Over the past few months, I’ve written over 200 posts and have gone through them to give my favourite ones another airing. This is the review I did for the lovely new Fender Baja 1960s Tele. origionally split into 2 parts, here I’ve published it complete. Enjoy!
Over the past few years, the Mexican-made Baja Tele has gained a truly steller reputation as being a superb sounding, beautiful guitar with a custom vibe at a reasonable price. There are those (the Baja has some fanatical fans) who whisper, is this the best Tele ever?
So given the success of the 1952 flavoured Baja, it is not surprising that Fender have extended the range with the introduction of the Modern Player Baja 60s Telecaster. Like the original, this is a classic Tele (none of that shaped body nonsense here) with the deluxe fittings that makes the Baja so desirable.
Some things are unchanged, there is still the traditional bridge with 3 bridge saddles and the S-1 circuitry is still there. But the Broadcaster and Twisted Tele pickups have been replaced by a 58 Tele at the bridge and a 58 Tele at the neck. The maple fingerboard is replaced by a rosewood board and the ash body replaced by alder. All these effect the tone, of which more later. There are also 3 new colours, sunburst, candy apple red and a lovely faded sonic blue
First impressions are…it is certainly a Telecaster and the construction is how we expect from Mexico these days. The basic joinery is flawless and all joints are very neat. The paintwork is superb (oh! that sonic blue!) and the whole thing just feels so well put together. The rosewood fingerboard is smooth and instantly playable and the 21 medium jumbo frets are well laid even if they felt like they could have done with an extra polish.
Played acoustically, there is a lovely open freshness to the tone, which certainly bodes well and the whole thing balances against the body very well. But then, Leo got the design perfect in 1949, so we expect that.
The 60s Baja has what is described as a 60s C shape. Together with the 9.5″ radius, this gives a really modern feel to it. So modern in fact that the neck shape does feel a little bland, The original Baja had a chunkier shape that was more of a handful and I really liked that as it felt that the guitar wanted to fight with me a little. Of course, neck shapes are hugely subjective, so what feels bland to me may be nirvana to you.
So bland or not, it is still a reasonably quick neck, Tuning with the vintage style pegs was rock solid and intonation seemed fine – 3 saddles is always a compromise here but the Bajas I’ve paled have always been spot-on with intonation. The saddles are described as chrome but look like brass to me and it certainly felt like it gave the guitar that slightly softer tone that I like so much.
The S-1 controls are unchanged in the new Baja, Position 1. Bridge Pickup, Position 2. Bridge and Neck Pickups (In Parallel), Position 3. Neck Pickup, Position 4. Neck and Bridge Pickups (In Series)
For my sound checks I used a Fender Blues Junior and a lovely ’65 Twin reissue. I also played the Baja through Bias and my new love, Tonestack.
So it’s a Tele, I had to whack it through the Twin. For many years I was biased against the Tele because of unhappy experiences with a 1978 and a 1981. Both expensive guitars that simply sounded horrible. Painfully shrill clean, muddy when distorted. I though all Teles were meant to sound like this.
This Baja is simply on a higher plane. Through the Twin the bridge pickup simply explodes in sparklyness. It is the sonic equivalent to a lemon sorbet, sweet, bright and refreshing. Chord work is wonderfully full with all the notes just blending together so well.
Solo work? I’ve spent a lot of time recently doing very, very bad Scotty Anderson impersonations (check him out on youtube, sensational country player) and the tone this guitar pushes out is stunning. Definition is full and bright but everything seems coated in a rich, subtle creamy tone that makes it very hard to stop playing (I’m still playing as I type). Wound up on the Blues Junior, the tone gets a bit darker (that rosewood board?) and there is clarity and definition that never descends to the dreaded icepick through the forehead effect.
Even with distortion wound up on Bias there is always a richness and clarity to the sound – it really is almost impossible to get a bad tone out of this.
Position 2 gives you bridge and neck in parallel and a creamy, juicy tone that of course is perfect for funk but has a touch-sensitive character that really opens up as you dig into the strings – it’s a great solo tone as well.
Position 3 is a brilliant neck tone – it’s like the juiciest Strat neck tone with a more pronounced middly bite. Of course it will do the Hendrix/SRV thing but there is a great jazz tone and push the distortion and you have a lovely flutey tone that is great for anything from 80’s poodle rock to a bit of fusion jazz.
Position 4 is the biggie – both pickups in series and this means it turns the, into the biggest, warmest, juiciest, fur-lined, ocean going humbucker of all time. Of course it sounds great clean but through a vintage-type overdriven amp (Tonestack’s Anglia model is a very happy choice here) it is simply wild. A gorgeus, warm, living tone that responds so well to your technique. It is also as good a 1969 Jimmy Page tone as I’ve heard. It will shred very happily but it is in that space with the dirt turned down that it truly sounds its best.
And there is more – engaging the S-1 switch hollows out the tone on all the settings. To my ears, the effect seems much more subtle than on the old Baja and in consequence much more musical and usable. The S-1 tones on the 50’s Baja were so different and so hollowed out that I could only think of them as useful for some funk playing. On the 60’s Baja, the changes are much more modest but much more useful. The S-1 tones are meant to be the core of this guitars tone, but now they really add to the palette.
So for you £665 you get a well made Telecaster that will survive anything short of a direct missile attack and bring you happiness and joy for the next 65 years. You also get one of the best sounding guitars I’ve played in years. If I’m pushed, I prefer the snappier attack and beefier neck of the original Baja (and I am a sucker for the butterscotch and black pickguard combination) But the slightly darker and sweeter tone of the 60s Baja is a thing of rare beauty and provides a perfect contrast. Hell, get both for about the same as a US Standard and you’ll have some of the greatest Tele tones Fender has ever made. £665? It is a bargain.