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How has the custom market changed since you started?
Back in the middle ’80s, the custom market was small. The big guys owned the guitar business. There was Schecter, and Hamer was still smallish. Nowadays there are tons of small builders, whether it’s a one-man shop or a three-man shop. In part, that’s because information is so much more accessible, a guy can go on the Gear Page and show his stuff, whereas in the old days it was all expensive print ads, so it was tough for someone starting out to get nationwide exposure. Trends have changed, too. When we started in the ’80s, almost every guitar we made had a Floyd Rose tremolo on it.
The elegant neck carve of a Tom Anderson Short T.
What was the inspiration for your new 24 ¾"-scale Short T model?
I had been talking to some acoustic fingerstyle players and they said, “When you get older, these longer-scale guitars get tougher to play.” Doing this guitar-building thing for 30 years, my hands have had a rough life, so for the last ten years I have been really enjoying playing our shorter-scale guitars—our Cobras. On a whim one day, I thought, “What if we do all the traditional woods but do it short scale?” A lot of the previous [Fender-style] short-scale stuff had mahogany bodies, Floyd Roses, 24 frets, and humbuckers. You haven’t seen many Teles that leave the traditional stuff alone but change the scale.
I made one for myself to see if it would sound anything like a regular Tele, and I was a pleasantly surprised that it seemed to retain its Tele-ness but removed some of the things that can make Teles hard to play. We knew that the short scale would make it play easier and make strings easier to bend—I play .011s on the Short T and it feels like .010s—but the sound was the real question. It turned out that the sound is just a little fuller, almost as if you are tuned down to Eb.
Are you still doing them with traditional Tele woods like alder and ash?
Yeah, they have all been either alder or ash backs, and we do a lot of them hollow. I really the love the liveliness of hollow guitars. My favorite is alder back, alder top, and a maple neck.
A long view of a new Tom Anderson Short T showing the company’s trademark double strap buttons—which enable both quick strap adjustment and stable positioning on the floor.
Are there any other differences other than scale length?
The way we make it, the 22nd fret is in the same place as the long scale—we don’t just shorten one end, so the guitar is still centered on your body. The pickups are moved around the scale so that they have the same harmonic placement. The bridge is moved closer to the neck, and the nut is closer to the body.
Why don’t you use the typical Telecaster-style bridge?
In our early days, a few of the LA guys we made guitars for were playing high-gain music and had issues with microphonics. We tried all kinds of things, then I remembered that on Jeff Beck’s humbucker-equipped Tele they had just whacked off the plate. I did that on one for John Hiatt’s guitarist, and the problem was solved. It completely eliminated the microphonics problem, so we started making them that way.
Do you find that you lose any of the essential Tele sound?
I don’t. Maybe it’s because we make everything else differently to compensate. We are not taking an old thing and building everything around that. We are starting from scratch with, “What do we need to do to make it sound like we want it to?”—not the concept that it needs to sound like this old ’52 Tele. There are things that we love about old guitars and some things that we don’t.
What has the reaction been so far?
The reaction has been spectacular. Numerous people picked it up at the NAMM show this year, and they said, “This feels so good.” We would say, “That’s a shorter scale,” and they would say, “No way!” You don’t think about it being a shorter scale, you just think, “This is a really good Tele.”