Early 1990s Fender MIJ '50s Telecaster Reissue

Bob Leggitt | Monday 31 October 2011
Fender MIJ 1950s Telecaster Reissue

These highly desirable instruments first appeared in the music shop ads of Guitarist magazine’s July 1990 edition – which came out in mid June, so I’d guess they were first shipped to the UK in late spring ’90. They were modelled on a late 1954 Fender Telecaster, as is evident in the combination of brass bridge saddles (they were steel by 1955), white scratchplate (previous models featured black), and creamy blond standard finish, which differed from the original butterscotch used on earlier ’50s Teles. This particular reissue came only in blond, two-tone sunburst, and candy apple red metallic. I think the blond was actually the only version technically in keeping with the original. I may be wrong but I’m not aware that there were any original sunburst Teles from late ’54, and candy apple red didn’t appear on Fender’s custom paint charts until the 1960s – replacing the earlier shell pink finish. Despite the candy apple version’s historic inaccuracy though, it was my favourite, so it was my choice.

For those who aren't aware, there were two separate versions of the Candy Apple Red finish used on old Fender guitars. The first was achieved with a metallic sliver base coat, overlaid with translucent red, and the second featured the same translucent red colouring sprayed over a metallic gold base coat. The Candy Apple Red variant used for these MIJ reissues was the one with the silver base coat. The red-over-silver version is generally regarded as the more desirable of the two.

Colours aside, there were a number of inaccuracies to bug vintage nitpickers, but not significantly more than you’d typically get on any other MIJ Fender reissue. Probably the most obvious inaccuracy was the wiring arrangement. This reissue had a post-1967 electrical setup which gave: 1) bridge pickup alone with the switch in the back position, 2) both pickups together with the switch in the middle, and 3) neck pickup alone with the switch to front. However, a real 1954 Tele would have had the previous wiring arrangement. This gave: 1) bridge pickup alone with switch to back, 2) neck pickup alone with switch to middle, and 3) neck pickup alone through a capacitor for heavy top rolloff with switch to front. The historically-inaccurate wiring on this reissue, however, would not have been an oversight. Most Telecaster players prefer the post-’67 wiring. They can’t really make use of the woolly bass of the pre-’67 front position setting, and prefer to have the two pickups combined setting instead. Hence, authenticity was sacrificed for greater appeal in the ’90s market.

Fender MIJ '50s Telecaster Reissue neck date
The neck for this guitar was dated 18th April 1991. You can also see the model designation on the neck: TL52-55. It's interesting that whilst this is definitely not a '52 reissue, it still retains the TL52 designation, stamped on the neck, and written on the body, in the neck pocket, in black marker pen. The neck pocket also reveals that the body is made of rather nice ash, despite the solid colour finish.

Other inaccuracies of course include the method of finish. The paint job is very nice indeed, and pleasantly thin as Fenders go, but it’s not achieved with acrylic or nitro-cellulose lacquer as a ’50s Tele’s finish would have been. Also, the pickup wire is plastic coated, rather than cloth shielded, plus the three way switch is of the modern enclosed type rather than the open version as fitted to an original ’54 Tele. Other than that, the guitar is very ’54, and externally of course you don’t see the wiring, switch type, etc. I should stress that these small lapses in, or intentional departures from authenticity only stand out because otherwise, the guitar is so true to the original version.

The materials and build quality of these reissues was exceptionally good. They were priced at £319 when they first appeared in the mags. Then, after extremely good reviews, they shot up to £399 (with gig bag). The problem they had at that price, however, was competition from the Fender ’62 Tele Custom reissue, which was arguably a more expensive guitar to make, and was undeniably more upmarket in its appearance. The sunburst (3-tone) version of the ’62 Custom reissue seemed particularly popular, and with that guitar priced at £375 tops (usually a lot less), it was unlikely many ’54 reissues would sell at £399.

Predictably, after a couple of months or so, the ‘54’s £399 was slashed to £295. The model then remained in that ballpark with the London discounters through its shelf life of a few years, but there was always a feeling that Fender didn’t have much of a profit margin. These ‘50s reissues had really nice ash bodies and vintage-style alnico-poled Tele pickups, sounding like the originals, and with the retail price flattening out at just £295 I was surprised Fender continued the model for as long as they did.

As I usually say in my MIJ vintage reissue Tele articles, please don't try to date these guitars by the serial numbers. If you tap a serial number of this particular model of MIJ '50s reissue into the big guitar dating site (at least at the time of writing), it'll tell you the instrument was made in 1985 or 1986. As I mentioned, this model didn't hit the shops until 1990 and it doesn't appear in the mid '80s Fender catalogues, so those dates are obviously incorrect. Because the bridge plates were stamped up in high volume and then fitted to guitars at random over long periods of time, there's no chronological regularity to the numbers whatsoever. Assume absolutely no correlation between serial number and build date, because there simply is no correlation. If you're fortunate, the guitar will have a neck date, and that'll give you an idea when it was born, but Fender Japan didn't neck date all guitars, so that's not a given.

After the model was deleted it didn’t linger long on the racks in the shops, and it was unusual to see these particular Teles up for sale on the secondhand market. It seemed that once you bought one, you kept it, and I’ve definitely never been tempted to sell mine. These reissues reminded me of the very early Squier Teles, which were similarly ‘underpriced’ for what you got.

It’s hard to believe that a Fender vintage reissue Telecaster which looked, played and sounded as good as this ’54 replica straight off the rack, could be bought brand new for £295. But then I suppose we are going back two decades. I do sometimes change the electrics and pickups on MIJ Fender reissues (particularly ‘90s Strats), but this one has stayed exactly as it was when it left the shop. It’s very hard to fault, and I wouldn’t mind betting there are quite a few real pre-CBS Teles which are not as player-friendly, well constructed and nicely voiced as this replica.

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