The Tele was not the first solid body electric, but it was the first to be mass produced. Initially known as the Broadcaster, Leo Fender made the first version in 1948.
The previous two guitarchetypes I’ve written about– the flat top acoustic and the Fender Strat– I actually own. The Telecaster, along with the Gibson Les Paul and ES-335, I only covet.
It is impossible to think about the Telecaster without also thinking about the Statocaster that succeeded it and in the end has outsold it by an order of magnitude. The Tele was Leo Fender’s first attempt at a solid body electric and its aesthetic remains firmly rooted in the 1940s, whereas the Strat’s design is from the jet age. To attempt an analogy, if the Strat is a Boeing 747, the Tele is a Flying Fortress.
But in terms of construction they’re not that different. The Tele, like the strat is classically made from an ash or alder body, has a bolt-on neck and blonde maple fretboard. The Tele has one less pickup than the Strat, with a single coil at the bridge and another at the neck. The major differences, at first glance, are in styling, with the Tele having flat parallel sides versus the Strat’s highly sculpted body. This sculpting was introduced by Fender to the Strat in response to Tele players complaining that the guitar’s sharp edges could be uncomfortable after extended periods.
But there is more to it than just styling. The Tele has a really distinctive tone, especially when played clean with the bridge pickup selected. On the bass strings it chugs, on the treble it twangs. The Tele remains the go-to instrument for country guitarists.
In rock, two good examples of really distinctive Tele sounds can be found on Prince’s When You Where Mine and Springsteen’s Born To Run (especially the solo).