The trend for modifying Fender Telecasters started in the early seventies when many a perfectly good Tele was chopped up in order to install a humbucker. Owners dissatisfied with the sound of the front pickup of their prized instrument would have to rout out a larger cavity and then source a decent humbucker – not that easy in those days – and then cut out a larger hole in the scratchplate to accommodate it. As a result of so many people joining in with this practice, Fender took some notice and launched humbucker equipped Teles of its own. Since then, Fender has unleashed countless humbucker loaded models and it seems now anything goes when it comes to pickup combos, hardware and electrics on the Telecaster, despite the body shape and headstock profile remaining steadfastly the same. Oddly enough, nobody in those days thought to install a P-90 instead of a humbucker. Fender certainly didn’t, until a few years ago that is when it saw the light and gave us an affordable model straight off the rack – the Jim Adkins JA-90 – which is undoubtedly the inspiration for today’s review instrument.
We are looking at the Fender Modern Player Telecaster Thinline Deluxe, part of the affordable Modern Player range and equipped with two single coil pickups. Not just ordinary single-coils though. No, these are Fender’s version of the legendary P-90 ‘soapbar’ pickups first fitted to Gibson hollowbodies in the 1940s. Designated MP-90, these made-in-China units have polarised opinion amongst the playing community: some say noisy, some say too toppy, some describe them as abrasive and just plain wrong on a Fender guitar. We shall see. However, if there is one marriage made in heaven as far as guitar building goes, it’s the coupling of a P-90 style pickup and mahogany, and this is where Fender has been clever with this Modern Player model. The semi-hollow Thinline body is indeed constructed using a lightweight mahogany which gives the guitar a completely new dimension.
Other features include a 1-piece ‘C’-shape 9.5” radius tinted maple neck with a maple fingerboard and 22 medium jumbo frets, a synthetic bone nut, two volume and two tone controls with skirted knobs, a 3-way pickup selector, 6-saddle vintage style strings-through-body hardtail bridge and vintage style machine heads in nickel chrome plus a large Thinline-style 3-ply parchment pickguard on the Sunburst model and black on the Transparent Black.
Despite its origin, this guitar has some nice extra touches: the inside of the f-hole cavity has been painted in a matt black, the neck is tinted giving it a slightly aged appearance and there’s also through- body stringing, which should afford extra sustain. However, it’s the tone we’re interested in and just how different to a regular Tele this guitar is with its decidedly un-Fender like timber choice and pickups.
Acoustically, the Thinline Deluxe rings well – always a good sign – and is not too heavy due to the semi-acoustic nature of the construction. Plugged in, this is a very lively guitar indeed. ‘Springy’ is a word that neatly describes the sound of it, which is surprising considering the mahogany body. We’ve heard the sound of P-90-style pickups described as ‘raw’, ‘brutal’, ‘gnarly’, and ‘in-yer-face rock and roll’, alongside several other highly coloured representations. Those descriptions are all solid, but on this guitar they seem out of place. The pickup could undoubtedly unleash a riot if asked, plugged into the right amp set to ‘stun’, but clean, the neck pickup is as smooth as you like and this Tele wouldn’t be out of place in the hands of a jazz player who also wanted to cover some extra ground. Similarly, the neck pickup has nearly as much snap and as a regular Tele bridge pickup, which would suit the country and roots crew but at the same time veers toward the darker side of the sonic spectrum when pushed which will please the harder rockers. Somewhere in the middle lies the Thinline Tele Deluxe’s true calling: it’ll respond to just about any situation and come up with the required goods when requested to do so. An affordable, versatile, engaging guitar. Looks great too.