I’ve had a strange relationship with Telecasters for what appears to be over 30 years now. You see, I love them, dearly – there is no sound like it, but I have to admit, I just can’t really play them and enjoy myself properly. I fail to ‘get lost’ properly in them, due to the mechanics of their playability.
Now, all you Telecaster purists might want to stop reading now, because what I’m about to say will probably offend you greatly, because I think I’m going to rip apart what makes a lot of people love them. The very parts that make a Telecaster, a Telecaster.
The relationship I’ve had with them goes back many years, and I’ve owned a few, and played at least 10 that are considered to be world beaters. But, for the purpose of this, I’m going to concentrate on the three that have most turned my head in recent years, a 2012 Fender Select Telecaster, a 1991 Blade Standard Delta (that was a birthday gift from my wife that is currently for sale, so please, thoughts and prayers are required for my wellbeing, but it’s gorgeous and sounds like a monster) and a Seth Baccus Shoreline T.
The Fender Select was something I saw one day in Anderton’s, I was talking to Lee out on the shop floor and I turned around and right there, in my eyeline, was this thing of total beauty, a gorgeous colour that kinda ticked most of the boxes I want from a Telecaster; including a contour for the arm. Some of you who are connected to me on social media may well remember this, as I shouted about it in an intensive state of GAS frenzy for weeks afterwards… Which is weird, as I played it in the store and there were already things about it I didn’t like, the frets were too small, limited amount of sounds from the two pickups and deep flame top, which to me, looks a bit, I dunno, over the top? Now, although it was failing on three pretty substantial fronts, it didn’t stop the GAS from being all encompassing, I was obsessed with it, which is ridiculous, but you know, “GAS”.
The third and final one that has made me realise I’m chasing a ridiculous dream was the Baccus. Now, I’m not new to playing custom hand built Telecasters, because I’ve played most of Brian’s Whitfill’s and they are great, but… bloody uncomfortable as they are properly modelled after the classics, including huge heel, very rounded fretboards and all that, but there was no denying the tone was outstanding. When the opportunity came around for me to spend a lot of quality time with the Baccus I was excited because I thought this was going to be it, I already knew it had a much flatter fret board, the heel is different from standard and let’s face it, if you are going to get a guitar to be your life partner, you might as well get a good one. Like the Whitfill, Seth handmakes the lot (with the exception of the pickups, as his workshop is very close to Bare Knuckle Pickups, so you know…). It always melts my head a little to play a guitar that is totally handmade in the old fashioned way, as I can pretty well see in my head all the chisels, saws and files that go into it, so quite often I’m sat there almost scared to play it, because it’s literally someone’s blood, sweat and tears that have gone into making it like it is.
Right out the box (having travelled 200 miles overnight in a cold UK December by a shipping company) the first thing I noticed is that it was perfectly in tune. Now, this is a good sign. When I first picked it up I was amazed at how light it was – the body is Obeche (which I’ll admit, was new to me) and it’s as light as a feather, the neck is a roasted flame maple with a regular layout 6 a side headstock. Pickups are the BKP Flat 50, so from that perspective, the sound I knew was going to be huge. When I first sat with it, it was a little weird because the shape isn’t standard, probably a little closer to a standard MusicMan Axis as the sholders are smaller (which sounds bizarre for a T style, but works SO well as it gives the perfect balance when being held by a strap). From the very first strum of the first chord I literally shouted out a load of cuss words in quick succession as it’s the most concise and clear electric guitar I’ve ever heard, and you know, I’ve played a few. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The note separation, the sustain, the definition and it’s SO loud I just can’t describe it… have I found my Telecaster style guitar, finally? It was at this point, the deal was effectively sealed in my head, almost purely because of this heel and cutaway. Just look it…
I played it at home quite a lot over the next few days and then took it out to a gig, I just plugged it straight in and went for it. Every member of the band turned around and looked at me as if to say “WOW”, just because of the tone from this thing… I was having fun, and then the problem with me, and these style of guitars, started to take over; even when playing the absolute perfect version. I need a shorter scale length and I need both of the body contours for a guitar to feel perfect. So, for the second set of the gig, I picked up my PRS Brent Mason (it was until this very point I thought that because the PRS was designed with a Telecaster player in mind, it would go some way to reach that kind of tone, and compared to every other Tele I had played, it had come close enough).
I was instantly comfier on the PRS. But… the tone and response I had been enjoying for the last hour or so had disappeared somewhat, my old sound was back, one that I always loved but that incredible punch was gone, the articulate note separation from each of the strings was gone, that awesome (and I mean that literally) sustain was gone, the finer details had just ‘gone’. I had to stick with the PRS for the rest of the night as I needed HB tones and the whammy bar, but I just kept looking at the Baccus and during one solo I was staring at the it in a trance and it became perfectly clear what I actually want from a Telecaster.
Firstly, I need the PRS scale length, my hands aren’t big enough to do the silly stuff I like to do on the Fender scale, well, they are, but it hurts when you’re my age! I think I need the third pickup, but I probably don’t as this one has a four way switch (1: Bridge, 2: Bridge and Neck, 3: Neck, and 4: Bridge and Neck in series). So, I probably don’t need a third pickup with that as all of these sounded awesome, I don’t know, I can’t trust my head anymore. Do I really need HB and a whammy bar? Probably not, I think I was just using it as an excuse to be back in my comfort zone again.
So, my conclusion – for what it’s worth, is that I still do want a telecaster – I really NEED a Telecaster, but I think I need one that isn’t a Telecaster in some very important, and ones that the purists are going to hate, ways. I definitely NEED the slightly shorter scale length, I need both contours, I need a 10” radius and the soft narrow V profile I have on the PRS as well as the Stainless Steel 6105 frets… Lastly, I really miss the input jack on my old Ibanez Jem, why don’t guitar builders do this as standard? If this could be made into a Telecaster, or more specifically the Shoreline T made by Baccus, I would have my dream guitar. Because in so far as Telecasters go, this one is so perfect it’s almost sickening, because it’s only in my head and the things I need as a player that are stopping me from owning this monster right now.
After the gig I was frantically messaging Seth as I couldn’t understand it, and he went into glorious and great detail about what makes guitars like this sing so well, it’s the connection between the neck and body joint, it’s the balance of the woods, it’s the right pickups in the guitar, it’s just about everything you don’t really think of, but a luthier does for each build – you see, there is no compromise, nothing is set and left for production, it’s all done individually – it’s those finer details that make a great guitar, the greatest guitar, and that is a label I will put on the Baccus, it’s the greatest T style I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, I just wish I wasn’t so set in my ways. You can see more about it, here.
Maybe I should start a GoFundMe to get Seth to make my perfect one for me, after all, I’ve recently seen one hit the target for someone’s dream wedding, and this will last much longer than a day with some nice photos to remember it by!