Jason Isbell: ”I think the Telecaster is probably the best guitar design, ever”

Jason Isbell with his Fender Custom Telecaster
(Image credit: Fender)

If the Telecaster has made its name as the quintessential country and rock ’n’ roll guitar, who better to receive a signature model than modern Americana’s premier songwriter and tonesmith, Jason Isbell? 

An avid collector, Jason took features from two of his favourite Teles to create the template for his new signature Custom Telecaster

“I've got a Custom Shop Tele that’s probably 10 years old,” he says. “It’s got a Twisted Tele neck pickup, and I really like that pickup. I put a black pickguard on it, it’s a double-bound body, rosewood ’board and I’ve used it for hundreds of shows. I very rarely need to tune it! 

“Then I have a 1965 Tele that has the best bridge pickup So we did the bridge pickup based off that ’65, and we also used that as the basis for the neck profile, it’s sort of a small C.” 

Jason’s signature model is, in fact, lacking a signature. “I didn’t sign it anywhere,” he says. “But I put my tattoo on the neck plate. I like how the headstock looks as it is so I just left it the way it was designed.” 

For the signature model pickup, Jason deferred to Fender’s wind-up guru, Tim Shaw, to perfect the paring. “The neck pickup is like the Twisted Tele, only hotter. That was my only issue with the Twisted Tele, they sound great, but they’re usually really quiet and clean. It’s difficult to get them to overdrive without blasting the bridge pickup out at the same time, so we balanced them out by making the neck pickup a bit hotter.” 

Isbell’s signature model also includes a three saddle bridge, modified to make things easier for palm muting: “I think they sound better, there’s fewer things to slow down the vibrations. We cut the bridge away a little around the part that would have held the ashtray on.” 

Fender Jason Isbell Custom Telecaster

The Fender Jason Isbell Custom Telecaster (Image credit: Fender)

Meanwhile, he’s opted for a rosewood fingerboard, telling us “I love maple fingerboards too, but there’s something very forgiving about rosewood. Maple’s very precise, and if you make a mistake you’re going to hear it.”

Finally, there’s the Road Worn finish. “I think the relic’ing is tasteful. I didn’t want to heavily age it because I’m not that kind of player. I don’t like to get vintage guitars that are all beat-up because they feel too much like somebody else’s guitar at that point.”

So, it’s a lot more than a decal and a paint job, but what does the Tele mean to Jason Isbell: Guitar Fanatic?

“I think about Albert Collins and that ice pick tone, and then Muddy Waters playing slide on a Telecaster. Then there’s the thicker Tele tones, like Danny Gatton. Definitely with Keith Richards there’s a tradition of that guitar, but it doesn’t really apply to anybody else. Without a doubt it’s the best rhythm guitar. I think it’s probably the best guitar design overall, ever.”

  • For more information on the Jason Isbell Custom Telecaster, head to Fender.

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Stuart Williams

Stuart is a freelancer for Guitar World and heads up Total Guitar magazine's gear section. He formerly edited Total Guitar and Rhythm magazines in the UK and has been playing guitar and drums for over two decades (his arms are very tired). When he's not working on the site, he can be found gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.