Johnny Marr: “The first time I ever used a Tele was the day I recorded This Charming Man”

Johnny Marr
(Image credit: Louise Broom)

Johnny Marr may be best known for his signature Fender Jaguar, but the Telecaster also holds an important place in the indie icon's recorded history.

Here, Marr details his own relationship with the first mass-produced solidbody guitar, and why it features on more Smiths tracks than you might expect…

“My most famous one is my green sunburst Roger Giffin. My wife, who was then my girlfriend, very kindly wanted to get me a gift and the great Alan Rogan [Pete Townshend’s guitar tech] tipped her off to this one-off that Roger Giffin had made.

“A lot of people remember it because it is very distinctive-looking, but Alan recommended it to me because it sounded very unusual. It’s maple, so it weighs an absolute ton, and it has a lot of brass on it. It has a very distinctive sound. I was only a little slip of a thing when I got it [laughs], so I could only play two songs with it before I had to go and lie down.  

“I still have that guitar. It has a coil-tap on it, which I disabled. To this day, I do not know what the pickups are on there. They might be really early Seymour Duncans – knowing Roger. The first time I ever used a Telecaster was the day I recorded This Charming Man

“The sound of that intro was always assumed that it was a Rickenbacker because that is what I was most known for at the time, but it is actually – mostly – a ’54 Tele, maybe ’53, that belonged to the producer [John Porter] tracked with a Rickenbacker, so it is quite an interesting sound. That was a refinished ’53 or ’54 Tele and it was the first time I had used one. It really suited my super-clean sound. But it still had plenty of attitude.

“The combination of that '50s Tele sound and the Rickenbacker was perfect for what I was looking for. That was my first experience with a Tele. Quite quickly, I was lucky enough to acquire a few different guitars, but I made it my business to get a Tele.

“That’s why Angie knew I needed one. The green one I used mostly on Meat Is MurderNowhere Fast and the title track. I guess by the time of the last [Smiths] album, I acquired a mid-’60s Tele which had been customised with a humbucker in the neck position.

“Right now I have got four or five Telecasters, mostly ’60s models. I’ve got a ’64, and I really like that period, because I want that clean, classic Tele thing but they’re just slightly darker. It’s a combination of the bodies and the fingerboard being rosewood. I like that darker clang. I’ve still got the black and white Custom one, and in the 2000s, Fender gave me a Custom Shop early ’60s reissue, Olympic [White] with the black 'guard.”

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.