Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Fender Telecaster is THE electric guitar – no ifs, ands or buts: here’s the proof...

Sixty-three years old, devoid of airs and graces, solid as a rock, plain as a pikestaff, sporting two picks-ups, two “pots” (volume and treble), a three-way selector switch – and nothing else (unless you’re Country picker and get one with a B-bender, so you can use your elbow to raise the B-string a tone to C-sharp, resulting in twangtastic mayhem). The Telecaster is the manly, no frills Ur-guitar. Obviously there are many other makes which do certain things better – crunchier, sweeter, fatter, janglier, jazzier etc – but the Tele’s versatility is without parallel: it features on everything from “Suzie Q” to Tubular Bells to the “Stairway to Heaven” solo.

And if you want a guitar that stings like a hornet, slashes like a whip, twangs like a mother and loosens your fillings – you've found it.

When I bought my first (and only) electric guitar nineteen years ago, I wanted to play rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll and hot country, so a standard American Tele was de rigeur. My only genuine regret (apart from my lack of musical talent) is that I don’t have a whammy-bar, which makes Surf difficult. In compensation, every time I pick it up I experience a thrill at holding something so simple, so classic, whose form is so perfectly allied to function.

A few months ago, I did a post featuring some essential Stratocaster numbers (here): today, it’s the turn of the Telemasters. I’ll start with James Burton – one of the two greatest Tele-pickers who ever lived – and his slightly bonkers solo on Ricky Nelson’s “Hello Mary Lou” (yes, I know that isn't a Tele he's playing, but TV producers and - later - promo directors were forever forcing guitarists to mime using more photogenic models which hadn't featured on the original record - thereby showing no consideration for bloggers half a century down the road):

In 1958, bluesman Albert Collins – the “Master of the Telecaster” – turned the treble up to 11 and demonstrated the instrument’s nerve-shattering qualities on “The Freeze”:

Now for some prime Bakersfield Country-picking from Buck Owens’s lead guitarist, Don Rich, with the classic instrumental, “Buckaroo” (apologies for the dancing pigs - I hope the producer got fired):

The great Steve Cropper, of Booker T and the MGs, showed what a vicious-sounding Tele could do for Soul and R&B:

Keith Richards used a variety of guitars, but “Honky Tonk Women” featured “Micawber”, his 1953 Tele:

Englishman Albert Lee was crucial to Emmylou Harris’s brilliant Hot Band: here, he’s at his spurting, percussive best:

Given their voices weren’t much cop, the success of three-chord “Heads Down No Nonsense Mindless Boogie” kings Status Quo has to be down to the sound of those twin Teles:

Odd to discover that a jazzer-muso like the Police’s Andy Summers should be a Tele-adherent:

But it’s no surprise that Mr. Hard-Working Blue-Collar Man od the People New-Jerseyite Bruce Springsteen should choose a proletarian Tele:

Roy Buchanan – a master of Rock, Blues and Country – may have been the most inventive Tele player before Danny Gatton happened along, as he demonstrates here:

Then, of course, came the only real contender for James Burton's title as the greatest Tele-wielder of them all – the sublime Danny Gatton:

The Tele still rules Country Music – probably always will. Here, the wonderful Brent Mason produces two of my favourite Hot Country solos on big-hatted Alan Jackson’s “Crazy ‘Bout a Mercury” (ignore the visuals - that isn't Brent Mason and that isn't his guitar):

I’m not that crazy about Guitar God posturings, which usually involve some hairy, gurning, self-indulgent drug addict masturbating a Gibson Les Paul, but even I’m impressed by this astonishing, grandstanding performance from Prince, which starts at 3’28” (although I’d like to slap his tiny face for tossing the Tele away at the end – sacrilege!):

I'm now off for some serious plank-spanking.

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