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Best Telecasters 2020: top Fender Tele electric guitars for every budget

Best Telecasters: top Fender Tele electric guitars for every budget
(Image credit: Fender)

The Fender Telecaster was the very first mass-produced solid body electric guitar, and as such it has a widespread appeal rivaled by few other guitars. Fender’s beloved electric comes in a variety of guises, and we have taken from this large pool to come up with our pro guide to the best Telecasters for beginners and pros.

Further cementing the Fender Telecaster’s position as one of music’s most iconic guitars is the fact that it has been so deeply ingrained in music history. That’s because they feature on countless legendary recordings from rock ’n’ roll pioneers like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, through to country heavyweights like James Burton and Danny Gatton, and modern masters such as Radiohead and Slipknot.

With plenty of exciting announcements from Fender at NAMM 2020 to consider too, here’s our guide to the best Telecasters in the world right now…

What is the best Telecaster around?

Our top picks for the best Telecaster guitar starts with the Fender American Professional Telecaster, a seriously beautiful and versatile electric guitar that pays tribute to the originals all while bringing them superbly into modern day.

If you’re currently shopping for a top-level American-made Telecaster, the American Professionals are certainly worth a look. Unlike some of the other options out there, these guitars pay full tribute to the original models, with only a handful of modernisations and updates that aren’t detectable to the eye.

We’d also direct your attention to the Fender Richie Kotzen Telecaster. The singer/guitarist has been responsible for some of the greatest Fender tones in recent decades, and nine times out of 10, it’s all come down to the Telecaster in his hands. 

Having been only available in Japan for a number of years, these DiMarzio-equipped signatures were made available globally in 2013 and offer world-class tones with no compromise playability. A brilliant addition to our best Telecasters round-up.

Choosing the best Telecaster for you

Telecasters come in many forms, from the original solid-body design through to the lighter weight semi-hollow Thinlines that offer more of a natural acoustic resonance. So it’s worth having an idea of what kind of sounds you hear in your head and which kinds of musicians have been associated with the many models on offer. 

While it’s worth bearing in mind that there are no rules when it comes to what you use, solid-body guitars are generally considered more suited to those looking for punch, thickness and sustain. Semi-hollow guitars are renowned for their openness and clarity, often favored by more chordal players.

When choosing the best Telecaster for you, also think about whether you want/need single-coils or humbuckers. While there have never been more aftermarket electric guitar pickups available to help players hone in on their favourite tones, it makes sense to invest in a Telecaster that can handle the sounds you’re looking for. 

Fender’s typically noiseless and lower-output single-coils work wonders for those playing funk, RnB and country, though higher-gain players may be more suited to higher-output pickups like humbuckers. To get a better idea of how much power you need, look at the guitarists you’re hoping to sound like.

So, let's check out the best Fender Teles you can buy today. We've ordered them by price – from cheapest to most expensive – to make the list easier to navigate.

The best Telecasters to buy now

Best Telecaster: Squier Affinity Series Telecaster

(Image credit: Squier)

1. Squier Affinity Series Telecaster

The best Telecaster for beginners on a budget

Price: $229.99 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple (C-shape) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Indian Laurel | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Two Vintage-Style Single-Coils | Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone | Hardware: Chrome | Finish: 2-Color Sunburst, Arctic White, Black, Butterscotch Blonde, Competition Orange, Race Green, Race Red, Slick Silver

Won’t find a cheaper Fender-made Tele
Plenty of finish options 
Not much at this price

The Squier Affinity series is Fender’s answer to offering their unique designs and historic tones at the budget end of the market. For those starting their journey in guitar, these instruments offer tremendous value for money and though they can’t offer the full Fender experience, costing around a fifth of the cheapest American-made models, these guitars are virtually unbeatable within the sub-$250 end of the market. 

Whether you’re a beginner or you’ve just always wanted to add a basic Tele to the collection, with some classic finishes including the Butterscotch Blonde favored by Bruce Springsteen and tantalizing racing colors, this could very well be the best Telecaster for you.

Best Telecaster: Fender Squier Classic Vibe 70s Telecaster Thinline

(Image credit: Fender)

2. Fender Squier Classic Vibe '70s Telecaster Thinline

The most affordable Fender semi-hollow out there

Price: $449.99 | Body: Soft Maple | Neck: Maple (C-shape) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 21 | Pickups: Two Fender Wide Range Humbucking | Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone | Hardware: Nickel | Finish: Mocha, 3-Color Sunburst, Natural

Amazing value for money
Revoiced Wide-Range Humbuckers
Great for rock

Famously used by the likes of Bob Dylan, Thom Yorke and Jim Adkins, Thinline Telecasters were originally made as a lighter-bodied alternative, with routing cavities and a single f-hole that added to its more acoustic-sounding and warmer ‘woody’ resonance. 

The only Thinline in the Fender Squier range certainly offers a lot for its budget price-point, from build to playability. Like the Vintera ’70s models, it features two Wide Range humbuckers to help players tap into warmer and more overdriven sounds – which, coupled with the semi-hollow construction – helps avoid some of the more shrill tones classic Telecasters were famous for. 

A great option for those hoping to dial in rock tones or hit big-sounding chords on a budget.

Best Telecaster: Fender Vintera 70s Telecaster Deluxe

(Image credit: Fender)

3. Fender Vintera '70s Telecaster Deluxe

A highly functional and affordable throwback to the wonder years

Price: $899.99 | Body: Alder | Neck: Maple (Thin C-shape) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 21 | Pickups: Two Fender Wide Range Humbucking | Controls: Volume 1. (Neck Pickup), Volume 2. (Bridge Pickup), Tone 1. (Neck Pickup), Tone 2. (Bridge Pickup) | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome | Finish: Mocha, 3-Color Sunburst, Vintage Blonde

Amazing value for money
 Revoiced Wide-Range Humbuckers
Not as suited to brighter Tele tones

After an increase in higher gain players over the course of the 1960s, Fender hired former Gibson pickup guru Seth Love to help update their debut solid-body electric design. The fruits of the collaboration arrived in 1972 as the Telecaster Deluxe, and using the all-new Wide Range humbucker to dial in more overdriven tones.

The new Ensenada factory-made Vintera series offers a whole range of throwback Telecasters from the big F’s ground-breaking first three decades, but the ’70s Deluxe – available in three wonderfully classic finishes – has definitely earned its place near the top of our best Telecasters list.

The humbuckers are incredibly musical, both clean and distorted, and offer a bit less of that famous Tele twang in favour of grit and power. All in all, the Fender Vintera '70s Telecaster Deluxe is a brilliantly versatile and more wallet-friendly tribute to one of the more rock-focused models in Fender history.

Best Telecaster: Fender Vintera '50s Telecaster Modified

(Image credit: Fender)

4. Fender Vintera '50s Telecaster Modified

A Mexican-made Telecaster powered by Custom Shop pickups

Price: $999.99 | Body: Alder Or Ash | Neck: Maple (Thick Soft V-Shape) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 21 | Pickups: Custom Shop Twisted Single-Coil (neck) and Custom Shop Vintage-Style Single-Coil (bridge) | Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome | Finish: Butterscotch Blonde, Daphne Blue, Surf Green

Great finishes and value for money
Fender Custom Shop pickups...
...with four-way selector
V-shaped necks aren’t for everyone

At the slightly higher end of the Fender Vintera range sits the ’50 Modified Telecaster, which combines some of Fender’s most sought-after Custom Shop colors with pickups from the actual Custom Shop. 

In this case, you’re getting a Vintage-Style Single-Coil in the neck and a high output Alnico 5 Twisted Single-Coil in the bridge – which, along with the four way selector and S1 switch, will be able to cover some serious tonal ground. 

The neck profile is a softer variation of the V-Shape profile from the late 50s, so not quite as extreme and still quite thick-feeling. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a mid-priced guitar that screams class and can cover pretty much any kind of gig, this might be the best Telecaster for you. 

Best Telecaster: Fender Jim Root Telecaster

(Image credit: Fender)

5. Fender Jim Root Telecaster

Undoubtedly the heaviest Telecaster in Fender history

Price: $1,199.99 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Maple (Modern C-shape) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Ebony Or Maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: EMG 60 (neck) and EMG 81 (bridge) | Controls: Master Volume | Hardware: Black | Finish: Flat White

 A more affordable artist guitar
High-powered active EMG 'buckers 
Far from an original Tele sound

As the guitarist in one of the most successful metal bands the world has seen, Slipknot guitarist Jim Root (aka #4) knows a thing or two about high-gain tones. His signature Telecaster features some less-usual appointments, including an ebony fingerboard, locking tuners, black hardware, no tone control, a Hardtail strings-thru-body bridge and his favourite active EMG pickup set.

The result of this collaboration with Fender is a high-powered workhorse that will be able to cut through the mix and have no problem voicing the kind of lower tunings bands like Slipknot were responsible for popularizing. It’s not a classic Telecaster by any means, but for Slipknot fans, it’s a no-brainer.

Best Telecasters: Fender Richie Kotzen Telecaster

(Image credit: Fender)

6. Fender Richie Kotzen Telecaster

The Tele behind nearly all of the guitarist’s world-beating tones

Price: $1,499.99 | Body: Ash with Flame Maple Laminated Top | Neck: Maple (Large C-shape) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: DiMarzio Twang King (neck) and The Chopper T (bridge) | Controls: Master Volume, Series/Parallel Rotary Switch | Hardware: Gold | Finish: Brown Sunburst

One of the best signatures Teles 
Dimarzio pickups with parallel switch
Again, neck may not suit beginners

The fact that American guitar virtuoso Richie Kotzen has stuck with his signature Telecaster for the large majority of his career speaks volumes. It’s an instrument that can take him from classic Fender tones for RnB/funky lines through to incredibly musical high-powered gains with effortless ease. 

All that is thanks to a single-coil Alnico 5 DiMarzio Twang King in the neck and a ceramic stacked humbucker, The Chopper T, in the bridge. 

Then there’s the contoured ash body for increased playability, a bound flame maple top to help cut through, a fatter neck profile and a series-parallel rotary switch where you’d usually find a tone control, which functions as a mid-boost. Finished in a gorgeous Brown Sunburst to match its exquisite gold hardware, this is without question one of the best Telecaster guitars in the world. 

Best Telecasters: Fender American Professional Telecaster

(Image credit: Fender)

7. Fender American Professional Telecaster

Everything you want from a classic Tele with modern functionality

Price: $1,549.99 | Body: Ash | Neck: Maple (Deep C-shape) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Two V-Mod Single-Coils | Controls: Master Volume with Treble-Bleed, Master Tone | Hardware: Nickel/Chrome | Finish: 2-Color Sunburst, 3-Color Sunburst, Black, Butterscotch Blonde, Candy Apple Red, Crimson Red Transparent, Mystic Seafoam, Natural, Olympic White, Sonic Gray

American-made Telecaster
Tim Shaw-designed single-coils
Treble Bleed Circuit
Neck might not suit beginners

The American Professional series brings the Fender Telecaster into the modern age while staying incredibly faithful to the original design. But a few tiny adjustments can make a world of difference – from the Treble Bleed circuit that retains the high-end when your guitar volume is turned down to its redesigned ‘ashtray’ bridge that’s angled better for the picking hand.

The Deep C neck sits in between a Modern C and U in terms of shape and coupled with the narrow tall frets offers extra hold and control. As for the circuitry, the Tim Shaw-designed V-Mod single-coils are engineered using a proprietary blend of alnico magnet types. 

In the neck pickup, alnico 5 under the bass strings delivers detailed low end while alnico 2 under the treble strings adds warmth and clarity, whereas the bridge is powered exclusively by alnico 5 magnets. 

It’s all of these tiny extras and adjustments which – without affecting the visual aesthetics of such a classic guitar – make the American Professional series a very dominant presence in our best Telecasters round-up.

Best Telecaster: Parallel Universe Vol II Troublemaker Tele Deluxe

(Image credit: Fender)

8. Parallel Universe Vol II Troublemaker Tele

The Telecaster reimagined… as a Les Paul?

Price: $2,399.99 | Body: Mahogany | Neck: Mahogany (Modern C-shape) | Scale: 25.5" | Fingerboard: Maple | Frets: 22 | Pickups: Two Custom Double Tap Humbuckers | Controls: Volume 1 (Neck Pickup), Tone 1 (Neck Pickup), Volume 2 (Bridge Pickup), Tone 2 (Bridge Pickup) | Hardware: Gold | Finish: Olympic White with lacquer finish

Unusual and collectable 
Custom Double Tap pickups
One of the most expensive Teles

Looking almost more like a 70s Gibson Les Paul Custom thanks to its off-white finish, humbucker pickups, gold hardware and adjusto-matic bridge, this all-new Troublemaker Tele Deluxe (unveiled at NAMM this year) oozes class and functionality. And much like those famous Gibsons guitars, it boasts a mahogany body and neck for more pronounced mids and increased sustain.

Granted, that might sound a long way off what the original Telecasters were famous for, but the Parallel Series exists purely to enable Fender to go further with their world-class engineering and defy the very conventions they helped create.  Further proof, if it was ever needed, that Fender are still masters of reinvention.