Price paid: £ 575
Purchased from: Private Seller
Features — 8
The MIJ '62 Reissue Telecaster is Fender Japan's take on the Custom Telecaster, the model produced by Fender from the late '50s to late '60s featuring a double bound body (as opposed to the later, unrelated, Telecaster Custom, the model with the neck humbucker). As such, what you can expect from this is early '60s-style vintage-spec Telecaster, and thus few bells and whistles. Mine was made in 2014 and was a limited edition featuring an F-logo Bigsby B5 and an Ocean Turquoise Metallic finish (an anachronism on the model since said colour choice wasn't introduced until 1965, but I can't particularly fault it there).
Besides these, the basic specs are:
- 25.5" scale
- 7.25" fretboard radius
- Alder body
- Maple neck with slab rosewood fretboard
- Gloss (poly) finished neck and body
- Double body binding (i.e. front and back bound)
- Jaguar-style bridge with threaded saddles
- Singlecoil pickups
- Split shaft machine heads
- 3-way pickup selector, one volume and one tone knob
First of all, this is a really pretty guitar. Ocean Turquoise Metallic, much like Candy Apple Red, is difficult to photograph well but very fetching in person, with a very nice sparkle to it. I'm not entirely convinced that the shade faithfully captures the appearance of an original '60s Ocean Turquoise Metallic finish, but I'm not especially bothered by this and I imagine most people are even less so. It looks great on the instrument, and especially with the Bigsby, gives a great surfy vibe to the guitar. It really is a great looking Tele.
A couple brief points on historical accuracy: If you're a vintage Tele buff, it may or may not bother you that the headstock is labelled "Telecaster," rather than the "Custom Telecaster" on the original double-bound models. This also has a poly finish, unlike the original nitro that was used, I believe, until '63 (at which point nitro-over-poly became standard for Fender). As already noted, the colour is, to the best of my knowledge, an anachronism on a slab-board Fender, and, again, not necessarily a perfect imitation of original Ocean Turquoise Metallic. If these are things that really trouble you, your only real option without getting into actual vintage or Custom Shop stuff would be AVRI, of which there certainly has been a '62 Custom model, though possibly not with a Bigsby.
The Bigsby is a wonderful addition to have; it looks great and, despite all you may hear about Bigsby vibratos, it stays in tune very well - not quite so well as a hardtail Telecaster, but as well as any non-locking tremolo I've used. Even with the Jaguar bridge, which I will get to in a moment. For what it's worth, this is the only parts change I've made to the guitar - as I use 11-49 strings I felt that the Bigsby arm sat far too close to the body, so I put a 1" spring in place of the stock one (usually a 7/8" one, but I didn't check). Both before and after the change, the Bigsby has a nice, smooth action. It feels and sounds great for vibrato.
The Bigsby models of this guitar do come equipped with the widely-loathed Jaguar-style rocking bridge, with threaded saddles. This is a vintage-correct feature, so I can't really fault it here, and I will say at this point that it works here much better than on the Jaguars I've played. For the moment, suffice it to say that it will feature in the "Action, Fit & Finish" section.
The final negative to note here is that this model features anonymous "Vintage-style" Tele pickups. The '62RI has, in the past, been produced with Texas Specials as well, and in my view that's no better, really. At the end of the day, I feel that a vintage-style instrument at this price point (the last run of Bigsby-equipped '62RIs I remember seeing went for around £8-900 new) ought to have convincing, and relatively high-end, vintage-style pickups. This is, however, something I was already aware of when I bought the guitar - Fender Japan has a reputation of punching above its weight in terms of the overall quality of the guitar relative to its price point, but also of equipping these guitars with less impressive electronics. I intend to replace the pickups and electronics in the not-too-distant future.
While the aforementioned niggles deserved to be addressed, I do feel that on the whole this is a very impressive vintage-spec guitar. That includes vintage fretboard radius and frets, which are probably the most contentious feature. I love those things, but many can't stand them. If you want a vintage Telecaster, I do not think you could do better than this for its new price, and I believe in many aspects it genuinely contends with the more expensive American Standard and AVRI even if it doesn't match the vintage-accuracy of the latter.
Sound — 6
I mostly play funk, funk rock, ska punk and blues with my Telecasters. I use a Twin Reverb Reissue, so I know the kind of sparkle to expect when I plug a Telecaster into it. This guitar rather lacks that - the pickups don't produce the same kind of bright quality I've had from other Fender-into-Fender combinations, even with the EQ adjusted to compensate. That said, while they don't meet my expectations of a Fender, these aren't bad pickups by any means. They aren't especially noisy, despite being traditional singlecoils, and with a fuzz or a compressor they can produce some very nice tones, but when you can buy a £250 Telecaster that sounds "like a Telecaster," an £800 one doesn't really have any excuse not to.
Action, Fit & Finish — 8
I can't comment on the factory setup of this guitar, as I bought it secondhand, but the construction quality is impressive. The frets are excellent, feeling perfectly smooth at the sides of the fretboard, and there are no discernible flaws in the finish or any fastenings. Nothing feels in any way misaligned, and I feel that (as a big fan of Mexican Fenders - I've played and really liked many of them, and I payed more for my Baja than I did for the '62RI) this guitar deserves the reputation Fender Japan has as being markedly better than the Mexican models at similar price points. It's a really well put-together guitar.
Two minor negative points:
First, as I mentioned earlier, this model features the Jaguar-style bridge. As it is now, this bridge works perfectly well for me and the guitar stays in tune really well; however, it did require some pretty substantial initial setup when I changed the strings to position everything such that it will not shift. This setup involved copious amounts of Blue Loctite. This is a fact of life with such bridges, and as I mentioned earlier it works a lot better (i.e. is far more stable) than on Jaguars I've played, but it's very much worth being aware of before buying one of these. It is, initially, a chore, and I was relatively well-equipped to deal with this as something of a Fender offset buff, which experience others might lack.
The other thing to mention is that this is quite a hefty guitar. At about 4.2kg, or 9lb, it's as heavy as a fairly typical Les Paul. I can cope with it, but it's right around the point that a lot of people start to consider the weight of a guitar a serious concern, and from my own experience I would probably feel the effects of a long set with it.
Reliability & Durability — 9
I've lived with this guitar for a few months now and I have no doubt that it can cope with regular live playing just fine. I have had no issues of crackling or stiffness (or looseness) from the stock controls, and while - like any vintage-style Tele - the input jack cup is a potential weak point, this risk can easily be mitigated by using a right-angle jack and looping the cable over the strap button.
The original strap buttons were perfectly solid as far as I could tell, but by this point in my life I'm pretty much convinced that anyone who spends more than £100 on a guitar that they mean to play standing up and won't spare £15 more for a pair of straplocks is a fool. There's just no point.
I would not gig any guitar without a backup, as there's always the possibility of a string breaking, but the Bigsby makes it a particular risk on this guitar, as restringing it is a very arduous and frustrating process, and any audience member that felt half as passionately about this as I do would never come to one of my shows again.
Like any Telecaster, the design of the guitar doesn't really have any significant structural weak points. It would take a pretty nasty drop - or maybe a few - to do more than cosmetic damage.
On the whole, I expect all the stock parts on this guitar, and the finish, to outlast the original frets, which, this being my favourite guitar, will undoubtedly wear down in a few years.
Overall Impression — 9
This guitar does pretty much what it says on the tin. It's a really good vintage-spec Tele. I do mean to replace the pickups and electronics for higher-end stuff, and I would be happier if the headstock had the vintage-correct "Custom Telecaster" designation on it, but at the end of the day this plays beautifully, looks beautiful and is an all-round fantastic guitar. With the pickups changed to something faithfully vintage-styled, I would be happy to bring it out for any performance, or indeed show it to any Fender buff and say "Look what I've got here!" Were this guitar lost or stolen (assuming I couldn't get it back, of course), the only thing that could cause me to hesitate before buying another of the same model (probably minus the Bigsby and colour, since in the used market beggars can't be choosers) would be if I could afford an AVRI at that time. I'd rather it just didn't come to that.
As far as I'm concerned, alongside any sub-£1000 Fender I've played (and that's a fair number), this guitar compares favourably. It really does punch well above its price point. If this and the other MIJ Fenders I've played are anything to go by, the end of Fender Japan (which was what prompted me to buy this when I did) is a real loss for Fender fans.