Review: Fender Jason Isbell Custom Telecaster

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Review: Fender Jason Isbell Custom Telecaster

Words by Will Brewster

Fender Music Australia | RRP: $2,799

Since hitting the market 70 years ago, the Telecaster has constantly found a warm welcome in the hands of country players around the world thanks to its workhorse design and distinctive twang, and that relationship remains steadfast to this day. Country, as a genre, is currently experiencing something of a critical reevaluation among mainstream audiences, and it’s arguable that it’s more popular than ever than it’s ever been, making the need for a country guitar virtuoso greater than ever before.

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Jason Isbell, while perhaps not being a household name (but again, how many guitarists today actually are?), is one of the scene’s hottest players, and you can bet he’s got the chops to back it up. A four-time Grammy Award winner off the back of his work with seminal alt-country act Drive-By Truckers and his current fling with The 400 Unit, he’s become a titan of the Americana guitar circuit by blending the idiosyncrasies of the genre with Mark Knopfler-like picking flourishes, with one of his primary weapons of choice being – you guessed it – a trusty Telecaster. 

As such, it shouldn’t come to any surprise that Fender have extended their signature range in 2021 to include the new Jason Isbell Custom Telecaster. Based on the specs of a battered ‘60s Telecaster Custom, the guitar features a warm Chocolate Sunburst finish, while the alder body is adorned with a double cream binding for an incredibly classy look. 

The neck, meanwhile, boasts a vintage spec mid-‘60s C profile that’s full to grab but easy to navigate, with the maple build being joined by a 7.25” radius 21-fret rosewood fretboard. Fender have used these specifications on many a model in recent years, and it’s one that’ll feel immediately familiar by default; there’s plenty of grip up the high end of the fretboard for tearing out lead lines, and if being a singer-songwriter is more of your vibe, you’ll feel right at home down towards the cowboy chord regions of the neck.

Potentially aiding in this familiar feel is the fact that the Jason Isbell Telecaster is treated to a Road Worn finish, as well as being coated in vintage-inspired nitrocellulose lacquer. This gives the guitar a rough-and-ready vibe that seeks to emulate the mojo of picking up an aged beauty from Fender’s golden era, with the body, neck and hardware of the guitar all being pocked with artificial scuffs and scrapes for an added touch of ‘authenticity’. Sure, tough sticker finishes aren’t for everyone, but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t suit the vibe of this guitar: you’d be hard pressed to find a superior tool for all your noodlin’, choolgin’ needs than this boot-scootin’ barn raiser.

A unique addition to the Jason Isbell Custom Telecaster is that of a custom-modified bridge  with three solid brass barrel bridge saddles. Typically, vintage-spec Telecasters feature a bridge that somewhat resembles an ashtray, but on this model, Isbell’s opted for a modified version that tapers the slanted edges of the metal. This effectively allows for greater access for your fingers to pick over the top of the bridge pickup, and it’s a modification that makes utter sense for a country player of his ilk: after all, there ain’t nothin’ that goes better together than chicken pickin’ and country western. 

For the Jason Isbell Custom Telecaster, Fender enlisted the services of their in-house guru Tim Shaw – an unsung hero in their recent successful endeavours – to design the pickups of the guitar, and boy are they something to behold. They’re wound hot, but not gritty, and almost possess a funky bell-like tonality that errs on Stratocaster territory. The lipstick tube in the neck position is rich in character, producing a mellow, scooped tone that just screams for soulful leads and emotive chordal embellishments. 

The guitar’s middle pickup boasts a quacky tonality that’s actually surprisingly useful, particularly with the tone knob rolled off a bit to add in a little woolliness. Pair it with a sputtering fuzz pedal for a Warm Jets-like lead, or even plug into a clean amp to toy with some suitable tones for funk, jazz or neo-soul. 

However, everybody knows that the Telecaster’s main attraction – particularly in the world of country – is the bridge pickup. Chances are, when you think of twang, you’re thinking of this bad boy, and the Jason Isbell Telecaster’s bridge pickup packs it in excess. The bright, razor-sharp nature of the bridge pickup pair wonderfully with fingerpicking and jangly strumming alike, and when you stomp on a splash of chorus and overdrive, you’ll enjoy a stream of ‘80s rock, new-wave and alternative tones in abundance. 

Of course, the Jason Isbell signature model is geared up to suit the needs of a country instrumentalist, but a Telecaster is the kind of guitar that’ll lend itself to any genre, and that’s a truth that’s solidified with this signature instrument. The Fender Jason Isbell Custom Telecaster is satisfyingly responsive, comfortable and unique build to play, highlighting the efficiency and attention to detail from the company’s Mexican production plant.

The custom pickups of this guitar are plentiful with character and pair wonderfully with pedals, while the modified bridge makes for a unique playing experience to differ from the hordes of other Telecasters on the market. And, sure, Road Worn finishes mightn’t be for everyone, but you can’t deny the vibe it gives this guitar: you’d have to shoot up the whole saloon to find a better partner to ride off into the sunset with than this bad boy. Yeehaw!

Head to Fender Australia for more information on this guitar.