Bullet Telecaster might be the best Tele for the money
Above is the Squier Bullet Telecaster. You'd be hard pressed to find more value for the money where a Telecaster is concerned.
Before I get deeper into that, an update on the Squier Bullet Telecaster I own. I found that the neck had a high fret on it, so I took it in to a local Fender authorized service center (which in my area is a Sam Ash store) and dropped off the guitar. The next day I got a phone call saying yes, there was a high fret, it was repaired and that I could come pick it up, which I did. No charge. I was only without the guitar for a day, so it was no big deal.
The guitar is okay now and everything works as it should. I've not found anything else wrong with it.
So how does the Bullet Tele compare to more expensive models?
Let's talk about that.
Things the Bullet Telecaster has that are important to Tele players
Players of the Telecaster guitar look for certain construction features that deem some Teles "good" and others "bad."
There is only one thing Tele players would consider "bad" about the Bullet. The guitar has a rosewood fingerboard. Telecaster purists believe that a "true" Tele must have a one-piece maple neck. These same purists also consider any Telecaster model that uses any other species of wood for the neck or fingerboard to be heresy even if it's a Fender USA model. This means a Tele purist would consider the LPB American Special with rosewood board to not be a true Telecaster. I wish I was kidding.
Aside from that, the Bullet Tele ticks all the right boxes that Telecaster players look for.
- Thru-body string mount, as opposed to top-load.
- 21 frets, as opposed to 22.
- Round recessed "cup" output jack, as opposed to a squared-off flush mount jack.
- 3-ply pick guard, as opposed to single ply.
- Single string tree, as opposed to two.
- "Barrel" switch tip, as opposed to "top hat."
Imagine a Fender Standard Telecaster with a basswood body and a maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard instead of the 1-piece maple neck. That's the Squier Bullet Telecaster. Same thru-body string mount, same 21 frets, same cup output jack, same 3-ply guard, same single string guide, same barrel switch tip.
I would argue there are only three reasons to buy the Fender Standard Telecaster over the Bullet. Fender logo on the headstock, one-piece maple neck and slightly smoother operating tuning machines. You pay $450 more over the Bullet Tele just to get that stuff.
Comparing the Bullet Telecaster to other Tele models
When I went to Sam Ash to drop off my Bullet for repair, I decided to try out a few other Telecasters just to see how they compared to my $150 model.
Guitar #1: Squier Vintage Modified Telecaster Deluxe
It really isn't a fair comparison to compare a "normal" Telecaster to this one since the Deluxe is so different. But I'll talk about it anyway.
Neck felt great but the pickups were set really low to the guard from the factory for some odd reason. The guitar sounded good but nowhere near as bright as single-coil pickups do. Then again, the fact the pickups were set so low was a factor here. They probably would have sounded better at a proper height.
Guitar #2: Fender Classic Series '69 Telecaster Thinline
This is a great Tele for those concerned about guitar weight since this is a semi-hollow. However, I was unimpressed with the tone.
The '69 is a good model but it's got that oddball U-shape neck with the very round 7.25" fingerboard radius, meaning it will fret out easily with bent notes. I would argue that the Squier version of this guitar is superior simply for the fact it has a modernized C-shape neck with 9.5" fingerboard radius and medium jumbo frets. Same light weight, better neck.
Guitar #3: Fender American Vintage '52 Telecaster
This was, as crazy as this sounds, the worst of the Telecasters I tried out. I was expecting it to be a dreamy, perfect-playing Tele. It was anything but that. The action was set high and the feel of the nitro finish on the neck was terrible. This also has a U-shape neck along with the 7.25" radius fingerboard and period correct tiny frets.
Hanging on the wall, the guitar looked perfect. Butterscotch blonde looks best with a nitro finish over it. But that was the only good thing about the guitar.
Guitar #4: Fender Standard Telecaster
I noticed almost immediately that this guitar had a bad neck pickup, strongly indicating the guitar had been dropped on its butt at one point. I did tell one of the sales guys about it. Other than that, this was the best feeling, best playing Telecaster I tried out.
There's no question the Bullet Telecaster delivers. It's got everything that makes a Telecaster a Telecaster.
However, my Bullet is a special run model that may not be available where you are, and if you're looking to buy a Telecaster, this is what I recommend if staying within Fender brands:
Squier Standard Telecaster. This costs $50 more than the Affinity model but it's worth it because it has everything my Bullet does plus the addition of an alnico magnet pickup in the neck position.
Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster Thinline. The specific reason I recommend this one over the Classic Vibe Telecaster is weight. The regular CV for some reason is a physically heavy guitar while the CV Thinline is not because it has semi-hollow construction.
Fender Standard Telecaster. Even though the one I tried out had a bad neck pickup, I'm certain it was because some idiot dropped the guitar while trying it out in the store. Otherwise it is a genuinely good Telecaster, with its best feature being the neck.
What about more expensive models?
There are only two higher priced models I'd consider good purchases.
Fender Classic Player Baja Telecaster. This is a model that was originally only available from the Fender Custom Shop that worked its way into regular production as a Mexico build. It actually has a 4-way pickup switch instead of 3-way that allows for the addition of both pickups in series or parallel, and also has S-1 switching as well. It's a hot-rodded Tele that gives you genuinely good bang for the buck.
Fender American Special Telecaster. This is the only USA model worth buying at the moment. Instead of the fancy electronics of the Baja you get standard electronics, Texas Special pickups, vintage style bridge with saddles, and it's a good all-around "workhorse" guitar. Everything you need and nothing you don't. If you absolutely gotta have an American Telecaster, this is the best of the lot.
Yes, a Tele can surf
Lastly, as you can see from this video, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that yes, I can wrangle a good surf tone out of a Telecaster. It took some tweaking but I made it work.
This is good since I like to play surf guitar. 🙂
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