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Is a fat Telecaster right for you?

That darned mini-single pickup

The biggest complaint about traditional Telecaster pickups (regardless of who made the guitar) is that the mini-single neck side pickup isn't usable. (And yes, it's a mini-single, meaning not a lipstick pickup. That type of pickup is totally different.)

"Isn't usable" defined: Some complain that the mini-single is either too weak, too "muddy", or both.

I've personally never had a Tele mini-single sound that way. But then again, I don't regularly play a true-to-vintage-spec Telecaster either.

In my experience, yes, a vintage spec Telecaster mini-single does tend to be weak and not all that dynamic. But I wouldn't call it unusable even though others do.

The good and bad of having a humbucker in the neck position of a Telecaster

Whether you do like I did and outright buy a cheap Tele copy with a humbucker in the neck, or install an inexpensive humbucker in your existing Tele yourself (assuming the wood is already cut out under the pick guard to house a humbucker and you've bought a pick guard that can fit a humbucker pickup), this is what you can expect:

Clean rhythm sound: Good.

Overdriven rhythm sound: Not-so good for regular rock, but good if you use fuzz and/or like that '60s rock sound.

Clean solo tone: Good.

Overdriven solo tone: Very good.

Bridge + Humbucker clean sound: Your Tele will still sound like a Tele but you're now combining the bridge pickup with a humbucker that has greater output compared to the mini-single. You may or may not like this, but it works very well for jazz. More on that in a moment.

Bridge + Humbucker overdriven sound: Whether you can actually use this sound or not directly depends on the type of overdrive you're using. Lighter overdrive tends to sound better.

Best benefit of the humbucker at the neck: Jazz tones.

This is where the dynamic response of a neck side humbucker really works on a Tele. The greater output and midrange work very nicely to ring out "fuller" jazz style chords whether using bridge+humbucker or humbucker alone.

No, you will not get the sound of an ES-335 because we're talking about a solid body Telecaster here. But usable jazz tones are definitely way easier to get on a fat Tele compared to a traditional pickup set.

The humbucker just looks cooler

There are some Telecaster players that never use the neck pickup at all and bought a fat Tele anyway. Why? They think a humbucker at the neck position just looks better than the mini-single.

Does it?


The bigger shiny rectangle of the humbucker is visually more interesting than the skinny mini-single and looks more impressive. It also looks more expensive even though it's not.

Any Telecaster looks better with that big shiny rectangle at the neck position.

And now the last question. Should you own two Teles?

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Published 2021 Jan 21

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