Telecaster Tuesday: A Creston B-Bender

God bless Telecasters. How does the song go? “Well they put six strings on a maple stick, stuck it on a slab of ash…” * It’s like a recipe for buttered toast. Mmm, buttered toast…

I’ve had a few Teles, but came around to them late in life. Sure, Bruce was rockin’ a Tele in my formative years, but, frankly, I thought they were ugly. I wanted a Strat. Okay, truth: when I went to the Music Guild to buy my first “real” electric guitar, I was aiming for the cheap, battered blue Tele I’d seen a few weeks before. But the Tele was gone, I bought a gruesome Strat that had taken its place, and I didn’t get my first Tele for another 25 years.

I started with a couple off-the-rack Fenders. One didn’t last long, the other was subjected to numerous ill-considered modifications, opening the door for a couple “parts” Teles before I doubled back and dove into the world of boutique Telecasters: first a pine Pin-Up Esquire named “Anna Mae” (for the original Varga Girl), then my first Creston, something of a supercharged Esquire, also in pine, adorned with a beautiful tribute to my dog by the incomparable artist Sarah Ryan.

You may have noticed I said “my first Creston.” Yes, that one kinda opened the floodgates a bit. It’s a great guitar, and Creston’s a great guy, and I have a problem, so that one was soon followed by a matching bass, and that was subsequently followed by the point of this pithy diversion: The FJ #21 Tele.

Another digression: I had investigated Creston’s guitars before I went down the parts road. A friend pointed me at him, I think because of the Anders Parker connection. It sounds silly to say now, but they were a little bit more than I wanted to spend at the time, and I didn’t quite “get” the whole “old wood” thing that seemed to be his métier.

Years later, here comes FJ #21, with its Languedoc-Creston piece, and soon after that a Fretboard Journal podcast with Creston, and then my first order.

FJ #21, you may recall, features Marty Stuart on the cover with Pops Staples’ rosewood Tele. Inside, however, you’ll find Marty slingin’ Clarence White’s Tele, which features prominently in his story. If you get RFD-TV on your television, watch The Marty Stuart Show. I do. Every week.

And Marty rocks that Clarence White Tele. A lot. Enough to inspire, on February 3 of this year, the following e-mail thread:

From: Brian Saunders
To: Creston Lea
Damn you, Marty Stuart
I find myself craving a B-Bender. You sorted yours out yet? How damn hard is it?

From: Creston Lea
To: Brian Saunders
Re: Damn you, Marty Stuart
Funny you should ask…
[Attached were two pictures of a beautiful, recently completed Creston with a Parsons B-bender.]

From: Brian Saunders
To: Creston Lea
Re: Damn you, Marty Stuart
Crikey, that’s nice.
But it’s not an answer.

But that got the ball rolling and various notions were tossed about. Paisley? Pine? G-Bender? Eventually we settled on something akin to the initial inspiration, that Clarence White Tele. It got a Strat pickup (a Lollar “Blackface”) in the neck position, an ash body and a maple neck, and the Sarah Ryan treatment, featuring a swallow (my favorite “byrd”). And it’s blue, just like my other Crestons, and a nod to that first Tele that wasn’t to be.

And it is an amazing guitar. The Strat pickup rings like a bell, the bridge pickup is so spanky it should be wearin’ a hood. It’s light and comfy. The bender is smooth and easy, even if I can’t make it sing like Clarence (or Marty). Sure, you could argue it’s not what Leo had in mind, but I think it’s as Tele as a Tele can be, closer to the Platonic Ideal than any ‘52 or Nocaster could dream of being, and you’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands when I go…

*Bill Kirchen, “Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods”

Photographs by Jessica Anderson