The venerable Fender Telecaster has spawned a zillion clones, some good and some bad. The Tele has been adopted by players in a variety of styles, but arguably it has been best known for its use in country music. I have loved Teles for a long time, and I own five of them. I was inspired to play Teles by some of my favorite pickers, guys like Roy Buchanan, Ed Bickert, Albert Collins, Jimmy Bryant, Danny Gatton and Jerry Reed. Many guitarists joke that a Tele is a “real man’s” guitar because it is generally somewhat harder to play than say, a Gibson, and its tone is quite naked and doesn’t cover for sloppy technique. Interestingly, you could say it was one of the first guitars to be modified as Fender introduced a semi-hollow and versions with different pickup combinations. So now here comes Tradition Guitars with their take on the Tele, and it has some interesting features.
Who is Jerry Reid?
I first saw one of these in a local store and was a bit bamboozled that there was a Jerry Reed model guitar coming out after the great man had passed away. But we do live in a time of dead-guy endorsements, so I just tried the guitar and I thought it was pretty impressive. Flash-forward to my getting this guitar for a review, and I come to find out it isn’t Jerry Reed, but Jerry Reid. My first thought was, “Hmmm, what’s all this then?” What I found out is that Mr. Reid played for Mel Tillis, George Jones and bought his first Tradition guitar in a music store. He loved it, and so he hooked up with the company to consult on the development of this guitar. He has since passed away.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
But we are pickers and can just take a guitar for what it is, so let’s have a look-see. The JR Pro has an ash body with a nice looking quilted maple top. This particular JR Pro seems slightly on the heavy side, but not too bad… about 7–8 lbs. Our example has a pretty-looking amber transparent color. It also has a maple neck and fingerboard with a tilted-back peghead (8 degree tilt). It has Grover locking tuners and Tradition’s TK-1 Fixed Bridge Vibrato, which is quite unusual. The pickups are also made by Tradition: in this guitar we have a Tele-style bridge pickup, a dual-rail, Strat-style center pickup, and a full-on humbucker in the neck spot. Both the middle and neck pickups have push/pull coil taps, so you get quite a pile of available tones here.
The pickups are damn good, and Tradition and Mr. Reid seem to have given much thought as to what would be a versatile pickup set. The neck pickup in full-on humbucking is very fat and hot without being too dark. With the coil tap the volume drops and it does a convincing single-coil sound. The bridge is a fairly hot Tele-style lead pup, and it has good snap and twang. It is my personal voodoo belief that for the “just right” Tele tone you need brass saddles, but this does okay. The most interesting pickup here is actually the center one, a rails-style pickup with very large rails. It’s a humbucker in Strat size and is hot enough to work well with the coil tap. So this setup will deliver a fat Gibson-style neck tone, a Tele lead tone as well as assorted Strat-like sounds.
The neck is a bit unusual for a Tele-style guitar in that it’s more of the wide-thin, shredder type of neck. I’m not a shredder and this neck is not my cup of tea, but it is well done with nicely finished jumbo frets and small inlays that from a distance look a bit like a Texas longhorn. I’m sure many will find this neck to be great. Tradition has a seasoned tech who goes over every instrument that arrives from the factory before it ships out, and the setup on this one is good with a low action that’s ready to roll. The neck is lightly finished for that bare wood feel which you either like or you don’t, but it is smooth and it does play well. The tilted-back head is also unusual on a Tele-style guitar, but many prefer it and it does eliminate the need for a string tree.
I’ve got to talk a little about the whammy bar. At first glance what you see is a flat Tele-style bridge, nothing unusual. But the TK-1 vibrato is mighty fine indeed. With a bridge that is solidly mounted, you can actually dive bomb with it—and yep, it stays in tune. The arm has a rubber piece on it, which helps you stick to it and it’s comfy. It will also go up and stay in tune. It seems to have a center detent, so you can bend notes on the fretboard and there’s no pitch slip, just like a non-vibrato guitar. The locking Grovers and graphite nut help it stay in tune. The downward travel is not quite like a Floyd, but it will go pretty close to floppy and still come back in tune quite well. For Chet Atkins-style wiggle, it would be very hard to beat this. The TK-1 is actually one of the most useable whammy bars I have tried. Very nicely done, Tradition!
The Final Mojo
The Tradition JR Pro could be the go-to guitar for many. With its combination of three pickups and the coil taps, you have eleven available (and easy-to-get) tones. The whammy bar actually stays in tune very well without the need of a locking nut. Personally, I like this whammy because of its solid mount and the fact that if you pull the bar off nobody would even know it’s a whammy bridge. So you get to maintain the clean look that many Tele pickers love while still having that whammy option. Playability, fit and finish are all very good. The tweed hard case is also very good and is included. This is not a boutique guitar, just a mass-produced guitar made for working musicians, much like the original Teles were. I wish it were a bit lighter, and I would prefer a different neck shape, but that’s about all I can find fault with here. If you’re searching for a fancy-looking, versatile Tele-style guitar at much less than a custom shop price, this is worth a look.
you want mid-priced, “Swiss-army-knife” versatility with a happening whammy.
you’re much more interested in the standard issue.