Fender can’t guarantee its Jason Isbell Custom Tele will instill every player with Isbell’s talent for songcraft, but it sure does put his range of tasteful Tele tones within reach.
Built in the style of a ’59 Custom, the body is an eye-catcher from the start with its warm Chocolate Sunburst lacquer finish, black pickguard, and white binding.
The single-coil pickups, custom-voiced by Fender’s Tim Shaw, do a really nice job picking up nuances and maintaining presence at lower volumes while holding plenty of drive in reserve. A fingerpicked or strummed part, for example, will sit well in a live mix while a harmonically rich lead tone stands by, waiting for you to sweep the Volume. The bridge pickup carries that classic Tele snap, with a subtly softened edge, while the neck pickup is similar to a Strat’s.
The neck is arguably the MVP – the mid-’60s C shape fills the palm very comfortably and the entire chunk of maple resonates to add fullness and harmonic complexity to the guitar’s tone. A 7.25″ radius and tall fretwire make it additionally inviting to play, as does the worn feel on the back of the neck, which is consistent with the body’s distressed aesthetic (“Road Worn,” in Fender parlance).
Other distinctive features on this Mexican-made model include vintage-style brass barrel saddles and modern truss access behind the nut. When asked why they put the truss insert at the headstock rather than the heel, Isbell tweeted, “Because I love my guitar tech and want him to be happy.”
You don’t have to know Isbell’s catalog of Americana tunes to enjoy his Custom Tele, but those familiar with his potent, versatile playing will appreciate knowing what it’s like to make music with his guitar in hand.
This article originally appeared in VG’s November 2021 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.