I recently reviewed the superb Fender 60s Baja Tele. I loved it, it’s an exceptional guitar in everyway. So I’ve gone back to the original 50’s Baja, a guitar that has proved to be a huge success for Fender and a guitar that has transformed what people think about Mexican Fenders.
Incredibly, the Baja has now been around for 7 years and began as a design project by master builder Chris Fleming. He put together a wish list of features and equipment and trained a production team at the Fender plant in Ensenada to make it.
The result? One of the great Teles. So lets have a look at it.
Even if you’ve played a thousand Teles, there is still a shock in appreciating the genius of it. How did Leo get it so perfect 65 years ago? It austere beauty makes most designs out there seem immature and foolish.
Woodwork and Hardware
And the one I’m playing seems the epitome of this beautiful simplicity. There is a ash body with a butterscotch finish, letting some of the woodgrain through. The finish is flawless and though many would prefer a nitro finish to the poly you have here, the poly keeps the price down and is pretty bulletproof. It’s a pukka Tele body too, none of this contoured nonsense. Does it hurt your ribs after 2 hours? Of course! but that builds character. The one I played also had the classic black scratchguard.
One day, someone will write a poem about the neck. It looks sensational and there is a satisfying sense of body to the soft V shape. It’s a handful in the sense that it supports the hand and playing it for any length of time makes you understand that a thick neck, even if it feels awkward at first, can be an incredibly comfortable thing to play. The balance that Fender have here is pretty much perfect – the neck has depth and body, but still feels quick.
The 21 frets were well set and polished and the maple fingerboard was a lovely thing to play on. The neck has a poly gloss finish. Now. this is not my favourite finish, once your hands sweat, it can become a very sticky place to be. But the finish on the Baja is nowhere near as thick as some Fenders I’ve played recently and is consequentially much more playable (but c’mon Fender, how about a satin option, or even better, the sublime finish on the neck of the Roadworn Tele). The 9.5″ radius is great for rhythm work and plenty flat enough for a touch of the Yngwie’s. There seems to be a lot of online anger against Fender for their 9.5″ boards, I’ve always found it to be an excellent balance.
The hardware is exactly what you want for a 50’s flavoured Tele. Vintage style slotted tuners – they work, trust me. A well cut, accurate nut and a 3 saddle bridge. I love, love, love this bridge. The saddles are brass and this has such an effect on the tone, sweetening that bridge pickup snarl and pouring a little bit of cream over the overall tone. Intonation on my guitar was close to perfect, but keep an eye on it as intonation is the only real potential issue with a 3 saddle bridge. And, lets face it, 3 saddles just look so cool.
This is where it gets very interesting indeed. Like the 60s Baja, you have the S-1 switching and a 4-way selector. The selector gives you bridge-both-neck-both in series. The last option is a humbucker like tone that I’ll go into more detail on tomorrow.
The S-1 switch adds additional tonal options to this, using the 4-way selector, positions two and four offer varying combinations of neck and bridge pickups in series, parallel, plus in and out of phase, depending on whether the S-1 is engaged. But all this would count for nothing if the pickups are no use.
But what we have here is a Custom Shop Broadcaster at the bridge and a Custom Shop Twisted Tele at the neck. It’s a well matched pair (indeed, the 2015 US Standard Tele will have the same combination) and is a very high-quality set for a sub £700 guitar.
Fender have poured a lot of high quality parts into this guitar and it looks fantastic as a result. Construction is very solid and all joints and finishes appeared clean.
So what does it sound like? We’ll find out tomorrow.