Growly bridge pickup. Airy, dimensional humbucker tones. Cool combination of light, fast feel and heavy sounds.
Humbucker could be a touch more jangly. Neck feels thinner than some vintage examples.
Fender Vintera ’70s Telecaster Custom
Vintera ’70s Telecaster Custom
It’s hard to know who was first to swap out a ’50s Telecaster neck pickup for something punchier. Terry Reid and Steve Marriott were early adopters of the practice. Keith Richards made it a very high-profile modification not long thereafter. And while Fender’s CBS-era leadership is legendarily regarded as out of touch, someone at Fender clearly took notice of the trend. Just one short year after Keith famously stuffed his ’54 Telecaster with a humbucker in the neck position, Fender introduced the Custom, featuring a Telecaster single-coil and the Seth Lover-designed Wide Range humbucker. Given that Keith himself would adopt the model for his own a few short years later, it’s probably safe to deem the experiment a success.
Despite Keef’s unofficial endorsement, the ’70s Custom took a beating from vintage purists for much of its history. At a time when many players viewed the electric guitar world through the lens of a Manichean Gibson/Fender divide, the Custom and its two-humbucker brothers, the Thinline and Deluxe, seemed to be too much—or not enough—of either. Aesthetically speaking, the Custom—like the Thinline and Deluxe—is a mixed bag. It lacks the design economy and grace of the ’50s-era Telecasters, and the oversized pickguard and Wide Range pickup cover tend to be love-or-hate propositions. But I dig the way it echoes design evolutions in muscle cars from the period—suggesting swagger and potency without totally obscuring the basic design’s more modest, utilitarian origins. In its all-black guise in particular, it has a cool aura of menace, like a stripped-down Chevelle idling at a light, ready to pounce.
While the 4-knob control array and humbucker acknowledge major Gibson influence, the Custom still feels quintessentially Fender in hand, and the combination of the two can take you down many unexpected avenues. The ability to set up the two pickups for wildly different tone profiles opens up scads of expressive and compositional possibilities. And while the Wide Range humbucker isn’t as wooly as a Gibson PAF, the possible contrasts between the barking Tele bridge pickup and a tone-attenuated Wide Range are often more intriguing and expansive than the duel-humbucker palette.
Contrasts aside, this alnico 5 version of the Wide Range humbucker is a great match for the Telecaster bridge pickup. Fender’s Tim Shaw tinkered significantly with a wider, more vintage-correct bobbin spacing. The result is much more low-end color and punch, a softer top end, and considerably more depth of field and air than you hear from Wide Range units in older Mexico-made Fenders. The bridge pickup is very similar to the Vintera ’60s Telecaster and shares that unit’s alnico 5 magnets, staggered pole pieces, and 6.9k-ohm resistance. But Shaw’s team wound the pickup for more pronounced midrange, which helps make the Custom punchier and growlier than its ’60s counterpart in the bridge position.
The original Telecaster Custom may have underachieved as a Gibson alternative for not being Gibson enough. But this Vintera version underscores what a singularly cool guitar it is for its own many idiosyncrasies. The available tone combinations are numerous and capable of communicating many moods—including some quite outside the realm of traditional Telecaster-ness. But it’s the combination of streamlined, lightweight feel and a brash-to-brawny voice that make the Custom so unique and such a gas to play.
Watch the First Look: