The Anatomy Of A Telecaster

The Neck

The neck of a Tele is traditionally bolted onto the body with four or six bolts the heads of which are covered by a steel blanking plate. If you look around you can find examples of all neck mounting styles amongst the telecaster copies - bolted, glued and screwed; set (glued) and even through necks where the neck continues right through the body and has the bridge mounted directly on it. This single piece construction can improve the resonance and sustain of the guitar, but to the Tele purist - "it ain't no Telecaster". A detachable neck is an essential feature of a Tele. It enables you to change the neck easily - if the neck is damaged, worn or you simply want to try a different style.

Leo Fender's first guitar necks were built in like those of a Spanish guitar with thick 'U' profiles because they had no truss rod to take the string tension. This quickly changed with the introduction of a metal rod (the truss rod) through the length of neck to give strength; allow a thinner profile neck and permit adjustment of the neck tension (see setting up your guitar). Originally, the fingerboard and neck were cut from a single piece of maple, so the truss rod was loaded into the neck from the back. The resulting channel was then back-filled with a rosewood inlay giving the characteristic skunk stripe on the back of the neck of early Telecasters.

Telecaster necks are generally narrower at the nut (the top end of the fingerboard, by the headstock) than other styles of guitar, in some cases as little as 1.61" (41mm). Even vintage Teles, with their deep 'U' section neck are only 1.65" (42mm) wide at the nut which is the average for most 'standard' Telecasters. Some players have found this a little too narrow for comfort and modern necks tend to be a little wider at 1.6875" (43mm), making fretting at the neck a little easier. The narrowness of the neck certainly contributes to the playing style adopted by most Telecaster aficionados.

The Fingerboard

The neck and fingerboard of modern Telecasters are usually two distinct pieces, allowing the truss rod to be loaded into the neck from the front, before the fingerboard is fitted. This allows the manufacturer to offer different types of fingerboard while minimising construction costs. Most Telecasters feature maple or Rosewood fingerboards, although ebony and other more expensive woods can be found. Maple is generally thought to give a brighter tone than rosewood, but since so many guitarists grow up using rosewood fingerboards on other types of guitars, Rosewood is offered on some Telecasters as a familiar alternative.

The radius of the fingerboard (the curvature from edge to edge) of Telecasters varies from 7.5" (184m) on vintage models to a gentler 9.5" (241mm) or even 10.5" on later models. In general, the fingerboard radius is tighter than that found on other styles of guitar, where the radius is often as great as 12.5". The tighter radius contributes to the unique nature of the Telecaster.

Fingerboards usually have 21 or 22 frets, constructed with Medium or medium jumbo fretwire. The neck should meet the body at the 17th fret, access to the higher frets being via the single cutaway of the body.

The Body

The body of a solid bodied electric guitar contributes significantly to the resonance and tone of the instrument. The best Telecasters are cut from a single piece of solid tonewood, with cavities routed out for the pickups and controls. A tonewood is a medium to densely grained hardwood, chosen for its resonant qualities. Telecaster bodies are not usually cut from very dense woods such as mahogany. When Leo Fender started out, he never specified which wood the bodies were cut from, using whichever woods were available at the time, although he principally used Alder and settled on that as the standard. These days Fender Telecaster bodies are either Alder or Swamp Ash. Good copy guitars use a variety of woods - Alder, Ash, Poplar, Agathis, Basswood and a host of other seasonal woods - the cheaper copies may even use plywood or MDF!

How do you tell what the wood is under layers of paint and lacquer without destroying the finish? The simplest way to judge the quality of the wood in the body is to feel the weight of the guitar - a good Tele clone will weigh around 4kgs. If you can remove the pickguard you will expose some unpainted wood in the body cavity routings for examination. Of course, with a painted and lacquered guitar body, it is difficult to tell whether the body is cut from a single piece of wood or a number of glued pieces. With glued pieces the joins may just be visible as minute ridges in the finish, but skilled paint and lacquer applications will completely mask this. Ultimately the only way to tell if it's a good body is to try it! Play the guitar unamplified to judge its resonant qualities.



The headstock on a Telecaster, whilst having no real affect on the sound of the guitar, is one of it's most recognisable characteristics. Lean and mean, with the tuning pegs aligned along it's upper edge, it has a smaller profile than the headstock of other Fender models.



The original Telecaster bridge featured three individually adjustable brass saddles with the strings passing through the bridge plate to be secured by metal ferrules mounted in the guitar's body. This arrangement, designed by Leo Fender himself has the benefit of maximising the resonance and sustain of the guitar. The large brass saddles provide a good point of contact with the guitar as they have relatively high mass, the contact being pyrther enhanced by the strings passsing through the body.

The disadvantage of this arrangement is that the intonation of the guitar is a compromise as pairs of strings have to share the same string length. To combat this, the modern six saddle bridge is available as an alternative on many Telecaster variants. The intonation is perfect, at the expense of some of the guitar's resonance.

The toploader bridge appeared during the CBS years at Fender. On a toploader, The strings are secured through the back edge of the bridge plate, rather than passing through the body which helps bring the manufacturing cost of the guitar down as precision drilled holes are not required in the body to secure the strings. Securing the strings on the bridge plate further reduces the strings contact with the body of the guitar and thus reduces the resonance and sustain of the intrument. Toploader bridges are available in both three and six saddle varieties but are generally only used on budget guitars these days.




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A Naked Body


Vintage Bridge

Modern Bridge