If you’ve turned on the radio today or listened to any music via the seemingly endless streaming services available, there’s a very good chance that you’ve heard a Telecaster. Since Leo Fender proudly introduced it in 1950, the Telecaster has to be one of the most heard, most played and most recorded electric guitar in music that predates even rock ‘n roll itself.
First, a little history: the Fender Esquire was released in 1950. It was a simple affair - a solid body electric guitar with one pickup, a bolt-on neck and a single cutaway. It was a radical departure from the hollow body guitars at the time and caused a sensation with the Gibson Les Paul was still two years away. As proved time and again, Leo Fender was a man ahead of his time. The Esquire body went into production with a cavity already routed under the pickguard to add a second pickup later if the customer chose to.
As music was getting louder the solid body eliminated feedback which had plagued guitarists for years and the bolt on neck solved the need for costly refretting. You could buy a new neck as a spare part and screw it on yourself. It was an affordable, tough as nails, working man’s guitar. The Esquire then became the Broadcaster and after a legal battle with Gretsch who were already making drum sets and banjos under the name “Broadkaster” a new name was eventually settled on - the Telecaster.
Almost seventy years later- and after many variations on the original- Fender has released its newest twist on their classic singlecut instrument - the American Ultra Telecaster.
What’s striking is that from afar, it is almost identical to the very first Telecasters produced all those years ago. Alder body, maple neck, same body shape, two pickups, control plate, three-way switch and a volume and tone control, and of course, the classic Fender Telecaster headstock. However, beyond aesthetics there are a few changes from tradition that sets the Ultra apart. You’ll notice that the guitar features 22 frets instead of the traditional 21, allowing for better shredding up the neck, which is also enhanced by the shaved chamber on the four bolt neckplate of the guitar. This makes high fret access so much easier even on the most slippery and sweaty of stages.
Another fantastic new improvement are Fender’s noiseless pickups. The sixty cycle hum caused by single coil pickups have always been a headache both live and in the studio. Many different pickup companies have come up with noiseless replacement pickups, but they now come stock in these American Ultra models, giving freeing players from that incessant buzz that tends to plague these kinds of guitars. There’s also an S1 switch built into the volume control - when the selector switch is in the centre , the S1 can alternate the pickups to work in either series or parallel, allowing for more tonal variations.
The bridge on this new Telecaster also has six saddles instead of the original three. One of the few complaints about the original Telecaster was the three saddle bridge meant that intonation was difficult to achieve without some modifying. Now with the six saddles, perfect intonation is a breeze, and it’s a feature you’ll notice particularly when fretting up and down the satin-finished neck. A contour in the body makes it super comfortable to play both seated and standing, meaning it’ll appeal to players of all styles or ages.
It’s clear that Fender know how much their players savour the Telecaster, and with the American Ultra series, they’ve created one of their finest yet. While on the pricey side, this is an instrument for the professional player, and when utilised effectively, there’s every chance it could be the only guitar you’ll ever need.
Hits and Misses
An extremely comfortable and versatile guitar with one of the best necks I’ve ever played
More tonal variations due to the S1 switch
A little on the pricey side
No left-handed option at this point