September 1, 2004

Tested By Barry Cleveland

When a company has earned a reputation for designing some of the most established and widely imitated models in electric guitar history,they can only go forward by either coming up with new designs, or modifying existing ones. Fender has tried both approaches over the years with varying degrees of success, but the two instruments reviewed here fall squarely into the latter category. The American Deluxe Telecaster retains much of the original design, and, at first glance, appears to be simply an upscale version of the half-century-old classic. The American Deluxe FMT Telecaster, on the other hand, obviously represents a more radical departure from the past. With its altered body shape, flamed top, and dual humbuckers, the FMT takes the Tele in an appreciably new direction.

Outward appearances notwithstanding, the two guitars share some significant commonalities. For starters, they both have Strat-like upper rear body contours that make them considerably more comfortable to play than traditional “plank” Teles, as well as a contour at the neck joint for easier and more comfortable access to the upper frets. Their “C”-shaped maple necks (with slightly modified headstocks and new decal designs) are also identical, and both have fretboards adorned with fancy abalone dot inlays. Though the Deluxe has single-coils and the Deluxe FMT has humbuckers, both guitars utilize Fender’s clever S-1 pickup switching system, albeit in different configurations.

I tested the guitars through three Fender amps (a Champ II, a JBL-equipped Twin Reverb, and a ’64 Super Reverb), a mid-’70s 50-watt Marshall half-stack, and a Rivera Thirty-Twelve combo.

American Deluxe Telecaster

The Deluxe sports an attractive Montego Black finish with tiny gold specks, white top binding, and a gold pickguard. The neck’s satin polyurethane finish facilitates silky-smooth moves, as do the matching maple fretboard and cleanly installed frets and nut.

All of the hardware is of high quality, and, with the exception of a slightly misaligned recessed jack plate, flawlessly mounted.

The guitar employs two Samarium Cobalt Noiseless (SCN) pickups designed by Fender’s R& team and Bill Lawrence, which actually are noiseless, at least compared to most conventional single-coils. The 3-way pickup selector operates in the usual way, except that pressing the S-1 switch (recessed into the Volume knob) when both pickups are engaged changes the wiring from parallel to series, fattening up the overall tone. The Volume pot is firm yet pinky friendly, and the Delta-Tone control provides smooth high-frequency attenuation. When turned to 10 (you’ll feel a detent when you get there), the capacitor is completely bypassed from the Tone control.

The Deluxe sounded very good through all of the amps, producing tones that were, well, Tele-like, despite the reduced body mass, new pickup design, and the six-saddle bridge. The characteristic bite, squawk, and spankiness were present—though the tone was a little richer and warmer overall than that of many older Teles I’ve played, particularly with both pickups selected and the S-1 switch set to series wiring. I’ll admit the super-quiet pickups took a little getting used to—I kept asking myself, “Is this thing on?” But the pickups’ noise-bucking capabilities didn’t keep them from pushing the Champ II into spongy overdrive or summoning serious sustain from a cranked-up Marshall.

For better or worse, depending on what you’re looking for in a Tele, the American Deluxe Telecaster upgrades the traditional Everyman’s Guitar design to first class. From the high-quality components to the built-for-comfort styling to the exceptional pickups (which don’t require you to angle the instrument away from hum sources), this is an exceptional guitar—and the latter quality alone will make it a welcome addition to any session player’s arsenal.

American Deluxe FMT Telecaster

With its flame maple top, contoured back and front, redesigned knobs and switches, dual humbuckers, and lack of a pickguard, the FMT bears very little resemblance to the classic Telecaster. In fact, it might be fairer to simply evaluate it as a brand new design, rather than as a variation on an older one. Either way, there are many things to like about this instrument.

First of all, the woods used in the guitar’s construction are beautiful, particularly the 1/8"-thick “hand-bent” figured maple top, finished in a lovely Bing Cherry Transparent gloss. And the double body contours not only make the instrument very comfortable to play, they add to its aesthetic appeal as well. Ditto for the minimalist black knobs, switch, and pickups. The ebony fretboard also complements the finish, and the abalone dot inlays add a touch of understated elegance.

The combination of the FMT’s two DFH-1 humbuckers and the S-1 switch allow for a wide range of tonal options. You can get the bridge pickup alone, the neck pickup alone with coils in either series or parallel, the bridge pickup in parallel or series with the neck pickup, or the bridge pickup in series with the inside coil of the neck pickup. Confusing? On paper, yes, but in practice considerably less so, as the six sounds are relatively distinct. Also, the three sounds available with the S-1 switch in either the up or down positions work well together as groups, so you can switch between complementary sounds by making only one move.

I liked the way the FMT sounded overall, though it tended to be a tad boomy on the low strings, necessitating some tone control adjustments on the amps, particularly the Champ II. Although I was able to get nice sounds on all pickup settings, my favorites were those produced using the three series configurations. Naturally, they had less midrange density, with a pleasing balance of sparkling highs and solid lows—the perfect combination for punchy clean rhythm playing. When it came to crunchy chords and searing leads, the FMT’s bridge humbucker delivered the goods—even producing “classic” rock tones not usually associated with Teles. The neck humbucker sounds well balanced in series, though when switched to parallel, it assumed a duller, boxier character— ditto for the bridge pickup. Through our cleaner amps, however, the parallel modes provided some useful faux-archtop sounds. The guitar’s ebony fretboard probably contributes to its darker sound, and I’d be curious to see how the maple version sounds in comparison.

The FMT plays beautifully, with the same smooth feel and ultra-fast mobility as the Deluxe. I did encounter intonation problems, however, particularly on the lower strings at the 12th fret. The discrepancies were more apparent on our Korg MT-1200 tuner than they were actually audible, but the instrument would definitely benefit from some adjustments. That minor reservation aside, this is a fine instrument. It doesn’t really sound like a Tele, but who cares? It looks great, plays beautifully, and offers a wide range of its own tones.


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