A brilliantly funky idea finds its time
By Mikey Lank
With dual humbucking pickups, a 12" radius neck, and a ’70s-style Stratocaster headstock, the Telecaster Deluxe guitar is a unique instrument with volumes of vintage vibe. Unlike anything else out there, its tone and playablility are quickly making the re-released Tele Deluxe one of the most popular Fender offerings.
Born in the breach
In the early 1970s, Fender noticed an unfilled niche in the marketplace. Several manufacturers were taking advantage of the humbucking pickup, which produced a characteristically thicker, more growly tone than Fender’s trusty single-coil pickups. Of course, the humbucking pickups had the added advantage of eliminating 60-cycle hum.
None of the guitars out there sporting dual-coil (humbucking) pickups had Fender’s unique alder/maple wood combination and 25-1/2" scale. So plans were made for a Fender with dual-coils of its own. Fender had a secret weapon (see below) who was certainly up to the task of creating their own humbucking pickup; but which body style would work best? There was no point reinventing the wheel—the Tele, Strat, Jaguar, and Mustang guitar bodies were already sought-after icons all over the world. On the other hand, Fender didn’t want to confuse the branding of any of those models.
The solution was to combine the Stratocaster headstock—which had recently been widened to its full bell-bottomed glory—with the archetypal Telecaster body. For precision control of the unique dual-coil pickups, dual volume and tone controls and a toggle selector were outfitted on the sprawling pickguard reminiscent of that on the Jazzmaster. The resulting Telecaster Deluxe guitar was among the most fresh looking of the whole Fender brood. The original enjoyed a day in the sun in 1973-75 but was out of production by the end of 1978.
In 2003, Fender’s Marketing Manager for Electric Guitars—a lifetime Fender fanatic—decided the Tele Deluxe’s time to shine had come again. It had always been a favorite guitar of his and, despite serious resistance, he pushed to have it reissued.
The reissue’s instant success has made it clear that plenty of other players share his fascination with the Tele Deluxe. Thirty years of ripening have seriously increased the vintage factor. From a modern-day perspective, this guitar is a very cool, funky, and unique-looking instrument. Its appearance on stages and in studios all over the world is testament to that.
Of course Fender wouldn’t launch a new guitar based around dual-coils without some serious pickups to carry the load. Their secret weapon in this regard was humbucking pickup inventor Seth Lover himself, who joined the staff at Fender in 1967. The alnico-magnet pickup Lover designed for Fender featured the bold, airy edginess of classic Fender single- coils combined with a warmer, thicker humbucking tone for an entirely new and supremely musical sound.
Fender’s modern-day reproduction of these pickups is impeccable, using almost precisely the same materials and techniques that were used to produce the originals. I’ve played the originals on a vintage Tele Thinline, and the dual-coils on the Telecaster Deluxe I received for review delivered every bit of the growling low-mids and crystalline highs of the originals. They also look great, with offset screw holes and engraved Fender logo.
A brilliant touch on the '72 Telecaster Deluxe is the 12"-radius fingerboard. The normal Fender fingerboard has a 9-1/2" radius, which makes it very comfortable to chord on, but the 12" radius makes bending notes easier. This guitar also has wider frets, which make notes ring more clearly and also produce less drag when you’re bending notes. Multi-string bends are super easy.
And of course the real winner is the fingerboard these frets adorn. The neck and fretboard are one piece of gorgeously sculpted and finished maple. I love this guitar from top to bottom, and the neck is by far the coolest thing about it. Everybody who’s played it says the same thing, "This neck rules!"
In addition to the headstock, the Tele Deluxe also borrows the Stratocaster’s comfy rib scoop. It’s a small touch, but it looks cool and it sure makes this guitar more comfortable to play than your average Telecaster.
The Tele Deluxe is a guitar that has tons going on in terms of looks, playability, and tone. It just took a few decades for players to realize they’d let something really cool slip away.
And Fender has certainly done it justice with this brilliant reissue. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that these new Tele Deluxe guitars are of higher quality in manufacture than the originals. The one I played had no issues of any sort. It came perfectly set up with great action and the finish was flawless. For my money, this guitar is the sweetest thing to come out of Fender in the last few years. I give it the big thumbs up.
Features & Specs
- Alder body
- One-piece bolt-on maple neck/fretboard
- 12" neck radius
- Fender humbucking pickups with alnico magnets
- 3-way switching
- Contoured back
- Chrome hardware
- Deluxe Fender closed tuners
- 6-saddle adjustable bridge
- 25-1/2" scale