Originally named the ‘Broadcaster’, Leo Fender released the world’s first Tele in 1951 with little idea his design would still be kicking butt 70 years later (he had to rename it due to copyright reasons when Fred Gretsch (of Gretsch drums) informed him he had a drum kit with the same name!
In this article, we’re going to walk you through the key things you need to think about before you part with any cash.
Note: while the best Teles are undoubtedly made by Fender, in this article we also consider the best telecaster copy (in other words, alternative non-Fender telecaster brands that make ‘Tele style’ guitars).
Best Telecaster: Product Guide
Fender Modern Player
The Fender Modern Player is a superb mid-range guitar and gives you the best of old and new: modern hardware and electronics, but an authentic vintage tone associated with the Tele.
It comes with a pair of Player Series single-coil pickups for that crisp, articulate sound. The alnico 5 magnetic pole pieces provide a rich and balanced bass response, a punchy mid-range, and crystalline bell-like ‘highs’.
You have the classic string-through-body bridge, of course, to help with sustain, but here Fender has added block saddles to enhance the twang and bite.
The body material is alder. Alder has always been Fender’s wood of choice thanks to the bright, balanced, and resonant tone it emits which helps with the upper midrange and provides excellent sustain.
The modern neck tops it off, which is a ‘C’-shape 22 neck fret with a 9.5″ radius fingerboard, so it’s a joy to play.
Overall, for the price, there is a lot of quality on offer here and chances are you won’t be disappointed. There’s a myriad of colors on offer to cater to most tastes.
What we like:
- Player Series single-coil pickups
- Alder body/maple fretboard
- Easy to play
Fender American Elite
The American Elite by Fender is the most expensive Tele on the list, and for the price, you pretty much get the best technology out there (the fact it’s called American should be obvious enough, but if you’re in any doubt, this is made in the USA).
In terms of spec, this guitar has a pair of gorgeous noiseless single-coil pickups in the neck and bridge position. These pups are constructed using Alnico V magnets and shielded wire, which guarantees that any unwanted hum is non-existent while retaining that vintage Tele punch – and definition, for ultimate tonal clarity.
The second-best aspect here is the choice of tonewood used in the body and fingerboard. There’s a single-piece alder body for tonal warmth within a convenient, lightweight package. The fingerboard is made from ebony, for a seamless, gliding touch and beautiful chiming highs.
The neck itself starts off as a modern C shape at the headstock and becomes a broader D shape towards the neck heel. This is quite a rare design, that’s been thought up specifically for fast chord changes and extra comfortable playing.
As with most Teles, the neck remains bolt-on, so if you break or damage it while on tour, you can rest assured there’ll be no problem getting it fixed.
Overall, although the American Elite looks reasonably similar to the Fender Modern Player (see above) with its black polyurethane finish, the quality of pups, fingerboard, and neck is far superior.
Just remember you’ll need some extra savings to be able to afford one.
What we like:
- Noiseless pickups – These single coil pups are completely hum-free while retaining all the twang you need for a classic tone.
- Ebony fingerboard – This feels like velvet and ensures you’ll be able to solo at high speeds.
- American-made telecaster – made in the USA.
The Affinity from Fender’s budget arm Squire is the best budget telecaster on the list.
The single-coil pups ensure that your tone is sparkling bright for solos, but also warm and rich enough to play blues, classic rock, and jazz styles.
This guitar is all about helping the beginner. The slim, ‘C’-shaped maple neck is easy to handle, The 6-saddle hardtail ‘through body’ bridge means restringing (or fine intonation adjustment) is fairly straight-forward. Similarly, the sealed die-cast tuning machines help with smooth, accurate tuning.
What we like:
- Superb entry-level Tele
- Decent enough electronics and tonewood for the money.
- The neck here is thin and nicely rounded, with mid-sized frets for comfort
Fender Deluxe Nashville
The Fender Deluxe Nashville is a beast of a guitar. It ships with a pair of gorgeous noiseless single-coil pickups in the neck and bridge position built using alnico V magnets and shielded wire, which guarantees that any unwanted hum is non-existent while retaining that vintage Tele punch – and definition, for ultimate tonal clarity.
The five-way Strat-o-Tone switch gives you additional tonal options too.
The choice of tonewood used in the body and fingerboard is superb too. There’s a single-piece alder body for tonal warmth within a convenient, lightweight package. The fingerboard is made from ebony, for a seamless, gliding touch and beautiful chiming highs.
The 12″ Fingerboard radius is great for bending notes without fretting out, and the locking tuners give you increased tuning stability and make restringing much easier.
What we like:
- Hum-free single-coil pickups give you the twang you need
- 12″ Fingerboard radius is great for bending notes
Fender Vintera ’50s Telecaster
Combining the best of the old and the new, the Fender’s Vintera Modified Tele boasts many of the design features of the original, but with a modern twist.
For a start, it comes with a custom shop vintage-style single-coil pickups for a full, bright tone, like the original. The series wiring makes this Tele sound fat – like you’re playing through a humbucking pickup – even though it’s got single-coils.
The 3-saddle ‘strings-through-body’ bridge with chrome barrel saddles gives it a great characteristic twang too, and the 4-way switch gives you plenty of tonal variety too.
To add to that, the thick soft V neck has a 9.5″ radius maple fingerboard with 21 vintage style frets making it useful for those of us with small hands and gives you that classic bright sound and fantastic note sustain.
If you’re looking for the best Fender Telecaster to buy, this is way up there.
What we like:
- Characteristic twang from the bridge with three brass saddles
- Superb selection of single-coil bridge pickups
- ‘Thick soft V’ shaped neck offers great playability
G&L Limited Edition Tribute ASAT Classic Bluesboy
The great looking Bluesboy by G&L is an instrument of fantastic quality.
The best aspect here has to be the warm, rich tone that the Bluesboy kicks out. This is achieved thanks to the guitar having a classic humbucker in the neck position, a G&L Alnico humbucker in the bridge, and a high-quality, solid swamp ash body.
The fretboard itself is maple, so it should survive plenty of action and will sustain notes for a reasonable amount of time.
The neck is also bolt-on, so if damaged you can replace it easily, and there are some well-made brass saddles that allow you to refine the instrument’s intonation to meet your taste.
Aesthetically, it’s the most ‘out there’ on the list, with its baby blue lacquer and gleaming white, 3-ply pickguard, so it’s guaranteed to get you noticed on stage.
If you haven’t noticed already, the Bluesboy is going to be the best for blues artists, looking for warm, rich tones thanks to its meaty, warm humbuckers.
What we like:
- Full-bodied tone – The combination of humbuckers here really beefs out the sound this thing kicks out.
- Aesthetic – This guitar is pretty cool looking and is guaranteed to get you noticed at a show.
ESP LTD TE-254 Distressed 3TB
If you’re a fan of grunge music and guitars that look beaten up, then this thing is definitely for you, you could see Kurt Cobain smashing up one of these during a live set.
This telecaster copy is selling for a similar price for the Squier too (see above), so it’s very affordable considering the technology you get.
This isn’t a cheap telecaster knockoff though.
The best aspect of here has to be the specially designed pickups by ESP. There’s an LH-150 in the neck position and an LTS-120 in the bridge, both of which provide sonic versatility with a higher-than-average output.
Thanks to these pups, the overall tone this instrument brings is aggressive and full when used with distortion, but capable of producing those classic twangy clean notes you’d expect from a high-quality Tele.
Another great thing about this model is its well-made ash body and maple neck.
The single piece of ash helps to give your sound warmth and richness, while the maple neck and fingerboard allow for that extra touch of chime and clarity.
With that in mind, the neck itself is a lovely, thin U-shaped build, so even petite guitarists shouldn’t struggle to finger chords comfortably.
There are 22 extra-jumbo frets, specially designed to allow for fast arpeggios and licks.
Overall, the TE-254 will suit guitarists looking for excellent playability with plenty of drive and distortion. For the price, you won’t be disappointed with this Tele clone.
What we like:
- Handles gain well – the TE-254 works particularly well with distortion and extra gain.
- Price – At a similar price to the Squier we mentioned above, you get some fantastic technology here.
Telecaster Design Features
The classic Telecaster is a workhorse of a machine, and everything about it is simplicity and power.
There are a few types of telecasters out there, but they all share the basic design features. So what makes it unique?
The Tele is typically fitted with two single-coil pickups: a bridge pickup and a neck pickup, which give it that famous bright twang.
You can get a 3 pickup telecaster, but they’re less common – see the Fender Modern Player below for an example of one.
In contrast to its sibling the Strat, the bridge pickup is wider and longer, which contributes to the Tele’s distinctive sound.
You’ll see it’s mounted on a metal bridge plate known as the ‘ashtray design’. The Tele bridge is one of the things that make it undeniably a Tele. No other guitar has a pickup combined with a bridge like this.
It has weighty, chunky adjustable saddles – especially on vintage telecasters where they’re made of brass – which gives you a distinctive sound with a load of bite and output.
A three-way pickup selector lets you toggle between the two pickups (or both if you put it in the middle position). The two knobs are master volume and tone.
The Tele is a solid-body electric guitar, of course.
These guitars were the first to have a body made from a piece of solid wood (typically alder or ash) which is a light and well-balanced ‘closed-pore wood’ with a resonant, balanced tone that gives you sharp attack and brilliant sustain.
Modern versions often use alternative woods such as pine. Fender custom shop models use a variety of materials too.
As for the design, it’s a single-cutaway body with no contours (in other words, flat as a pancake).
Fender decided against a traditional set neck, opting for a bolt-on (although later they did release a few set-neck ones).
This also meant that if it gets damaged, it is easily replaceable – which can’t be said for set-neck guitars such as the Les Paul.
The original necks were made from a single piece of maple, and occasionally mahogany.
It has a full-sized scale length too, which, like its sibling the Stratocaster, gives you plenty of neck length to work with as opposed to say the Les Paul which has a much shorter scale length.
Buyer’s Guide – Key Considerations
Now you know a bit about the design, we’ll now turn to our buyer’s guide.
Telecasters come in a variety of body woods depending on the particular model and manufacturer. More expensive versions are most likely going to have a body made from ash or alder like the original, for bright, long-sustaining notes.
Pricier models may also come with a maple, ebony, or rosewood fretboard. Maple is excellent if you want a bright tone, whereas rosewood will give you extra warmth and resonance and ebony is ultra-smooth, for seamless chord changes and arpeggios.
On the other hand, cheaper Copies usually have pine or basswood bodies, which are easier to manipulate during the manufacturing process but tone-wise, don’t produce the lows or highs quite as well.
Nowadays, there are plenty of alternative designs out there. Some vintage models have a nitrocellulose lacquer, for that retro look, whereas modern alternatives have a thicker, more protective polyurethane or polyester finish.
Different models come with various fretboard radii. For example, vintage Teles have a 7 ½ inch fingerboard radius, whereas modern versions usually have a 9 ½ inch radius.
People with smaller builds will most likely find a smaller radius more comfortable to play with; if size isn’t an issue (pardon the pun), you’ll be fine with a larger radius.
Telecasters are manufactured in either the USA, Mexico or Asia.
Made in the USA models are deemed to be the best due to the high-quality materials and craftsmanship involved in their making. That said, some great guitars still come off the production line in Asia.
Asian versions are often slightly cheaper too, so they would perhaps suit a beginner guitarist, looking to get a feel for whether they take to the Telecaster or not before spending a load on a more expensive, American or Mexican-made model.
Hint: if you’re buying a second-hand Tele, you can work out its origins (year and country of manufacture) using our Fender serial number search tool.
So, What’s the Best Telecaster for the Money?
Our top pick is the Fender Modern Player, a made-in-Mexico beast of a guitar that plays like a dream, with all the bite and twang you could hope for. For the money, it’s hard to beat.
If only the best will do, then it has to be a Fender American Elite. This US-made classic has been reimagined for modern players, with a ton of innovation thrown in (e.g. hum-free single coil pickups)
The Squire Affinity is a superb entry-level Tele that’s more than adequate for the beginner. For the low price tag, it does a respectable job of playing and sounding like the real thing.
Thanks for reading, and good luck!