More than two decades after rebirthing itself from the ownership of CBS, Fender has itself grown into an enormous, powerful corporation. Now benefiting from two finely honed, huge capacity Stateside production facilities, the big F is nevertheless nimble enough to offer constantly evolving variants on its two favourite guitars.
The Classic Player Baja Telecaster is a Custom Shop-inspired example that hails from the Ensenada factory in Baja California, the northernmost state of Mexico. It's ash body is made up of four attractive sections of a timber that is considered 'best' for fifties-style Teles thanks partly to its appearance and also to its relatively scooped-mid, rich and lively twangin' tone when compared with alder.
The gloss polyester-finished body also has that substantial slabby feel for which Teles are loved and loathed in equal measure. Meanwhile the neck's flatter-than-vintage 9.5-inch radius fingerboard and medium-jumbo frets are a concession to more modern playability.
The fret job is are uniformly tidy and well executed, making the most of the flatter 'board radius for problem-free bends anywhere on the neck. Aesthetically, the fact that the 12th-fret dots are positioned 'wrongly' too close together may be an annoyance to some, but much more importantly, the neck profile is an inviting soft 'V' behind the first couple of frets, although some will find the full-on gloss polyurethane finish a little too thick.
The vintage-style Tele bridge with three brass barrel saddles is considered tonally 'best' for fifties Telecasters. In practice, you could even argue that the intonation fight with this style of bridge is all part of the classic Tele tone and vibe. As it is, only the endlessly fussy will be bothered by intonation niggles.
The Classic Player Baja Telecaster has a lot more going on electronically than its looks might suggest. Under the hood, so to speak, are a Custom Shop 'Twisted' Tele pickup at the neck and a Custom Shop Broadcaster single-coil at the bridge.
Fender doesn't publish any specs on these units, but historically the Broadcaster pickup was a flat-pole design that was more powerful than later Tele pickups, with a strong midrange.
More interestingly the Baja Tele has a four-way blade selector and a discrete push/push switch in the volume pot for Fender's expanded S-1 options. So, positions one and three are always the bridge and neck pickups in isolation, leaving positions two and four to varying combinations of neck and bridge pickups in series, parallel, plus in and out of phase, depending on whether the S-1 is in or out: very neat.
Many players find a Tele bridge pickup just too unruly, but if you've got the guts to attack a Fender Bassman or Marshall 'Plexi' you'll soon realise why so much rock 'n' roll rhythm guitar has come from this very set-up. You can knock the tone back to tame some of the high end with more drive, or simply dive in loud and proud for anything from country spank to searing Buchanan-inspired leads.
The Baja Telecaster has a wide tonal palette. Straight out of the bridge or neck pickups it delivers credible Tele attitude. Things get more interesting when you explore positions two and four, where both pickups in series (position four, S-1 up) gives a big, fat powerhouse of a tone that brings to mind a hint of Brian May.
Hit the S-1 switch and whole thing hollows out completely, the bottom end dropping away to an out-of-phase sound. Position two does a similar thing, this time with the pickups in parallel for what you'd always think of as the standard in-between Telecaster tone.
Whether the out-of-phase sounds (which are essentially what the S-1 switch brings) have a place in your music is for you to decide, but the extra option of the two pickups in series - thanks to the four-way - is undoubtedly a winner.
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