Not only do I feel like I owe Leo Fender a debt of gratitude, but I also feel as if I owe him a huge apology.
I first picked up the guitar it was 1983, I was 12-years-old and in the sixth grade. My parents rented me a cheap knock off Les Paul style guitar and I took lessons. Back then the looks of the guitar equaled if not outweighed the performance of the guitar. Give me skulls and crossbones and I could shred like George Lynch. Give me a guitar with a half-naked girl on it and I could do the “unskinny bop” like C.C. Deville. But then there was Def Leppard, my first rock icons. Phil Collen played an Ibanez Destroyer with its crazy shape and Steve Clark played a Gibson Les Paul studio. So that was that. Les Paul’s didn’t have the flashy paint jobs, but a lot of my young rock heroes played Gibson guitars. So they had to be better than Fender.
Fender did have the Stratocaster, which was embraced by a lot of rock guitarists including Dave Murry of Iron Maiden, Yngwie Malmsteen, and arguably the most Strat player of the time—Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow. But I never got into the Stratocaster, still haven’t, even though I do own one.
The only people I saw play Fender Telecaster-style guitars were country crooners like Waylon Jennings, Luther Perkins, and Carl Perkins etc. Those weren’t cool musicians so it only stood to reason that the guitars they were playing weren’t cool.
Then things changed, I changed, the music I loved changed. I hate to say it, but I matured as music lover and guitar player. I learned more about the instrument I had grown to love, almost to an obsession. Gone were the flashy paint jobs, weird guitar shapes and shitty construction. I discovered new styles of guitars and guitar playing, then something hit me. All my new rock heroes were playing Fender Telecasters. Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Joe Strummer (The Clash), Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), and Mike McCready and Stone Gossard (Pearl Jam).
After a hiatus from playing guitar due to health reasons and medical bills, I got back into playing about ten years ago. I saved and saved my spare change and eventually bought a new guitar—a 2008 Gibson Les Paul Standard. My first Les Paul and it was everything I could ever hope for. Not only is the guitar a beast, but a sentimental benchmark.
With a Les Paul as the anchor of my future guitar collection, I set my eyes on the next guitar. In my sights was a natural finish Fender Telecaster. If was it was good enough for my rock & roll champions, it was good enough for me.
More saving money, more time, and a few years later I found the perfect Fender Telecaster for me—1991 made in Japan 1952 reissue. When it arrived, I regaled in its woodgrain beauty, its shiny chrome and black pickguard. For a guitar which was over 20 years old, it was a thing of beauty and in wonderful shape. After a few minutes of admiration, I plugged that Tele into my amplifier. After a few choice chords, I sat back in my chair and was stunned. How could two thin single coils make such a beautiful sound? The guitar itself seemed too simple—two picks ups, two knobs, and a toggle switch, it sounded like a thing of beauty. I played for a little longer and took another break to wrap my head around this instrument. I finally “got it.”
There was a laundry list of other guitars I wanted to buy—Gibson Explorer, Gibson Firebird, ESP Kamikaze; Hammer double cutaway; Gretsch Duo Jet and so on and so forth. But anytime I saw a lonely Fender Telecaster up for sale, looking for a good home, I had to get it. I had the wood grain one as my go to, which is still my favorite guitar. But then I picked up a cherry 1972 reissue with two humbuckers, Fender’s answer to the Les Paul, another work of beauty. I saw a limited edition black and silver Fender FSR Telecaster Thinline Super Deluxe and I fell in love. Then I found a candy apple red Fender with a Bigsby-styled tremolo, and of course, I had to get it. I mean, come on, I didn’t have a red one or one with a tremolo so it was a no brainer.
That was the thing, with each Telecaster there was a justification, rightfully so of course. I am still looking for different Telecaster variations and my ultimate Tele right now would be one in Lake Placid Blue, arguably my favorite color of any Telecaster. Sure, I still want different makes and models of guitars, but if there is a Telecaster to be had, they will have to take a backseat.
Growing up, and to this day, the question is always asked amongst guitar players – Fender or Gibson? I used to strictly be a Gibson guy even though I never owned one in my youth, nor could I afford one. I only said Gibson because they had the cool factor to them. But now, I am a Tele man through and through.
What Leo Fender did to make this magical guitar, is like my way of thinking, less is more. You don’t need a bunch of knobs, you don’t need excessive hardware, you don’t need ridiculous paint jobs, just keep it simple and play. You can’t ask for a better formula or a better guitar than that.
As I sit here, writing this, thinking about Leo Fender and thanking him for such a timeless piece of art wrapped in a guitar, I can’t thank him enough. Now I better get going and play a Tele before they feel neglected.
Here is to you Leo Fender. Happy birthday and May you rest in peace.