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|Fender have done well with their "Classic
Player" series guitars, which are based on classic Fender designs, but have been
designed by Custom Shop craftsmen, with updated features to make them "players".
While these guitars are Custom Shop designed (each model by a different Master Builder),
they are Mexican built, which helps keep the price down.
The Classic Player Baja Telecaster was designed by Fender's Master Builder,
Chris Fleming, who specialises in Teles and has built instruments for many artists
including: John 5, Billy Gibbons, David Gilmour, John Mayer, Pete Townshend, Joe Walsh and
Chris based the Baja Tele on a '52-style Telecaster with a
typical ash body and maple fingerboard. Other vintage features include a chunky soft V
shaped neck with 21 frets, single-ply pickguard and a brass 3-saddle "ashtray"
style bridge. There the resemblance to a vintage Tele ends, with substantially upgraded
electronics and a modern 9.5" fretboard radius.
The Baja is a very classic looking Telecaster which is a style you either like the
look of or you don't. The parchment pickguard on the Desert Sand colour is a little bland
for my liking, but not unattractive. This guitar is also available in is a translucent
blonde finish with a black pickguard - much more to my taste, but this is only my personal
preference - there is nothing wrong with the Desert Sand and I can easily see that many
other players will like it.
The typically solid feel of a good Telecaster is intact in the Baja. It feels like
something that could double as a cricket bat if necessary (not that I'm recommending this,
mind you). The neck joint is tight fitting and the fretwork is good. The fretboard finish
has been cleaned away from the frets and the edges of the frets themselves are nicely
The finish quality is quite good, consisting of a thin layer
of polyester on the body and polyurethane on the neck. Neither is as popular these days as
the classic nitrocellulose finish, but have the distinct advantages over nitro of being
both more durable and inexpensive. When only a thin layer is applied to a body, as it has
been in this case, polyester does not have the tonal choking effects that are often
associated with it.
The construction of the Baja is not perfect and I did find a
few small faults. The bridge pickup rout shows slightly under the curved edges of the
bridge, which is both ugly and has a tendency to let dirt into the rout over the years.
The frets have some tool marks close to the fretboard- probably from when the finish was
cleaned off them. Fortunately neither of these faults is critical or a dealbreaker in this
The body is exactly what a Tele should be - a flat slab of wood with no
"comfort contours", only a tightly radiused edge on the front and back. This
body of this example is fairly light for an ash Tele, being about 4lbs, but there have
been many reports of much heavier examples, so it seems there is quite a bit of weight
variance from guitar to guitar.
The neck is quite chunky, being 21mm thick at the 1st fret and 24mm at the 12th, so
it won''t find favour with the skinny neck or small hand crowds. However, the soft V makes
it sit nicely in the hand and combined with the modern 9.5" fingerboard, it's an
immediately comfortable play. The neck finish is gloss polyurethane, but is not so high
gloss (or soft) that it drags on the left hand. The frets are medium jumbo and typically
very comfortable to play on.
All the hardware is all vintage style: slotted tuners; three section ashtray bridge
with brass saddles; flat top barrel knobs; and a barrel switch cap. The metal parts are
all well plated and have no obvious flaws. The vintage-style slotted tuners are a great
choice, as they work almost as well as good locking tuners. These specific models turn
smoothly with no play, slippage or backlash. Being the relatively inexpensive Ping brand,
I'm not sure of their long-term durability, but for now they work very well.
The electronics are where you will find the bulk of the upgrades over a vintage
Tele. The pickups are both custom shop made, with a "Broadcaster" pickup at the
bridge position and a "Twisted Tele" at the neck. Pickup switching is via a
4-way blade switch which offers the common bridge-both-neck pickup switching, with the
fourth position adding an additional option - both neck and bridge pickups together, but
series wired for more power. Added to this is an S1 switch, which in this Tele works as a
phase switch in positions two and four of the pickup selector. In total, this doubles the
Telecaster's normal compliment of three sounds to six.
There is no shielding in this guitar - not even a lick of
shielding paint, which most other guitars in this price range are offering. I did find
that it was consequently a little noisy (especially by my rather high standards) and it
did improve immensely when copper tape was installed in control, neck and pickup cavities,
as well as the wiring channel from the neck pickup. It's a small, thing, easily rectified,
but annoying nonetheless.
On first picking up this Tele I was immediately impressed by the almost
acoustic quality it had. The solid and hefty neck transfers sound to the body extremely
well and the light ash body resonates very nicely. As expected, the brass saddles take a
little of the edge off the high frequencies, but this is a perfect match to the brighter
ash body and maple board. Overall it's well balanced tonally with lots of percussive snap.
The pickups are extremely well matched, without the usual
drop in volume when switching to the neck pickup. Quite importantly for me, they keep the
Telecaster sound intact, a little warmer sounding than some Teles with this wood
combination, but that's not a bad thing in my opinion. The bridge pickup sound is bright
without being shrill, the neck pickup is warm without being muddy, while the in between
setting is well balanced. The "both pickups in series" option is a great
addition, with a lot more power than usually available. The two extra out-of-phase sounds
made available by the S1 switch are usable and provide some extra variety, but in all
honesty they aren't as immediately gratifying at the other four sounds.
The Baja looks like a good Tele, plays like a good Tele and sounds like a
good Tele. In short, it is a good Tele! It is a good blend of vintage and modern
appointments, pretty much what I would specify in my own "dream Tele". My only
real concern are the many reports of varying weight and quality which, while I haven't
experienced this myself, could be an issue. As with all cases like this (and indeed any
guitar purchase), the best thing to do is play one and decide for yourself if it's a good
one or not.
||Classic Player Baja Telecaster
||Desert Sand. Also available in Vintage Blonde
with a black pickguard.
|No. of Frets:
||21 Medium Jumbo
|Width at Nut:
||1.625" (41.2 mm)
||1 Custom Shop Twisted Tele (Neck),
1 Custom Shop Broadcaster (Bridge)
||4-Position Blade Switch:
Position 1. Bridge
Position 2. Bridge and Neck (Parallel)
Position 3. Neck
Position 4. Neck and Bridge (Series)
S-1 Switch: Phase switch
||Master Volume, Master Tone
||Ping Vintage Style, slotted
||Vintage Style 3-Saddle String-Through-Body