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The Telecaster: Still Wailing At 60

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The Telecaster: Still Wailing At 60

Music Articles

The Telecaster: Still Wailing At 60

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Sixty years ago this month, a musical icon was born. Nobody's sure of the exact day - at least, no one at Fender Guitars could tell us - but we do know that it was sometime in February of 1951 that the Telecaster came to life.

NPR music librarian Robert Goldstein couldn't let the birthday pass without a celebration.

ROBERT GOLDSTEIN: If you've listened to any kind of popular music from the last 60 years, you've heard a Telecaster.

(Soundbites of various songs)

GOLDSTEIN: 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.

The Telecaster could be mass-produced, was easy to repair and, unlike a traditional hollow-body electrified guitar, could be played loud without feedback.

(Soundbite of music)

GOLDSTEIN: The Telecaster's exact birth date is unclear. Legal issues loomed over the guitar's original name, Broadcaster, and sometime in February 1951, the name officially changed to Telecaster. Country players were the new instrument's first champions.

(Soundbite of music)

GOLDSTEIN: 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 notable guitarists who played a Telecaster.

It would be a very short list of guitar greats who haven't spent some time with one - even jazz guitarists, including Mike Stern and Ted Greene.

(Soundbite of music)

GOLDSTEIN: The Telecaster has been in continuous production since February 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.

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 1950s Tele. But listen to what he could do with it.

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Dreams")

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

(Soundbite of song, "Sweet Dreams")

NORRIS: A little Telecaster-driven ditty there called "Sweet Dreams," by Roy Buchanan. Robert Goldstein is NPR's music librarian. He's a guitarist himself. He used to play with the Urban Verbs. You can see videos of the Telecaster in action at nprmusic.org.

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