The BIG Question Raised by Fender's New Masterbuilt Collection

Sometimes, in love, your affection for someone can be so strong that it masks their shortcomings. Maybe they're a close-talker, or they have an irritating laugh—take your pick of any Seinfeld bit and you'll get the idea. But in the glow of romance, you had never noticed…

Until, that is, one random day, when a friend points out the quirk with a simple comment that ends up hitting like a lightning bolt.

And you see it. And keep seeing it. Everywhere. Every day. All the time. How had you not realized? Have they really always been this way?

This happened to me just last week, not with a partner but with my faithful Telecaster. And it was Fender master builder Ron Thorn's simple words that made me question my love.

As part of Fender's Winter 2022 Masterbuilt Custom Collection, where each of Fender's top luthiers create one guitar of their own making, Thorn built an incredible Custom Tele Junior.

His take on the discontinued '90s-era Custom Shop Tele Jr, the guitar's transparent two-color sunburst reveals a Korina body, while two P90s and set-neck construction give further nods to classic Gibsons.

But these fantastic features are not what caught my eye in the video he made to show off the guitar. It was the reverse control plate.

See the reverse control plate on Ron Thorn's Custom Tele Jr.

"Like the original model, the control plate is reversed, putting the volume knob within easy reach for adjustments or pinky swells," he said, jarring me to the reality of my Telecaster.

I looked to the stand beside me at the Tele I've been playing non-stop for a year. Surely, its control plate is "reversed," as Thorn describes it. I don't remember the pickup switch ever getting in my way.

But, my heart sinking, there it was.

Like the vast majority of Teles ever built, my American Vintage '64 Reissue has the standard control plate. Front to back, it goes: pickup selector, volume knob, tone knob.

It's easy to see where the design could be improved, and many players noticed long before I did. Hitting the pickup switch accidentally while on stage is a common complaint. Not being able to comfortably reach the volume knob is another. Word must've gotten back to Leo Fender soon after the Tele's creation, or at least no later than '54. The new Stratocaster debuted that year with a volume knob right where a player's pinky could reach.

Somehow, in a year of being a Tele owner and many years more spent playing and studying guitars, I'd never noticed the control plate's shortcomings. And if I'd read the complaints in a Fender history book or in some lost hours of a forum rabbit-hole, I'd forgotten them.

A reverse control plate can also be seen on Austin Macnutt's new Custom P90 Tele.

So Thorn's remark was a revelation, though the simple reversal is a common mod. Even within the new Masterbuilt collection, it's joined by another reverse-plate Tele in Austin Macnutt's Custom P90 Tele. And the Custom Shop has done so for various models over the years, like the recent Terry Kath Telecaster and the original Tele Jr that inspired Thorn's.

But production models with reverse control plates as a standard feature are much harder to find. There's the Fender Blacktop Teles, FSR models like the Special Edition Deluxe Ash Telecaster, the Squier Vintage Modified Telecaster SSH, and scant others.

Most Tele players who want a reverse control plate do it themselves. And I joined their ranks over this past weekend. After a few mistakes and some re-soldering fiascos, the playability improvements were immediate. Until the reveal of the Masterbuilt collection, I didn't even know what I was missing. Now, there's no way I'm ever going back.

If you're a Tele player that's also interested in reversing your control plate, you can, at a minimum, merely unscrew the plate and flip it. This puts the tone knob first, which some players prefer, but your selector switch will work in exactly the opposite way you're used to, so you'll probably want to flip that assembly separately also. And if you want your volume in front, you'll need to swap those pots.

However, the wiring can get a little tricky as you flip all these pieces around. For example, the wire to the volume knob in my '64 reissue was too short for me to move it to the front position, without some de-soldering and re-wiring. So while it can be a solder-free mod, it wasn't for me and may not prove to be for you.

There are a few companies that offer pre-wired, aftermarket reverse control plates, like 920D Custom, Austin Guitar Repair, Fralin, and more.

But this whole process does beg the question: Why don't more Telecasters just come this way?

Do you love your Tele's standard control plate? Have you done this mod yourself? Let us know.

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