Gear Review: Fender 70th Anniversary Broadcaster

It has been said that you’re not really a guitar player until you own a Telecaster. Many players, across all styles, have found a T-style instrument to be an essential tool in their arsenal – even if it’s not their main axe. The simplicity and versatility of a Tele is unrivaled, which is why you’ll often see one in the hands of players from rock, pop, country, jazz and reggae styles. For its 70th anniversary, Fender has reissued for the first time the original solid body guitar, the Broadcaster. But how does it stack up to more modern instruments? Let’s take a look!

Background context

Most guitarists are familiar with the story of how Fender’s original name for the Telecaster was vetoed by the Gretsch company, who were already producing a line of drums and banjos called Broadkaster. Despite the different spelling, Gretsch felt that Fender’s new Broadcaster model name was too close to their own trademark, and you can’t really blame them. In response, Fender changed the name of its new model to the Telecaster, but not before a transitional period during which the guitars had no model name on the headstock at all.

What many guitarists don’t know, however, is that the Broadcaster was not the first T-style guitar released. After toying with a couple of prototypes in 1949, Fender released the Esquire in May 1950. The first Equires had only one pickup (to this day single pickup Teles are generally called Esquires) but two pickup Esquires were also made. These are often referred to “Double Esquires” and pre-date the first Broadcasters, which came out in October of that year. The main difference was that the Broadcaster had the benefit of a truss rod. In all other respects, the formula has remained largely unchanged to this day. It’s testament to the strength of Leo Fender’s vision that 70 years later, guitarists the world over are still playing guitars which are, in most respects, identical to those original instruments.

Only 250 Broadcasters were made between October 1950 and March 1951, and it’s not known how many have survived to this day. Needless to say, the scarcity of original Broadcasters has pushed prices way beyond the means of the average guitar player, so these 2020 reissues will be the first opportunity most people will have had to own, or even just to play, a Fender Broadcaster.

The 70th Anniversary Broadcaster

Fender’s 70th anniversary Broadcaster has a limited run of 2020 instruments which will be available only in 2020. In addition, they are producing an even more exclusive edition of just 70 instruments from their Custom Shop.

The Custom Shop instruments are all aged, with a choice of four levels of distress, from Closet Classic to Heavy Relic. They are each individually handcrafted by the Custom Shop’s master luthiers and, not surprisingly, come at a premium price. The regular model, on the other hand, is not aged. It’s as if you could get in a time machine to late 1950 and buy a brand new Broadcaster. This more affordable option is the one which we are looking at today.

The Broadcaster comes in a beautiful period-correct rectangular tweed case which has the 70th anniversary logo embroidered into its plush velvet lining. They didn’t skimp on the case candy, either. Included are the “ashtray” bridge cover; a period correct, but rather uncomfortable looking, leather strap; an instrument cable; the certificate of authenticity; and a Broadcaster wiring kit.

This last element has been the cause of consternation for some. You see, the original Broadcasters had a different wiring schematic than what most Telecaster players are familiar with. Modern Teles usually have a three-way pickup selector switch, and master volume and tone controls. Simple, effective, intuitive. Back in 1950, however, Fender had other ideas. For starters, there was no tone knob. At all. Instead, with the three way switch in the neck position (position 3), a 0.05 μF capacitor is added to the circuit which acts as a low pass filter. Effectively, this is like turning your tone control all the way down, with no option of a mid-way tone placement. It’s reminiscent of the “mud switch” which some 1950s Gretsch guitars have instead of a tone pot. Moving the switch into the middle position also gives the neck pickup, but this time with the filter capacitor removed from the circuit. The bridge pickup is only engaged with the switch in the bridge position (position 1), in this position the second knob acts as a blend control. With the pot rolled down to zero you’re hearing the bridge pickup alone. Rolling up the blend pot progressively adds in the neck pickup. It’s a quirky set up, for sure, and no where near as intuitive as the layout we’re all more used to. The original blend circuit has its advocates, but in truth, most vintage T-style instruments have been rewired at some point to the more common master tone circuit.

Fender have decided to ship the 70th anniversary Broadcasters with the more usual Telecaster wiring we are all used to, and I think that was the right choice. Most players will find modern wiring more intuitive and useful than the blend circuit. They have, however, included a wiring diagram and the necessary 0.05 μF capacitor if you wish to re-wire your Broadcaster to original specs. It’s a tricky conversion, though, so if you’re not overly confident with a soldering iron I’d get a professional to do it for you. Those who have paid the extra cash for the Custom Shop model will find a spare control plate in the case, already pre-wired for the Broadcaster blend circuit, but the standard edition Broadcaster comes with only the missing capacitor.

The 70th anniversary logo on the neck plate is the only deviation from the original 1950 design. The logo is also embroidered inside the case.

Fit and Finish

Opening up the case, the first thing that hits you is the strong whiff of fresh nitrocellulose lacquer. Fender claim that the thin nitro flash coat is prepared according to the same recipe as back in the 1950s, so the finish should age beautifully over time. The exact shade of Fender’s traditional butterscotch blonde finish evolved over time, from a creamy white to quite yellow. Original examples are quite yellow today due to the clear topcoat yellowing over time. As this guitar represents how Broadcasters looked when new, it is paler than some might expect. The milky caramel colour is neither completely transparent nor completely opaque. The grain of the two-piece ash body shows through subtly, like shadows on a bowl of milk. Many have tried to replicate this finish over the years, but rarely has anyone (including Fender themselves) succeeded. It’s quite beautiful, and contrasts nicely with the vintage amber tint of the one piece maple neck.

The black pickguard is made according to the original Bakelite recipe, but as the name “Bakelite” is a trademark, you’ll only see this referred to as “phenolic” on Fender’s spec sheets. Fibrous material is coated in phenolic resin, and then the whole thing is finished with a coat of clear nitro, giving the pickguard a glossy sheen.

All of the hardware is period correct. The earliest Broadcasters had steel string saddles, so the brass saddles on this model is consistent with later examples. Each guitar’s unique serial number is stamped on the bridge plate, as they were back in the day. The vintage-style Fender branded tuners, knurled round-top knobs and the barrel shaped switch tip are all correct. A nice touch is that all of the screws are the flat head type, since the Broadcaster came out before the introduction of Phillips head (ie. cross head) screws.

The only place where this model deviates from original 1950 design is the 70th anniversary Broadcaster logo embossed on the neck plate, which matches the logo embroidered into the case lining.

Play-ability

As you would expect from a period-correct recreation, the neck on this Broadcaster is chunky. But don’t let it scare you off. Fender describes this neck as a U-shape and, while it is a handful, its actually very comfortable. It’s certainly a lot smaller than many 1950s Gibson necks. I had the opportunity to play this Broadcaster side by side with a Custom Shop No-caster and the Broadcaster’s neck was considerably more manageable than the Nocaster. I have average size hands, and I find it very tiring to play the Nocaster’s baseball bat neck for any length of time. In contrast, I can play the Broadcaster all day without my hands getting tired. It’s a very comfortable neck.

Some people might be daunted by the Broadcaster’s 7.25″ neck radius, but they shouldn’t. While many people believe that the notes will fret out when bending on a smaller radius neck, that hasn’t been my experience with the Broadcaster. I have played bends up to a major 3rd (ie. 4 fret bends) all over this neck without any fretting out.

Flat head screws are used throughout, as the original Broadcasters came out before the introduction of cross-head screws.

Sounds

Powered by a set of hand-wired Custom Shop ’50-’51 Blackguard pickups, the Broadcaster sounds absolutely fantastic. The bridge pickup, while certainly bright enough, has a lot more mid-range than other T-style guitars I’ve played. Without sacrificing the aggressive edge that Teles are famous for, the bridge pickup’s tone has a thickness and breadth which prevents it from becoming unpleasantly ice-picky. Perfect for country or rockabilly licks.

The neck pickup is rich and creamy, while still having plenty of clarity. The volume and tone pots have a smooth, linear taper that provide plenty of usable tones. Rolling down the tone to one or two gives a beautiful warm tone shows why jazz players like Ted Greene, Julian Lage and Tim Lerch have chosen Teles as their instrument of choice.

Cranking up the gain, the hand-wired pickups just roar. The neck pickup’s overdriven voice is think and throaty, and the bridge pickup is bold and spiky. These are exactly the tones I imagine when I’m thinking of a Tele-style sound.

One important note: All single-coil pickups produce a degree of noise, and these are no exception. John Mayer describes the classic 60-cycle hum as being “like breathing”. For decades, guitarists who favour the tone of single coils have learned to put up with the noise. It’s fine through a clean amp, but if you’re planning on playing the Broadcaster through heavy gain, its probably worth investing in a noise gate, such as the Boss NS-2 or an ISP Decimator II.

Verdict

The Fender 70th Anniversary Broadcaster is a fantastic instrument. It sounds wonderful and is a joy to play.

Having said that, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Some players will balk at the U-shaped neck and 7.25″ radius, although this wasn’t a problem for me. Others may miss modern appointments like individual string saddles, locking tuners or a 22 fret fingerboard. If that’s you, perhaps something like Fender’s American Ultra Telecaster might be more your style.

Those who like a vintage spec’ed guitar, however, will love the 70th anniversary Broadcaster. It is everything I had hoped it would be.

Pros

  • Fender have absolutely nailed the original specs
  • Possibly the best sounding Tele pickups I’ve ever heard
  • A hell of a lot cheaper than an original Broadcaster

Cons

  • Some won’t get along with the chunky U-shaped neck and 7.25″ radius.
  • Single coil pickups can be noisy, and these are no exception
  • There are cheaper Telecaster options

Please note:

I have not been paid monetarily or in kind for writing this review. The thoughts and opinions expressed within are entirely my own.


3 thoughts on “Gear Review: Fender 70th Anniversary Broadcaster

  1. Excellent review. Knowledgeable, thorough, and objective. And the guitar that appears in the photos is maybe the nicest looking one I have seen anywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been playing telecasters all my life. I have a 75, a 52 re- issue, and recently purchased the Broadcaster which I am loving. I sold my historic 57′ Les Paul of ten years, and am digging the broadcaster neck.

    Liked by 1 person

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