By Adam Perlmutter
Photo by Massimo Gammacurta
Only a handful of guitar designs have proven as iconic as that of the first mass-produced solidbody electric, the elegantly straightforward Fender Telecaster, which has been in production continuously for the past six decades. The Telecaster has been most popular in its simplest form—a solid ash plank with twin single-coil pickups—but Fender has offered a number of curious variations on the model throughout the years.
In 1959, the company introduced the Telecaster Custom, a solidbody instrument whose body binding lent it the appearance of a hollow or semihollow guitar. Nearly a decade later, when the company’s supply of light ash appeared to be drying up, it devised a clever solution: a fully hollow Telecaster, which for unknown reasons never got past the prototype stage. Then, in 1968, Roger Rossmeisl—known for his bold designs for Rickenbacker in the Fifties—developed the semi-acoustic Telecaster Thinline, whose chambered body significantly reduced the weight of the instrument while providing the woody tones characteristic of a hollow-bodied instrument.
The Thinline was in continuous production from 1969 until 1979 and has since seen several reissues. A new iteration—the 1969 Telecaster Thinline, limited globally to 30 pieces—was recently introduced by the Fender Custom Shop as part of the Team-Built line, in which each instrument is made by an ensemble of craftsmen, rather than by an individual luthier as in the Master-Built series. This Thinline boasts traditional styling, but it has more-modern electronics than the period reproductions found in the Custom Shop’s Time Machine guitars.
At a mere six pounds seven ounces, our review model was impressively light. It was antiqued in such a remarkably realistic way—from the delicate, spider-web-like checking in its three-tone sunburst nitrocellulose finish to the perfectly placed arm wear on the lower bout’s bass side—that it looked positively ancient.
With its medium-sized C shape, relatively flat radius of 9 1/2 inches (hospitable to low action and string bending), and Dunlop 6105 frets, the Thinline’s neck was extremely comfortable right out of the box. Chords and single-note lines alike felt effortless up and down the 21-fret fingerboard. I played the guitar unplugged at first. Given its superb resonance and sustain and lively snap, it was destined to be a total winner when amplified.
Still, I was unprepared for just how awesome the Thinline would sound plugged straight into the Normal channel of a mid-Sixties Fender Vibrolux Reverb. Standard Teles can be a bit strident and reedy, but the Thinline had both warmth and girth, thanks to its semihollow build and custom high-output pickups: a Twisted Tele in the neck position and a Hot Abby Nocaster at the bridge, made by Abigail Ybarra, the legendary Fender employee who has hand-assembled pickups at the company since 1956.
On all three pickup settings, single-note lines were warm and defined, with a bit of airiness not typically associated with a Tele. The neck pickup sounded thick but not muddy; the bridge, bright but not shrill; and both at once, honky but smooth. Everything from basic open chords to complex cluster voicings sounded vivid and balanced—and huge. Hearing the guitar from an adjacent room, someone asked what effect I was using.
When actually employed with an effect—an Ibanez Tube Screamer reissue on a high-gain setting—the Thinline roared. Single-note lines sounded massive, and chords were crushing, with the individual notes easily heard. In other words, the 1969 Thinline would be the perfect Tele for a rocker, but with its warmth and clarity, this remarkable guitar would sound exceptional in just about any context you would want to use it.
List Price: $4,500
Fender Musical Instruments Corporation fender.com
The Skinny on the Thinline
Fender Custom Shop director Mike Eldred delivers the inside information.
What was the inspiration for the 1969 Telecaster Thinline?
Our Time Machine Series features instruments with correct vintage features. But customers will often special-order these guitars with specs like bigger frets and flatter radiuses, so we went for a vintage-looking guitar with the modern features preferred by gigging players, myself included.
How do you go about constructing the chambered body?
The body is chambered from the rear and a thin sheet of ash is glued onto the back.
How is the reliquing created?
The details are proprietary, but basically we’ve got this soulful young guy named James Hoyt who does most of our relic work. He’s got all these guitar books and is always investigating vintage Fenders, taking photos and measurements of arm wear, belt buckle marks, and such, to make sure we get all the details in the right places.