When you hear the name Albert Lee, the first thing that will likely come to mind is his mastery of country guitar playing. His innovative, faster-than-the-speed-of-sound fingerpicking, masterful bends and mesmerizing B-bender work make him not only one of the great British country guitar players, but one of the greatest country guitarists of all time, period.
As it turns out, though, Lee was also one of the early adopters of electric guitar hot-rodding, if only by accident.
During an episode of Ernie Ball's newly-revived String Theory YouTube series, Lee explains how – after some tinkering went terribly awry – he ended up with an ultra-punchy Telecaster that quickly earned him the envy of his guitarist peers.
"I took the pickup cover off of the rhythm pickup of my Telecaster, and I broke the windings," Lee explains. "I thought, 'that wasn't a smart thing to do.'
"I thought, 'what am I gonna do now?' You couldn't walk into a store and buy a pickup in those days – the early '60s. [So] I took the middle pickup out of this SG and put it on the Tele. I'd like to think I was one of the first people to do that!"
Lee subsequently took the modded Tele on tour, where it quickly raised some influential eyebrows.
"I remember doing a tour with Chris Farlowe in the mid-'60s," Lee recalls. "We were on a show with the Paul Butterfield Band, and Mike Bloomfield [the band's guitarist] saw my Tele with the humbucker on it and said 'Boy, that's a great idea! I've never seen that before.'"
Notably, Lee's modification – which seems to have taken place around the same time as Albert Collins first came to prominence with his own humbucker-powered Tele – pre-dates the much higher-profile installation of a Gibson PAF humbucker on Keith Richards’ legendary "Micawber" Tele by a few years.
A number of years before Lee though, session guitar ace Bob Bain installed a humbucker on his own Telecaster, which he most famously used on the sessions for the Peter Gunn theme all the way back in 1958.
“I put a humbucker in the neck position because I might go to a studio and need a Chuck Wayne sound," Bain told Vintage Guitar (opens in new tab). "I’d have a Gibson ES-150 with me and switch if I had to. But that meant I had to carry two electrics.”