The Telecaster in Canada

It may be hard to conceive of the Fender Telecaster as a Canadian instrument. This is the guitar that Bruce Springsteen [6]dons on numerous record covers. He wrote Born In The U.S.A. This is the guitar that made Keith Richards[7] of the Rolling Stones the coolest guitar player of the half century. If you pick a big country artist out of Nashville, chances are that they play ,or have played, a Telecaster. As already stated, however, the Telecaster was invented in 1948 and mass produced by 1950. It predates Rock and Roll by a few years, and Keith Richard's fame by a decades. The Telecaster was not a product of rock and roll, but helped produce rock and roll. Its history is more colorful and abundant than just these few moments in the spotlight. The Telecaster aided many of the musicians (beginner through expert) that laid the groundwork for more famous guitarists. Since the Telecaster was mass produced and crafted out of abundant and relatively cheap materials using component parts, and because it was one of the first electric guitars on the market, it was the guitar of choice for young rock and rollers in any country, including Canada.

One of the many Canadian muscians influenced by the Telecaster was Robbie Robertson. He was only a teenager when he joined his first band, the Suedes. As a street kid in Toronto, he often frequented the clubs on Yonge Street listening to the different music that came from across Canada and the State. When Ronnie Hawkins came through Toronto for the first time in 1955, Robbie was lucky enough to see one of his favorite guitarists, Roy Buchanan, playing with the Hawks. Buchanan was famous for his fretwork on his Fender Telecaster, "especially his use of high harmonic squeals instead of feedback and distortion" [8]. Robertson also played a Telecaster, but had his own style of playing deeply influenced by the summers he spent with his mother on the Six Nations Reserve. Robbie Robertson and his Telecaster [9] went on to play with Ronnie Hawkins and later formed The Band, influencing future generations of guitarists with his playing on and writing of such songs as "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down". Many other Canadian guitarists such as David Wilcox and Daniel Lanois also started out with Fender Telecasters, and have similar stories of influence. Since the Telecaster was one of the tools that helped fashion Canadian rock and roll, it has had an undeniable influence on all Canadian rock and roll that came after it .

Along with availability and cost (low end models are several hundred dollars cheaper than the other famous guitar the Gibson Les Paul), the proliferation of Fender Telecasters in Canada was reinforced by Rock and Roll imagery invading Canada from foreign countries. Canada's culture has always been tied to the history we share with England and our geographical proximity to the United States. When records from the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, and Lynard Skynard started receiving air play on Canadian radio, many Canadian Bands started covering their songs and their styles. The images of successful guitarists such as Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin) [10] and Eric Clapton (of the Yardbirds) [11] wielding Fender Telecasters were celebrity endorsement when seen by any young Canadian guitarist.

The Fender Telecaster is a hidden heritage in Canadian Music, often overshadowed by the popularity of its younger brother the Fender Stratocaster or the Gibson Les Paul. It is not as evident or prolific as the Fender Stratocaster [12] because it is not as flashy or complicated. The Stratocaster has three pickups, two tone knobs, a volume knob and a five way toggle switch. To add to its flashy appearance, the Strat had two cutaways compare to the Tele's one, making it easier to solo higher up on the neck. For this reason, many of the flashy soloists in rock and roll started to be devout Strat players. Jimi Hendrix [13] is the most famous Stratocaster player. He is also the best example of the way the Stratocaster received more attention than the Telecaster. Guitarists who favoured the Telecaster rarely burned and smashed their guitars on stage.

Canadian rock and roll has never produced a "guitar hero" because most Canadian guitarists focus on songwriting as well as technical proficiency. While guitarists like Kim Mitchell, Randy Bachman and Colin James [14] get respect for their playing prowess, not one Canadian guitarist has attained the status of an Eric Clapton, a Jimmy Page or a Jimmy Hendrix. Therefore the simple aesthetic of the Telecaster is a more appropriate symbol of the Canadian guitarist. It has no extraneous material or hardware. Everything that can be seen on the guitar is used in the playing of the guitar. It doesn't have a curved arm rest to lay the picking forearm on (now almost standard equipment). It has only a bottom cut away so that soloing is permitted but not promoted. It has two pickups and two knobs and a switch to change between the two pickups. Simplicity. Although flashy models were produced, such as the paisley pink James Burton Tele [15], they never sold well. The most famous Teles (and it seems the one every guitarist wants) are the plain wood finish, well battered standards, such as the ones Bruce Springsteen and Keith Richards play (the Telecaster that appears on the main page). The Telecaster is about making do with what you have. For this reason, it embodies similar ideals to those Canadians hold about the weather and landscape: make do with what you have.

Similar arguments can be made about the sonic differences between the Telecaster and the Strtatocaster. There are many different sounds that the Strat offers, but most Strat players use only one or two pickup and tone settings, resulting in one or two different sounds. Because of the small distance between the pickups, the difference in the sounds between, say, the front pickup and the middle pickup, is relatively small. The Telecaster, on the other hand, only has two pickups, but there is a great sonic difference between the two. The rear pickup setting offers what could be characterized as a metallic twang sound. This sound appeals to many people, but can be called a 'country and western' sound because of its use in the 'chicken pickin' style of plucking the strings. The front pickup setting offers what could be characterized as the warm organic sound. This can be called a 'blues' sound because of its warm and round nature.

This dichotomy in the sound is pleasing to Canadian guitarists because of the mix in musical heritage that our country holds. Everything from folk to blues to country and western can characterize any region in Canada. The Telecaster embodies these differences in an instrument. This not only holds true for the music of original Canadian rock and roll guitarists, such as Robbie Robertson and Randy Bachman, but also for their contemporaries. Artists such as The Tragically Hip, The Watchmen and Blue Rodeo fuse different musical lineages into modern Canadian music. They also do this using Fender Telecasters. The Tragically Hip, for example, use the Fender Telecaster to emphasize their distinctive country and rockabilly roots, such as in the songs "Wheat Kings" and "Long Time Running", but then use it as a tool for swampy blues in "Thugs" and "Fight". Contemporary use of the Telecaster will influence future generations of young Canadian guitarists to play them as well, and futher reinforce the hidden image of the Telecaster as a Canadian rock and roll tradition.