Trickey, 16 August 2009...
The story begins with me prying open heavy eyelids to find myself in bed (my own, thankfully) surrounded by the wine bottles (and admittedly cider cans) which fuelled my night of fervor. My partner in this sordid tale lies dormant next to me, sleeping soundly. I reach over and use a gentle stroke to awaken the sleeping beauty. The screen of my laptop flickers on and the hard drive yawns sleepily to life, revealing what the two of us got up to last night; an eBay page with a fine example of my latest obsession – the Fender Telecaster.
I’ve been jonesing for one of these ever since I started learning to play. The specimen in front of me is an alder body USA model in cream, with a rosewood fretboard and black scratchplate – a rare combination of woods and colours which also happens to be exactly what I've been looking for. Evidently this was not lost on me last night because a quick check of the stats reveals me to be the highest bidder, beating a rather impressive reserve with a bid that I cannot hope to match with real-life, actual grown up's money (that Monopoly money I've been saving for a rainy day is not going to be any help).
I felt a little sick to be honest with you, although rather secretly pleased that one of these legendary guitars could finally be mine (along with a hefty overdraft extension). You see, in my opinion, a Tele just cannot be beaten. Made 60 years ago by Leo Fender as a rough prototype solid body electric guitar (i.e. it had no cavities inside for which the sound to resonate and be amplified, relying solely on electromagnetic pickups), its design has remained one of, if not the most successful electric guitar design in history, rivaled perhaps only by Gibson’s Les Paul model.
I won’t blast you with tech specs, simply because there aren’t many to give – geared toward mass production, the Telecaster featured a bolt on neck, all-metal adjustable bridge, two single coil pickups and three way selector switch with extremely simple wiring. This made them affordable and also easy to repair (Pete Townshend repeatedly smashed and repaired his long suffering Tele throughout the My Generation tour). Fender, however, did something rather clever: utilizing the bridge pickup (the one nearest where the strings attach to the body of the guitar), he increased its output by winding much more wire into it than at the neck, meaning rich yet trebly sounds dominated the guitar’s tone, accounting for the classic Tele ‘twang’ which has seduced guitar mavericks from Jimi Hendrix to Keith Richards. Don’t be fooled by its unassuming shape and minimalist features, the Tele has never been reticent about its sound. If your guitar was at the prom enjoying a slow dance, the Tele would have no problem cutting in and pranging its way across the dance floor with your axe’s lady friend.
Owing to this signature sound it has been widely used in pretty much all forms of rock music (Jimmy Page wrote Stairway to Heaven on one), grunge (Kurt Cobain loved his powder blue number), blues (Muddy Waters consistently used one) and perhaps best utilised in surf and garage rock of the sixties (not to mention my guitar hero Nicholaus Arson of the Hives, who plays nothing but Tele's and one specially made Telecaster copy, the Arsonette), yet what makes a Tele extra versatile is it’s propensity to be hot-rodded or modified. Humbucking pickups can be added fairly easily for a rounder sound, capacitors can be swapped out to alter the tone; hell, you can even sand off that sunburst finish and spray paint it black like Joe Strummer did with his ’66 model with ease.
If all of this is going over your head, please don’t worry – all you need to know is that Leo Fender created a guitar which, despite the few improvements made on the original model (separate saddles for each string, an extra fret added to the neck), has remained largely the loveable plank that we all know today. My advice is to buy American – cheaper versions are licensed by Fender in Mexico, Japan and Korea, but my two cents would be that you get what you pay for, and you might just end up paying for a wonky neck and inferior wood, which can mean less sustain and all kinds of intonation troubles, tuning issues etc. USA's can usually be picked up for around £500 to £550 whereas a Mexican will go for £250 to £300. If you're really strapped for cash and want a taste however, A Squier copy could be just the thing. Squier is a Fender company licenced to make copies which retail at around £150 and can often be picked up with a practice amp chucked in to boot.
I didn’t end up winning my Tele - some schmuck sniped my bid in the closing seconds, which I suppose I should be grateful for. Having said that, I may grab the Pinot Grigio sat chilling in my fridge and see what kind of ménage-a-trois capers my laptop, eBay and myself can get up to tonight…