There’s a lot of talk of change this year, and that’s all fine and good, but some things should just stay the same. One of those is a 1952 blackguard Telecaster. Capable of covering jazz, blues, rock and everything in between with a distinctive bite, Leo Fender’s Telecaster proved that planks of wood could indeed sound musical. Comprised simply of an ash body and major-league worthy neck, this guitar was nothing other than a workhorse; its construction and modular nature made it a natural choice for active musicians. And although it would (temporarily) be eclipsed by its space age brother starting in 1954, the Telecaster has always retained a devoted cadre of loyalists who have prized the instrument for its clarity and uncompromising honesty.

While time and skyrocketing vintage markets have taken the number of original blackguards in the wild to new lows—with the remaining likely sitting behind glass or vault doors—a still-going-strong boutique world is ensuring that these guitars are available for a new generation, or an older generation just looking to relive the glory days of instrument design. Fortunately for buyers, a competitive marketplace and expanding supply options have brought about better materials, higher quality, myriad options and bearable prices. There’s now really no reason not to have a good sounding, well built Tele-style guitar in your arsenal.

This month, we sat down with five small builders— Bill Crook, Chihoe Hahn, Rick Kelly, Ron Kirn and Jay Monterose—who all specialize in Tele-style guitars, and asked them about their approach to building and just what separates their guitars from the rest. And even though Tele-style guitars are fairly straightforward in nature, we found five different answers, each with their own dream of the ideal Tele-style guitar. So whether you’re looking for an “art-quality” instrument to call your number one, or you just need another Tele to fill out your closet, we’re betting you’ll find a builder here to call.

Hit Page 2 for the first of our five builders...