original series is exactly that. It's a US-built line, and it takes the original spec of guitars of yore and reanimates it for today. And when it comes to guitars such as this '70s Telecaster Custom, we should all be glad of that.
There are two blasts from the past here. First, we've got the Cunife Wide Range humbucker returning after some 40 years out of production. The originals were designed by Seth Lover, but Cunife – an alloy of copper, nickel and iron – magnets was hard to source and Fender and everyone else used alternatives.
Bringing it back involved no little investment but now we have this Tele and a handful of Custom Shop instruments offering the a Wide Range humbucker that's wound to the original specifications.
Indeed, the American Original series is as close as you'll get to "Old Fender" without stepping up your budget and petitioning the Custom Shop. That's not to say that it's period-correct; Fender has wisely appraised its 70s output with a cool head and where improvements could be made, they have made them.
Gone is the slab ash body. Indeed, Fender is moving away from ash right now due to a dearth of resources, and what they could harvest is far too heavy. This alder-bodied Tele Custom is not light but more than manageable. The finish is nicer than the original '70s models, too, with that overly thick and nasty poly nixed in favour of a meticulous, crisp nitro finish.
Ideas once executed badly have been revisited and put right. The three-bolt neck joint, the Tilt neck, the bullet tross rod adjustor, the shape, all this can and has been fixed. Adjusting the truss rod is a breeze. The Micro-Tilt feature is just as you'd find it in the American Professional range and on the Acoustasonics.
Elsewhere, the Fender-branded tuners and slot head posts reprise the vintage vibe but they are totally functional. No complaints here. While the Vintage Blonde finish has an ever-so-translucent quality. This is a handsome guitar.
Controls-wise, you've got two volume, two tone, a three-way selector mounted on the shoulder. Under the hood you'll find 1meg-ohm volume pots and 250k tone pots, all CTS.
Performance and verdict
Fender might have nailed the '70s vibe here but, more importantly, they've nailed the build. The neck has a lovely feel, with the frets wide enough to lean into big bends. Out of the case, the setup is impressive, too, with a set of 9s just on the right side of decadent on a guitar like this.
We hear a lot of necks being described as a medium C profile, but this feels archetypically medium C, measuring 21.5mm at the first fret and filling out a little to 22.6mm. That's slinky in anyone's book. The 9.25" fretboard radius might upset some purists jonesing for the curvature of the 7.25" 'boards of yore, but it feels more appropriate for the slim neck. No one's going to heckle you for having a flatter 'board.
• Fender American Performer Telecaster Hum
Players like a neck humbucker on a Tele for a number of reasons. Blues noodles like the warmth and sustain, Jazzers the depth in their comping, and rockers love the grunt. This guitar also features the Fender Greasebucket tone circuit which allows you to roll off the treble without adding bass.
• Fender Vintera Telecaster Modified
A go-to choice for players seeking a vintage Fender on a budget. The Vintera series is Mexican-built, incredible value, and this Tele is a doozy.
Does the '70s Telecaster Custom pack the heat of classic models? Absolutely. That bridge single coil has a gnarly treble, a trademark precision and a worthy playmate of the Wide Range humbucker. It more than holds its own.
Now, Cunife pickups are notoriously difficult to find low end in, so they require over-winding to get the desired bass in their tone. That's why the 9.97k DCR reading is so high. Yet it never feels like an over-heated. There's a PAF quality there, albeit with that fast, insistent voice that makes the Tele, well, a Tele.
In the middle position, there are so many usable tones. This is where we spent most of our time, and compared with a dual single-coil Tele, the mix position has a little more oomph in the low-end, a little more weight. Compare to the Tele Deluxe's 'bucker, the Wide Range humbucker offers more clarity, and shows up well through a fuzz pedal.
2020 is the year of the 70th Anniversary Broadcaster reissue. After all, they will only be produced for this year only. But if you are in the market for a vintage-style Telecaster, give this a spin first. It will make you see those '70s designs in a whole new light – because of this, it doesn't so much feel like a reissue but a second chance, the finished draft we were meant to play. Fifty years later, it was worth the wait.
MusicRadar verdict: A triumphant return for the Wide Range humbucker, a triumphant example of a '70s Tele Custom... This is a versatile workhorse that offsets its blue-collar bona fides with a premium feel and tone.
The web says
"Fender have clearly been tenacious in their approach to crafting this superb ‘70s Custom reissue. It is a tonal chameleon, and excels at providing a wide range of sonic landscapes that other guitars just can’t. At this stage, it’s probably not within everyone’s price range"
- ORIGIN: USA
- TYPE: Single-cutaway solidbody electric
- BODY: Ash
- NECK: Maple, ‘Medium C’ profile, bolt-on w/ Micro-Tilt
- SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
- NUT: Bone
- FINGERBOARD: Maple, black dot markers, 241mm (9.5”) radius
- FRETS: 21, vintage tall
- HARDWARE: Vintage-style strings-through- body Tele bridge with plain steel rod saddles, Vintage ‘F’-stamped tuners – nickel/chrome plated
- ELECTRICS: Fender Vintage-Style ’70s single coil Tele (bridge), Tim Shaw Authentic Cunife Wide Range humbucker (neck), 3-position toggle pickup selector switch, individual pickup volume and tone controls
- OPTIONS: Rosewood fingerboard (3-Color Sunburst only)
- RANGE OPTIONS: Other Teles in the American Original range: ’50s Tele (£1,699); ’60s bound Tele with rosewood ’board (£1,749); '60s Telecaster Thinline (£1,879)
- LEFT-HANDERS: Yes, ’50s Tele Butterscotch Blonde only (£1,699)
- FINISHES: Vintage Blonde (as reviewed), Mocha, 3-Color Sunburst – gloss nitrocellulose
- CONTACT: Fender