Hands-on review: Fender Blacktop Telecaster
(John Gorbe | Posted 2011-03-05)
There is one reason I really like a Fender Telecaster: simplicity. When I think of a Telecaster I’m immediately drawn to the ideas of simple, effective and versatile. However, I also really enjoy the sound that humbucking pickups offer, but humbuckers which typically aren't found on a Telecaster without modifications. Now, I don’t like to mess with wiring and swapping pickups so like many, I have settled for Teles without the beefier sound.
Fender just changed all that with the new ,b>Blacktop Telecaster HH. And, yes, the “HH” stands for “Humbucker”. I had the privilege of testing a silver finish blacktop the other day so I thought I’d share my findings with you all here.
My silver Blacktop was hung among other Telecasters on the wall, which provided a backdrop of colors and hardware choices, but with it’s humbucker pickups and skirted amp knobs (a classy touch) the Blacktop stood out. The Blacktop features an Alder body, Rosewood or Maple fingerboard, 22 medium jumbo frets, 9.5” fingerboard radius, gloss urethane neck, vintage style 4 bolt neck plate, hot vintage Alnico humbucking pickups with nickel covers in the bridge and neck positions, 3-position pickup selector, master volume and master tone with skirted black amp knobs, reversed chrome control plate, Hardtail bridge with 6 cast saddles, and standard cast/sealed tuning machines.
I sat down with this guitar and plugged it into a Fender Super Champ for about 6 hours. After a quick tune up I was ready to go with a touch of reverb and all amp knobs set to their middle position. I started in the neck position and the guitar sounded sweet. The Blacktop handled a few open chords with a nice balance of frequencies. It was actually surprisingly warm to my ear. This guitar offered me the additional warmth of a rosewood fingerboard as well. Selecting both pickups provided a slight boost and a nice mid-range, nasal sound that rang out with nice sustain. This configuration actually sounded a bit like a semi-hollow body. Finally, the bridge pickup was selected and I was very pleased with the sound here – not shrill or too bright, just enough bite to relish in a traditional “Tele” sound. I decided to apply some overdrive at this point and probably stayed on this bridge pickup longer than I intended to – it sounded great! Across all the pickups I noticed nice sustain, overtones (especially the bridge), and good balance of frequency response in all registers of the fingerboard. Obviously, the overall sound was hotter than a traditionally equipped Telecaster.
I was quite comfortable sitting all this time with the Blacktop and I believe the contoured body under my chest had a lot to do with that. Usually, if I’m sitting for a while with a tele I’ll need to shift around a bit because my chest feels uncomfortable but not with this guitar! I can compare the feel of this guitar to a Stratocaster regarding the body and the neck.
The master volume pot is very musical and has a lot of range. I can smoothly execute volume swells without the sound hitting my amp at “7”. This is a great feature that I expected to find on this guitar and wasn’t disappointed. It’s easier to control this effect with a 2-volume configuration so this is something I tested pretty quickly to be sure the volume worked as it should with plenty of range.
Looking this guitar over it appears to have a nice level of craftsmanship and is built well. The finish was even and I didn’t notice any bleeding onto the neck at the neck pocket. The frets were dressed nicely and shifting around the fingerboard was kind to my hand.
I would prefer a satin-finished neck to feel even more comfortable but this is really being picky. There was obviously a lot of research and development placed on this guitar and it responds that way. I would also modify the tuning machines with a locking variety only because I’ve been spoiled with these and love the ultra fast string changes. I would feel very comfortable if I used this guitar on a job and feel confident that it would last as a member of my arsenal in the studio or live.
Fender certainly knows how to forge forward. With two high-powered humbucking pickups, eye-catching black-skirted amp knobs, contoured body and a reversed control plate to house the volume, tone and 3-way selector, this is the Telecaster for the new decade.
MSRP for the Fender Blacktop Telecaster is $699 USD.
John Gorbe is a guitar editor at MGR. he teaches and plays professionally.