The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Guitar Review: Fender Squire Cabronita Telecaster (with & without Bigsby)

This year Fender released it's new Cabronita telecaster with a great deal of fanfare. On paper it seem like a fresh new take on the traditional telecaster.

The idea of a telecaster with Gretsch style pick ups isn't a new idea. That particular modification has been in the fender culture for years.

What struck me as bigger news was that they were going to be lower cost versions on it's lower-cost Squire line. My feeling is that it was going to be the more popular line.

The basic idea behind putting Gretsch style pick ups in a telecaster is to create a harder sounding version, one with a mid range with real punch and rips a lot harder. You could say more growl and less bite.

The regular Fender version wasn't distributed in large quantities and with good reason.

I can give you a good parallel example. There's a lot of Fender Stratocaster players who take old gold foil pick ups from 60s Japanese guitars and mount them on their instruments to re-create the type of guitar that Ry Cooder plays.

The stratocaster that I own is an Eric Clapton signature model. The last thing I want is deface my strat with different pick ups than the design intended on the guitar. It's too expensive to turn it into a specialty model.

A telecaster with Gretsch pick ups is going to give you a particular sound, and while that suits some players, it's a lot of money to pay for a tele that primarily sounds like a Gretsch, when you can get a lower line model for a lot less that will sound pretty much the same.

A good American-made tele can play anything from country, blues, rock, and is even considered an excellent jazz instrument. A relatively high-priced telly with Gretsch pick ups is really more of a second guitar or a luxury item in a larger collection.

The two low-cost cost Squire Vintage Modified versions are different story.

The lowest-cost version is priced at around $300. Obviously it has cheaper version of the special Fender Fideli 'tron pickups, and it has a Basswood body. Basswood  isn't considered as good a body material as the traditional alder or ash body, but Japanese fenders have been made with Basswood for decades and are held in high esteem by many Fender players. It's not caviar but certainly good enough.

One thing you should be aware of, Gretsch does make a mahogany body guitar for $300 that has a sound similar to this guitar, and obviously more  Gretsch-like. Ironically, the body shape is more like a Gibson Les Paul. If you try out the guitars in a place like Guitar Center, then you might be able to try the models side-by-side.

Like all of the Fender vintage modified series, the hardware is good enough to make the guitar a genuine bargain. I'm not going to list all the specs here, a Google search will find that list all over the Internet.

The purpose of this blog review is to give you the opinion of someone who's actually played the guitars.

When I tried out the guitars in my local Guitar Center, I took a couple of the other Squire telecasters and played them alongside. The reason is that you can duplicate the sound of another guitar by simply changing the amp settings. I found that the new carbronita guitars do have a different sound than the Squire telecaster standards.

The lower line Carbronita was a very pleasant surprise. It does the job of getting that Gretsch sound, but with the characteristics of a telecaster. Keep in mind that you can adjust the amp to give a regular Gretsch solid body a lot of high-end Fender style bite, but we're looking here at a telecaster that can give you a bit of the Gretsch sound and still have some of the characteristics of the Fender.

What I heard was a sound that was sort of in between a Gretch and a Fender, and absolutely perfect for certain types of hard rock, blues, and rockabilly. 

The clean tone was pretty good, a little thicker and less glassy than a Fender, so that's a sound you have to judge for yourself whether it's good enough.

My personal feeling was that using the front pick up to get a jazz tone like you can with a high end telecaster was asking a bit too much of a $300 guitar.

If it wasn't for the fact that I have a couple of old guitars that get that sound already, I probably would've bought that particular carbronita on the spot.

The more expensive version is actually a different animal. It's essentially the same hardware and body, but uses a standard telecaster bridge pick up, and it features a Bigsby tremolo bar.

It only costs a hundred dollars more, and may be the perfect compromise for someone who may only have the money to buy a single guitar, but would like to have the sounds of a Gretsch and Tele at his or her disposal, with a Bigsby tremelo to boot.

I should add that I have a custom tele that has a Bigsby on it, and I love it.

The Bigsby is a different type of tremelo bar than you would find, for example, on a Stratocaster. You really can't go "dive bombing" on it, it's at it's best giving you a more subtle tremolo or subtly bends in the tone.

Sound wise, you have the telecaster pick up on the bridge to get the traditional old twangy sound, and the Gretsch style pick up in front to give you a nice thick mid range attack for roots music and rock.

If you're somebody who likes to telecaster sound, but just wants to have a little extra dimension to it, this would be the model for you.

The telecaster bridge pick up on this model is a little more the modern type, seems a little hotter, less like a lot of tele's I've owned in the past.

I should add that after a few decades of telecasters, there really is no longer any such thing as a standard back pick up telecaster sound.

That would've been a problem decades ago, but with today's amplifiers, there's no telecaster pick up that you can't make sound like you want it to with a little adjustment and experimentation with the amp knobs.

Another reason this configuration is good is that it's a modification that I would never do on expensive standard American telecaster, unless you had a very good musical reason to do so. I know it's a reversible operation, but it's still a hassle and I don't own a Mexican made or Squire tele to experiment with either.

I once put a Gibson P90 on an American telecaster, and because of the differences between a Gibson and Fender in terms of construction and Tone wood used, it really didn't give me the sound I was looking for.

The point I'm making is it these hybrids are for more specialized tastes, and do change the basic nature of that particular guitar. In this case the basic telecaster sound.

If I had to choose between the two, I'd take the cheaper of the two with the two Gretsch style pick ups. I already own a telecaster, so I really don't need one that's a compromise. The basic model has a great roots rock 'n roll sound, and could be easily adjusted to encompass hard rock and alternative. Unless you really want a guitar with a tremelo bar, I think this was one's the better deal.

However, like all guitars, don't take my word for it, always try before you buy.