February 15, 2007 5:47 PM   Subscribe

I need serious help picking an electric guitar. Why do I want to buy a new one? See...

I've been playing Gibsons almost exclusively forever. SGs and Les Pauls. I want to go Fender for a change. (Yea, I do have the old Mustang, but it's only good live and loud.) So should I go Stratocaster or Telecaster? I have $1500 usd and I'm thinking American Made top of the line. However;

1. I don't know what's right for me. (I play, experiment with, all kinds of music, so I'm thinking versatility.

2. Should I just buy something used? Cheaper, get the feel of it before dropping big cash?

3. I should already know this, but I don't get out of the cave very often.

I know more details would be nice, so I'll be around for a while. Thanks in advance.
posted by snsranch to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If I were going to spend 1500 on a fender, I'd pick and choose bits from Warmouth rather than take what fender saw fit to give me for the cash. Much more choice, likely better wood, and absolutely better pick-ups.
posted by dong_resin at 5:57 PM on February 15, 2007

how much have you played a Fender? it may be worth picking up a cheap mexican model and banging around on in for a little bit before you make the big investment. i think a huge part of this depends on what type of music you play. i don't personally like Fender sound for anything besides rock/blues. if i were dropping $1500+ on something that wasn't a Gibson, i'd probably look into a PRS or a Music Man - or if you're into experimenting, maybe a Parker Fly.
posted by gnutron at 6:36 PM on February 15, 2007

If it's a straight throw—fender strat or tele, nothing else—and you want diversity of tone, take the strat. For pickup configuration goodness, you've got more out of the box.

You're going to get a lot of good suggestions other than straight fender strat or tele, though.
posted by cortex at 6:41 PM on February 15, 2007

I've never understood the point of paying more for a new guitar. It's not like they wear out, or like there's some new innovation that you'd only ge with this year's model.

As to Strat or Tele: Strats are a little more refined, a bit more comfortable against your body, a bit more versatile in terms of available sounds. Plus they usually have they whammy bar. Teles are somehow a bit more primitive and extreme, and a bit physically tougher. You can find lots of examples of either model used in any of the genres you name.

Personally, I'd just keep looking at used guitars until you fall in love with one.
posted by timeistight at 6:54 PM on February 15, 2007

@timeistight: Maybe the warranty is the difference?

I love my American Telecaster, but at that price range, maybe you can look at a G&L? The probably-moreso maintainers of the soul of Leo Fender, and I think that some of the guitars are a bit more Gibson-like, with set necks and the (weird) neck angle.
posted by tmcw at 7:01 PM on February 15, 2007

A good American Strat with Fender/Lace sensors or other quality pickup (if you want the Sensors, I like the Red-Silver-Blue or Red-Blue-Blue combinations) will be about as versatile as anything, have a great Strat sound, and with your budget you can get it in any color/finish you want.

I also love my Carvin TL-60 (Hum-single-single pickups). The deciding factor for me with Carvin is that they have no charge for lefty models.
posted by chimaera at 7:09 PM on February 15, 2007

I would suggest a Strat - there is a reason that they are the most popular guitars ever built.

My own #1 is a Japanese guitar built in 1985; it was a golden year for Fender Japan, although I did not know it when I bought it. The neck is really sublime, and I submit to you that when you are buying a Strat, what you really want is the carve of the neck to be agreeable to your left hand. The newest American strats, both satin and poly finishes, have CNC neck carves that are very nice and invariant to the last degree; if you get a used Strat from the earlier eras, it will be important for you to check the curve of the neck.

I modified my Strat a little bit. The hand cut nut was in the way of an experiment, you could probably skip that; I put on a pair of roller string trees, and while the D/G string tree is optional, the A/E one really is not. While I didn't install a set of Schaller locking tuners, I have them sitting in a box, in case I ever decide I want to start using the trem like Jimi.

But by far the best thing I ever did - the single most important improvement I've ever made in terms of tone - was put in a set of Fralin Real 54's. They are just magnificent. I strongly urge that whatever kind of Strat you pick up, whatever tone you have in mind, you put aside some money to drop some Fralins in.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:32 PM on February 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Strat vs. Tele is really just a preference. You should just go to a guitar shop and play both.

I'm a Tele guy, myself. I like the sound of the Tele's bridge pickup better, I like not having the wammy, and I like the positions of the controls. On Strats I don't like where the volume is (too close to the strings) and the wammy seems to be something that most people don't use and all it does is make tuning/keeping in tune tougher. On the Strats I've got around I've blocked the bridges just to keep them from ever moving. The Strat is capable of more tones in theory but in practice most players I've seen just use the neck or bridge pickup and nothing in between.

The only standard feature of a Strat that I actually like is the contoured body. But you can find Teles with contoured bodies; my knock-off has one and I believe some of the Fender models have that as well.
posted by 6550 at 7:53 PM on February 15, 2007

The Warmouth route is fun--save it for later.

Yes, the Strat gives more tonal options but it's just not what I'm into. Ergonomics and idiot proofness are key and as far as I'm concerned, the Tele wins. I like heavy slabs, simple designs and large necks.

Granted, when play, it's all business and I don't screw around with filigree. But it's what I do for a living. In terms of best playing Tele ever, I've been spending some time playtesting the new G.E Smith model--perhaps the best workhorse I've encountered. That and absolute largest neck short of a Dobro--rivaling early 70's Jazz basses in terms of diameter and radius, no kidding.

Despite it's simple controls, the Tele is not a one-trick-pony. In addition to country, it works for Jazz (Danny Gatton), Blues (Albert Collins), Rock (Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend), Rockabilly (I won't even belabor that obvious point). Robert Fripp found it super-hackable. In the New Wave movement the biting sounds of a Tele partnered up with a Fender Twin or JC120 was the best weapon a clean-channel restricted guitarist had against a bank of Roland Junos and Oberheim OB-8s--something the Killers, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand and every other Gang Of Four wannabee know to this day.


In terms of durability, construction, custom options and price get a G&L ASAT. Like a Tele but better. These are the George Fullerton and Leo Fender Designs taken to their logical conclusions. Fender soul--better execution. Around these parts (and these parts are crawling with guitar collectors/road warriors) the prevailing wisdom is to get a vintage Fender just to have, then get a G&L for the session/gig. G&L lets you pick wood, binding, and neck options for little or no charge--get what you want. My dos centavos.

BTW (and am I ever gonna catch heat for this) PRS, Music Man, and especially the Parker carry the "dork axe" stigma. When I ditched my custom Ken Smith for a vintage J-bass, my workload shot way up.
posted by sourwookie at 8:43 PM on February 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

ikkyu2: Word to the Fralins. I built a J-Bass which has the rear p'up cavity routed to accommodate a humbucker. Fortunately--Lindy to the rescue! I only need to send it to him for a rewind so it can match impedance with my custom shop neck p'up. Only 70 bucks but I am told to expect eight months without it.

Such is the beauty/horror of the cottage industry.
posted by sourwookie at 8:51 PM on February 15, 2007

I can't disagree with you, sourwookie. While I love my PRSes, they are overbuilt; no performing instrument needs to be that good and they are so pretty that I worry about banging them up.

One of the reasons that I like the old Japanese Fender necks is that they are carved to suit a slightly smaller hand. My hand is medium sized, but I can wrap it around my Japanese Strat's neck and lay my thumb down the way that Jimi used to on a giant old 60's V-carve. I'd lay money that your hands are bigger than mine are just from what you said about the Tele neck.

May I suggest that it is a trifle disingenuous to cite Jimmy Page and, especially, Jeff Beck as exemplars of the Telecaster? While they occasionally played one, they made their names on other instruments.

If you get a Tele, may I recommend butterscotch blonde?
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:02 PM on February 15, 2007

I was a Strat guy for a long time until I happened upon a steal for an American Telecaster with lace sensors. Since then, I've never looked back.

People will say Strats for their versatility (three single-coils, whammy bar) as opposed to a Tele (two single coils, no whammy bar) but both guitars come with a number of options and so many that you really can't tell the difference between the sounds. My Telecaster had three single coils like a Strat (the Nashville configuration) and I can make it sound like a Strat. Bottom like, there are so many options now that really, unless you're talking stock, out-of-the-box, you can't tell the difference and it becomes a matter of comfort and aesthetics.

Another Fender option you may want to consider is the Toronado. I had one and I swapped it for another guitar. I still kick myself for that because it was a great axe. It has been described as a Gibson in a Fender body. They sound great out of the box and have a slight but not overpowering retro look to them. Give one a try!

Good luck.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:17 PM on February 15, 2007

If you're considering Toronado, here's a very good deal on one.
posted by Bizurke at 10:45 PM on February 15, 2007

I don't know how a group of people can advise you on what guitar to buy. Strats and Teles are fundamentally different instruments for tone, feel, look, etc. They play different, and they sound different. Every single individual guitar plays and sounds different. Electronics can get equivalent *sounds* from any two instruments. But not the feel of the guitar on your belly or in your hands.

If you can afford a new American Tele, it's a solid investment and a fine instrument. But I've played American Fenders that didn't sound or feel as good as Japanese ones. I've played *amazing* G&Ls, and weak ones. Hell, I've played knockoffs that blew me away, and late-50s originals that sucked. You need to hold the guitar, play it through an amp, and ideally spend a week with it under your working conditions, at least, to know if it's right. I had every intention of buying a (SRV custom sunburst American) Strat 15 years ago when I walked into a store and saw the black Japanese F-hole Tele I have played ever since as my main instrument -- I took it off the rack, plugged it in, and fell in love on the spot. I would walk into a burning building naked to get it out of there if I had to. It's my baby.

That's how I buy guitars, anyway. I wait until I fall in love.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:56 AM on February 16, 2007

My heart belongs to the telecaster... For 1500$ you can buy three decent ones or get a custom shop model. Why not start with a 'cheap' one to see how you like it (it might get out of hand though...) I wouldn't discount the mexican models, especially if you like vintage features and stylings. IMO, they are ok guitars, and sometimes just a pickup upgrade away from being great guitars.

If you get the chance, do try out an esquire, which may or may not conflict with your 'versatility'-requirement. I like them a lot, though.

The fender catalogue is quite complicated, so if you can tell a bit more about your preferences (neck profile, frets, saddles), I'd be happy to give you some pointers.
posted by pj_rivera at 5:38 AM on February 16, 2007

The best way to figure out which to buy is to spend time playing them. I've played both and much prefer the Strat form factor. It fits my body better.

Over time, I learned what features I liked about a particular instrument and what I hated. When I had it all sorted out, I built that instrument.

For example, the Strat pickup selector is shit. So is the Tele. In watching my own playing and others, I saw the Strat switch used in two positions: all the way forward and all the way back, and few players could explain what the others were. I put in three push-on/push-off switches, one for each pickup with a tapped double-coil at the bridge. Easy and sensible.

Even within an instrument line, figure out what appeals. My first Strat-like instrument had a maple fingerboard, which I grew to hate, even as I wore it out. I like rosewood (and would honestly prefer ebony). I like a satin finish on the neck, not gloss (stickier).

I agree with fourcheesemac, but with the qualification that you should start by knowing thyself first to narrow the field.
posted by plinth at 5:54 AM on February 16, 2007

As others have said, it's all personal preference. I pretty much hate strats other than when I'm hearing Jimi or SRV play one, and I love the neck pickup on a good Tele, but the bridge doesn't do much for me. Too squealy or something. Then again, I am a Jazzmaster fanatic. I couldn't live without mine, nothing in the world compares to it for me, and some people just hate it.

I would, as others have suggested, try as many new, used, original, knock-off, ugly, pretty guitars as I could, and buy the one you fall in love with.

You'll have it for the rest of your life, so no need to be hasty, or rely on others' tastes for your instrument.
posted by psmealey at 6:16 AM on February 16, 2007

Hey snsranch, In that price range, and given the kind of music I've heard you play, I'd say you should go for a hollow body Gretsch. It's not a Telecaster or a Stratocaster, but it's still a change.

Now, if you want my complete opinion, you should go for a 1200 one, and use the spare 300 for the condenser mic. Then the world will be yours.
posted by micayetoca at 6:18 AM on February 16, 2007

Lets see, you play LP's and SG's?
Get a firebird or for that matter anything else....

If you are willing to spend 1500 on a guitar, then no internet forum should be a deciding factor. You need to go play a lot of guitars. Find a guitar center and start playing. I can't, nor anyone else, can tell you what you'll like, unless you want to rephrase the question into "What guitar will sound most like this band _______"

Unless you fall in love with a guitar in the store, you ought to buy a cheaper or used guitar... Even better jam with your friends and play on their gear.

Don't buy anything with out playing it first.

and if you are really buying something that expensive most stores will let you crank up any amp in the place (or better, bring your own) and try out some guitars.
posted by magikker at 10:51 AM on February 16, 2007

If you're expanding your search to include Japanese-made Fenders, you should go a bit further and look at some pre-lawsuit Tokais. Best knockoffs ever.
posted by timeistight at 12:49 PM on February 16, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks folks for sharing your great combined knowledge.

I will definately just chill out and go play various guitars.

Mica, it's funny that you mention the Gretsch. Many years ago I had a 1971 Gibson ES-335. I totally forgot about it until you mentioned the hollow/semi-hollow body. That 335 kicked a lot of ass. So I will definately check into that AND the condenser mics!

thanks again folks, you rule!
posted by snsranch at 3:49 PM on February 16, 2007

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