Fender MIJ Telecaster Thinline Reissue

This is a completely mint Japanese made reissue of an early 1969 Fender Telecaster Thinline. A guitar for diehard Fender fans, who want the utilitarian simplicty of a regular Tele spiced up with a little bit of craftsmanship. I don’t know what Fender’s full RRP was for these, but I do know that a very common selling price in the UK shops between late ’88 and the end of ’91 (the era of this guitar) was £425. That was about £25 more than Fender’s American Standard Tele would typically go for at the time.

The well known and massively respected luthier and design guru Roger Rossmeisl had a big hand in the original Thinline concept. Roger Rossmeisl (son of old-school guitar builder Wenzel Rossmeisl) had worked at Rickenbacker, where he’d shaped the distinctive look, sound and feel of the classic Capri models. The idea with the Tele Thinline was that a solid Telecaster body would be routed into semi-solid form from the back, then a single sheet of wood would be glued, Rickenbacker-style, over the hollowed rear to seal the body. An F-hole was cut through the front, along with accomodation for the pickups and controls. Other than that, and the consequent enlargement of the scratchplate, the appointments were standard Tele fare for the period.

I should provide some clarification regarding the year this model replicates, because if my reading is accurate, it doesn't necessarily have to be 1969. When these reissues were on sale, most ads quoted the model simply as a Tele Thinline reissue. However, the one or two shops I did see documenting a year (such as London's Soho Soundhouse), referred to them as a ’69 Thinline. As I write, Wikipedia states that the original Thinline model was not even introduced until 1969. However, AR Duchossoir’s comprehensively researched book on the Telecaster states that the Telecaster Thinline was listed from July 1968, at $319.50. I've also seen one or two well known and highly knowledgeable guitarists alluding in interviews to real '68 Thinlines in their collections, so I think we can pretty safely dismiss the Wikipedia line.

One of the many interesting things about this guitar is that it has a separate maple fingerboard. This attribute, best associated with the Hendrix era, came about because guitarists loved the old one-piece maple neck from the 1950s, but Fender was no longer geared up to produce it. So a neck would be made as if it was to receive the standard rosewood fingerboard, and then a maple fingerboard would be substituted for the rosewood. These maple fingerboard guitars are clearly distinct from the one-piece maple neck versions because they lack the small walnut ‘blob’ behind the nut on the face of the headstock. Necks with a separate fingerboard could have their truss rod channel cut from the front, which dispensed with the need for a walnut filler section. So on an old Fender, a ‘white’ neck with no dark ‘blob’ means a separate maple board - aside, that is, from a very few 1950 guitars, which were made before Fender introduced truss rods.

Early in 1969, however, Fender re-introduced the one-piece maple neck, and the maple fingerboard was dropped. At that point the walnut blob re-appeared on the headstock (whether the neck was maple or a rosewood board job). So as a ’69 replica, this guitar would have to represent an early ’69, made before the maple board was dropped. But as far as I can see, there's nothing to prevent this reissue equally being deemed a '68 replica. Except, that is, the machineheads, which on these reissues were for some reason standard Gotohs, the same as the ones fitted to Fender Japan 'Standard' guitars of the late '80s and early '90s. These more modern style tuners would not have been fitted to any original 1960s Tele.

All finishes on the original Thinline were natural wood, which, with reference to the body, was either maple or mahogany. The MIJ reissue was only available in mahogany as far as I know, and very attractive it looks too on this example. There also existed a Japanese Fender '72 Thinline reissue, but this is easy to tell from the '69 since it has humbucking pickups.

A WORD OF CAUTION 

I bought this guitar brand new in 1991. A widely used guitar serial number dating site dates it at 1985 or 1986. So, unless the guitar had been sitting in the shop for five years, which strikes me as a ridiculous notion, then the serial number info is inaccurate. Worse still, this model doesn’t have a neck date, so if someone was to sell one of these as an ’85 or an ’86, it’s unlikely anyone would be any the wiser. In fact, I’ve seen this exact model, with a serial number very close to the one on mine, being sold online as an ’85 or ’86. I haven’t seen that guitar in person, so I can’t make any properly informed judgement on its actual age, but I would advise anyone looking at an MIJ Telecaster with an ‘A0’ serial number on the bridge plate, to be highly sceptical about “1985/1986” categorisations. To further drive home the point, the 'A0' MIJ '50s Reissue Teles also show on that site as being manufactured in '85/'86, and that model wasn't even introduced until 1990. Forget about trying to date MIJ Tele reissues by their serial numbers.

I recall that in the mid ‘80s, Fender Japan were using (higher quality) open selector switches on vintage reissues. As far as I’m aware, the enclosed switches didn’t appear on Japanese reissues until after Fender shifted some production to Korea – which was in ‘87. I may be wrong on that, but I’d be pretty confident that if an MIJ Tele reissue has an enclosed selector switch, it’s not an ’85 or an ’86. Of course, whether an MIJ Tele was built in 1985 or 1991 is not a matter of life or death, but mid ‘80s stock does tend to have a financial premium placed on it, so investigate thoroughly before stumping up mid '80s prices.

SOUND

I have to confess to being a sucker for Telecasters (if you’ve seen this site before you’ve probably noticed!). As you’d expect with a semi-hollow mahogany body, this is a very warm-toned one. But it’s definitely a Telecaster and not some kind of weird hybrid. In fact, unplugged, there’s barely any indication of the semi-hollow construction (other than the exceptionally light weight). The guitar is barely any louder acoustically (if louder at all) than my MIJ ’62 edgebound Tele reissue. There is, however, solid mahogany behind the pickup area and bridge, and this, I suspect, is where the Thinline’s real warmth of tone comes from. I’d definitely consider this a solid guitar with substantial weight relief, as opposed to a semi-acoustic. Put your ear right up to the F-hole and you can hear sound coming out, but not much. I’d challenge anyone to tell from a recording alone that this is a Thinline and not a particularly warm-sounding standard ‘60s type Tele. There is still a good top end sparkle (probably helped by the maple fingerboard), but there isn’t quite the balls-out attack which is exuded by my MIJ ’62 reissue.

This instrument is all original, and for it to have chalked up more than two decades in my possession without any mods whatsoever is a major achievement. This Tele Thinline would serve as a great demonstration for anyone wanting an example of how spectacularly good the best of the Fender MIJs really were. With the exception of the rather flimsy wiring and enclosed switch, the build and finish is flawless, and the sound would elicit high praise even if it came from a guitar costing in excess of £3,000. Looking back at what these originally cost, you can't help but marvel at the immense desirability Fender Japan packed into such affordable gear.

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Posted by: Bob Leggitt