Here at Mixdown, we’ve used just about every single description under the sun to characterise the tried and true Telecaster. Workhorse, versatile, all-purpose, the list goes on. It’s not a big secret that the Telecaster sells itself on its adaptability and lack of gimmicks; it’s incredibly honest – two pickups and three-way switching. Simply plug in and you’re ready to rock.
Fender’s new Vintera series harkens back to the days of old when the Telecaster was duly making its rounds around town. Ranging from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, the Vintera series aims to reintroduce vintage style for a modern era, accented with differentiating characteristics between each model. The three contenders up for review include a ‘60s Telecaster Bigsby, and two ‘70s models: A Telecaster Custom and a Thinline variant.
Before breaking down each model, let’s go through their similarities. The trio are made in Mexico and feature a vintage-correct 7.25” neck radius, vintage narrow-tall frets, a gloss-polyester body finish, and a gloss-urethane neck finish. While the Bigsby-equipped Telecaster’s “early ‘60s C-shape” neck differs from the other two “thin C” shapes on paper, they generally feel pretty similar in the hand. Oh, and these are fully traditional vintage Telecaster body shapes – none of the Stratocaster-esque modern belly cutouts exist on these guitars.
Let’s begin with the ‘60s Telecaster-Bigsby model. After Fender acquired the Bigsby brand from Fred Gretsch Enterprises in January 2019, it seems the iconic bridge piece is no longer restricted to special runs or limited editions. This guitar arrived in a classy semi see-through blonde/white, loaded with the classic double singlecoil configuration. Without question, this guitar is the heaviest out of the three. Even its ash body couldn’t compensate for the hefty Bigsby B5 bridge and tailpiece installation.
As for electronics, Fender describes these pickups as “vintage-style ‘60s singlecoils”. While the front pickup had plenty of presence, it felt slightly neutered overall, and lacked some much-needed definition in the mid-high frequencies. The middle selection offered plenty of funky quacks, and the bridge positively dripped with that trademark Tele twang. The Pau Ferro fretboard played mostly slick, but some areas felt drier than others – especially leading up towards the neck. While these issues were minor, it wasn’t long until I ran into my first complication. Even after repeated string stretching and tuning, the factory machine heads struggled to keep the treble strings in tune with liberal use of the Bigsby vibrato bar. It’s understandable that tuners are a common area where costs are cut, but if your axe is loaded with a Bigsby, going out of tune mid-song is the last thing you’d ever want.
Next in line is the semi-hollow ‘70s Telecaster Thinline, which weighed like a feather after putting down the Bigsby-equipped Tele. This guitar came in a supremely attractive aged natural finish, allowing the beautiful ash grain to peek through. It’s combined with a white pearloid pickguard, moulded in a unique fashion that compliments the F-hole on its left face. The Telecaster Thinline variant features a six-saddle Strat-style hardtail bridge and an all-maple neck and fretboard.
This guitar played remarkably well. While the glossy fretboard required (and still requires) some time to break in, no fault can be placed on the quality of the finish itself. The neck generally played smooth all over, and the fretwork atop the maple board was impeccable. There were no rough edges or fret buzz whatsoever – any guitar player can appreciate a good set up right out of the box.
The dual Wide Range humbuckers on this axe were a match made in heaven. The neck humbucker filled in the gaps missing from the ‘60s Telecaster’s neck pickup, and produced a certain airiness often missing from front humbuckers. With both pickups activated, a more subdued tone was produced instead of the usual quack. The back humbucker was an absolute winner; it was a fantastic balance between bass and treble which never turned too shrill or “ice-picky”. And like all Telecaster bridge pickups, it absolutely screamed when pushed with some overdrive.
Last but not least is the Telecaster Deluxe Custom, finished in fiery Fiesta Red. This axe features a wide-range humbucker in the neck, and a ‘70s spec Telecaster singlecoil in the bridge. Other noticeable hardware features include a nickel three-barrel bridge setup paired with an ashtray, a Les Paul style toggle switch, and four numbered black skirted knobs. Initial playability mirrored the performance of the previous two guitars. The factory set up kept the strings low and slinky, and not a single adjustment was required. The Pau Ferro board on this guitar was a massive hit. While the fretboard on the 60’s Bigsby Tele felt stiff and dry in some portions, the Deluxe Custom played admiringly well across the board. Again, no sharp fret ends, no buzzing, no complaints.
Sonically, the Deluxe Custom narrowly takes the cake over the others. While the Thinline and Deluxe Custom share an analogous neck humbucker, the Deluxe’s solid alder body provides some extra meatiness to its output – a welcome addition. The middle position was an unlikely winner too, producing a well-balanced chime that worked wonders for a rhythm tone. To my ears, the ‘70s-voiced singlecoil in the bridge sounded slightly hotter than its ‘60s compatriot. But let’s be honest; it’s nigh impossible to go wrong with a singlecoil nocked in a Telecaster bridge, either clean and distorted.
It’s pretty difficult to pick a winner between the three. Each guitar undeniably possesses their own unique traits and sonic personality. While they each have room for improvement, it’s safe to say that the Vintera series offers incredible value for the amount that they’re priced at. Fender have absolutely nailed the vintage vibe with these axes, creating a timeless ode to one of the most celebrated models in guitar history.
Hits and Misses
Great pickups all around
Excellent quality control on set up
Good build quality
Tuning issues on Bigsby model