Butterscotch body, maple neck, black pickguard, it’s as classic a Tele as you can find, but what does it sound like? I’m using Tonestack for clean tones and Bias for rockier stuff.
Well, acoustically, it’s got a great, clanging lively tone – which we like as it nearly always translates into a vivid electric tone. It feels very good to play, that deep neck and that tight Fender scale really puts up just enough fight to make it interesting.
Plugged in, through a clean amp the bridge pickup is simply gorgeous. It’s bright and cutting, but the sharpness is tempered by a hint of creaminess and there is not a hint of the harshness that I’ve often found on a poorer Tele, The tone has incredible focus and definition but there is a broadness and depth to it as well – there is almost the body of a really good P90 there. Of course it will do country, and it is a clear, rich, juicy noise, but the bridge alone will do a great funk tone and fusion jazz. Through a heavier amp there is a brilliant 60s rock tone (you’ll see what Jimmy Page saw in the Tele) but whack up the distortion and the Tele just soaks it up, the bridge pickup never gets shrill even with lunatic amounts of gain. There is always definition and responsiveness.
It is one of the best Tele pickups I have ever played. I loved the bridge unit on the 1960s Baja, the tone is slightly softer and warmer, but as great as that is, this is better.
Both pickups together gives you a wonderful plucky, percussive , compressed tone. Dirty it sounds great, but keep it clean and it is sublime. Warm and fluid, it will handle funk but will also give you a terrific warmer country tone and a lovely Robben Ford/Robert Cray set of tones.
The neck just gives you the juiciest Hendrix sound you could ever want. I found that I did not want any effects on it at all, why would you want to add anything to it? Of course, once I finished my Bold as love-Little Wing medley (with the biggest smile on my face) I did experiment with modulation effects, the neck unit ran with every effect I could throw at it. With a Univibe, it just made the most beautiful noises. To be honest, I don’t think this pickup knows how to sound bad. The 60s Baja sounds great at the neck, but this is just that bit better.
Position 4 on the selector gives both pickups in series. The effect is not quite that of a humbucker, I thought it was more of a mix of a very good P90 and a Alnico 3 humbucker – both pickups are well balanced anyway and the incisiveness of the bridge really worked with the warmth of the beck. This setting is not a gimmick, it is wonderful clean but this setting really responds to a crunchy amp setting – and if you’re into any form of rootsy rock then you have to ask if you need a humbucker at all.
So now onto the S1 switching – I loved what this did on the 1960s Baja, it really opened up the tonal palette. Here…..well, you certainly get two new phasy tones that would be great for funk, but the S1 switching is nowhere near as well voiced as it is on the newer model.
But, I don’t think that matters too much because this is a guitar that is insanely versatile, you want country? you’ve got a truly epic set of tones, you want blues, funk, jazz, rock? It loves it, it will even shred like a good ‘un.
And it is beautiful and it handles great and it keeps it’s used value incredibly well and you can buy it for £665.
You often hear that it is almost impossible to buy a bad guitar these days, that modern designs and production methods mean that there is no market anymore for bad guitars. And that is true. You expect quality at any price these days, but there are still moments when you come across something that is so magnificent that you just have to sit back and admire it.
The 1950s Baja Tele is every reason you wanted to play the electric guitar. Buy it.