Vintage Bench Test: 1967 Fender Custom Telecaster

A special place in guitar history may be reserved for pre-CBS Fenders, but we find that this 60s Custom has many of the features of that golden age.

very long time ago, describing a guitar as ‘vintage’ rather than merely second-hand depended, to some extent, on whether it was made before or after 1965. Things have changed a lot since then, but for Fenders a difference in kudos and collectability lingers on between pre- and post-CBS guitars.

In a sense, it’s arbitrary because many ‘pre-CBS’ features carried over into the CBS years, and Fender was still turning out some fantastic instruments when this Custom Telecaster (not to be confused with the Telecaster Custom of the 1970s) left the factory gates in 1967.

Although it has pearl dots rather than clay, an off-white guard and the neck profile differs slightly, this lightweight lovely is essentially no different from any Custom made in the last two or three years of Leo Fender’s ownership.

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My soft spot for ’67 Customs stems from an extended loan of a black-bound example with a maple board. I loved the sound and playability of that guitar so much that I still feel a pang whenever I see that transitional logo with the slightly gothic script.

The headstock is a little bit thicker than usual, measuring a full 5/8” rather than the more common 9/16”. Consequently, the tuner posts sit very low in their bushings. As you would expect, these are ‘double line’ Klusons that pre-date the less desirable ‘F’-branded variety by about a year.

Under the control panel, everything looks just as it should, with the original switch, potentiometers and ceramic 0.05uF tone capacitor.

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The fingerboard is a veneer of very pale rosewood, and it’s in unexpectedly fresh condition considering the patina of the finish. Not everybody appreciates mid-60s Fender ‘target’ ’bursts, but I like this one a lot because substantial fading has ensured it’s not too lurid.

The colours are much more vivid on the back, so you can get a sense of what this guitar looked like when it was new.

The wear is extensive, yet natural and graceful, and the layers that make up the finish are easy to distinguish. A slightly tinted sealer coat went on first, followed all over by an opaque yellow. Clear red of the tomato soup variety came next, taking on an orangey scarlet look, thanks to the yellow beneath. Then the darker outer edge went on, followed by clear coats.

In use

It has often been my experience that heavily worn guitars such as this one are best admired from a distance. It’s not that they aren’t enjoyable to play, but you may feel a compelling urge to wash your hands as soon as you’re done. Although this Custom looks like one of those elegant mingers, it’s actually as clean as could be, and I loved playing it.

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The next surprise was the neck profile, because it felt almost modern, despite the finish having worn to something approaching a bare wood texture. When you’re used to playing contemporary guitars, adjusting to the peculiarities of vintage-style V, baseball bat or super-skinny neck profiles can be off-putting. This neck wouldn’t be out of place on any modern guitar, so what you lose in vintage character, you gain in comfort and playability.

The depth remains fairly constant along the whole length, meaning there’s barely any taper. Although I didn’t test it with a gauge, the fingerboard looks and feels flatter than a vintage Fender-spec 7.25 inches, so the strings are set low and they bend easily without choking out. Two other attributes also contribute to the contemporary feel – the tuners operate smoothly and the tuning is very stable.

Acoustic tones were extremely encouraging, combining full low-mid resonance with breezy sprang, exceptional sustain and impressive volume. There’s also a snap to the treble that makes the guitar sound like a Tele before it has even been plugged in. All the really good examples seem to be a bit like this.

Worries about muffled neck tones were quickly dispelled, largely as a result of ludicrous amounts of microphony. If you tap this guitar anywhere on the pickguard, the neck pickup behaves like a contact microphone.

It’s not uncommon amongst Teles of this era, and whilst it does wonders for clean tones, woe betide you if you attempt to use it with a fuzzbox. I tried it and fancy footwork was required to obviate squeal.

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The string wrap around the bridge pickup looks too clean and dust-free, considering the condition of the hardware and finish. I would be inclined to dig deeper and check whether it has been rewound.

Despite ohming out at a tad over 8K, this pickup didn’t sound overwound at all, and the tone was discernibly old-school in a clangy and jangly sort of way. Adjusting it closer to the strings filled out the sound to produce Stax-era Steve Cropper rhythm tones, with increased levels of overdrive accompanying the classic Telecaster chime, grind and clang.

In contrast – and I do like contrast in Teles – the neck pickup is super-sweet and almost delicate. Although the inherent woodiness is apparent enough on the bridge setting, it plays an even greater part with the neck pickup. Earthy and jazzy tones abound for clear chord voicings and nuanced blues licks, and the phasey scoop of the middle position delivers exactly what you need for country-style picking.

Although 50s Teles may be held in the highest esteem by most collectors, late-60s models can be every bit as cool in their own way. The microphony may prove troublesome with some playing styles, and the possibility of an albeit stellar re-wind may put off some collectors, but this Custom delivers everything you could expect of a Tele and more. You would be able to walk out of the shop with this guitar and gig with it the same night because it’s a rare example of a vintage guitar with no playability issues whatsoever.

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Key features
1967 Fender Custom Telecaster
• Scale Length 650 mm/25.5”
• Neck Width 42mm at nut, 51mm at 12th fret
• Neck Depth 19mm at first fret, 20mm at 12th fret
• String Spacing 35.5mm at nut, 54.5mm at bridge
• Weight 3.3Kg
• Finish Faded three-tone burst
• Contact Cranes Music 029 2039 8215
www.cranesmusicstore.com