In the world of guitars, we have your normal average run of the mill guitars that we all use and love, but then again we have some instruments that have defined the whole history of the instrument, something so magical that has changed the course of music. One of those instruments has been the Fender Telecaster, which is also one of my favorites, an instrument that has inspired me and many other guitarists to learn and love the instrument and music.
Without diving deeper I should mention that the Fender Telecaster is the first successfully mass-produced solid-body electric guitar, and since then it has been produced regularly by the company with special editions, premium editions and so much more. I just can’t find enough words to praise the Telecaster. What made the Telecaster such a special instrument is the amazing tones that had some sharpness, brightness, a bit of twang and lots of personality to it, coming in from the tonewood and its amazing pickups.
Today we are going to talk about the best Telecaster pickups in the market if you choose to replace it from the stock version. This is especially true for the neck pickup which has garnered a bad reputation for itself through the years for having a bit of underwhelming performance compared to the bridge pickup, and it is one of the most swapped pickups. So naturally, we will touch a bit more on that pickup but without forgetting the bridge as well.
I am going to present to you the top picks in the market, coming in from the best and most reputable brands in the market, chosen based on my experience, market research expert consultation, and buyer feedback. Apart from that, I will inform you more about the Fender Telecaster and what is the criteria for a good pickup for it. Now without further ado, let’s get on with it.
Table of Contents
Which Are The Best Telecaster Pickups?
5. JBE Joe Barden Modern T-Style Set
We are going to start off this list with a set of premium pickups that are a bit expensive but deliver great performance and for those that can afford them they are perfect, the JBE Joe Barden Modern T-Style Set for Fender Telecaster.
These pickups have a super balanced output and have no difference between the output of the bridge and neck, which is one of the biggest complaints of Telecaster players. They also deliver plenty of performance and great sound from the strings.
These pickups are not your average vintage focused Telecaster pickups, they are a bit more modern and sound a bit fatter and more humbucker like than your traditional Telecaster. But overall they are great.
4. Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD
If you want a special bridge pickup for your Telecaster there is none better than the Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD Jerry Donahue Special Edition Tele Bridge pickup. This is made specifically to replicate the sounds of the legendary Jerry Donahue and it is one of the best ones in the market.
It comes packed with Alnico II magnets that deliver vintage tones with a great amount of sustain overall. The overall tones of this pickup sound pretty sharp and delicious with plenty of balance in the lows, with great snap in the highs.
If you have heard how Jerry Donahue sounds and wants to replicate the sound in your Telecaster than the Seymour Duncan APTL-3JD is definitely a no-brainer, quality, reliability, and tonal range, all in one package.
3. DiMarzio DP172C
Coming up next we have a set of excellent pickups coming in from DiMarzio, the DP172 Twang King pickup set for telecasters that deliver a great performance. As we all know DiMarzio does never miss its excellent replacement pickups and this one is no different.
This set of Twang King pickups deliver the true Telecaster twang just like their name implies and while also widening the dynamic range of the instrument significantly. I especially loved the bluesy sound that was pretty thick and without any muddiness throughout the tones.
One other thing that was impressive was that they delivered a great response and sensitivity to pick attack. They are both wax-potted twice for smoother performance and they will look both perfect on your Telecaster, enjoy!
2. Fender Vintage Noiseless Tele
One of the biggest issues that Telecaster players suffer from is the background noise and the humming noise, but with the Fender Vintage Noiseless Tele, you can get around that without spending a fortune and much modification.
These pickups still deliver the classic 60s tone with great twang and powerful bite. The single-coil pickups on this setup act like humbuckers, delivering no hum or background noise.
They are packed with special stacked Alnico V magnets that are packed with enamel-coated magnet wire. The neck pickup has nickel-silver casing and the bridge pickup has the classic Telecaster twangy tone that is the favorite of most guitarists out there.
1. Fender Custom Shop Texas Special
On top of the list, we have a set of pickups that will deliver you perfect results when it comes to shaping your tone on your Tele, the Fender Custom Shop Texas Special. These pickups might cost a lot but they still deliver plenty of value.
They are packed with Alnico V magnets that are staggered to deliver a great tonal balance. On top of that, they are secured into a fiber bobbin that is wrapped with an enamel-coated magnet wire after that. All of this delivers a punchy Telecaster tone with a high output, which still is pretty clear and warm.
The bridge has a copper-plated steel bottom plate that delivers super high output and the neck pickup, on the other hand, is covered with a nickel-silver for higher clarity.
A Brief History Of Telecaster
When it was first released in the 1951 Fred Gretsch of Gretsch guitars, said to Leo Fender “That thing will never sell”, but 70 years later we see that beast running strong and steady. The first Telecaster model was named the Esquire which had the same body shape, same tonewood but had just one bridge pickup and it lacked a truss rod that didn’t allow to add or remove tension from the neck, this was a failure.
After that Leo Fender innovated a bit on it and released the Fender Broadcaster which was the classic Telecaster with a different name, but the name changed since Gretsch Guitars was producing a drum set that was called Broadkaster at that time, so to avoid any trademark issue Leo Fender removed the logo from the guitar by sanding it and sold it without a name, which guitarists dubbed as the Nocaster.
Then after a while, Don Randall suggested Leo Fender merge television and broadcaster words to result in Telecaster which then started going on further. After that James Burton, a country guitarist took this instrument in his hands and the rest is just history. There are just so many guitarists that have used these instruments in their repertoire, and I just can’t start explaining as to why this one is just perfect.
Just take a look at the list of legendary guitarists that have used Telecasters, a list including Keith Richards, James Burton, Harrison of the Beatles, Joe Strummer, Prince, Eddie Vedder, and Jimmy Page, of which in honor of him the company has released a special edition Telecaster which is a masterpiece.
Things You Should Know About Telecaster Pickups
What Makes a Good Set of Tele Pickups
As the founding father of the solid-bodied electric guitars Telecaster is one special guitar, and as such comes with a special pair of pickups in its body. Originally the Telecaster came with a pair of single-coil pickups that included a slanted open-pole pickup at the bridge position and a so-called Lipstick pickup in the neck position. Let’s dive deeper.
The bridge pickup is pretty standard and traditional, slanted open-coil pickup which is pretty similar to what was used traditionally at that time. However, it had a bit different shape that was modified specifically to fit the classic Ashtray bridge cavity of the Tele, and it comes with a metal baseplate that connects to the bridge through it. Due to the slanted position, the poles on the treble side of the spectrum are closer to the bridge which gives the trademark bright and twang sound, which is beautiful. Also in the most traditional setups, the bridge is a bit more enhanced and stronger than the neck pickup.
Coming to the next part the neck pickup is a bit smaller than the standard single-coil pickup that is used in most guitars and is packed with a cover made out of nickel-silver or chrome most of the times, giving it the Lipstick pickup name. It is also equipped with thinner wire and smaller bobbins compared to the bridge pickup or any other single-coil in the market. Due to the size and weaker output overall, the neck pickup at the Telecaster is positioned closer to the strings, and it delivers a bit quieter and milder tone.
What Does it Sound Like?
Telecaster single-coil pickups deliver the guitar its trademark sound which is slightly brighter and twangy, but then again both of them deliver different sounds than each other. Like I mentioned earlier in this guide, the bridge single-coil pickup delivers a more treble focused sound that is brighter, clearer and has that twang. It is also a little louder and has hotter output compared to its neck counterpart, and this is what we love about it, the true Telecaster tone.
The neck single-coil pickup, on the other hand, is much smoother and has a more balanced tonal range compared to the bridge pickup, but it also delivers less volume and I can say that it is a bit lifeless compared to the other pickups in the market. Also, the metal covers there to make it a bit more muffled and conservative. Thanks to all these most Telecaster players consider changing the neck pickup for something suiting more their styles.
Some Popular Solutions
Telecaster players over the years have experimented with different aftermarket pickups and configurations to find their sounds. Some of those configurations or solutions have become very popular that even the brand itself has included them in the official Tele series. Let’s check them out.
The most popular option has always been for staying the same with the single-coil at the bridge and a humbucker pickup in the neck position. This selection has been used by many of the legendary guitarists most notably from Keith Richards in the 70s, and this has also been used in the Vintage Modified series of the Fender Telecaster.
Another popular solution has been a pair of P90 pickups for players that want a bit more sustain and power from their Telecaster guitars. These options like the aforementioned one also need somebody modifications that are needed to suit the bigger pickups, but it is nothing that a professional or an experienced guitarist that has experimented with these things can’t do.
However, we have also seen setups where two humbuckers were chosen, for players that want the power of the P90s without any hum or background interference. But then again for the dual humbucker setup, you will need to do more body modifications. Fender Telecaster Deluxe and Telecaster Thinline models can come in this setup if you are ready to pay for the premium price.
Other Pickups You Might Be Interested In
To close off this article I should mention that all the classic Telecaster pickups deliver the warm, vintage, sharp, bright and twangy sound, however, they come with some background interference known as the 60-cycle hum. This might not be a problem when you play in lower volume and gains but it becomes exponentially worse when you are playing at higher volumes or with more powerful amplifiers.
If you can’t stand the hum you can invest in some options and modify your guitar to eliminate the issue. Upgrading your pickups on your Telecaster might not be very easy but the results will be worth it, then again you need to be very careful to not ruin the tone of your Telecaster. For example, if you opt for dual humbucker pickups you will lose the classic Telecaster sound, but still, that is your guitar and you need to choose what direction it goes. Have fun with your new Telecaster pickups.