MYTHBUSTERS!  Let's talk Teles!

We love the show "MythBusters" on Discovery.  We like to see those urban legends die at the hands of analysis and reason.  We think the guys on MythBusters could do an entire season on the folklore and half-truths that drive the guitar business.

As you know, we at GuitarAttack are constantly on the lookout for gear hounds who forget that the most important component of playing guitar is, arguably, being able to play guitar.  This has been a consistent theme here at GuitarAttack World Headquarters since we went on line in 1998.  We did an article on Mr. Dan Toler that addressed this issue.  We believe that his incredible tone and technique is due mostly to his experience, talent, and dedication.  You can find this article by clicking here.  There is audio evidence available for the non-believers.

During a surf of the web in June 2005, we found this exchange on one of the many Telecaster forums, and we offer it up for your consideration.  After reading this, we ask that you consider how much you practice, then ponder how much you spend on eBay for that special piece of gear. 

What Tele myths I'd like to see on "Myth Busters"
Posted: Wed Mar 10, 2004 9:09 pm 

 Anyone seen this show? They fully test myths that have been around forever.  For example, a person being able to be shot out of a cannon etc.  I'd bet 99% of Tele myths would be BUSTED.

1: Sonic differences between nitro/poly finishes
2: Lighter bodies producing better tone.
3: Straight neck grain-stronger neck and better tone.
4: Bigger necks=better tone/sustain.
5: Neck pocket tightness sonic test.
6: Blindfold test Alder/Ash bodied Telecaster sound differences.
And so on, and so on, and so on....

In my opinion changing old strings to new would yield more discernable changes in tone than the above.


Here is a response from non other than Ritchie Fliegler, Fender employee and guitar guy.

Ritchie Fliegler

16 Mar 2003
Posts: 54
Fountain Hills, AZ

Posted: Thu Mar 11, 2004 9:41 am 



Mr. Fliegler with Mr. Rick Nielsen of "Cheap Trick"

As part of what we do here at "work" we have done double blind tests on all of your questions, so with apologies to the real Myth-crew.

1: Sonic differences between nitro/poly finishes:
This does not make as much difference as the inherent difference between any two guitars. (Note:  We’re not exactly sure what he is talking about – maybe the inherent differences between a Tele and a Strat, for example.  By the way, inherent means “involved in the constitution or essential character of something.”)

2: Lighter bodies producing better tone.
You would have to define better tone. Is the heavy guitar "too bright", or does it "cut really well". The light guitar "mushy" or mellow"? It's all in your needs and expectations.

3: Straight neck grain=stronger neck and better tone.
Straighter is better, closer is better too. When they move they tend to move more squarely, but sometimes not - it's wood you know. Better tone? See #2

4: Bigger necks=better tone/sustain.
The only thing you can absolutely attribute to a bigger neck is that it's larger than a small one.

5: Neck pocket tightness sonic test.
A good fitting neck pocket looks better - no question. My '58 Strat has about a 32nd of slop in the pocket and is shimmed with a 40 year old folded business card. Most people think this guitar sounds good. The only way to really test this is to screw up a nice neck fit on a good sounding guitar and re-listen- we have not done this.

6: Blindfold test Alder/Ash bodied Telecaster sound differences.
See #1


In a post a little while later, this appears:

Here’s some more stuff to ruin your day:

• Give 10 players of varying styles similar looking black guitars made of ash, alder and poplar. What is the overall favorite? Poplar, for its combination of lightness, balanced tone and sustain.

• What sounds better, Tube or Solid State? It’s about 50/50. the overwhelming percentage (high 90s) cannot tell the difference between a tube or SS amp.

Remember these are scientifically conducted, double-blind tests. The second you can see or guess what the differences are in what’s being tested – all bets are off.  And, before you think these guys are dummies and of course you could do better. Some of them are your (and my) tone-king heroes who needless to say want to remain anonymous.


So – what do you think?  Can you tell the difference between a Gibson Burstbucker and an old PAF and a GuitarAttack AttackBucker?  Can you get a “brown sound” out of a POD?  Do you think Ritchie is full of crap and ash actually sounds better?

What we do know is that some guitars sound better than others, and that is just a basic truth.  We also believe that it is not a mystical formula based on voodoo or the moon phase; rather, it is based on using quality materials and superior craftsmanship.  Finally, we believe that Stradivarius’ secret was that he was a really great craftsman who would not settle for cheap materials or poor workmanship for his violins.

We believe that the tone that comes out of the amp is a combination of all of the parts, and sometimes the differences are very subtle.  The pickups in guitar A may have gotten a few extra winds, and the body wood may have been just a little more resonant due to a freak of nature.  The neck may have a little better, straighter piece of maple, and the soldering job may have been just a little nicer.  And, the player may be really, really good.

So how do you know whether or not a guitar sounds good?  I recommend going to a store that has a good inventory and playing a few to see how you like them.  Yes, we’ve bought guitars from mail order places, and we now realize that it was a complete roll of the dice.  If we had it to do over again, we would have bought those guitars locally so we could have checked them out prior to plopping down the money.


Expectations of the Gear Hound

Part of the gear hound experience is “expectations”.  Obviously a 1962 Sonic Blue Strat sounds better than a new one.  It has to!  That is our expectation.  OK…we are guilty of this type of wishful thinking as well.  We believe this expectation, combined with the source of the information (who says?), builds a fervor of guitar acquisition syndrome (GAS) that cannot be destroyed by conventional means.

We’ve played a lot of old guitars, and here is our bottom line:  some are great, some are good, and some are not much better than firewood.  These three categories occur in the same year, and in the exact same model.  This is why we have such a hard time buying and old guitar from eBay.  We can only conclude that those who do are not actually players, but are speculators who are bidding on a commodity rather than our true love, the guitar which is played.  We had in our possession a 1962 SG/Les Paul, and before we returned it because it had a neck break that had been cleverly disguised, we spent about four days trying to convince ourselves how great it played and sounded.  Looking back, it would have better served us in the fireplace because it played and sounded awful.  It just did, and that is the truth as we see it.  Yes…it had a real PAF that sounded like crap.

So how do we get sucked in?  Here is a personal experience, and the names have been changed to protect the…well, you know.  We took one of our northern ash FM guitars with a humbucker and a single coil to a friend’s studio to do some picking one evening.  The guitarist there – I’ll call him Joe – had a very impressive rig.  He had two Strats loaded with boutique pickups, a new Marshall tube half-stack and an old silver-face Fender Super Reverb on an A-B switch, and an incredible array of very expensive, boutique pedals.  Joe has always been a good player, and he was very proud of gear “pile”.  I told him that my FM had some custom wound and aged pickups, and I would like him to check it out.  He picked up the guitar, plugged it into his rig, and started bragging on how responsive the pickups were and how he really liked the vintage vibe of the guitar.  He played it for a while, and seemed genuinely impressed.  While I was driving home, and felt extremely guilty about what I had done.  The FM had an old Ibanez V2 pickup in the bridge, and an 80’s Fender Japanese Strat pickup in the neck….both of which were completely stock.

Like Fox Mulder on the “X-Files”, Joe wanted to believe.  And he’ll keep buying that gear as long as he believes it will help!

So what should we do?  First, keep practicing, guitar people!  It will play huge dividends, and that guitar and amp that really doesn’t turn you on may get to sounding really great in a few short weeks.  Second, buy a guitar from a store in which you can try a lot of guitars out on an amp that is similar to yours.  Finally, rethink your eBay strategies!

On a side note:  Hey Ritchie…we’re still mad at Fender.  We bought an Yngwie Malmsteen Stratocaster in 2000 and spent two years trying to register it.  I never got even an email back from them.  As usual, bad customer service.  Hey…try harder!

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