This Tele Custom looks and sounds a treat. With its CuNiFe humbucker in the neck, it has a wide range of big and bold tones, from warm, jazz-friendly cleans to a sharp and hot bark on the bridge single-coil and everything in between.
- Gorgeous aesthetics and tones.
- Strong playability.
- A classic pickup restored.
- Nitro finish.
- PAF fans will find the CuNiFe neck-position humbucker a very different beast.
While digging into chords and licks on the new Fender American Original ’70s Telecaster Custom, one word kept coming to my mind again and again: meaty.
With its fulsome alder body, substantial (though comfy) medium-C maple neck, broad 15-screw pickguard and – especially – its Tim Shaw–designed resurrection of the near-mythic Seth Lover CuNiFe Wide-Range Humbucker, this is a Telecaster on a diet of porterhouse and pull-ups. No one will be kicking sand in your face with this guitar.
While some guitars bowl you over with their svelte contours, sleek lines and even sleeker sonics, Fender’s revival of this oft-maligned cult wonder from the 1970s – given instant rock cred through Keith Richards’ embrace – is all about girth, grace, and a little gristle.
Built true to spec in most aspects, even down to the bullet truss-rod, original body radii and three-way upper-bout pickup selector, the ’70s Telecaster Custom feels and sounds big, alive, and authentic, and it looks about as cool as a Tele has ever looked.
Much of this comes down to the ax’s storied CuNiFe neck pickup.
Back in the early ’70s, in an effort to muscle in on some of Gibson’s increasing market share in a rock climate suddenly ruled by humbucking pickups, Fender brought in none other than Gibson’s own pickup guru Seth Lover to design what became the CuNiFe Wide-Range Humbucker, a distinctive, oversized hunk of metal with large bobbins and a three-by-three offset exposed pole-piece design that used threaded magnets made from a combination of copper, nickel and iron, a recipe previously favored for use in speedometers and tachometers.
Frankly, the CuNiFe magnets were not quite as powerful as Gibson’s – some have compared them to Alnico 3 magnets – but they did produce a rich and singular sound, one that would hibernate, albeit with some less-than-accurate reproductions, for around 40 years, until Fender found a new forge to build them on just a few years ago.
You already have some idea of where the Wide-Range sits sonically by virtue of it being in the neck position.
You won’t be using this humbucker for your palm-muted crunch riffs and metal chunk. Like a neck-position PAF (though with less sheer output), the CuNiFe Wide-Range Humbucker responds to big, beady lines in the lower and middle zones of the fretboard, and it sings with a certain dark sparkle on those long D- and A-string bends and growling, guttural grabs at the low-E around the 3rd fret.
What’s more, it’ll add character, snap, weight and a dose of defiance to even delicate top-string partial chords and double-stops north of the ninth fret as well.
Whether you’re using amp saturation or overdrive pedals, do not expect an artifact-free ’80s beer commercial studio ’bucker here. You’re going to sound real with this pickup, and you’re going to like it.
Here’s what else you’re going to like: While the medium-C neck shape offers plenty of old-school heft, it’s still a reasonably modern, fast feel, and Fender judiciously opted for a 9.5-inch neck radius – akin to most contemporary Strats and Teles – rather than the vintage 7.25-inch spec, which, frankly, many modern players find limiting and cramped.
And while it may not be quite as back-breakingly heavy as its vintage counterpart, this American Original still feels strong and substantial around your neck. Another smart swap: Fender opted for a gloss nitrocellulose lacquer here, rather than the original’s plastic polyurethane finish.
To best match the CuNiFe’s unique qualities, and to meet the neck humbucker’s increased strength halfway, Fender’s Tim Shaw paired the humbucker with a slightly hotter-than-normal single-coil pickup in the bridge position.
The result is not only snappy, super-present classic country Tele tones in the bridge position but also a sweet, woody pairing in the middle blend position. Using the individual tone controls for each pickup, you can find a variety of complex and grainy medium-body tones for those R&B figures, indie-rock patterns and faux-acoustic songwriter strums.
We ran our test model through a variety of amps, gain pedals and profilers, including a Marshall 2203x, a Fender Deluxe Reverb, amp models from Logic Pro X, Softube and others, and overdrives that include the Bogner La Grange, Friedman BE-OD and Xotic Labs SL. A few clear through-lines emerged in all these tests.
The Fender American Original ’70s Telecaster Custom will certainly work as an all-purpose Telecaster – that bridge pickup, paired with the three-saddle bridge, evokes all the compressed bite and twang you’d expect from a great Tele pickup. And even if standard Teles are more your bag, you’re likely to feel quite at home, especially when playing through a clean Fender amp.
And while the CuNiFe humbucker can be a bit intense and wooly when run through overdrives, it sounds surprisingly jazzy, warm and full of detail through a clean amp, and fingerstyle players will love its fat but articulate voice.
We were likewise pleasantly surprised at how good that bridge pickup sounded through Marshall-type amps, even with Tube Screamer or DS-1–style circuits engaged for extra saturation. Keep in mind that high-gain sounds here may also be a little gnarly – don’t look to this Tele for manicured, EQ-friendly saturations.
But if you’re seeking a guitar that sounds big and rich in detail, lets each string speak and will surprise you with how well it responds to your touch and attack, this meaty, mighty revived cult classic may be just the expressive instrument you’re looking for.
- PRICE: $1,899 street, with vintage-style hardshell case
- NUT WIDTH: 1.650” (42mm), bone
- NECK: Maple
- FRETBOARD: Rosewood, 25.5” scale, 9.5” radius
- FRETS: 21 Vintage Narrow Tall
- TUNERS: Fender Vintage F-stamped
- BODY: Alder with gloss nitrocellulose finish
- BRIDGE/TAILPIECE: 3-saddle Vintage-style Tele with slotted steel saddles
- PICKUPS: Vintage-style ’70s Single Coil Tele (bridge); Tim Shaw Authentic CuNiFe Wide-Range Humbucking Pickup (neck)
- CONTROLS: 2 x volume (1 meg Ω, CTS), 2 x tone (250k, CTS), 3-way toggle pickup switch
- FACTORY STRINGS: Fender USA 250R Nickel Plated Steel (.010–.046)
- FINISHES: 3-color Sunburst (reviewed), Vintage Blonde, Mocha
- BUILT: Corona, California, USA
- CONTACT: Fender
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