Friday, November 17, 2006

Playing Jazz On A Fender Telecaster


The type of guitar on which a person plays jazz is usually an Archtop, a big hollow-bodied guitar that gives the fat, mellow tone typical of a jazz guitar. [for picture of an archtop, see my previous article on Eastman:Made-in-China jazz guitars]. Although no one can argue that archtops give a superlative tone for jazz, they do have one problem: feedback. That hollow body is very prone to feedback, and makes an expensive archtop [those with the carved instead of laminated top] become like an uncontrollable thoroughbred horse when playing in a live band situation. Trying to do some inspired playing while that big wooden body is vibrating underneath you, and could at any moment suddenly turn into a howling monster is impossible. Also, archtops are great when you are playing alone or in a very quiet small band setting. At open jamming sessions, in noisy clubs, and playing with drums and horns, archtop tones, though sweet, cannot cut through the noise.
A Fender Telecaster, on the other hand, can sound very jazzy without being prone to feedback. A Telecaster can also be heard loud and clear in a band setting. In my opinion, it is about the only solid-body electric guitar that can play jazz. Try playing straight-ahead jazz on the Tele's cousin the Stratocaster, or even on a Gibson Les Paul and you will agree. Famous Canadian jazz guitarist Ed Bickert always uses a Telecaster and if you didn't know it was a Tele, you would think it was the sweetest sounding archtop you ever heard. Many others have at one time or other used a Tele though for purposes of image and branding jazz guitarists definitely look better photographed with an archtop. The Tele's sound derives from a combination of several factors: it's string-through body whereby the strings are routed through the big slab of wood that is it's body, it's huge ashtray-like bridge assembly, and it's resonant brass saddles. No other solid-body can sound like a Tele. The twangy bridge pick-up is it's trade-mark sound and makes the Tele a Country musician's requisite guitar. But the neck pick-up has a unique sound that is great for jazz. The combination of clarity, mellowness and sustain makes for a very jazzy, sophisticated sound guitar if fitted with strings of at least 0.11 thickness. My Tele in the photograph below is a Fender Custom Shop Dan Smith Limited Edition. No. 18 of 20 that were made. It is even more suited for jazz, having a chambered [hollowed out] Mahogany body [ as compared with Ash for a normal Tele], and has a P-90 pickup in the neck position. A P-90 pickup is a single-coil pickup, but having the fatness of a humbucker. It's tone combines the clarity of a single-coilwith the fatness of a humbucker.
*The first photograph shows me playing a standard black pickguard Butterscotch Tele in a club setting at Heidi's Jazz Club, Cocoa Beach, Florida. Known simply as Blackguards by Telecaster connoisseurs, [see www.theblackguardbook.com ] those made between 1951 -1961 and in good original condition can fetch between US$20000-$80000 on the vintage guitar market.

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