Fender Telecaster: The Best and Worst Years to Buy
The best years to buy a Fender Telecaster and the worst ones to avoid it, the golden and dark ages of the first mass-produced guitar model.
Fender Telecaster: Features and Qualities Through the Years
The Fender Telecaster is the first mass-produced electric guitar. Although the first guitar manufactured is the Esquire, which is its version with a single pickup in the bridge, the Telecaster is considered the first electric guitar. If you want to know more about this, read the history of guitar. Like the Stratocaster, this is a copied guitar and an inspirational model for other manufacturers such as Ibanez, Jackson, Yamaha and many more. It is a super versatile guitar, which can be used to play Metal like John 5 uses it, Rock like Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen and others, and Country like Brad Paisley. The sound of the Telecaster is unique with its attack and bright twang, which suits any musical genre. Its most prominent sound is that of the bridge pickup, which for many guitarists is the best tone guitar in the bridge position.
One of the most curious things is that Leo Fender was simply an amplifier manufacturer, who started building electric guitars to increase the market for his amplifiers. Today Fender is the leading guitar manufacturer in the world. Thus, the Telecaster was the guitar that started it all. Since 1950, the world of music changed forever. The Telecaster has been produced continuously since its launch, being the electric guitar made for the longest time. All this without substantive changes, although there are many variants.
You can also read our post about best Fender Stratocaster Years to Buy and Worst Years to Avoid.
The Telecaster and its different names
The Telecaster was initially released as the Fender Broadcaster. A few months after the release and after a dispute with Gretsch who had a line of drums under the Broadkaster name, Fender stopped using it. Thus, the «Nocaster» guitars appeared, which only had the Decal with the Fender brand, but said nothing about the model. It was not until 1952 that the name Telecaster appeared.
“Pre CBS” Era (1950-1964): The Golden Age of the Fender Telecaster
The Telecaster -Broadcaster and Nocaster- manufactured in these years are the best ones and the most sought after by vintage guitar collectors. If you want to buy the best Fender Telecaster regardless of its price, these are the best years to consider. If you are going to buy one, you can be interested in the use of black Light to examine vintage guitars with UV Light. Depending on the sound, aesthetic and musical genre you like, you will have a different period. Options are maple and ash (1950-1958 period), and rosewood and alder or ash (1959-1964 period). The values of these instruments usually exceed $ 12,000, and depending on their condition and year can reach $ 60,000.
1950-1958 Period: The Maple and Ash Butterscotch Telecaster
The Fender Esquire, one-pickup version of the Telecaster guitar, was released in 1950, followed immediately by the Broadcaster, the two-pickup version. The first Telecaster -Broadcaster and Nocaster- are characterized by having an ash body with a Butterscotch finish, a fat, «chunky» one-piece maple neck. Other features of the guitar are the ashtray bridge that covers the bridge pickup, the single-ply black phenolic pickguard, and the round string guide in the headstock. In 1954, the first Telecasters with white pickguards appeared. From the middle of 1956, the bodies begin to be made of alder.
In 1957, the V neck profile began to be used and the plastic parts were changed from polystyrene to ABS plastic. Starting in 1958, paying five percent more, you could choose a Custom color and an ash body.
In the middle of 1958, Fender implements the Top Loading bridge. The objective of this was to lower costs, and also, that the strings will have less tension. However, the Top Loading bridge was not well received by Telecaster fans. Then, in the middle of 1959, the String-through bridge was retaken. Fender modifies Top Loading bridges for use with string-through-body construction. The stock of modified bridges was used until the end of 1962.
Tonal Characteristics of Fender Maple and Ash
Maple fretboards have a bright tone with a sparkling attack, ideal for those looking for clear tone. The body was initially made of pine, but there were also ash and alder. But the most characteristic and representative of these years was the ash, which is characterized by having a “scooped” audio, that is, good highs and lows, as well as soft mid frequencies. This combination of tonewoods provides a defined and dynamic tone ideal for clean or with little saturation tones.
These are the most appreciated and iconic Fender Telecaster, plus they are the most expensive. These guitars are perfect for playing clean tones and achieving the characteristic twang of the Telecaster.
1959-1964 period: The Telecaster with alder body and rosewood fretboard
Starting in 1959, alder began to be used as the main tonewood for Fender guitars bodies due to cost issues. Alder is a more abundant wood, easier to work with and also absorbs less paint. This tonewood is warmer than Swamp Ash, as it has a mid-focused frequency curve. Alder is ideal for anyone looking for a versatile guitar that sounds good with clean and overdriven audio.
Also, Fender began making necks with slab-type rosewood fretboards in 1959. This is done because the maple fretboard stains once the lacquer wears off. Rosewood, already used by Gibson for the Les Paul, is dark brown in color and does not stain and maintains the aesthetics unchanged. The rosewood fretboard has a rounder, warmer tone than the maple one. This is because it is a tonewood with a lot of presence of medium frequencies and not as many highs as maple. Thus, in 1959 the iconic Fender Telecaster Custom appears with a double binding on the body. In 1963, the single-ply pickguard was replaced by a three-ply pickguard.
However, Telecaster with swamp ash body and one-piece maple neck were also available during this period.
Guitar necks and manual construction
Throughout the 1950’s and much of the 1960’s there were many versions of neck profiles. This is due not only to design changes, but also to the fact that the necks were made by hand. Thus, in these years there are no two identical necks, there are no two identical guitars. That’s why it was so common in those years for a musician to try so many guitars until they found one that was comfortable for them, as well as that they liked the tone of it.
1950-1964 Fender Telecaster Prices
The prices listed below for Fender Telecaster guitars made between 1950 and 1964 vary depending on the condition of the musical instrument. The price ranges detailed below are the most common at which Fender Telecasters of these years are sold and bought. But there are not-so-frequent cases that they exceed or fall below the detailed price ranges.
- The 1950, 1951, 1952, and 1953 Fender Broadcaster, Nocaster, and Telecaster command the highest prices, and are the Holy Grail of the model, with average prices ranging from $ 20,000 to $ 60,000. Thus, these are the most expensive years to buy a Fender Telecaster, Broadcaster or Nocaster.
- Fender Telecaster Butterscotch and Blonde from 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958 have an average value of between $ 12,000 and $ 25,000.
- 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1964 Fender Telecaster Blonde with ash body typically range in price from $ 11,000 to $ 22,000.
- The 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1964 Fender Telecaster with alder body typically range in average price from $15,000 to $40,000.
- Fender Telecaster Custom with alder body from 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964 typically have an average price range of $ 9,000 to $ 20,000.
So, as you can see, the closer to 1950 the more expensive the guitars are and as the years go by, the prices of the Fender Telecaster go down.
The CBS Era (1965-1985)
This is a very frowned upon time, Fender is bought by the CBS corporation -Columbia Broadcasting System- which changes the manufacturing methods from an artisanal style, to an industrial mass production one. However, the changes are gradual, and in the early years of the CBS Era (1965-1966) they are transitional and you can find very good Fender Telecaster guitars that many collectors are looking to buy. Also, in the later years from 1967-1971, you can still find guitars that are worth buying, as the quality is still good.
Then come the darkest years of Fender that go between 1972-1980, where the quality falls to very low levels. Most of the Fender failures -rarest, ugliest and weirdest guitars- were designed in these time. You should avoid the Fender Telecaster of these years. Finally, the last few years have witnessed a recovery of Fender’s quality and prestige with the Dan Smith Era between mid-1981 and 1983.
So, through the CBS years, you can find instruments almost up to the Pre-CBS era in 1965 and 1966; Fender’s worst years which are between 1972 and 1980, and intermediate points such as the periods from 1967-1971 and from 1981 onwards.
1965-1966 Period: Fender Transition Years
At the end of 1964, Leo Fender sells the company to the CBS corporation for 12.5 million dollars. With the new owner, the most important guitar manufacturer in the world begins a change towards mass production. These years are a period of transition from a more artisanal production style to an industrial and massive one. Guitars from this period can be identified by their serial number beginning with L.
One of the first changes in the CBS era is the replacement of the clay Dots with pearloid inlays beginning in late 1964. One notable change is the larger headstock in late 1965. In a marketing move, CBS enlarges the headstock to accommodate a larger, more readable decal.
Also in 1965, Fender offered maple fretboards again. Unlike the Pre-CBS era in which the necks were made of a single piece of maple, the new necks were made of two pieces, these are known as Maple-Cap. In this way, the construction process was the same for necks with rosewood and maple fretboards. Finally, in 1965 the celluloid pickguard was also replaced by ABS or vinyl pickguards.
Despite all these changes, in general they were carried out gradually. Thus, these years are considered of great quality, and after the Pre-CBS Era this is the best and most sought after era by fans of Fender Telecaster guitars.
Prices for Telecaster Blonde and Custom guitars from the years 1965 and 1966 are around USD 7,000 – USD 15,000.
Period 1967-1971: The CBS “good” years
Only in late 1966 and early 1967 is considered the beginning of the pure CBS era. This is where you begin to see how gradual changes become consistent. These changes generally go in the direction of lower costs and quality. Also, you have to understand the context, at the end of the 70s there was strong competition from Japanese guitars, good quality instruments but with prices much lower than American instruments. In search of achieving cost reduction to adapt to the new Japanese competition, it is that the loss of quality of Fender Telecaster guitars is seen.
The main changes of the CBS Era
In 1968, nitrocellulose was replaced by polyurethane as the primary finish on Fender guitars. Although polyurethane lacquer had been used in previous years, as the CBS era advanced, polyurethane finishes became more common, until it became the main finish in 1968. Polyurethane finishes are thicker than nitrocellulose, and affect the resonance of the instrument. In addition, polyurethane lacquer has a more “plastic” shine, which also affects aesthetics. There is very common to find guitars from these years that are refinish. Visit our guide on how to refinish a guitar with nitrocellulose.
Another change is the replacement of the neck plate. Thus, the four-bolt neckplate for some models is replaced by the three-bolt neckplate in 1971. Simultaneously with this change, an adjustment system called Tilt Neck, designed by Leo Fender himself years before, is included. This system allows you to modify the angle of the guitar neck without having to remove it. This really was a very valuable improvement. The standard Telecaster retains the four-bolt neckplate, but the new Deluxe and Custom models with Wide Range humbucker pickups have the new three-bolt neckplate.
Most of the changes were aimed at saving costs. In this way, they also changed bridges and saddles for cheaper design and materials. In addition, the Bullet Truss-rod is introduced.
Expansion of Fender Telecaster versions: Deluxe, Custom, and Paisley Red and Blue Flower finishes
Fender Telecaster Paisley Red y Blue Flower
This period is one of great years for the Telecaster. In 1968, due to the “hippie” movement, the Paisley Red and Blue Flower finishes appeared. These guitars, although they did not have the expected impact in the Psychedelic Rock market, were adopted by the Rockabilly / Country musician, James Burton. These guitars produced between 1968 and 1969 have seen many reissues, and are highly prized by collectors.
For these finishes, Fender used patterned wallpaper that was pasted over the body and spraying clear polyester over the top. Then, on the edges, a strong pink or fuchsia color is used in the Paisley Red and blue in the Blue Flower.
Fender Telecaster Thinline
In the late 1960’s, Fender began to compete against Gibson’s Semi-Hollow guitars by releasing the Fender Coronado in 1966 and then the Telecaster Thinline in 1968. Initially, the Telecaster Thinline had a standard pickup configuration, then in 1971 with Wide pickups. Range. These guitars have been reissued by different lines of Fender.
Wide Range Humbucker pickups and Fender Telecaster Thinline II, Custom and Deluxe
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, after the return of the Gibson Les Paul and heavily overdriven tones, Humbuckers became all the rage. Thus, Fender hires Seth Lover who had designed and developed Gibson’s famous PAF humbucker. In 1970, Seth develops the Wide Range pickups, a Fenderish Humbucker with more brightness and less mids. They were first featured on the Fender Telecaster Thinline II in 1971. Then in 1972 the Custom was released with a Wide Range in the neck position. Finally, in 1973 the Fender Telecaster Deluxe with two Wide Range is launched.
The third most important period
According to vintage guitar collectors, great guitars can still be found from this period. Thus, these years are considered as the third most appreciated period to buy Fender Telecaster guitars. The values of the guitars from these years are significantly lower than the Pre-CBS with prices around USD 4,000 – USD 11,000.
1967-1971 Fender Telecaster Prices
Prices for Fender Telecaster guitars made between 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1971 vary by model, condition, year, and finish. The price ranges detailed below are the most common prices at which Fender Telecasters made in these years are bought and sold. But there are rare cases that may exceed or fall below the listed price ranges.
- Fender Telecasters made in 1967, 1968, and 1969 are typically priced between $ 4,000 and $ 10,000.
- 1970 and 1971 Fender Telecasters are priced on average between $ 3,000 and $ 5,500.
- Fender Telecaster Custom from 1967 to 1971 have average values of $ 7,500 to $ 11,000.
- 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1971 Fender Telecaster Thinline with standard pickup configurations average $3,500 to $7,000.
- Fender Telecaster Thinline II with two Wide Range pickups from 1971, while rare, have an average price ranging from $ 2,300 to $ 3,800.
- 1968 and 1969 Fender Paisley Red and Blue Flower Telecasters typically sell for between $ 10,000 and $ 20,000.
1972-1981 Period: The “Dark” Years of the CBS Era
In this period, the increase in production makes a dent in the quality of musical instruments. Quality controls become more lax. This results in heavy Telecaster guitars over 12 lbs / 5 kg and necks that would come loose. Note the weight of a typical Fender Telecaster is around 7 to 8.2 lbs or 3.2 to 3.7 kg.
The reason for the heavy weight of the guitars of the 70s is that the natural finish became fashionable. Therefore, ash is used again, which has a showy grain. But instead of using lightweight Swamp Ash, Fender uses cheap, heavy ash. Thus, you can find Fender Telecaster made in the 70’s that weigh between 12 and 13 lbs / 5.5 and 6 kg.
One of the few notable things about this period is that Fender releases Telecaster Deluxe and Custom models with Wide Range pickups. First, in 1971, Fender released the Telecaster Thinline II with two Wide Rage pickups. Then in 1972 Fender released the Telecaster Custom with a WR pickup in the neck. Finally, in 1973, Fender released the Deluxe Telecaster with two Wide Range.
In 1981, Fender discontinued the Wide Range Pickups with CuNiFe magnets – copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), iron (Fe) – because they demagnetized easily. Thus, the company also discontinued first the Telecasters Thinline II in 1979, and then the Telecasters Deluxe and Custom in 1981.
Thus, the Fender guitars of these years have the worst quality that the company has had in its history. You can find good guitars to buy, but for the most part Telecaster from these years are bad. You should avoid these years of the Fender Telecaster if you can’t try it. Without a doubt, these years are the darkest period in the history of the Fender Telecaster.
1972-1981 Fender Telecaster Prices
Prices for Fender Telecaster guitars made between 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1971 vary by model, condition, year, and finish. The price ranges detailed below are the most common prices at which Fender Telecasters made in these period are bought and sold. But there are rare cases that may exceed or fall below the listed price ranges.
- Fender Standard Telecasters from 1972, 1973, and 1974 are typically priced between $ 2,000 and $ 4,000.
- Fender Telecaster Standard from the years 1975 to 1981 have an average value of between $ 1,300 and $ 2,500.
- 1971 and 1979 Fender Telecaster Thinline II with two Wide Range pickups average $ 2,200 to $ 4,500.
- Fender Telecaster Custom with a Wide Range pickup in the neck position from 1972 to 1981 have average values of $ 1,600 to $ 3,800.
- Fender Telecaster Deluxe with two Wide Range pickups from 1973 and 1981 have an average price of between $ 1,500 and $ 3,000.
Period 1981-1984: The Dan Smith Era (1981-1983) and the end of the CBS Era (1985)
Fender wants to reverse the decline, and decides to hire William (Bill) Schultz, John McLaren, and Dan Smith from Yamaha’s American Division, with the aim of regaining lost prestige.
Dan Smith was an engineer and takes control of the Fender plant. One of his first decisions is to reduce the number of guitars produced per month. Thus, it seeks that each manufactured musical instrument has greater dedication. At the same time, Dan reviews the general specifications of all the guitar models, although the modifications are mainly made on the Strats. Also, Dan listens to the guitarists’ complaints to understand the company’s falling sales.
Bill Schultz, new President of Fender, implements an investment program to modernize the Fender factory in Fullerton. This meant that production stopped while the new production plant was installed and staff trained on the new machinery during 1982.
In 1982, the Vintage Reissue Series was also released, which included a reissue of the 1952 Butterscotch Telecaster. Thus, the traditional specifications of the Fender Telecaster of the early years are taken up: one-piece maple neck and ash body. These guitars are highly appreciated by fans of the Telecaster. These guitars can be found at Reverb with prices ranging from $2,500 – $5,000, depending on their condition.
The popular Standard Series is born
Also in the Dan Smith Era the new and famous Standard Series range is launched, discontinued in 2018. In addition, modern series such as the Fender Telecaster Elite with two active pickups and four controls are launched in 1983, but that would be discontinued in 1985. Also, Smith uses Top Loading bridges for the Telecasters and Strats.
Thanks to these changes, added to the incorporation of Eric Clapton as an endorser, the Company manages to reverse the process of decline. Thus, Fender redirects its path and regains prestige.
In 1984, CBS begins negotiations to sell Fender. A year later, in 1985, CBS sells Fender to a consortium of investors.
FMIC Modern Era (1985-Present)
The Modern or FMIC Era begins with a period of quality improvement and innovation between 1985 and 1988. Modern guitars such as the Telecaster Plus and Plus Deluxe are released. Then comes Fender’s second Dark Age, the Modern Dark Age which is between 1989 and 1997. Then from 1998 onwards, there is a gradual improvement in quality that continues to the present day. The last few years are excellent years to buy a Fender Telecaster for those who don’t want to spend a lot of money on a vintage Pre-CBS or early CBS guitar.
Period 1985-1989: Beginning of the FMIC Era
On March 5, 1985, CBS sold the rights to patents, plans and trademarks -not all- of Fender to a consortium of investors. Thus, the Fender Music Instrument Corporation (FMIC) was born, which still controls the company. The transaction does not include the Fullerton plant, nor its machinery, which is closed and sold separately. Thus, no Fender Telecasters were made in America for most of 1985.
Between February and October 1985, all Fender-brand guitars were made in Japan. In 1986 the new plant opened in Corona, California, which is still the main Fender factory today. A year later, in 1987, Fender opened the Ensenada factory in northern Mexico.
1989-1997 Period: Fender’s Second Dark Age
During the late 1980s, Fender had strong sales growth thanks to the recovery of quality and prestige. However, this increase causes a demand in production, which, added to the saving measures they take, results in new quality problems.
The Fender American Standard Telecaster and the new Plus and Plus Deluxe are starting to come with poplar bodies. Poplar is a cheaper and less showy wood. For this reason, alder and ash veneers are used. In addition, in Sunburst finishes, the belly cuts are covered with a black finish so that the veneer and the joints of the different pieces that make up the body are not visible.
Telecaster guitars from this period are frowned upon, and players avoid these years when purchasing. It’s the darkest modern era for Fender under FMIC control. The only Fender Telecaster that maintain prestige are the Fender Telecaster Vintage Reissue Series, which maintain the traditional specifications of the model, with good quality materials and construction.
Fender Telecaster Plus and Plus Deluxe
These are a modern Series that come with Lace Sensor stack pickups. Some versions also come with a tremolo bridge like the one on the Stratocaster Standard. On the control plate there is an additional switch for splitting the double bridge pickup. Bodies are made of poplar veneered of alder or ash.
Period 1998-2011: Fender Recovery
Starting in 1998, Fender begins actions to improve quality. The Fender American Standard Telecasters return to a solid alder body. Thus, in these years, Fender recovers its prestige and quality. The Telecaster electric guitars manufactured in these years are really good, although they still have modifications in their specifications.
Fender intelligently allocates production between the factories of its two brands: Fender and Squier. Thus, it distributes the Telecaster models according to their quality among its different plants. Thus, in Mexico and Japan factories, Fender builds its mid-range guitars. On the other hand, low-end cheap Telecaster guitars to compete with Asian guitars, are made in China and Indonesia mainly under the Squier brand. Although there are also Fender bass models of Chinese origin, such as the Telecaster Thinline Modern Player.
Thus, production in the United States is almost exclusively for mid-high, high and Premium range guitars. These guitars have improved in quality, from the Fender American Standard Telecaster, to the reissues of vintage models, all of which are made to more accurate vintage specs. The same goes for Fender’s production in Mexico, which over the years has shown great improvement based on more experience.
Period 2012-Present: Modern Golden Era
From 2012 to the present, in our opinion, we are experiencing a Modern Golden Age. While we don’t intend to put it up to the Pre-CBS Era, the quality of Telecaster guitars from current years is excellent. The specifications of the Fender Telecasters of these years are in line with the legacy of the longest guitar in history. Thus, you can find American Vintage Reissue with more correct vintage specifications and its successors, the American Original, combine vintage tone with modern playability.
In addition, FMIC has developed a vast catalog of instruments at various price and quality levels, with specifications for each type of guitarist. Thus, Fender manages to reach niches like never before. An example of this is Fender’s Parallel and Squier’s Paranormal series.
It has never been so easy to buy the best Fender Telecaster for you as in these years.
What years of Fender Telecaster are the best to buy?
If you are considering buying a Telecaster, the best period to buy is the years of the Pre-CBS Era, that is from 1950 to 1964. Here you will find the best Fender Telecaster, although at a really high price, with prices above USD 11,000.
Second, the early years of the CBS Era are also great years to buy a Telecaster guitar, especially the Transition Period of 1965 and 1966. Also in the years 1967 through 1971 you can find some great Fender Telecasters to buy. These instruments already have reasonable values, with prices normally above USD 4,000.
Lastly, while there are good periods after 1971, we recommend the current (2012-present) Fender Telecasters, which have excellent quality and cheaper prices. Unless you’re looking for an original Wide Range Telecaster like the Thinline II, Custom or Deluxe.
It is worth mentioning that also between 1972 and 1975 you can find good Telecaster guitars, but during these and later years of the CBS Era, we recommend not to buy blindly. Always try guitars from this period, in case you can’t, avoid buying them.
Summary of the best years to buy a Fender Telecaster:
1950-1964: The Golden Age of Fender, incredible Telecaster guitars; but with sky-high prices above $ 11,000.
1965-1966: The second most sought after period by Fender Telecaster guitar collectors; even the prices are very high, above $ 7,000 up to $ 15,000.
1967-1971: The overall quality of Fender Telecaster guitars remains very high. Prices are beginning to be not so high, with values between $ 7,000 and $ 13,000. But there are some rare models that are more expensive like the Paisley Red and Blue Flower Telecaster that can reach up to $ 20,000.
1972-1975: You can still find good instruments, but you have to try them, without exception. The prices of the Telecaster of these years are much more accessible and start at $ 2,300.
2012-Present: Current Fenders are excellent quality at a relatively low price compared to the periods listed above. There’s also the Custom Shop who make amazing instruments, at a noticeably higher price, but well below Pre-CBS and early CBS-era Telecasters.
Vintage and Custom Shop Reissues
1982-Present: Vintage Reissues of the Telecaster manufactured after 1982 generally maintain excellent quality, despite their not-so-Vintage Correct specifications.
1987-Present: The Fender Telecaster guitars in the Custom Shop over the years have also maintained a very high quality since their inception in 1987.
Summary of the worst years to buy a Fender Telecaster:
1976-1980: These are the worst years of the Fender Telecaster that we recommend avoiding, although you can always try an instrument and be pleasantly surprised.
1986-1989: Although the quality is good, the instruments are somewhat modern, except for the reissues, and go beyond the essence of the Telecaster.
1989-1997: Fender’s second Dark Age, instruments drop in quality significantly and alternative materials are used in some cases.
Tell us about your experience buying Fender Telecaster guitars in the comments section below.