Iconic. Legendary. Holy Grail. These terms are used to describe many things, but in the guitar arena few are as deserving as the 1953 Telecaster. The Telecaster model itself had such a huge impact on music and guitar production, and is so instantly recognizable. Many of the musicians renowned for playing these early Telecasters are equally hallowed (Waylon Jennings, James Burton, Roy Buchanan, and Danny Gatton).
Although we have worked on many vintage Tele’s, including Esquires, Broadcasters and NoCasters, having a ‘53 on the bench recently was a first for us.
It came in with mostly original parts but was missing the neckplate, the frets were worn out and the finish was completely sanded off both body and neck. Luckily the neck pocket was untouched, leaving intact the signature of notable Fender craftsman, Tadeo Gomez.
Our customer’s main objective was to bring the guitar back to a playable state. We discussed having the guitar refinished in a relic’d manner in the future to restore it’s original appearance. With this in mind, we did nothing that would make a refinish difficult in the future. This would be the best option considering there was no original finish left, and while not bringing it up to the value of an original 53 tele, it would dramatically increase the value from its current state.
The first order of business was to make the guitar playable. The neck was backbowed, and the truss rod was completely loose. We performed a gentle heat press on the neck to try to bring the truss rod into its range of adjustment. This worked well, and allowed us to take a minimal amount of wood off the fingerboard during the Plek fingerboard planing process. We kept the original 7.25” radius of course.
After shooting the fingerboard with sealer to keep it from becoming dirty while the customer decides on refinish options, we refretted it with vintage-sized Jescar 4380 fret wire, Plek’d the frets, made a new nut and set it up. The bridge pickup was missing, although all the electronics appeared to be original, so we went with a Lollar 52T to capture that original tone.
After stringing it up, we found that the neck pickup was shorted in the coil, so we got a Seymour Duncan Antiquity neck pickup, which sounds great with the Lollar. He can have the original rewound if he ever wants to have it back in the guitar. The Antiquities are so good, I doubt he ever will.
What’s so special about the ‘53 Tele anyway, you ask? Generally, these guitars benefitted from three years of design refinement, and the factory had been improved to increase production output. In the case of this guitar specifically it was built by Tadeo Gomez, a well-known craftsman at Fender from the late 1940’s to about 1957. He made Clapton’s “Brownie.” Tadeo’s necks are considered to be some of the best feeling, and there are companies making replicas to try and capture his intuitive mastery.
Having built some guitars myself, it’s interesting to consider Tadeo’s attitude at the time this guitar was made. Did he know he was creating a lasting legacy? Was he just punching the clock and doing his job? After he left Fender, he worked as a construction employee at Disneyland, so I have to assume he had a practical, get the job done, attitude. It just so happened he also had the hand and eye of a master, which leaves us with cool guitars like this one. I’m glad to have been able to bring it back to the player’s hand, and hope that Tadeo would approve of the job done.