Chances are, if at any point in your life you’ve ever considered purchasing an electric guitar, you’ve picked one of these little things up. It’s Fender’s attempt to make sure that every human being on the planet can own something with their name on it. Fender bought a factory in Mexico, slapped their name on it, and now they kick out versions of their most popular guitars, the Telecaster and the Stratocaster faster than Hostess kicks out Twinkies and Cupcakes. Moving past my comparison of the most famous guitars to cream-filled snack foods, most of these Fender Mexico guitars, aren’t really discussed on the Internet. For the most part, if you see someone talking about a Fender, it’s worth more than $1000, it’s custom, or it has someone’s fingerprints on it that make it worth more than its weight in gold. And I must admit that I am also guilty of such a crime; almost all of my reviews are guitars that cost more than a thousand, but there’s no better time to rectify my mistakes. So, to fill the void that exists due to reviewers penchant for trying to keep guitars like expensive jewelry instead of something like a toaster oven, I will write about this guitar in detail, so you can read it before you go to a Music store or a music website. I’m not going to deny the power of a music website’s comment section, but for the most part, if you read those you will read only one of two types of reviews: the person who is so happy about their instrument that they can’t be quiet about it, or the person who is so angry at their instrument that they too, can’t be quiet about it. There aren’t many contemplatory posts in the comment sections, just 30 words, more or less, explaining 1 of the 2 aforementioned categories. So, now that that’s out of the way, lets get to it.
The Telecaster being the first mass-produced, solid body electric guitar already gives it some well-deserved pride in the realm of guitars. And since it is the first solid body, it sets the bar for conservative looks in solid body guitars. A plain finish, 2 single coil pickups, and a basic neck set the definition for the minimalist electric guitar. Oddly enough, it became one of the most iconic items in amplified music. Known to break out blues, rock, rockabilly, country, jazz, punk, and – Courtesy of John 5 of Marilyn Manson – even metal. The telecaster will be around forever, but the question this entry asks is, is the Made in Mexico Telecaster doing a good job to continue the legacy?
The Specs: The standard telecaster shape carved from a block of Alder, a maple neck, and your choice of a maple or rosewood fretboard. I’ll discuss the differences later, but for the sake of this post we’re going to be talking about the one with a maple fretboard. 21 Fret neck with Medium jumbo frets, fender Made in Mexico (MIM) telecaster pickups with a 3 way pickup selector, 1 volume and 1 tone knob. Unlike classic telecasters, the bridge on this has individual saddles instead of the 3, and this is another thing i’ll address later in a little bit more detail as I try to keep my opinions and judgement out of the specs section.
The Neck: I’ve been wrestling with the possibility of being able to call a neck “boring.” It might be a good thing because it gives you time to think about the other things on the guitar, but if being able to ignore the neck is what defines “boring”, then the neck on the MIM Telecaster is far from boring. It has Fender’s standard C neck profile (Still looking for exact measurements out there. If anyone has first fret and 12th fret measurements, send me an email or leave a comment) which has, to my knowledge, remained similar for a very long time.
Now I get to the maple vs. rosewood discussion (with myself, mind you) that I intended to come back to, and now here we are. There are a few pros and cons, each of which one should consider when purchasing a MIM Telecaster. On the maple pros side, the tone is brighter and classic Telecaster. On the rosewood pros side, it’s warmer, has a little softer feel to the fingers because it doesn’t get satin finished, and has the dark rosewood look, giving a very unique telecaster look. On the cons side of each, maple gets visually dirty quickly, you can see bad fretwork (Another issue I intend to come to in the neck section, guaranteed to be a long section) very easily, and the finish they use on the MIM Tele for the fretboard is pretty bad. On the rosewood side, you’re not getting a truly real telecaster, it gets dirtier and is a lot harder to clean than a satin finished maple fretboard.
The biggest issue on the neck is the fretwork. I dare say some of the poorest i’ve seen. What’s odd is that i’ve watched videos of the Made In Mexico factory, and they don’t look like incompetent workers. They look like people who know how to make a guitar, but when I see the fretwork on the maple necks of MIM Teles, I start to cringe. I think of how my finger is going to feel running over those sharp edges when I move up the neck too fast. Stewmac sells fret finishing files for pretty cheap, so I can’t imagine that they can’t round the edges like Ibanez does on their Prestige models. It would take a few passes, but would make a world of difference.
The Body: Alder accompanied with maple is a pretty bright combination for a guitar. The old telecasters were made out of Ash and the Fender American classics are made out of ash, but Alder is the choice for the MIM. And one thing that made the telecaster notorious, leading to the invention of the Strat was the lack of a beveled body and carved arm rest. Players sitting and playing guitar would get the same fatigue they get from sharp acoustic edges, but faster because the body was heavier and more compressed into certain areas. I’ve seen modifications on the idea through Peavey guitars. They make a tele-style guitar for Jerry Donahue, the guitarist for the Hellecasters, and they round the edges just enough to keep the telecaster look but take away some of the faults of a squared body.
The Electronics: The MIM uses slightly more powerful pickups to make sure that their reasonably priced guitar doesn’t have a sound too focused in one tonal direction. The lower output pickups being more aimed towards clean playing, and the hotter Highway One pickups aimed to be a little more rock oriented. These seem to land in the middle to be as versatile as 2 single coils in a bright body could possibly be.
The Hardware: The tuners are fine. Nothing out of the ordinary there. But what I did say was different was the use of a bridge with individual saddles for each string instead of a 3 saddle classic style bridge. Fanatics out there will say that it’s not a telecaster unless it’s got the classic brass 3 saddle bridge, and I completely agree. However, this is trying to be as real of a telecaster as possible to the guitarist on a limited budget. The thing about the 3 saddle bridges is that they aren’t that great for intonation, and just when you think you can angle one of those suckers, it moves. So for the sake of this guitar, I think a six saddle bridge is good. You can adjust each string’s action and intonation, a necessity on a guitar with a neck that probably isn’t as straight as it should be, and frets that aren’t as level as they should be.
One of the big gripes about teles is the output jack. It’s one of the worst parts of teles, and uses some seriously bad ideas. In order to have it stay in, you need to tighten a screw on the inside that pushes out a bent metal piece and locks it in place. Warmoth creates a jack plate with 2 screw holes so you don’t have to blindly fiddle with the output jack to get it back into the guitar. It’s too bad Fender didn’t pick up on it or just switch to a recessed input jack like an ibanez or a standard flat jack plate. I’ve fussed with this thing for long times after some repair sessions, and this is definitely some bitter icing to put on a cake made with hours of guitar work.
The Whole She-bang: When you plug it in, you get something reminiscent of a telecaster tone, and reminiscent of a telecaster feel, but all in all this isn’t such a great guitar. The only true possibilities for it are as a base for some massive Frankenstein experimentation like pickups, sanding, paint and finish. When you get one, it’s poorly set up, it has bad fretwork, mediocre neck finishing, and the burdensome input jack plate that you know you’re going to have to worry about in the near future. If you walk into a guitar store and you look at it from afar, and it looks like a telecaster, but when you get closer you figure out really fast that it’s not a real Telecaster. There are some guitars that when you pick up, you feel like there’s a reason you’d spend the money on it, and i’m not going to lie, this isn’t one of them. I have yet to be slightly impressed, let alone blown away, by anything that has ever come out of Fender Mexico. I mean, at least Fender Japan created some good instruments and had some quality control, but Fender Mexico is about the same as a Squier, except the spelling is different on the headstock.
Do yourself a favor, if you’re planning on getting a Fender MIM Telecaster, have a game plan. Plan on re-crowning the frets, filing the edges, replacing the bland pickups with ones more suitable for whatever style, be they tele-sized humbuckers or classic Fender Pickups, and plan on setting this thing up from scratch. If you can work magic on a guitar, this might be right up your alley as a project guitar. In fact, I think it’s most redeeming quality are how much you can do to it to make a Tele unique. Say you get it at the start of your guitar career, you can update it to your preferences as you go along because it’s a Fender, and has more replacement part options than a Honda Civic. On that note, it might be a perfect beginners guitar after a little TLC from someone experienced, but if you plan to buy the Fender MIM Telecaster and hand it to someone straight from the box/store without someone looking at it, be sure to give them the receipt too.
The Pros: Tele styling, semi-tele tone, Fender name, Fender neck feel, easily upgradeable and changeable
The Cons: Poorly done frets, mediocre satin-finish, boring sound, output jack, and pretty much everything else I missed.