I Played (almost) Every Telecaster to Find the Best One


The Five Shades of Telecaster: From Squier to Fender Custom Shop


The iconic Fender Telecaster is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most revered guitar designs of all time. Its versatility knows no bounds, proving to be a trusted companion for various musical styles. Today's market is flooded with choices, from the most affordable Squier to the top-tier Fender Custom Shop. So, I've decided to break down the my top five choices for Telecasters to see which one offers the best price, balance, playability and sound. Let's dive in and see which one comes out on top!


Before we begin, a huge shoutout to Sweetwater for sponsoring this exploration. You can find affiliate links to all the Telecasters discussed throughout this post. 


# 1. The Budget-Friendly Squier Sonic Series ($199.99)

Starting with the most affordable, the Squier Sonic Series delivers the classic Telecaster shape. At a glance:

- Poplar body with a cost-effective maple neck.

- Basic ceramic pickups-sound pretty good.

- The main drawback is its rough playability due to poorly set-up frets.

Verdict: While easy on the wallet, the Sonic Series might be a little rough around the edges for the best overall telecaster. When you vibrato the strings against the fretboard, it sounds like sandpaper, as do the pots. The Sonic Series is relatively easy to upgrade by swapping the pots and polishing the frets, but overall the Sonic Series Telecaster out of the box is not great.


# 2. Squier Classic Vibe (~$430)

A step up, the Classic Vibe aims to offer more:

- Improved fretwork making it feel much better to play.

- Higher-quality pots and switches.

- Alnico magnet pickups are a step up, and make it more vintage correct.

- Pine body, reminiscent of early vintage Telecasters.

Verdict: For under $500, the Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster offers a significant leap in quality and playability from the Sonic Series. The $200 price increase of the Classic Vibe immediately feels better to play than the Sonic Series and is worth the extra money.


# 3. Fender Player Series (Made in Mexico - $849)

Jumping into the Fender territory:

- One of the most affordable Fenders you can buy.

- Features an alder body.

- Comes with Alnico 5 magnet pickups.

- Has a modern bridge design with six individual saddles.

- Modern neck design extending past the 21st fret.

- Thinner neck shape

Verdict: Although it holds the prestigious Fender name on the headstock, when compared to high-end Squiers, I would rank the Classic vibe higher overall on this list than the player series. The jump in price from the Classic Vibe and the Player series does not feel justified when you play them back to back. 


# 4. The Wild Card Telecaster- Jason Isbell Custom (~$1649)

This is an intriguing pick for several reasons:

- Made in Mexico with unique specs not commonly found at this price point.

- It’s a tele custom, which comes with the double white binding.

- Custom pickups modeled after Jason Isbell's own Telecaster.

- Alder body with a Nitro cellulose finish.

- Features an oil-finished neck, offering a smooth playability.

Verdict: Jason Isbell Telecaster effortlessly balances price, performance, and unique aesthetics. Of all the guitars we have discussed so far, this one comes out on top for all of the reasons mentioned. 


# 5. The Luxurious Custom Shop (~$5450)

Topping off our list, we have a heavy relic Custom Shop 1952 Telecaster. Apart from its polarizing aesthetics, here’s what it offers:

- Two-piece ash body.

- Heavy relic, making the guitar feel worn in and comfortable.

- Custom shop hand-wound Black Guard pickups.

- Traditional no-Caster '51 wiring, allowing you to blend the two pickups when in position one.

Verdict: While it sits at the pinnacle in terms of price, its exceptional feel and tonality are evident. This isn’t just a Telecaster; it's an experience.


Final Ranking: (best to worst, in my opinion)

  • First: Jason Isbell Custom: Well priced, finish is beautiful, pickups are great and it plays amazing.
  • Second: Custom Shop Tele: This guitar is very relic'd, but it feels really good to play. 
  • Third: Squier Classic Vibe: I love the Alnico pickups and the pine body this guitar offers. 
  • Fourth: Fender Player Series: Hard to justify the price for what is being offered. It feels like a high end squier, Except I like the pickups in the high end squier better than this. 
  • Fifth: Squier Sonic Series: it does not feel good to play. Your first guitar should feel fun and inspiring to play, and this one does not. It definitely needs upgrades. The ceramic pickups are pretty decent sounding, but could be better. The six individual saddles make it easy to adjust the intonation, which is very nice.   

    Closing Thoughts

    Navigating the Telecaster options, we've seen instruments across the spectrum. The Custom Shop Telecaster undeniably stands out, but when it comes to sheer value for money combined with performance, the Jason Isbell Custom steals the spotlight. Ultimately, the best Telecaster is the one that resonates with you, both in sound and soul.  A great way to help support me as a musician is by using the affiliate links throughout this post. As well as checking out my  Fretboard Fundamentals Video Course. Happy strumming!


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