Fender Telecaster History
One of the great electric guitar developments of the 20th century was the Fender Telecaster. It is a dual-pickup, solid-body electric guitar made by Fender. The design is pretty simple, however it effectively set trends in popular music and electric guitar manufacturing and music history
The guitar was developed by Leo Fender in Fullerton, California in the 1940s. In the period roughly between 1932–1949, the solid-body electric guitar had been independently created by several craftsman and companies, but none of them made any impact on the market. It was Leo Fender’s Telecaster that finally put the solid-body guitar on the map. Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith was one of the first musicians to use an early version of the guitar known as the Broadcaster to record “Guitar Boogie” in 1947.
In 1943, Fender and his partner, Doc Kauffman, developed a crude wooden guitar to a pickup test rig. Fender got curious, and in 1949, he built a better prototype. This hand-built prototype, almost had all the features of what was to become the Telecaster. It was designed in the spirit of existing solid-body Hawaiian guitars manufactured by Rickenbacker i.e. simple small units made of Bakelite and aluminum with the parts bolted together but all this in wooden construction.
In the autumn of 1950, the earliest version of the Telecaster was introduced for national distribution as the Broadcaster. It was the first guitar of its kind to be produced on a large scale. The commercial production can be traced back to the spring of 1950, when the single and dual-pickup Esquire models were first sold. From then till now, the Telecaster has been in continuous production in some or other manner, thus it can be termed as world’s senior solid-body electric guitar.
Less than fifty guitars were originally produced under the name Esquire models, and most had to be replaced under warranty because of early manufacturing problems caused by the lack of a neck truss rod causing bending in the neck. The single pick up model was discontinued in 1950, and was replaced by the two-pickup model renamed the Broadcaster.
From then onwards truss rods were incorporated to all Fender necks. The name Broadcaster was not to stay though. Gretsch claimed the name Broadcaster violated the trademark for its Broadkaster line of drums. Rather than get embroiled in a legal battle with an established brand, Fender decided to change the name of the guitar. For a short period the guitar had no name, then in 1951 it was renamed the Telecaster. Guitars released in the period that it was unnamed are referred to as Nocaster.
The Telecaster Sound
Thanks to the Telecasters pickup setup, the guitar has a distinctive bright and crisp tone. This is in part because the bridge pickup has more windings than the neck pickup, creating a much higher output. At the same time, between the slider of the volume control and the output a capacitor is fitted, which allows treble sounds to bleed through when the lower and mid ranges are dampened. The guitar’s treble tone is enhanced by a slanting bridge pickup.
The Telecaster was important in the evolution in all forms of popular music, because it could played loudly as a lead instrument owing to its solid construction, if desired, with long sustain and with less of ‘microphonic feedback.’ Despite being more than half a century old, the Telecaster has remained in constant production. It hasn’t stood still though, with many variations of the guitar being developed. However, a model with something close to the original features has always been available to buy.
Famous Telecaster Players
Since Telecaster’s design came about to help ‘working musicians’, many famous guitarists have made it their signature instrument. At first it was the country musicians such as James Burton, Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, Ricky Nelson and Merle Haggard who made it their primary guitar. Danny Gatton blended diverse musical styles using the guitar and became known as the “Telemaster.” During the recording sessions for The Beatles’ Let It Be album, George Harrison used a Rosewood Telecaster on which the sound of the Telecaster was modified by being amplified through a revolving Leslie cabinet speaker. The list also includes Bruce Springsteen, Andy Summers of The Police, Jimmy Page and Joe Strummer to name a few.
Further Reading – Related Links
- Telecaster history at Wikipedia
- Telecaster Forum
- Info on vintage Telecasters
- Your old guitar – video guide to selling a vintage telecaster
Fender Telecaster Sections