The Telecaster: Still Wailing At 60

The Fender Telecaster celebrates its 60th birthday this month. i i

The Fender Telecaster celebrates its 60th birthday this month. Simon Fergusson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Simon Fergusson/Getty Images
The Fender Telecaster celebrates its 60th birthday this month.

The Fender Telecaster celebrates its 60th birthday this month.

Simon Fergusson/Getty Images

Sixty years ago this month, a musical icon was born. If you've listened to any kind of popular music from the past 60 years, you've heard a Telecaster.

It's a sound that changed guitar-making, guitar-playing and, ultimately, popular music.

There had been efforts to design a solid-body electric guitar since the 1930s, but it wasn't until Leo Fender introduced the perfect blend of musical form and function that fundamental problems were resolved: A Telecaster could be mass-produced, was easy to repair and, unlike a traditional hollow-body electrified guitar, could be played loud without feedback.

Nobody is exactly sure when the guitar was christened — legal issues loomed over its original name ("Broadcaster"), and sometime in February 1951 the name was officially changed to Telecaster. Country players were the new instrument's first champions.

Jimmy Bryant, James Burton, Muddy Waters, Steve Cropper, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, Albert Lee, Danny Gatton, Vince Gill, Prince, Keith Urban, Johnny Greenwood — these are just a few of the notable guitarists who've played a Telecaster. It would be a very short list of guitar greats who haven't spent time with one. Even jazz guitarists picked it up, including Mike Stern and Ted Greene.

The Telecaster has been in continuous production since 1951. For those who worship in the church of guitar, it holds sacred status as the eldest of the electric guitar's holy trinity: Stratocaster, Les Paul and Telecaster.

It was the first electric guitar I played (though I recorded all of my guitar parts with the Urban Verbs on a Strat or a Les Paul), and the closest I've come to ever grasping any sort of holy relic happened nearly 40 years ago when — with his bemused approval — I somehow mustered the temerity to play the legendary Roy Buchanan's battered, early-'50s Tele. The sounds he could conjure from it were nothing short of astounding.

For the Telecaster, it's been a remarkably popular and active life — and this is a birthday any 60-year-old would celebrate, loudly.

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