TelecastersBuying Guide

A Guide to Finding the Best Telecaster for You and Your Budget

The Fender Telecaster's straightforward, streamlined, and simple design has been at the forefront of guitar music since the early 1950s. It's a relentlessly reliable and undeniably versatile instrument, and no matter your playing style, budget, or creative tastes, a Telecaster is always a safe bet when deciding which electric guitar is right for you.

Whether you’re setting your sites on your very first Tele or hunting down a specialized version for a growing collection, this guide will help you sort out which of the many Telecaster variations from Fender is right for your needs. Watch the video above to see Joe dig into the various Tele models and scroll down to see what's currently available on Reverb.

What to Consider When Buying a Telecaster

Generally, questions of build quality and design features come down to some key items related to where you go for tone. When thinking of Tele tone, there are three major elements that influence that core sound.

Craftsmanship and Wood Choices

  • Knowing what wood any particular Telecaster uses is important, since it is one of the main elements contributing to that signature twangy tone. Generally, entry-level instruments will have fewer options here and typically rely on lower-end woods, while more advanced builds will include a wider spectrum of woods such as alder, ash, or mahogany.

Specifications in Pickup Configuration

  • While Telecaster pickups look the same on the surface, there is a surprising variety of tonal and EQ characteristics across the catalog. In general, the spectrum ranges from vintage-inspired tones to modern edge. In some models, double-coil humbuckers even enter the equation. If you're after a heavier or denser sound, these types of Teles are a good bet.

Saddle and Bridge Materials and Style

  • A major part of that traditional Tele twang is due to the blast-proof anchor of the ashtray-style bridge, which enables body resonance and pickup transference. These come in a variety of styles: flush-to-body, fully covered, half ashtray, and beyond. Saddle setups come in a similar variety, from vintage-style brass barrels to steel, and even a Stratocaster-inspired modern style.

Best for Beginners: Squier Telecasters

High-Value Workhorses for the Tele Rookie

Squier is Fender's lower-end brand, but don't let the price tag fool you into thinking these guitars aren't excellently playable instruments. While some guitar designs with complex tremolos or switching systems mean more corners to cut, the brilliant simplicity of the Telecaster means Squier has the ideal palette for a tailored instrument at an accessible price.

Some of the most-well-regarded Squier Telecasters are those that offer vintage-inspired specs and setups. These guitars seek to take all the best design features of Fender’s past and deliver them at an unbeatable price point. The picks below are ideal for players looking for something old school yet economical.

Squier Telecasters

Entry-Level Fender Telecasters

Fender Telecasters from America and Abroad for Next-Level Quality

The next step up in the Fender family from the Squier line are instruments made in the company's Ensenada, Mexico facility or, in some instances, those built in Japan. Made in Mexico or MIM Teles are known as workhorse guitars. Many include features like shielded pickup and electronics cavities in alder bodies, string-through-body saddle styles, sealed tuners, and a variety of heights and materials for fret choices. Nowadays, the main MIM Tele is called the Fender Player Telecaster, but on the used market here on Reverb, you'll also find many labeled as the "Standard Telecaster."

Their Japanese counterparts also offer increased varieties of craftsmanship quality, as well as an expanded range of finish options that give them an almost boutique feel. Note also that “Made in Japan” signifies productions commissioned by Fender at the FugiGen Gakki factory beginning in 1982, while “Crafted in Japan” indicates a shift to those built by Tokai and Dyna Gakki factories starting in the early ‘90s.

Notable differences at this step-up level of Teles include both increased attention to aesthetics, noticeable hardware and electronics improvements, as well as use of better tonewoods. In this category, there are also ways of obtaining homegrown value. The new Fender American Performer series, for example, made it possible to get a Tele built in Corona, California for a price that was previously reserved for offshore builds. These instruments achieve a classic yet modern feel with features that include custom Yosemite pickups and jumbo frets, as well as throwback appointments like vintage-inspired tuning machines and large font headstocks.

Entry-Level Fender Telecasters

Modern Classics: Made-in-America Telecasters

Homegrown Tone with Enhanced Build Quality and Design Features.

As Fender shuffled the deck over the last few years, it meant the retirement and rebranding of some of the long-standing lines built in its Corona, California facility. Between 1988 and 2016, the American Standard was the main entry in Fender’s American lineup. Given this span, there is almost an endless diversity of form and function in this series. American Standards are known for their combos of ash or alder bodies with maple or rosewood boards, as well as the unforgettably warm yet twangy Twisted Tele (neck) and Broadcaster (bridge) pickups.

Starting in 2017, the American Professional line picked up where American Standard left off, by drawing on its heritage but updating it with some modern features. Notable differences include: V-mod pickups developed by guru Tim Shaw, a treble bleed circuit, Deep C neck profile, and narrow-tall frets.

Finally, a new top-tier of American-made Teles emerged in this redesign in the form of the American Elite lineup (formerly American Deluxe). These are among the most modern and versatile Telecasters on the market, with features including short-post locking tuners, the S-1 switching system (which enables parallel or series pickup configurations), and a contoured neck profile and recessed heel.

American-Made Telecasters

Vintage Spec & True Vintage Telecasters

Classic Guitars Curated Across the Decades and Vintage-Inspired Re-Releases.

If your Telecaster quest is for an instrument that embodies the complete, classic feel of Fender’s past, there are a surprising number of options in the catalog at multiple price points. For example, the made-in-Mexico Classic Player Baja ‘60s Telecaster extends from the smashing success of a Custom Shop design from Fender Master Builder Chris Fleming.

A few tiers up on the made-in-America side of things, you’ll find the American Original series (which replaced the earlier American Vintage Reissue series), with offerings that tap into both the tech and specs of vintage builds from the ‘50s and ‘60s. These include period-correct barrel-style saddles, neck profiles, and carefully crafted Pure Vintage pickups tailored to the iconic sounds of each decade.

Given the Telecaster’s heritage, it’s no surprise that almost every tier of the catalog includes throwbacks, reissues, or vintage-inspired designs. If you’re in the market for an all-in original, a true vintage guitar is the best route. As with most Fender vintage instruments, a holy grail pre-CBS build (before 1965) will cost you an arm and a leg. This is particularly true for the lucrative Fender Broadcaster or Nocaster guitars from the early ‘50s—named as such because Fender was forced to rebrand due to legal issues with Gretsch’s Broadkaster drum line.

Quality varied during the CBS years from 1965 to the early '80s, which is a period that also saw the introduction of a few Telecaster variants, including the dual humbucker Telecaster Deluxe and the semi-hollowbody Thinline Telecaster. Even if you don’t end up going for a museum-worthy instrument, hunting around in this market can be an ideal way of identifying what type of vintage features might guide your quest for a modern remake in the previous categories.

For a true vintage vibe, troll Reverb’s endless stock of Fender Telecasters from the '50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s to encounter your favorite Tele in the decade it was made.

Vintage Telecasters on Reverb Right Now

Off the Beaten Trail: Telecaster Hybrids

Blurring the Boundaries Between Classic and Contemporary.

Though the Telecaster has proven itself to be one of the most stable designs ever, it has also been subject to a great deal of innovation and experimentation. If you’re not one to conform to the norm but still want to tip your hat to the past, Fender has several offerings that draw on benchmark aspects of Telecaster designs while rethinking their potential for the modern world.

For the Acoustasonic, this means an onboard arsenal of virtually any guitar sound you might need for even the most diverse set list or studio session. Other line-blurring Tele types offer mid-century modern flare (the Meteora) or explore what might have been if the Telecaster was sucked into a black hole with other Fender classics (the Parallel Universe series).

One of the main advantages of such ventures is that they broaden and diversify the hardware and electronics features typically available on a traditional Tele.

Telecaster Hybrids

Artist Signatures & Custom Shop Telecasters

Get Your Hands on the Teles Inspired by and Made for the Pros

With its long-standing and iconic heritage in music of all genres, it’s no surprise that the Telecaster design has lent itself to a long list of signature models, being the instrument of choice for musicians of all stripes. Also available across multiple ranges and from various countries of production, any player can find the right signature model for their budget.

Signature Telecasters

As you inch toward the top of Fender’s Telecaster lineup, you’ll inevitably land in the Custom Shop. Here, an elite crew of luthiers release specialized creations and made-to-order inspirational pieces. While there is no single way to characterize Custom Shop builds, they are known for extreme attention to detail and imaginative hardware and finishing options, including non-traditional body woods, flame tops, and pristine relic treatments. And it just so happens that you'll find the world's biggest selection of new and used Custom Shop Teles right here on Reverb.

Custom Shop Telecasters

Learn More About Fender Telecasters

Editorial content by Andy Perrin