Fender Custom Shop Jim Campilongo Signature Toploader Telecaster
By Greg Koch

Photo courtesy of the Fender Custom Shop.
As with most guitarists, I often have my head so deeply ensconced up my own portal that the obvious seems to elude me until at some point I have to come up for air. One such moment occurred a little while back when rummaging on the inter-google: I came across an advertisement for a Jim Campilongo CD on the Telecaster Discussion Page. The old-school look of the CD’s artwork intrigued me, and I assumed that here was really good Tele guy steeped in the history of the ‘School of Tele-dom” that I simply never took the time to check out. I then decided to take a trip over to iTunes, and what I heard prompted an immediate purchase. When I experienced the pungent groovulence of Jim Campilongo’s American Hips, I was an immediate fan. To me, here was someone who clearly understood and was able to channel the raw cathartic power and searing yet glorious tone of Roy Buchanan. Far from being a Roy clone, he then used the Buchananite as a fissile element along with a roux of rootsy goodness to create a highly sophisticated yet simple, idiosyncratic yet strangely accessible musical style that goes way beyond “guitar music” (by which I mean music by guitar players for other guitar players). My initial description of Jim’s music to friends was for them to imagine Roy Buchanan and Bill Frisell fighting over control of a hellbound stagecoach (and I say that with love).

The powerful image of a cat with a beat-up old telecaster going straight into an old Fender amp with the volume knob dimed, and then being able to conjure up all the tones of both Shangri-La and Mordor by utilizing behind-the-nut string rustling, pinch harmonics, volume slurs, tone control “wahs,” bending the neck hither and yon and all the other things in the lexicon of licks and trickery endemic to the “Telemaster”—it’s something that intrigues many folks to the point of near cult-like reverence. Along with this reverence for the player is the near fanatical attention to the minutiae of what gear is used to create these glorious sounds, because even though the number of tools is small (guitar, amp, cord), the variables are many (which guitar, amp, pickups, bridge saddles, strings, tubes, speakers, transformers, cords, picks? etc).

I always enjoy it when rather meticulous guitarists get signature instruments, because you know they’ve got ‘em sussed. The Jim Campilongo Tele is a toploading (strings through the bridge, not the body) version of his ’59. Fender only made the toploader in ’59, and Jim describes the tone as being more “rubbery.” Rest assured, it will resonate differently than a standard Tele. The pickups were wound to Jim’s specs and will only be available on this guitar. The neck is an exact duplicate of Jim’s ’59 and has jumbo frets. The guitar sports a “Top Hat” toggle switch, “T” string tree and a flat bridge plate without the lips for holding the “ashtray” cover (Jim finds the lips a hindrance in trying to pick the low E string). It is available in a white blonde and orange nitrocellulose finish with a white pickguard. They are limited to 50 pieces, so be swift! My favorite color is orange. I feel GAS coming on. Do yourselves a favor and check out Jim Campilongo’s music and this guitar and experience why people call this guy a “national treasure.”