I’m as big a fan of vintage guitars as anybody else. I started collecting them more than 40 years ago and have built up a large collection of instruments that I love to play often. But lately I confess that I no longer see much of a need to buy a vintage guitar beyond purely nostalgic reasons. For the last two decades, guitar makers have decoded every detail of what made the original classics truly great and applied that wisdom to guitars being made today. The dark days of poor-quality Seventies guitars are long gone, and today there is an abundance of great guitars with awesome tone and playability on the market, and they’re much more affordably priced than comparable examples on the vintage market.
Fender’s new American Original series is a great example of the recent resurgence of high-quality, affordably priced guitars being built today. These models are incredibly faithful to the original designs and construction of Fender’s most beloved guitars and basses from the Fifties and Sixties. The new American Original ’50s and ’60s Telecasters come so close to a 1952 Telecaster and early Sixties Telecaster Custom, respectively, that they seem like they just emerged from a time capsule in factory-fresh mint condition. While these guitars aren’t 100 percent exact reproductions, the enhancements are subtle and reflect modern playability preferences. Most importantly, Fender’s American Original Teles deliver the coveted, timeless tones that have kept these models desirable and relevant more than 50 to 60 years after their initial introductions.
FEATURES The American Original ’50s Telecaster is a dead-ringer for a 1952 Telecaster, featuring a lightweight ash body, butterscotch blond gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish and 1-ply black phenolic pickguard. Period-correct details abound, including the slot-head hardware and pickguard-mounting screws, round-button string tree, chrome-plated dometop knurled master volume and tone knobs and barrel pickup switch knob. Even the serial number is stamped on the bridge plate instead of the neck plate. The specs of the maple neck are also mostly period-correct, including the single-piece maple construction with contrasting “skunk” stripe truss rod mount inlay, hefty U-shape profile, 25.5-inch scale length, 21 frets and 1.65-inch wide bone nut. Modern upgrades include the flatter 9.5-inch radius (compared to the original 7.25-inch radius) and Vintage Tall frets that have a taller profile than vintage frets to better facilitate string bending.
The pickups on the American Original ’50s Telecaster consist of an uncovered Pure Vintage ’52 Single-Coil Tele bridge pickup with “flat pole” design and Pure Vintage ’52 Single-Coil Tele neck pickup with chrome cover. The pickup wiring is the favored bridge/both/neck configuration with the tone control always available rather than the “blend” or bridge/neck/neck without tone circuits of a vintage ’52 Tele.
The American Original ’60s Telecaster similarly replicates an early Sixties Fender Telecaster Custom with its double-bound alder body, 3-ply “eggshell” pickguard and more colorful gloss nitrocellulose lacquer finish options, which include 3-Color Sunburst, Lake Placid Blue and Fiesta Red. True to a Sixties Tele, the neck has a shallower C-shape profile and round-laminated rosewood fingerboard with pearloid dot inlays. Otherwise, it shares the same specs as the ’50s Telecaster, including scale length and 21 Vintage Tall frets.
Also true to the early Sixties Telecaster, the hardware includes knurled flat-top master volume and tone knobs, a “top hat” pickup switch knob, “butterfly” string tree and “ash tray” bridge with three steel barrel saddles (the American Original ’50s has a similar vintage-style bridge with three brass barrel saddles). Pickups consist of an uncovered Pure Vintage ’64 Gray-Bottom Single-Coil Tele bridge pickup with staggered pole pieces and Pure Vintage ’64 Gray-Bottom Single-Coil Tele neck pickup with chrome cover.
PERFORMANCE The tones of both the ’50s and ’60s Teles nail the classic, coveted sounds of the originals. The ’50s Tele delivers pure, unadulterated twang with punchy, percussive bass and razor-sharp but decidedly not thin treble. The ’60s Tele’s tones are slightly warmer, thanks to the rosewood fretboard and pickups, perfect for jingle-jangle rock rhythms or even smooth singing solos when pushed hard with an overdrive pedal. Best of all, both models deliver these classic tones in immaculate packages, unlike most vintage guitars that may have been subject to decades of abuse or neglect. Fender’s American Original ’50s and ’60s Telecasters offer today’s players a true win-win situation when it comes to classic tones, contemporary playability and down-to-earth prices.
MANUFACTURER: Fender, fender.com
STREET PRICES: $1,799.99 (American Original ’50s Telecaster); $1,999.99 (American Original ’60s Telecaster)
● The American Original ’50s Telecaster is based on Fender’s original 1952 Telecaster design and shares many of the same features, including slot-head screws and brass barrel bridge saddles.
● The American Original ’60s Telecaster replicates an early Sixties Fender Telecaster Custom, including details like its double-bound body and steel barrel bridge saddles.
● Both models feature subtle modern playability enhancements, including a flatter 9.5-inch radius (instead of the original 7.25- inch radius) and Vintage Tall frets.
● The pickup designs for each model accurately reproduce the sounds of pickups from the model’s original era.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fender’s American Original ’50s and ’60s Telecasters come so close to classic coveted vintage Telecasters that there’s no reason to save up for an original vintage model, especially if you need a reliable guitar for playing live.