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The 22-fret maple neck on the Telstar is one of the finest, most advanced features—Baker has designed a compound radius neck that has a huge feeling at the nut, but tapers off smoothly to increase playability at the higher frets. The taper really allows you to adjust your playing style between the two designs as well. Open chords really twang and pop, while the thinner profile higher up allows for lightning-fast leads. “Maybe someone’s never going to go past the third fret, and just plays cowboy chords,” said Cultreri. “They’ll love this guitar, too. Someone who’s going to push the instrument to the extreme is also going to appreciate this instrument.”
The bridge pickup is one of the few standard accoutrements on the Telstar: every model has a Tele pickup in the bridge. “What’s the strongest trait of the Telecaster?” asks Henderson. “The bridge pickup. What’s the weak link on a Strat? The bridge pickup. So it makes perfect sense to use a Tele bridge pickup in this guitar.” There are eight different pickup combinations in all, each using a Tele pickup in the bridge. From there, any combination you can think of—and some you might not, at first—are possible. For example, how about a Tele/Strat/Tele lineup, or a Tele/Strat/Humbucker? Notched tones with two Tele pickups? Sacre bleu! All of the pickups are made by Jason Lollar specifically for Underwood’s design.
DAG sent us three different models to check out, each bringing something different to the table. Two of the guitars are Sonic Blue, following in Fender’s fifties tradition of using automobile colors on guitars; the third is a blonde. Each one has been masterfully reliced by Underwood, who has worked closely on every detail. The peg heads are tarnished, the paint is chipped, and the pickup magnets look like they’ve seen years of playing.
In addition, a two-tone sunburst, a Mary K greenguard and a butterscotch blackguard are offered right now. “When we started messing around, we were like, ‘Man, wouldn’t it be great to offer the fifties custom colors!’ ” says Henderson. “All these colors came from car colors, and we started looking at colors that were a little more esoteric. Over the next year, we’re going to start exploring those colors too.”
Each guitar in our office now also has a different bridge than the standard options: one has a Glendale vintage Tele “single cut” bridge, another has a Glendale “hardtail” Strat bridge, and the last has the aforementioned Chimemaster Tremolo, but with steel saddles. One also has the Tinker Street pickup option. There are numerous other options for customization, as well. If you want a two-tone Telstar with a Tele/Strat/ Humbucker lineup, a Tele-style pickguard, and Strat-style top hat knobs, it’s yours. If you’re crazy about a Strat and a Tele, but wish the (relative) shortcomings of the one were compensated by the strengths of the other, the Telstar might just be your dream guitar. With the list of options available, you’ve got the ability to dial in exactly what you want.
“We have Gene constantly working on pickguards, bodies, necks—there’s always interchangeable parts and pieces, so that we can always have a little bit of a backlog,” says Henderson. “That way, when someone calls for a specific combination, chances are we’ll have what we need, unless it’s a complete oddball. So many people just want to be done. They don’t want to do any more work,” he adds. “And that’s what separates us— that’s what artistry is: following an idea to its logical conclusion.”
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