Fender Telecaster with Bigsby

One can make a pretty good case that people would be shredding on archtop guitars if the Telecaster hadn’t come along. The plank with strings that Leo Fender put into production in the early 1950s had a huge impact on rock and roll, making possible all kinds of new techniques and sounds—such as string bending, chicken pickin’, and explosive bridge-pickup lead tones that, in the words of Tele master James Burton, “could cut down a tree.” The Telecaster forced Gibson to come up with its own solidbody, and, as they say, the rest is history.
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The Telecaster only enjoyed a few years in the Fender spotlight before having to share the stage with the more futuristic Stratocaster, but Tele players were a loyal bunch, and if Mr. Fender expected them to retire their ’Casters for his new three-pickup wonder, he was to be disappointed. The Telecaster soldiered on for several years with relatively small changes—such as a white plastic pickguard and non-threaded steel saddles (1954), and staggered poles on the bridge pickup and “tophat”-style selector (1955)—before its presence in the Fender catalog expanded with the introduction of the Telecaster Custom in 1959 (which sported a sunburst finish and binding on the top and back), the Thinline in 1968 (which featured a semi-hollow ash or mahogany body and an f hole; a dual-humbucker Thinline was also available from 1972 to 1978), the Custom Telecaster in 1970 (sporting a standard bridge pickup, a neck humbucker, and four knobs), and the Deluxe in 1972 (with two humbuckers, four knobs, and a contoured body).

Fender didn’t offer a vibrato-equipped Tele back then, however, so guitarists eager to get more tonal variety from their 6-string workhorse would often custom order a Bigsby installed at the factory. Fender accommodated such requests for years by using various stock Bigsby units. But in 1967, the Bigsby became an official factory option and subsequent units finally got a raised “F” on the rear section where “Bigsby” would normally go. On guitars from this vintage, the pickup and adjustable six-saddle bridge reside on a flat, unmarked base plate.

This lovely Tele, which is dated August 3, 1969, did service in an Oakland, California, funk group back when the Raiders were the toast of the town. It features the requisite 3-ply pickguard with eight screws, “C” profile neck with a thin, radiused ’63-style fretboard, and Fullerton-designed (but Schaller-made) “F” label tuners, which were introduced in 1967. The guitar is fairly light, and has extremely low action and a very speedy playing feel. The Bigsby’s silky, positive action makes for wonderfully smooth pitch bends, and the tuning stays remarkably stable when you work the bar. Bigsby vibratos are noted tonal enhancers, and that mass of cast aluminum definitely adds girth and fullness to this guitar’s sound.

The current owner says he loves the warm, bright, bluesy sound of this guitar, and we couldn’t agree more. Its tones are sweet, round, and stringy, with a great dual-pickup rhythm vibe and a fat, spanky lead sound. The pickups tend to squeal pretty easily in high-gain situations, but played through a Twin Reverb at moderate volume, the ’69 has all the signature goodies that you expect from a good Telecaster, and then some. The righteousness of a great vintage guitar can’t be denied, and it’s nice to know that this relic from the end of the peace-and-love era will continue to do stage time for years to come. After all, why would anyone want to retire a perfectly good Tele?

Guitar courtesy of Ken Robbins