|Some of my 'kids'. Lots of hot-rodded Telewhackery going on here!|
It's been said that a Tele can sound like anything but nothing sounds like a Tele. This is pretty much true. Tonally, it can cover any and all ground a guitarist could want. It's a totally utilitarian instrument, which given my political bent could be one of the many things that attracted me to it. It's basically a slab of wood with a neck and pickups. The bolt-on neck can be easily replaced or removed. In this day and age, that makes it perfect for the travelling musician. Take the neck off, put both pieces in your luggage and you can pretty much fly worry-free (provided the airline doesn't lose your luggage).
When Leo Fender and Doc Kauffman built a crude prototype in 1943, the demand from local country pickers told them they were on to something big. Many manufacturers had been trying to come up with an amplified guitar but the successes were few and far between. When Leo & Co. came up with the Esquire, and later the Broadcaster (which due to legal hassles had to be renamed) the legendary Telecaster was born.
I know a lot of guitarists who have issues with the Tele. I'll wager that this is due to one simple reason: They don't understand the techniques involved with getting a Tele to sound the way they want. Like I stated, it's a workhorse of an instrument. You can get out of it whatever you want...but you have to know how.
This is no slight to any picker's playing abilities. This is more a tribute to the brilliance of the Tele, both literally and figuratively. The Tele, by nature, can be an almost overwhelmingly bright/trebly instrument. It will give more twang than you'll ever need. The neck pick-up is often described as "creamy" sounding. Having been playing Teles since 1981, allow me to give you the #1 trick to a good tone on a Tele: Start with the tone knob rolled about halfway back. It wouldn't hurt to roll the volume knob back a bit as well, giving you the ability to raise your volume during a solo. Do these two things, set your amp and GO!
Great for rhythm or lead, the Tele is all ya need! The neck is designed for play-ability with ease of access to the upper frets. This is something most younger pickers will take for granted, Nowadays, even most acoustic guitars have a cutaway body. I remember when I first started playing guitar on an old Silvertone classical. Getting past the 12th fret took some real work! The design of the Tele neck makes is easy to play anywhere on the neck. Sure, one can go down the rabbit hole of which Tele neck shape, radius, etc. is 'best'...but that's up to each player.
Some of the best players on the planet have all used Teles...at least at some point. Danny Gatton, considered by those who know, to be the best there ever was, originally hated Teles. He was more into Gibsons. He started out with big ol' hollowbodies and was often seen playing a Les Paul...until he found the right Tele. Look the story up. I won't go into it here...suffice to say, few have achieved the level of mastery that Danny did with a Tele.
Not being a guitarist, Leo Fender managed to create the awesome instrument...but there are a few tweaks players may want to do to their Tele. The #1 is one shown to me by Bill Kirchen (one of the baddest Telewhackers out there!). He flips the control plate around. This puts the volume and tone knobs in closer proximity to the picking hand, making it easier to access them for on-the-spot changes as needed. Utilizing these techniques on a Tele, the player can (and often will) modify volume and tone with some frequency during a song.
I'm a fan of brass and silicon nuts on my guitars. The brass gives a little more sustain, although some may argue that. It's always worked for me. The silicon nuts (and saddles) also help reduce string breakage.
I rarely use stomp boxes but for those that like them, a Tele will respond to them as well if not better than most guitars...and still retain it's twang.
If you're a working guitarist, you should probably have a Tele in your arsenal. If you're just a bedroom picker, you just might want one simply because they're cool. The best part, you don't have to pay a fortune for a good one. I just bought yet another Tele. A Mexican-made* one. Even with Custom Shop Nocaster pickups it was under $350. Sure, you spend a grand or more on one...but you don't have to. If you like spending extra money, go for it. Just realize you don't have to.
I'll leave you with some prime Telewhacking, courtesy of The Twangbangers.
* Which would you prefer? A Telecaster made in Mexico by Mexicans or a Telecaster made in the US...by Mexicans. ;-)