Fender Music Australia | Price: $2,099
What is a Telecaster? Historically speaking, Leo Fender’s second guitar. A simplified, elemental slab of ash with a million songs hidden in its very pores. Singular in appearance but spawning generation after generation of descendants faithful and otherwise, each grappling, often vainly, at the stoic, ‘take no prisoners and leave no trace’ attitude of its forebear.
On a Telecaster, Bruce Springsteen added muscle to the fledgling craft of American songwriting and brought it more in line with the literature of heavyweight compatriots like Hemmingway, Steinbeck, and Welles. On a Telecaster, Joe Strummer convinced a nation of stiff-lipped Tories to rise and not only dream but fight for a better United Kingdom. They are to music what Brutalism is to architecture; mysterious in their aggressive simplicity, full to bursting with possibilities despite, some might say by the grace of, unashamed limitation, and in all that not for the faint of heart.
Read more gear reviews here.
To a point, Japanese guitar-making shares many of these philosophical assertions. Classically, there is a pointed, poetic stoicism synonymous with objects whose history originates on that crowded cluster of islands, storied among propellor-heads of several different fields, not the least of which is guitar obsessives like you and me.
Fender introduced the Aerodyne range to its catalogue almost two decades ago, at Winter NAMM ‘03, as a timely convergence of sleek, modern design elements and unmitigated, cutting-edge craftsmanship. Visually, the first run appeared closer to what you would expect to come out of the Ibanez factory; no pickguard, solid blocks of colour with mellow-voiced pickups of a slightly higher output aimed squarely at the more collegiate end of fusion and avant-garde exploration. My experience of them was almost the opposite as I remember erstwhile bass players in just about every scummy post-hardcore band between 2005 and 2012 swinging a cold, black Aerodyne Jazz or P-Bass around their neck with impunity and reckless abandon. One way or another, they quickly became a hit in one of many reasonably specific corners of the music map and it came as a shock when they started to become less and less readily available to dealers only a few years back. As such, the announcement of a new run of instruments bearing that beloved moniker came as welcome news to many.
Hung on the wall of your favourite shop, you would be forgiven for mistaking the Aerodyne Special Tele for a guitar from another brand. The solid block of colour, or in this case thickly laid on ‘Hot Rod Burst’, imposing black headstock, locking machine heads, and Jetsons-esque chrome hardware will appeal less to classicist Nocaster fans than to burgeoning nu metal revivalists. However, the broad, 12” radius fretboard, custom-voiced Aerodyne pickups and surprisingly comfortable softened arch across the face of the guitar will feel familiar and ultimately playable to those in search of a high-performance instrument to match their high-performance playing. Were it not for the simplicity of tonal variation and lack of incessant bells and whistles, this is the one Telecaster I could see someone like John Petrucci or Joe Satriani playing since its timbre leans more heavily into the rounded saturation, even dynamic and undisputable clarity favoured by those exploring that particular sonic frontier.
If you’re looking for your Telecaster of all Telecasters, then this may not be the guitar for you. There is a pronounced scoop through the mid-frequency information and paperiness to the high-trebles that seemingly belies a much cheaper, imitation guitar. While disappointing if you’re doing your best Jeff Buckley impersonation, this peculiarity feels purposely tuned for that medium to high gain silkiness preferred by owners of G3 DVDs and Soldano amps. I realise this sounds like sarcasm, but what I am trying to describe is the successful implementation of a fairly specific design brief. As much as the first batch of Aerodynes was adopted by loose units in stovepipe Cheap Monday jeans and Hot Water Music t-shirts, these guitars were originally unleashed as competitors to Ibanez S Types, Parker Flys and many and varied other designs flowing through the late ’90s whose whole rubric was to eschew the happy accidents of older designs for a more effortless, smoother, more Frippertronic modality.
I think the thing that stood out for me the most in this guitar is that it seems to be pulled in two opposing directions. It may be that my particular playing style, as clunky and traditionally leaning as it may be, ran counter to where this streamlined, future-focussed vessel wanted to take me. Either that, or it may be that in a Telecaster particularly, the pull towards sincerity and austere mystique is a little too strong to allow this rocket to launch cleanly into the great beyond. Even if they are voiced a specific way, lipstick-style single coil pickups are always going to want more Albert Lee twang or indie-rock jangle than anything else. As a result, I felt like I was talking to someone in the early stages of reinventing their personality, not quite sure about the accent, still trying to break old habits, uncomfortable in eyeliner, and desperately waiting for the moment the leather of their brand new boots finally breaks in. Don’t get me wrong, every second of time I spent playing the Aerodyne reminded me of how much I adore Japanese build quality and that great nation’s unequalled sense of how things should be. I just wasn’t hearing the quintessential Tele-ness that perhaps I unfairly anticipated.
Long story short, traditional Telecaster-ers beware! The Aerodyne Special is not your same old Tele and woe betide the player who dares treat it as such. This is the rarely-seen cousin at the reunion who moved away from the family home straight out of high school, studied zen and martial arts with masters all up and down the Asian peninsula and has come back for the holidays armed with a darkening air and mysterious knowledge that few possess. Open your mind and crack your knuckles, it’s time to get serious.