Christone “Kingfish” Ingram: “It is one of my rightful duties to keep this going to the next generation”

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Christone “Kingfish” Ingram: “It is one of my rightful duties to keep this going to the next generation”

christone kingfish ingram
(Image: Supplied)
Words by Peter Hodgson

Chatting with Christone "Kingfish" Ingram on joining the signature Telecaster family, the development process, and the future of blues

The Fender Telecaster was the first mass-produced solidbody electric guitar, and it’s proven itself to be both a perfect platform for modification, and fine just the way it is. You can buy brand new Telecasters today which are built to virtually the same specs as the original guitars. Or you can change a bit here, replace a thing there, carve this chunk differently, and have a unique yet still classic instrument. That’s what Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Fender has done with their new collaboration: the Fender Kingfish Telecaster Deluxe.

“It started maybe last year while we were still in quarantine,” Ingram says of the development process. “We pretty much did the Zoom thing, and I told them what I wanted. They did something called the Troublemaker Tele and that’s what I pretty much wanted the signature guitar to come from.

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That model, a limited edition Made-in-Japan instrument, featured a pair of humbucking pickups and an Adjusto-matic Tune-O-Matic style bridge, with a ’60s-style Stratocaster headstock. “That’s pretty much everything that I like, so that’s what we started off at, pretty much,” Ingram says.

A Tune-O-Matic and stop tailpiece isn’t the first setup you think of when you hear Telecaster bridge. It isn’t even the second (hardtail Strat-style) or third (Bigsby). But it does exactly what’s needed for a little Kingfish blues.

“The style of guitar that I played before I got together with Fender was the-LP style, and I just came to rely on that,” Ingram says. “So now I’ve seen that they did it with the Troublemaker Tele, that made me excited cause, ‘Hey, I know now that they can do this.’

“In playing the guitar I definitely I noticed that there was a comfortability with the bridge because I can get more sustain, and I was also having troubles on the other bridge with the saddle going down and stuff like that. So yeah, man, I pretty much just wanted to be comfortable, you know?”

kingfish telecaster deluxe

But this isn’t a Troublemaker Tele with an artist’s name chucked on it: it’s a customised, unique take on the concept, especially thanks to its new Kingfish humbucking pickups. Inspired by the Wide Range humbucker designed by pickup legend Seth Lover for Fender in the early 1970s.

“That was one of the things that I was like really stressing,” Ingram says. “I wanted some pickups where I can go heavy on the overdrive and scream, but also can dial back where I can get smooth tone for when I’m in church or just playing some R&B or something like that.”

The pickups aren’t just exclusive to the signature guitar though: they’ll also be available for everyone to buy separately to put in the guitar of their choice. “The pickups in the guitar will also be sold as the separate units, and when we did the film shoot for the Fender commercial, they put the pickups in another guitar and it sounded perfect with it.”

The maple neck has a rosewood fingerboard with a “V” shape. “I wanted a neck that was not too big, not too thin,” Ingram says. “Something that I can just… you know what, I was big on the C shape back when I had my Custom Shop Strat but like I said, this one is like more V-shape which is more medium, in between, kind of ‘not-baseball-battish.’

“And the body colour scheme they chose was based on a Mississippi sky at night, because one of my favourite colours is purple, so they were able to put the purple body and the black pickguard together which makes it like a very interesting, mysterious guitar.”

Ingram’s first Fender wasn’t a Tele, or even the Starcaster that he’s been seen with and which also appears to have influenced his Signature Tele. Nope. “It was a, I wanna say, 2003 or 04 Mexican Strat,” Ingram says. “It had a maple neck, maple board, sunburst, white guard. A fan had bought it for me, man! It was pretty much my main guitar for a couple of years. I took it through a bunch of mods but eventually I just changed it back to its original state.”

Aside from that, Starcasters make a few appearances in the Kingfish guitar rack. “That big hollowbody, man, I love those. I have two of them: a yellow one and a Squier wood-grain one. And I have a Jazzmaster. I love those guitars, man! Anything offset, I really dig.”

With blues legend and fellow Fender signature guitarist Buddy Guy about to retire from touring, it really feels like a generation of the blues is moving on and a new one coming in. It’s something Guy is passionate about supporting, and he and Kingfish are longtime jam-buddies.

“One thing we need,” Ingram says, “is we need more young kids, more preferably young African American kids to know about this, because this is our history and this is something that we should know and pass along. And I think it is one of my rightful duties along with others to keep this going to the next generation.”

Head to Fender for more information on the Kingfish Telecaster Deluxe, or check out our review of it here.