An American Icon, a European Dream

This is a guest blog post from Norman Rodger, Projects and Innovations Manager for Edinburgh University Collections. Norman has been involved with Europeana since 2008, initially in his capacity as manager of the MIMO Project (Musical Instrument Museums Online). He is also a member of the Europeana Communications Group and a member of the Europeana Network.

Guitare électrique "ES 175 D", Gibson (marque), Kalamazoo, 1956, E.994.14.1. Guitare Jazz "Royal 2", Jacobacci frères, vers 1965, E.994.20.1. Guitare électrique type Telecaster, Fender (marque), Fullerton, 1957, E.997.8.3. Guitare électrique basse

What is it about boys and their toys? With some guys it’s cars, some it’s games, with me it’s guitars, especially electric guitars. I play guitar, though not especially well, and I don’t get geeky about what types pickup are fitted or how many frets they have but I just love guitars – the shape of them, the feel of them and of course the sound they make. When I see a really good guitar there is always that “must have it” sensation creeping over me, so much so that I rarely venture into a music shop for fear of walking out with something way more expensive than the set of strings I went in for. It’s a compulsion, I know, and do I really need another guitar to add to the already largely unplayed collection filling my house? I’m sure my wife would say no, but there is one that’s missing – a really top end Telecaster.

Guitare électrique "Telecaster"

For me, the Fender Telecaster has to be the definitive electric guitar, everything about it screams perfection. It’s an object of beauty, a masterpiece of design. It’s simple, no frills – one volume control, one tone control, one switch and that’s it. The basic shape hasn’t really changed since its initial launch in 1950s and while other guitars have come and gone, the Telecaster stays with us. It’s a versatile instrument, powerful yet equally capable of produce mellow sounds and is used in a wide range of musical styles – country, rock and jazz.

Guitare électrique Telecaster

It’s an American instrument and so it’s probably appropriate that it was that iconic image of Bruce Springsteen on the cover of the Born to Run album that first drew me to the Telecaster. But then as I started to look around I began to realise that it’s an instrument that has played a key part in British pop and rock music culture. George Harrison used one on the solo of the Beatles “Let It Be” as well as in the famous rooftop session, their last live performance, while Jimmy Page played one for the solo in the Led Zeppelin classic “Stairway to Heaven.” Then there’s the image of Joe Strummer, left leg stamping furiously as his Telecaster created the backbone of that essential Clash sound. And of course there’s Keith Richards, swaggering around the stage with his customised 5 string Tele strapped on like an extra limb. Love it!

Guitare électrique "Telecaster", Fender (marque), Fullerton, 1953, E.994.13.1, détail micro

In 1982 I had the privilege to witness the Rolling Stones sound check before the opening gig of their European tour, one of seven people in an otherwise empty theatre. The last band member onstage was Keith, staggering on, bottle of Jack Daniels in hand and definitely looking worse for wear. As the band warmed up, the guitar tech walked towards Keith, ready to hand him his instrument. Keith took a final swig of Jack, the tech strapped on his guitar and in an instant, on the count of 4, the staggering wreck became a guitar god. Playing a Telecaster, obviously… an American icon, a European dream.

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