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Discussion in 'Telecaster Discussion Forum' started by horax, Dec 14, 2018.
What can you tell me about this somewhat rare tele?
Not sure if Dan Smith was responsible for that design, but I think that he was for other '83 models. Some people hold them in high regard.
Fender made them and tried to sell them. No one (at that time) was the least bit interested. They disappeared from the Fender catalog very quickly.
On the other hand - I have not seen, touched, or played one for many, many years. It is quite possibly a very well-made guitar. A quick search on "1983 Fender Telecaster Elite" revealed a lot. The guitar appears to be USA built, and an attempt to produce a very high quality instrument. The hardware is all changed from a true Tele - probably meant as an upgrade to suit Gibson owners. Not necessarily better, though.
The pickups disappeared from the Fender lineup very quickly, so it might be that they were not very good - or too expensive to produce. It's hard to judge something like that without having the guitar in your hands.
They were from the tail end of the CBS era; as others have said it was Fender's take on a modernized guitar - they had a Strat, this Tele, and I can't recall if they had 2 basses or just the Elite P-bass model.
The article Hexabuzz linked is a nice primer on these - this is where the TBX tone control starts for Fender, and the MDX mid-boost as well. The Elites were not strong sellers, although a few folks did play them - I recall Dave Davies of the Kinks playing one of the Teles (he would later move on to the more popular Tele Plus when it came out circa 1989) and Ty Tabor of Kings X was a long-time user of the Elite Strats, even going so far as to get a spare MDX circuit card and build it into a stompbox housing for use with his other guitars.
They were well made - by 1983 Fender had turned the quality corner. But they weren't popular, hence the roughly 18-month run that also included FMIC's decision to not produce these once they purchased the company from CBS. The features never caught on - for either the Elites or the "Standards" of that era (the top-loader Tele and 2-knob Strat) so they just went away.
Fender did go all in with the Elites; there were 3 levels:
Elite - with chrome hardware and the standard black plastic case of that era (rectangular case)
Gold Elite - add gold hardware and an upgraded brown plastic case they called a "flight case" (it wasn't; it was just a nicer case)
Walnut Gold Elite - walnut body and neck, ebony fingerboard, gold hardware and the nicer case
I remember the necks varying between either pretty fat or pretty thin - not much in-between on these. That went for both the Elites and the Standards.
I'm not sure if Dan Smith had a hand in the Elites; I know he did the Standards so maybe he wasn't the product manager for the Elites and someone else there was. However, don't forget that all the people involved in leading Fender at this time under CBS were the leadership team that purchased the company from CBS - so what they learned from the marketplace failure of the 1983-84 Elites and Standards was applied to the American Standards (and the Plus models as well) that came out a couple of years later.
The Tele is fine. Some still despise its non-standard features, some like it for that very reason. Prices are all over the map. Doubt that it will ever become a collectable classic. It's a flop/oddity, but not at all a bad guitar. The one to avoid is the Strat, which has one of the worst trems ever slapped on a guitar.
I played one a couple of years ago, due to an interest in them back in the day (despite being a broke college student, I did want one). It was OK, but I wasn't that wild about the sound. TBX and MDX controls have never really been my thing (if you manage to find the sweet spot settings-wise with them [which is a very narrow range of settings IMO] the sound is awesome - if you don't, it's just plain awful sounding). It also turned out that I didn't much care for the neck. IIRC, the price was about $1500 for the Elite Tele I took for a spin.
The Elite Strats are a bit more coveted than the Elite Teles, due to Ty Tabor of King's X using one on the first 2 or 3 albums. The only player of note that I know of who played an Elite Tele, was Ray Davies of The Kinks.
Perhaps Fender should "test" if there is a market for a reissue, like in a Modern Player series or even Squier version.... I'd be interested. I always call it the "lost" telecaster. The 50's and 60's tele is legendary, but the '69 and '72 thinline are pretty well known and quite popular, as are the '72 custom and '72 deluxe, why not a '83 elite?
I can tell you it looks cool to me.
Very, very cool looking guitars but I've never played or heard one. But if weight matters, many of these Elites are notoriously in Les Paul territory (I've followed many sale listings over the past 10 years).
I remember a friend in college had a transparent green Elite Tele. I think he ended up trading it for a Guild jumbo. He was a much better acoustic player than electric player, anyway. It's been so long ago that I can't remember how it sounded. But it was a cool-looking guitar.
I have an 83 Elite Tele and love it. Solid build, edgy tone w the active humbuckers and plays really well. Has great action and feel. I bought it NOS from a guitar shop in the mid 80’s that got a call from a Fender rep and asked if he had anyone for it. I paid $400 ($850 new). Glad to see it’s found a little value on the street. They’re fun guitars to play.
Used to have this Gold Elite; it could be set to either "stun" or "kill" -- depending on how hard you swung it.
I remember playing one of those in a store when they were current. I had never encountered tone controls like those before and they threw me. I'd love to go back now and try it again, but I haven't seen one in real life in decades.
It will be interesting to see, as time goes on, if the 80s Fenders benefit from the passage of time the way 70s Fenders have. So many of the 80s models were just kind of weird. Lots of oddball guitars that failed in, say, the 60s are now highly-sought-after collectibles, but I don't know if that will apply to 80s Fenders, although they are equally quirky and equally or more rare.
My brother had an ‘83 Elite Strat, and the thing was a very nice guitar. Nice neck. Had a weird trem on it tho. Sadly he got rid of it, during a gear purge (sold most of his guitars during this time).
I personally always liked how those Teles looked, more than their Strat counterparts.
A bandmate of mine had one like the OP’s black Elite.
He, and it sounded great.
It looked cool, too.
I sold them when they were new in the mid 1980s.
They still pop up around here.
A bit of a necro thread - but I had an 83 natural Tele Elite and my best friend still has a walnut Elite. I played mine for about 6-7 years - as my main guitar for a good bit of that time (I initially got it to avoid taking my hollowbody off to college). Both of us bought ours on closeout/clearance a few years after they'd been discontinued. Another guy in high school had one he bought new and I thought, at the time, it was a pretty cool guitar. So I think I paid maybe $400 with case but I think it may have been a bit less.
It was a very well built guitar, great tuners, very solid bridge (albeit top loaded but I never noticed much of a difference) - well finished with top binding and a really great neck. It was a little heavy but not unduly so as I recall - my buddy's walnut one was heavier. I'd come from a gibson 2/2 control setup so the controls were intuitive and I liked blending the pickups. I agree with some others that the active tone controls and the unique pickups combination was a bit of a labor of love to find the tones you wanted. I never got completely used to the TBX/MDX setup other than finding a spot I liked and leaving it there.
How did it sound? Well... at the time I was playing through a Roland JC50 amp and sometimes a Cube 60 chorus and like I said I used it as my main guitar, including in my college band, for a number of years. I used a TS10 for dirt and I always thought it sounded pretty good in isolation at least. What it did not sound like, however, as I became more aware was a telecaster - at least not in any classic sense. It's tempting to say it sounded like a P90 guitar because the pickups visually bear a slight resemblance but it didn't really - they were noiseless pickups and I never have deciphered if they were stacked or how they achieved that result (they were quiet) but even with the active tone controls neutral it was a much fatter sound than a standard telecaster, maybe closer to a mini hum. You could get in the ballpark but... I started hanging around a local music store in college and played some standard teles and a few custom jobs and the bulb went off that my Tele didn't really sound a lot like all the others...
Where I ran off the rails was when I got a Fender Twin Reverb amp after college. It was a 70s silverface master volume model. The Elite never really got along well with that amp. My friend got a reissue Twin around the same time and had similar results with both our guitars. There was something in the active system and pickups - no idea what the output was but they were pretty hot - that did not like the front end of the Twin and it had a tendency to howl and not in a good way at anything above low volume. My and his other guitars worked fine and I kept the amp for a number of years (until my back and the volume made me move on based on my needs at the time) and never had another problem.
I ended up selling mine and bought an Am Std Telecaster that I very much liked. My buddy kept his and attempted several retrofits of single coils into his - it was not an easy retrofit even with standard single coils - the odd route for the Elite pickups was not standard and any other option, mini humbuckers or P90s would have required routing. He got some in but they looked sub par given the larger route - but it worked and did sound better... I think he eventually gave up and put the stock pickups and electronics back in and I don't think plays it very often any longer. Given some of the prices on the used market he ought to sell it and make a good profit!
Certainly an oddball of the era - not a bad guitar necessarily (although the howling was unwelcome) but I admit I was a lot happier with my AmStd going forward.
Here’s Christine McVie’s 1984 solo concert video. Lead guitarist Todd Sharp uses one.
(Note: Drummer Steve Ferrone went on to join Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.)
Those were decent guitars but they aren't very Tele-like. Dave Davies used one for a while.