One of the absolute classics of guitar design, the Fender Telecaster has been at the heart of popular music since its creation in 1950.
Famous for its twang that powered a host of early rock ‘n’ roll and country records, the Telecaster has proved itself to be a hugely versatile instrument that’s been behind the music of Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Radiohead, and Sheryl Crow to name only a few.
It’s one of the greatest solid-body guitars ever made.
However, the story doesn’t end there. The Telecaster is available in a huge range of varieties that all have their fans, but one of the most interesting is the Thinline Telecaster.
To take one of the most beloved solid-body guitars in the world and turn it into a semi-hollow is quite a radical decision and one which was supposedly motivated by a lack of the light ash wood Fender had been using for Telecaster bodies.
As the instruments got heavier and heavier, they searched for a solution and, in 1969, they hit upon the Thinline Telecaster.
The question that you might have as a guitarist is a simple one; what difference does it make to me as a player? To answer this, we’ll take a look at the way each instrument sounds, how it feels to play, and what each can bring to you as a player.
We’ll start by defining the classic Telecaster sound.
Twang And Bite
When you think about the Telecaster sound, the first word that comes to mind is twang.
This is due to the Telecaster’s peerless lineage in country music, where that bright, percussive attack was a defining feature of lead lines and tick-tack bass, particularly when matched with some nice spring reverb.
This twangy sonic profile morphed in use over time with the rise of distortion and fuzz, providing cutting, clear attack even through walls of distortion. It’s what makes the Telecaster such a phenomenal choice for rhythm guitarists.
Think about the sound of the riffs from Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones or Should I Stay Or Should I Go by The Clash, both excellent examples of chunky Telecaster rhythm parts.
This bite and clarity to the sound also made the Telecaster perfect for chiming arpeggiated parts like the verses of Message In A Bottle by The Police.
Lacking the silky edge of the Stratocaster or the slightly duller, more direct sound of most Gibson models, the Telecaster has a sound that is bell-like, defined, and has a ringing top end that provides separation and clarity in chords, and attack and definition in lead lines.
What Happens When You Make It Hollow
These exceptional tonal qualities are the primary reason that the Telecaster was such a huge hit, alongside its simple, effective workhorse design. They were a result of the pickup choice and placement, but also crucially of the solid-body design.
Consequently, you might be wondering what taking away a huge percentage of the body wood would do to the sound.
After all, it’s a foundational element of the sonic signature, so something’s going to change.
What happens when you make a guitar hollow or semi-hollow instead of solid is that you fundamentally change the resonant characteristics of the body.
While the essential sound of any electric guitar is that of the strings vibrating, which is translated by the pickups, every aspect of the guitar subtly (or not-so-subtly) changes how the strings vibrate.
The body of the guitar resonates with sympathetic vibrations, and in a solid-body guitar, those resonances all take place within the wooden block of the body.
In a hollow or semi-hollow body guitar, they take place within a volume of air, exactly like within an acoustic guitar.
This means that some frequencies resonate more than others depending on the construction of the guitar, and therefore will be more prominent in the overall sound.
What tends to happen with hollow or semi-hollow bodied guitars is that there is a reinforcement of lower frequencies due to their tendency to resonate more in a space filled with air.
You will still get the higher frequencies that are generated by the strings themselves and that resonate in the body wood, but the balance is shifted. Sometimes this is described as being a warmer or rounder tone.
Thinline Telecaster Tone
What should you expect a Thinline Telecaster to sound like, taking into account the classic tone of a solid-body Telecaster and the effect of the semi-hollow body?
Fender weren’t trying to create a whole new guitar when they hollowed out the Telecaster bacon in 1969.
They were simply trying to bring more of the same instrument to players who were shying away from the increasingly heavy bodies that they were producing (and save themselves some wood into the bargain!).
As a result, your classic Telecaster tone is still there. You get that clarity and solidity that you would expect from the bridge pickup and the more mellow, full bell tone from the neck pickup.
However, there is a difference. The tone of a Thinline Telecaster is warmer and somewhat looser in the low end. This isn’t to say there’s a lack of definition, because the balance across the frequency spectrum is excellent.
But where a classic solid-body Telecaster produces a tight, solid sound, there’s a little more expansiveness to the low-mids and bass end that is great for chords and beefs up single-note lines.
When playing arpeggios, you get a fuller, almost pad-like sound that fills more space. This can of course be attenuated with a bit of judicious EQ, but the fundamental sound of a Thinline Telecaster is just that bit more smoothed out, and a little less punchy.
Thinline Telecaster Feel
The Thinline Telecaster has one obvious thing that marks it out from its solid-body stablemate. Being semi-hollow, it’s a whole lot lighter on the shoulder! It’s a whole 1.5lb lighter than your average solid-body Tele, at 6.5lb to the original’s 8lb.
This might not sound like a lot on paper, but it’s nearly a quarter of the weight and it makes a huge difference if you’re going to be slinging it around your neck for two hours.
The body shape and neck profile are the same as a standard Telecaster so that’s all familiar ground for any Tele player, and if you’re new to the Telecaster as an instrument you’ll quickly discover why it’s so beloved of players the world over.
The shape just works; it’s a marvel of simplicity, and the classic Fender neck profile is just what you’d expect.
If you’re a fan of big, chunky Gibson necks then you may have to shop around, but there are a range of Telecasters available that have different neck profiles and, crucially, no two guitars are exactly the same. You may have just not met the Tele for you yet!
One thing that you do have to bear in mind with the Thinline Telecaster that isn’t an issue with the standard Tele is that reducing weight in the body moves the center of gravity of the guitar towards the neck.
This can lead to a phenomenon known as neck dive, where the heavier solid neck of the guitar drops towards the floor.
The Thinline Telecaster is pretty well balanced in this respect, and any guitar, hollow-bodied or not, can experience neck dive (Gibson SGs are particularly noted for this in the solid-body world), but it’s something to be mindful of.
That said, it shouldn’t affect your playing comfort in any meaningful way.
One of the great things about searching for a Telecaster nowadays is that there is a huge range of different options available. Some of them are classics in their own right, like the Deluxe and Custom lines, which have different pickup options and wiring.
The Thinline Telecaster range doesn’t seek to copy the option set of the solid-body telecaster; there’s no Thinline Telecaster Deluxe on offer, for example.
However, Fender does offer the Cabronita Telecaster through its Squier range, which is loaded with two P90 pickups, and the Classic Vibe ‘70s Thinline Telecaster (also from Squier), which has two Fender Wide-Range humbuckers.
These affordable options are augmented by some signature models from Fender’s main range such as the Jim Adkins JA-90 Thinline, featuring two Seymour Duncan soapbar pickups.
If you’ve got a fair bit of flex in your wallet you can look towards the Fender Custom Shop, where the Limited Edition ‘72 Journeyman Thinline with Fender Wide-Range humbuckers is available, if for a bit of a price.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve covered a lot of ground with regards to the Thinline Telecaster and how it compares to its solid-body counterpart. However, there are a few questions that people tend to ask around this topic, so we’ve collated them here in a handy reference guide.
Who Uses A Thinline Telecaster?
If you’re thinking about whether a Thinline Telecaster could be right for you, it makes sense that you’d want to have an idea of the sorts of artists who play one.
They’re regularly used by indie-rock greats such as Thom Yorke from Radiohead, Johnny Buckland from Coldplay, and Carrie Brownstein from Sleater-Kinney, but they have a pedigree that stretches back to Conway Twitty, Bob Dylan, and Daryl Hall.
Are Thinline Guitars Good?
Simply put, yes! They’re a great addition to your selection of instruments, or as your main player. There’s nothing that a standard Telecaster can do that a Thinline can’t, so it really is a matter of personal preference as to which one you choose.
What Makes A Guitar Thinline?
The name was really coined by Fender for this particular model, and has come to be used for a semi-hollow body variant of a solid-body guitar. Essentially, what makes a Telecaster thinline is that it has a semi-hollow body with an F hole. That’s pretty much it!