Here’s Why a ‘Twangy’ Telecaster Can Play Jazz!

When I think of the most common guitar for playing the smooth and silky sound of jazz. I recall the familiar shape of the bulky hollow-body and semi-hollow body guitars.

When it comes to the Telecaster however, the usual heavyweight in the rock, country, and blues category. That got me thinking…

Can a Telecaster play jazz? My short answer always goes like this…

The Telecaster is a great jazz guitar, historically favoured by famous Jazz players: Ted Greene, Ed Bickert and Mike Stern. The Telecaster is popular amongst jazz players is for its ‘rich’ ‘prestine’ and ‘warm’ clean tone. 

Why So Popular for Jazz?

Usually noted for its great weight for rock, country and blues, it is also regarded for its popularity with the style of jazz which not many players seem to know.

The reason that Jazz players favor the Telecaster as their go to Fender guitar, comes down to its sound, design, construction, and versatility. This is largely due to its ‘bright’ and ‘articulate’ sounding single coil pickups, maple neck, and thin body.

How to get a Jazz Tone With The Tele (Watch Below)

Players enjoy the ‘clarity’ and accurate sounds from the single coil pickups as opposed to the ‘warmer’ andbassier sounding humbuckers sported on the traditional archtop guitars.

Single coils also have the benefit of cutting through a mix easier due to its ‘thinner’ sound which is useful when playing in a live band for being heard next to a noisy band on stage.

Although the Tele is regarded as a ‘twangy’ guitar. Due to its single coils, compared to the ‘rounder’ and ‘warmer’ sounding humbuckers of the usual Gibson and Epiphone guitars.

Versatility

The versatility of the Tele allows players to ‘un-twang’ the guitar. This is by rolling off the tone knob removing the ‘high-end’ creating a warmer sound without losing its ‘richness’, ‘clarity’ and adding unnecessary.

Adding excessive bass frequencies can create a muddy sound that will loose its attack and presence in a mix.

Playing around with the tone knob, pickups and amp EQ can create a nice blend of clarity and warmth for a pristine clean tone for jazz. Selecting the neck pickup will allow for a warmer and jazzier tone.

Playability

Factor in the smooth playability of the ”C” profile neck that players note for being thin and not too weighty in the palm of the hand for established grip and control.

Fender necks are known for being the most comfortable making it an enjoyable guitar to play. The double cutaway design allows for easier access to the higher frets creating a more playable guitar than the single cutaway archtop guitars.

The thin body also results in very light guitar, a similar experience to the hollow and semi-hollow body guitars that jazz players usually choose. I guess the slim body also makes a change from the usual wider and ‘bulky’ bodies of the hollow archtops.

The Telecaster is just a cool guitar with its classy appeal which looks good with all types of players including the silky smooth style of ballroom jazz playing.

Know you understand why the usual rock, country and blues heavyweight is so well equipped for playing Jazz. Here are some good candidates aimed at strictly clean tones and jazz playing…

Best Telecasters for Jazz

If I was given the money to choose a Telecaster for myself strictly for Jazz, I would more than likely choose a ‘Thinline’ Telecaster. The reason being the Thinline is a semi-hollow version of the standard solid body guitar. So why the hollow-body version?

I have a great post comparing the differences between the Thinline and regular Telecaster you can read here

The Tonal Differences

To sum it up in a nutshell, the hollow body version has a naturally warmer and ultimately ‘jazzier’ tone due to the hollow design and F-holes.

The guitar has less ‘treble’, ‘high end’ and produces a slightly warmer tone than the usual solid body version.

You can think of the guitar tone as a warmer ‘twang’ while still retaining all the usual versatility, sound and great playability of the regular Telecaster.

The Thinline comes in either humbuckers or single coils depending on your tastes and what other styles of music you like to play.

Pickup choice will come down to personal choice as both single coils and humbuckers can do the same amount of styles as the solid body version.

Humbuckers vs Single Coil Version?

Both guitars will sound slightly different from each other but selecting either one will depend on which one you like the sound of most.

The single coil version offers the most ‘bite’ and ‘clarity’ for the usual Telecaster ‘spank’ for the most ‘pristine’ clean tone when using the bridge pickup.

The humbucker version will sound ‘warmer’ with more bass but perhaps the better option for handling distortion for playing heavier styles such as hard rock.

Affordable Jazz Thinline Teles

As you know, I’m all for affordable guitars, Squire produce some great affordable Thinline Telecasters for playing multiple genres and styles of music including jazz. Some mentions are…

  • Squire Classic Vibe Thinline Series
  • Squire Vintage Modified Series
  • Squire VM 72 Thinline
  • Fender Modern player Thinline Series

How to set up a Telecaster for Jazz

I will admit setting up a guitar for jazz is not complicated and doesn’t require any crazy modifications. There are some things you can do however to optimize a Tele for jazz playing.

As is the same with most genres that adopt heavy lead playing. A lower action would be better for faster playing and promotes less fatigue than higher strings across the fretboard.

When it comes to string gauge, heavier strings are usually preferred (10,11,12) as jazz playing is not known for bending strings and the heavier set provides a thicker tone than light strings but all choices are optional.

Telecaster or Stratocaster for Jazz?

Both guitars are ideal candidates as they are both versatile, highly playable and great sounding guitars.

Traditionally the Telecaster is the more favored Fender guitar out of the two. There’s no reason however that a Stratocaster could not be utilized for playing jazz.

The Stratocaster is arguably the more versatile guitar out of the two, including a 5-way pickup selector switch for more tone selection and a blend of tones.

It must be noted, however, there is no ‘perfect guitar’ for playing jazz only what sounds and feels best to you as the player.

Thanks For Reading

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