When Fender Customized the Tele … with a Little Help from Martin
In 1959, Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states in the U.S. But guitar fans know ’59 as a legendary year for both Les Pauls and Telecasters—two favorite flavors among meat-and-potatoes 6-string aficionados. On the Fender side of the menu, that’s the year the Telecaster and Esquire Custom models debuted, at the NAMM show in June.
Honestly, there wasn’t much that was different about the 1960 Tele, exemplified by this month’s instrument. The biggest change was a shift from all-maple necks to slab rosewood fretboards mounted on maple. This was also done for Stratocasters and other models at the time.
With its pick area, upper bout, and back wear, this guitar has been used hard—which is often a sign that it’s a great-sounding and playing instrument.
The 1960 Tele Custom also has what the 1960 Fender catalog rather obviously called a “custom treatment of the body.” What exactly does that mean? The catalog notes that “a beautiful highly polished sunburst finish is used, and the top and bottom edges of the solid body are trimmed with contrasting white binding.” Fender initially had trouble keeping that binding glued in place and had to consult the Martin Guitar company to learn the proper technique.
Sans the original 3-ply pickguard, this Tele gets right to the guts of its core electronics. Note the red paint left from its original tri-color sunburst finish.
Our well-worn 1960 Telecaster Custom appears to be finished in a 2-color sunburst (as used on Strats from 1954 to 1958). After removing the pickguard, the original unfaded red from a 3-color sunburst can be seen. A.R. Duchossoir, in his book The Fender Telecaster, quotes Fender designer Bill Carson about this red pigment: “We had to search and so we sprayed many blocks of alder and put them on the top of the building to see which ones would fade and which ones wouldn’t. The red just simply got gobbled up in this chemical interaction.” Perhaps this guitar was part of that colorful experiment? For the record, Fender did manage to find a consistent red by 1961.
Severe belt rash shows this 1960 Tele Custom has seen a significant amount of playing time.
This guitar, and all other Tele Customs from 1960, have an alder body with a 3-ply pickguard. Standard, non-custom-color Teles retained a single-ply white pickguard for a couple more years.The control set is the usual T-style 3-way pickup selector with volume and tone dials. In 1972, the Fender Telecaster Custom first appeared with a Seth Lover-designed humbucker in the neck slot, and that’s the configuration made famous by Keith Richards—perhaps the most notable Telecaster Custom player.
With its picking area, upper bout, and back wear, this guitar has been used hard—which is often a sign that it’s a great-sounding and playing instrument. This model’s original list price was $239.50. The current value for one in this condition is $20,000.
Note the distinctive upper-and-lower-case model name on the headstock, versus Fender’s customary all-caps versions.
Behind the Tele is a Fender Pro-Amp from April 1960. From its introduction in 1946 as The Professional, this amp utilized a 15″ speaker. It evolved from the ’40s “woodie” version to various tweed looks, including a TV front, a wide panel, and a narrow panel. In 1960, the Pro and the rest of the line transitioned to brown Tolex covering. The 1960 Pro pictured has two 6L6 power tubes pushing 40 watts through a Jensen P15N. The normal channel has volume, treble, and bass controls, while the vibrato channel has volume, treble, bass, speed, intensity, and presence controls. The original price was $289.50. The current value is $2,500.
Sources for this article include The Fender Telecaster: The Detailed Story of America’s Senior Solid Body Electric Guitar by A.R. Duchossoir and Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years by John Teagle and John Sprung.
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