Leo's Baby, And Chuck's Son
By Ed Driscoll · May 9, 2006 10:27 PM · All You Need Is Ears
In 1950, Leo Fender released his first Broadcaster electric guitar. Eventually renamed the Telecaster after a threatened lawsuit by Gretsch, which had a drum kit with that name, the Telecaster became one of the great electric guitars, played by all three of the Yardbirds' holy trinity of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, as well as Pete Townshend, Bruce Springsteen, and Keith Richards.
What made the Telecaster so successful was its enduring simplicity: still made in all sorts of variations by Fender (here are the two I own--a mid-1980s reissue of the original early '50s model, and a 1997 B-Bender-equipped Tele), it's also an enormously popular kit guitar, because just about anybody with a screwdriver can knock together its basic shapes: the maple neck, ash body, single-ply black pickguard, and two single coil pickups. Played cleanly, The Tele's twangy tones define country music; plugged into a cranked amp, the Tele becomes the snarl heard on the first Led Zeppelin album and Exile On Main Street.
Nacho Banos is a Telecaster aficionado who lives in Spain. He's recently released The Blackguard, a magnificent hard cover coffee table book (complete with black slipcase) that covers the Tele's formative years from 1950 to 1954, when Leo Fender's first Broadcasters, "No-casters" and, finally, Telecasters rolled off his Fullerton, California assembly line.
These early Fenders now fetch tens of thousands of dollars from collectors, many of whom were at the Dallas Guitar Show a couple of weeks ago, which is where I first saw the Blackguard book, on display at its publisher's table, JK Lutherie. They recently sent me a review copy, and while this is a rather specialized subject and comes with a hefty price tag ($85), Tele fans will be knocked out by this book, which like Yasuhiko Iwanade's classic Beauty of the Burst, combines oodles of professional photography of classic vintage instruments, and an extensive technical appendage, explaining just what made these guitars tick from an engineering standpoint, and why they're so desirable 50 years after Leo's first babies were born.
This description of the book on Fender's Website sounds pretty accurate to me:
The book comes in an individual hard case, and features a beautiful color presentation, with more than 2,000 images of early Telecasters. About 50 guitars are disassembled and pictured in detail. Included are a few non-truss Esquires from early 1950, a large group of Broadcasters and Nocasters, and a good selection of ’51, ’52, ’53 and ’54 Esquires and Telecasters.Of course, one of the most visible Telecaster players is Keith Richards, Chuck Berry's adopted demon son. There are conflicting reports that his health has taken a turn for the worse after his recent, skull damaging fall vacationing in Fiji. Hopefully they're vastly overblown stories by a tabloid press out of control, as this would be an ignoble end to one of history's great hell raisers. Not to mention the man who made five string guitars hip.
Update: Just had a great phone call with the author, which will form the basis of my next podcast. Needless to say, I'll let you know when it's online.
Another Update: It's online--click here to listen.
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