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Well I've Got This Guitar And I've Learned How To Make It Talk...
By Ed Driscoll · May 13, 2006 09:47 PM · All You Need Is Ears · Podcasts

My latest podcast is online; it's an interview with Nacho Baños, author of the superb book, The Blackguard: A Detailed History of the early Fender Telecaster, Years 1950-1954. As I wrote earlier this week:

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.

At 419 pages, The Blackguard is divided into five chapters, one for each year from 1950 to 1954, plus a final “nitty gritty” technical section in which every component of the Telecaster is pictured and explained in detail. Most secrets pertaining to the manufacturing techniques used for these parts are revealed here, supported by factory documentation, Leo Fender’s personal cost notes, patent prints, Radio-Tel inventory sheets, invoices and other historical documents.

Great pictures of legendary Blackguard players in action abound in the book—players including Redd Volkaert, Waylon Jennings, John Beland, Jim Weider, Bill Hullet, G.E. Smith, Keith Richards, Danny Gatton, Roy Buchanan, Jimmy Bryant, Bruce Springsteen, Arlen Roth, Vince Gill, Mike Stern, Marty Stuart and others. There are forewords by Volkaert, Weider, Beland and Ole Fuzzy, plus special contributions by Hullet and luthier David Eichelbaum.

Baños, a native of Spain, has been passionate about electric guitars since childhood. His father bought him his first real electric, a brand-new 1983 top-loader blonde Telecaster, an event that marked the starting point of an intense love affair with one of the first and best guitar designs. He discovered the magic feel, beautiful looks and unique sound of the early Blackguard Telecasters and started to develop a real passion for them.

Baños conceived of the book in 2001, and finished it after three painstaking years of work. He self-edited and self-published it, and all proceeds from its sale are being donated to Intermon Oxfam (www.oxfam.org/eng) to fund Aquaria, a water-supply development program for Ethiopia.

Rock and Roll as we know it wouldn't be possible without the electric guitar, and so much guitar history begins with the Fender Telecaster. If you're a fan of rock (or country for that matter), you'll certainly enjoy this one.

Since 2002, News, Technology and Pop Culture, 24 Hours a Day, Live and in Stereo!

(And every Saturday on Sirius XM Satellite Radio.)

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"Ed Driscoll has been writing professionally since 1995, on topics ranging from technology to pop culture to politics. Sadly, he no longer wants his MTV."--The Weekly Standard.com

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