The Tele-Star brand is something of an enigma. Was it a nameplate used by Kawai or Teisco, or was it an independent Japanese guitar manufacturer? Tele-Star guitars came into the U.S. in the mid 1960s through a wholesaler out of New York, and many think these instruments were made by Kawai. But as Kawai and Teisco were merging just then, this guitar could be one of their ugly “Dr. Moreau” offspring. Nobody knows for sure, because during the guitar boom of the ’60s—when so many makers fought it out to reach the massive number of young people who were suddenly hungry to start bands—it was often difficult to track who was making what for whom.
A lot of my favorite ’60s guitars from Goya, Teisco, Kent, EKO, Hagstrom, and other manufacturers had four pickups, but it’s a rather weird setup for today’s players. Then, there are the 4T’s organ-style toggle buttons (the on/off switches for each pickup), a boost switch that goes from R (rhythm) to S (solo), and that unique and lovely greenburst finish. And get a load of that huge headstock—it’s almost as long as the plywood body. Fascinating stuff for us “guit-archaeologists.”
Playability & Sound
The 4T’s clean tone is nondescript, but add some overdrive, and you can get a pretty convincing ’70s-era Keith Richards vibe. The guitar sounds slightly better than it plays, but, sadly, it plays lousy. (Even Tele-Star’s better guitars—known as “Sparkles”—never had a hope of being much more than beginner models.) The 20-fret, mahogany steel-reinforced neck starts out bulky—almost like a classical guitar— and then gradually squares off as if it were trying to become a lap-steel, making it rather unfriendly in the upper range. The tremolo is remarkably smooth, but due to a non-adjustable saddle, as well as friction points caused by the “towel rack” string retainer on the headstock and the plastic nut, the guitar doesn’t stay in tune.
Most European and Japanese guitars with four pickups are worth more than their two- or three-pickup counterparts, and the 4T’s market value is somewhere between $250 and $500. Now, you might think it would be crazy to spend good money on a guitar that plays like crap. But while you’d never want to gig with the 4T, I’ve found it’s actually a cool little number to pull out in a studio situation when you want a trashy, garage-rock sound. For short overdub parts, I can wrangle the intonation enough to make everything work.
Why It Rules
You don’t always rate a guitar for how it sounds or how it plays, right? And, in the case of the Tele-Star 4T, the best thing it does is hang in my studio and look gnarly, green, and gorgeous!