The Telecaster Hits 60

This year the Fender Telecaster, as the Guardian has half-heartedly told us, has reached the venerable age of 60. Except that it hasn’t, really; the first examples were made in 1949, although the first production guitars surfaced in March 1950, under the “Broadcaster” name. Pickiness aside, the Tele was the first proper solid-body electric guitar, and has been in continual production ever since its introduction.

Everyone from Steve Cropper to Frank Black, Bruce Springsteen to Jeff Buckley, Radiohead to the Rolling Stones played one. Famous for its no-nonsense appeal, consisting of a plank of wood and some metal, without even a nice contoured back to make it comfortable; anyone who wants a reliable workhorse that can sound like it’s being played by a heavenly host of angels, or the devil’s own guitar, depending on who’s grasping it.

The Original And Best

Yeah, the Strat might be more elegant, the Les Paul might be more RAWK, and the PRS might be more bling, but the Tele strips everything down to be just you, some planks, and some wire. There’s no hiding place with a Tele, which partly explains why good guitarists love it so much.

My favourite example of this ability to show a guitarist’s true talents comes during Jeff Buckley’s “Live At Sin-é”. Recorded in a small New York cafe, Jeff plays a borrowed Tele (an early ’90’s Butterscotch Blonde American Standard with a maple neck, I believe), with an amp, a microphone, and some reverb. The results are frankly mind-boggling. Tracks from Grace take on a whole new identity when played solo, and some of the covers are a shining example of how to take a song and make it your own.

Lookin' Moody There, Jeffy Boy

None of which quite prepares you for his cover of Edith Piaf’s “Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin”. Never been convinced of his vocals, even after hearing the likes of “Hallelujah” or “Mojo Pin”? This song will send your heart soaring upward to heaven. Always thought he wasn’t a great guitarist? Only a genius would be able to seemingly play three guitars at once, as he does here, and make it sound so gorgeous. Whilst singing.

This is a song I’d like played at my funeral. Just some wood and metal, but in the right hands, it becomes something transcendent. I don’t think Leo Fender ever thought his baby could sound like this. Happy birthday, Tele.

MP3: Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin by Jeff Buckley

Buy “Complete Live At Sine [2CD + DVD]”

Fender Tele Stuff at Amazon

Or check out the Fender site here.

Note: here’s some video of the Sin-e shows. Not ideal, but this was back in the pre-cheap CCD days.