The 10 greatest Telecaster guitarists

By Miguel Ángel Ariza

The Fender Telecaster is one of the biggest selling legendary guitars in history. The importance of its sound stretches from the most primitive blues of the 50s to indie, which reigns today, passing through each and every one of the styles that have arisen. It has also been represented in the majority of the great ‘references’ of each style that has marked particular epochs (the blues with Muddy Waters, rock and roll with James Burton, the pop rock of the 60s with Harrison in the Beatles, the Hard Rock of the 70s with Page in Led Zeppelin, punk with Joe Strummer, the genius of Prince in the 80s, grunge with Eddie Vedder, the indie of Radiohead...). It seems that the Telecaster is always there in the hands of the new number one.  

Paraphrasing the basketball player who said that the ball doesn’t lie, we can say that neither does the Telecaster lie. It is a guitar model that demands that the guitarist makes their contruibution to make it sing. Its unique two simple pickups and three positions (on the standard model) makes the sound directly yours. Perhaps that is the key reason that it has so frequently hung on the shoulder of many favourite artists. Here we have ten icons who are key in the history of this instrument. They are not the best, perhaps they are not even the most indispensable, but all of them deserve a space on the list.  

Keith Richards
 

While many of the names that we include on this list ended up resting their Telecaster at a particular moment of their careers to search for new sounds in other models, Mr Keith Richards took the opposite road. He was using other guitar models for years until in the end, at the same time that his band found the ‘Stone’ sound for the rest of its days, Richards found in the Telecaster in the 70s the sound that would define him as a guitarist during the following five decades.



Bruce Springsteen  

Few great artists have been as loyal to a guitar model as Bruce Springsteen has been to his. As his fans well know or, rather, the faithful of the Springsteen religion, the guitar is unique as it is made up of the body of a Telecaster - but the neck pertains to an Esquire (almost the soul twin of the Tele but comprising one pickup only). Furthermore it seems that he has hollowed out the whole body, such that in its day it was fitted with four pickups, which meant that two left the guitar super- light (something that must be a relief to the man from New Jersey when he is three hours or more on stage). The Tele has been his guitar throughout his life and he continues using it to record, but half-way through the last decade he decided to retire it from his tours due to its extreme wear and tear. As proof you have the video in the gallery in which you can see the change in sound, the look of the Boss, absolutely everything except one thing… his Telecaster.
 



Danny Gatton
 

There are also Telecaster 'guitar heroes' and perhaps the greatest of them is Mr Danny Gatton. As could not be any different, the Telecaster virtuoso did not base his skills on 'shredding' or 'tapping' but rather, of course, he based them on 'fingerpicking'. To that - and by ‘that’ we refer to his devilish skill at playing the six strings - the American guitarist adds all types of tricks to attract fans... and perhaps it was the latter that shifted the view of the general public towards his music. The video that we show you in the gallery provides a sample of both things: the fireworks but also the incredible technique and the great tone that he extracts from this guitar model.
 



James Burton
 

In the same way that Camarón had Paco de Lucía and Tomatito, Elvis had Scotty Moore and James Burton; guitarists with the same sources but very different among themselves. From Gibson and the fat sound of Scotty, the King’s music passed to the more refined sounds of one of the most beautiful and recognizable Telecaster’s in history, the 'Paisley' of James Burton. From him came all the guitar sounds that are so characteristic of the second part of Elvis’ career and, as luck had it, many audiovisual documents remain. For that reason when a solo arrives in one of Elvis’ songs we might hear the words: “Play the song Jimmy”, followed by a Telecaster making perfect melodies.
 



Jimmy Page
 

We have taken some artistic license to include probably the greatest embassador that the Gibson Les Paul ever had, but it is necessary to remember that this gentleman called Jimmy Page, perhaps influenced by his mentor Jeff Beck in the Yardbirds, used the Fender Telecaster as his main guitar at the end of the 60s. In fact on Led Zeppelin’s early tours his Tele could still be seen hung on his arm. And to be honest it could be said that he never took it off, given that many of the band’s best known songs were recorded with him using this Fender model. The Les Paul was only his favourite for live concerts; not in the studio.
 



Prince
 

Here we take even greater license on this list of the top ten names in the Telecaster’s history. Why? Because the legendary Telecaster of Prince is not really a Fender Telecaster but rather a Hohner brand imitation. Should this be of importance to us?  Well, as you can see, not a lot, above all when listening to this animal play guitar as he plays, and knowing that the Germans were seeking the real tone of an authentic American Fender. One of the greats in the history of this instrument without any doubt; you can tell from those who appear in the video in the gallery - they seem ‘important people’ until they are totally eclipsed by the the genius from Minneapolis.
   



Steve Cropper
 

While it is not so long ago that we said on Guitars exchange that the sound of Rock and Roll was Scotty Moore because he was a guitarist of the type that arose as the indisputable king of the genre at that time, it is fair to say that that the sound of soul also has a name, and that is Steve Cropper and his Fender Telecaster. This American guitarist’s career as a session musician is broad and very important, but to put your guitar at the service of a voice like that of Otis Redding is a big thing to do. That said, some of his songs at the margin of his career with Otis were great successes, such as that of Green Onions by Booker T and the MG's.
 



Andy Summers
 

In a period in which guitarists began being looked at under a magnifying glass due to the boom of super-skilled players at the end of the 70s, Andy Summers arrived with his Telecaster to remind people that guitarists don’t only live from solos, and that an enduring riff is always more important than being finger-picker of the year. The latter perhaps was not his strong point, but the former he knew how to do with great ability and originality, which gives him a place of honour in this ranking.
   

 

Albert Collins
 

Authentic dynamite is what emerged from each of the notes that Albert Collins played on his Fender Telecaster in every one of his shows. A true bluesman, with his own characteristic sound born of sharp pickups from this legendary Fender model. Perhaps for many he is up there with the three ‘kings’ of blues (B.B, Albert and Freddie) but his sound was distinct from theirs because his guitar, among other things, screamed more than the three Kings’ Gibson with humbuckers.
   



Muddy Waters
 

The Fender Telecaster was the favourite guitar of perhaps the best blues singer in history, with the permission of B.B. King... and that, we believe, is already more than enough to give him an assured place on this list. Furthermore, thinking about the importance of the Telecaster in the blues, except in the obvious case of Albert Collins, the first Telecaster that comes to mind is that of Muddy Waters, who used it less over time, but at the start of his career it was rare to see him without it. For a sample take a look at the video that appears in the gallery, which is authentic gold for true blues fans.

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