It revolutionized the electric guitar industry and has stood the test of time over the past 70-plus years: The Fender Telecaster is an iconic design used across a bevy of genres, including country, rock and pop music.
As a result of its popularity, the Telecaster, often known simply as the Tele, has attracted other manufacturers not named Fender to produce similar-looking guitars. The imitation Telecasters look similar, but often come at more affordable price points than the standard American-made Fender Telecasters. Some even include drastically different pickup setup for a more versatile sound.
With so many different Telecaster-style options on the market, finding the perfect one can potentially be tricky — especially for newer players. We’ve done the research and come up with some great options across all price points to help you make the best informed purchase.
In this guide, we’ll review 9 of the best Telecaster style copy guitars to see if there’s truly a guitar that can compete with the original Fender American Telecaster.
Let’s get started!
The Best Telecaster Alternatives
- Fender Player Series Telecaster – Editor’s Choice
- Squier Affinity Telecaster – Budget Pick
- Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 2 – Best Under $1,000
- ESP LTD TE-1000 Evertune – Most Versatile
- G&L Tribute ASAT Classic – Best Under $500
- Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder PT – Best for Metal
- Schecter PT Pro – Best Value
- Suhr Classic T – Premium Pick
- Tokai Telecaster – Best Japanese Clone
Fender Player Series Telecaster – Editor’s Choice
Let’s kick things off with the real thing: The Fender Player Series Telecaster is the brand’s most popular Telecaster in terms of sales because of its affordable price tag and high quality production.
While this guitar isn’t technically a Telecaster alternative (since it’s by Fender), it is a Mexican made budget Telecaster which is based on the full American Made version.
The Player Series Telecaster is as traditional as it gets for this style of guitar, but it does feature some more modern elements. Most Telecasters, for instance, have featured 21 frets. The Player Series ups it to 22. The neck features Fender’s modern C-shape design, along with a 9.5” radius fingerboard, which makes chording a little easier. And the upgraded Fender sealed tuners do a decent job at keeping your strings in tune.
Fender has done well in recent years taking their classics, like the Strat and Telecaster, and offering those guitars at different price points so all players can take advantage of them. While the materials and electronics may be different, the quality of instrument remains the same. So, if you really want a Fender Stratocaster, but money is an issue, save up to pay for a Players Strat, instead of spending thousands of dollars on an American made deluxe model.
The Player Series Tele comes in six different colors, including that iconic butterscotch blonde color. We really like the three-color sunburst finish, in addition to the tidepool blue color.
Unfortunately, Fender doesn’t include a case with its Player Series models, so you’ll be on the hook to protect your investment.
Squier Affinity Telecaster – Best Cheap Telecaster Copy
For those on a tight budget who want to keep their Telecaster as close to the Fender family as possible, consider the Squier Affinity Telecaster.
Squier is Fender’s more affordable lineup of guitars, allowing beginners to dabble in their instruments that won’t break the bank. Fender’s goal is to get you hooked on the guitar and one day upgrade to a real Fender Telecaster.
In terms of Telecaster copies, the Squier is as close as you can get to the real thing in terms of design, since it’s an official Fender Design
Let’s take a look at this Squier model and why it’s a great purchase for the price:
- Same great colors. If you don’t inspect too closely, the Squier Affinity Telecaster looks extremely identical to the Fender Player series. The great colors offered by Fender are also available on the Squier, including the Butterscotch Blonde finish.
- C-shaped neck. Similar to its Fender counterpart, the Squier Telecaster is extremely comfortable to play, which is critical when first learning an instrument. Instead of 22 frets, the Squier features the more traditional 21-fret setup.
- Classic pickups. The Squier features the traditional setup of two single-coil pickups. For the price, these actually sound pretty good. Control the volume and tone across two knobs.
What surprises many owners of this guitar is how great it looks out of the box. For an entry-level guitar, Squier (Fender) has figured out how to produce something that looks and sounds great.
So, if you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong with the Squier Affinity Telecaster.
Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 2 – Best Telecaster Style Guitar Under $1,000
Charvel was one of the first big-time manufacturers of Super Strats, so it should come as no surprise that the company also offers an impressive lineup of Telecaster-style guitars, including the popular Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 2.
This Telecaster-style guitar is all about versatility. It has enough oomph for overdrive rock sessions, but also has the restraint for cleaner tones. You can thank the Fishman Fluence Open Core Classic pickups for that versatility. The pair of pickups offer an incredible range of tone, including for metal music, which is rare.
Charvel guitars certainly aren’t cheap, but they’re attainable. The company justifies its higher price tag with super-premium hardware, including a Gotoh Custom 510 Tremolo, beautiful die-cast tuners, and a Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut. Of course, with these top of the line pieces of hardware, you expect your intonation to be stellar.
While the Charvel is shaped like a Telecaster, it’s not an identical replication. The body is more curved than a traditional Tele, and the neck features jumbo frets — which is why so many rockers love this guitar. The headstock is similar to Fenders, but, again, it’s not identical.
Finally, the satin black finish looks pretty amazing in person. There’s just enough shine on it and it doesn’t attract fingerprints.
Read Also: The Best Super Strat Style Guitars
ESP LTD TE-1000 Evertune – Most Versatile Telecaster Alternative
ESP offers a wide-range of guitars, including Super Strat and Telecaster style guitars that are extremely high quality. That’s certainly the case with the ESP LTD TE-1000 Evertune, a Telecaster-style guitar that packs a punch (and a big price tag!).
Let’s start with all that is good with this guitar:
- Intonation. Plain and simple, this guitar stays in tune — and it will for the length of your gig. It features an EverTune bridge that does an incredible job of not only keeping everything in tune, but it features a few tricks that can heighten your playing. For instance, you can adjust it to control how much your pitch changes when you bend a string.
- Pickups. This is definitely a rocker’s guitar thanks to the EMG active pickups that are onboard. They can produce an amazingly clean tone, but it’s when you turn on the distortion that they really shine. It looks like a pair of humbuckers, but you can split them both to access single-coil tones.
- Fast neck. This Tele-copy features a U neck profile that’s quite smooth, allowing your fingers to travel up and down the fretboard with ease.
Owners of this guitar point to its ability to access the split coil feature as its top selling point.
Of course, the one downside of this guitar is the price. It’s on the higher end of the spectrum, but you are getting a super high-quality guitar in return. If you’re a more advanced player looking for a high-end Telecaster alternative you can’t go wrong with the ESP LTD TE-1000 Evertune.
G&L Tribute ASAT Classic – Best Vintage Telecaster Style Guitar
When it comes to replicating Fender’s iconic designs, there’s none better than G&L. After his work was done with Fender in 1965, Leo Fender started G&L Guitars with George Fullerton. Leo Fender was quoted saying that the guitars he made at G&L were some of the best instruments he’s ever made.
That level of quality has carried over to the company today and is highlighted by the G&L Tribute ASAT Classic — A Telecaster-style guitar that is packed with features and comes with a very attainable price tag.
For those looking for cleaner tones — think pop, jazz and even blues — you can’t go wrong with the Tribute ASAT Classic. And, of course, it can still crank out that twangy country music you may desire.
Let’s have a look at some of the specs:
- Swamp Ash Body. Swamp Ash is revered for producing warm tones and distinguishable midrange sounds. It also feels super solid.
- Pickups. As mentioned, these bad boys are quite versatile. They’re designed by Leo Fender, so you know they’re very high quality. The neck pickup is especially bright and powerful.
- Iconic color. For some, if it’s not butterscotch blonde, it’s not a Telecaster.
These guitars can be hard to come by because they’re priced so competitively. So, if you can find one and you’re in the market for a Telecaster style copy guitar, we’d argue it’s right up there with Fender’s Player Series Telecaster.
Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder PT – Best Telecaster Style Guitar for Metal
A Telecaster for metal music? You got it.
The Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder PT is the ultimate Telecaster-copy for metal players thanks to its screaming loud pickups, lightning fast neck and fretboard, and mahogany body, which produces some great warm sounds.
Oh, and it looks pretty hardcore too, thanks to the ebony fingerboard, black hardware, and contrasting metallic white finish.
The speed of this guitar is all in the neck. It uses a Thin-C neck that’s contoured along 22 frets and a 14-inch radius fretboard. In other words, you won’t have trouble reaching that high D at the top of your E string. Simply put, this is a really comfortable playing guitar.
Schecter partnered with Floyd Rose on this guitar with a Hot Rod double-locking tremolo. Obviously, Floyd Rose is known for making the best tremolo systems in the business, and this Hot Rod double-locking system is pretty incredible. You have complete control over the bends in your playing and your strings are going to stay in tune.
Owners of Schecter guitars feel like they know the secret to a great guitar at a competitive price. The brand makes quality instruments, but doesn’t always get the recognition it may deserve.
The Super Shredder is priced as a mid-range guitar, making it the perfect upgrade from your beginner model.
Schecter PT Pro – Best Value Telecaster Style Guitar
When it comes to Telecaster-style guitars, it doesn’t get much flashier than the Schecter PT Pro.
This mid-range priced guitar certainly delivers on its looks, but the electronics and tone it packs is even more impressive.
Here are the main specs:
- High quality woods. This guitar is made with an alder body and maple neck. The alder gives it a nice, solid feel, and helps with resonation. The quilted maple veneer top is what gives it that fun design.
- Schecter pickups. Schecter has always been a fan of including its proprietary pickups in its guitars and this Telecaster copy is no different. It includes the brand’s USA Z-Plus humbucking pickups. These pickups are designed for power and a great tool for rockers. These pickups actually feature 12 fully-adjustable high-carbon pole pieces, which let you adjust all 24 pole pieces to achieve optimal tone.
- Sustain all day. You can thank the stainless steel saddles for that extra bit of sustain.
While you may think Schecter is only about making guitars for metal music, the Schecter PT Pro is actually quite versatile, so don’t be intimidated to pick it up and give it a go.
Suhr Classic T – Best Premium Telecaster Style Guitar
For those with significantly larger budgets, consider checking out the Suhr Classic T.
Suhr Guitars started at Rudy’s Music Stop in New York City as a side hobby, but turned into a business that attracted some big-time players, including Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler. The company makes great Stratocaster-style guitars and, as you can see, awesome Telecasters too.
No expense is spared with these guitars, from the top-of-the-line hardware to a very nice pickup system.
- Neck. The 1960s era C vintage neck profile should fit your hand like a glove.
- Frets. They’re made from stainless steel, making soloing and chording easier. This guitar has 22 frets.
- Pickups. Suhr used traditional single coil pickups, but don’t expect to hear that 1960s hum. These babies are an impressive feat of engineering.
- Tuners. Suhr includes its proprietary locking tuners that do a great job at keeping everything in tune.
As we mentioned, these guitars aren’t cheap because Suhr only makes so many each year.
It is a bit surprising that the company only gives you a soft gig bag with this guitar as opposed to a hardshell case. That’s probably the only downside of this Telecaster-style guitar because everything else — including its sunburst finish — is absolutely perfect.
Tokai Telecaster – Best Japanese Telecaster Clone
When Tokai was exploding on the scene in the 1980s, some people were actually saying the brand’s Telecasters were so good that they were better than Fender’s version.
The Tokai Telecaster is cheaper than Suhr’s Telecaster copy, but it’s still in the higher spectrum of pricing. Part of that is because these guitars are becoming collector items. You can pretty much only find them on second-hand sites, like Reverb.
That being said, you may be able to find a used one at a competitive price.
Officially called the Tokai Breezysound Telecaster, this Japanese-made guitar maker actually manufactured several degrees of Telecasters, using cheaper materials for the less expensive models, and obviously the highest quality materials for their more expensive models. The guitars from the 1980s seem to be the highest quality and most desired by collectors.
If you’re interested in a Tokai, do as much research on the used model you’re looking at to ensure it’s a good deal. Check serial numbers to ensure the year and make sure everything works on the guitar. The cheaper models, for instance, were made in Korea. If you have the budget, you want the Tokai Telecaster made in Japan.
Owners of those 1980s Teles agree that this Japanese guitar maker was the real deal.
What is a Telecaster?
Fender actually introduced what looks like the Telecaster in 1950, but called it the Broadcaster. It quickly set the bar quite high for electric guitars, which were still in their infancy. A year later, Leo Fender changed the name of the guitar to the Telecaster.
Most Telecasters feature these elements:
- Maple neck attached to a body with bolts.
- 21 frets.
- Plastic pickguard.
- Volume and knob controls mounted on a metal plate.
- Fixed bridge.
- Output jack located on lower bout of guitar.
You can buy a Telecaster in a variety of colors, but the blonde wood color certainly screams Telecaster the most as it’s the color and design of Fender’s first Broadcaster and Telecaster from the 1950s.
Similar to the popular Stratocaster, Teles are versatile and used across a range of genres. Today, you most often see them used in rock and country music. The twang Telecasters can offer make it a great guitar for more modern country music.
How to Choose The Best Telecaster Copy – Buyer’s Guide
Any guitar player wants to get their money’s worth when it comes to buying a new axe. You want to purchase something that’s a quality build and will last a long time, but you don’t want to overspend on a brand name for the sake of that brand name.
After perusing the list of guitars above, use this buyer’s guide to make your best-informed purchase.
Materials & Build Quality
Imitation Telecasters have figured out how to make quality guitars, even if they’re doing it with cheaper wood materials.
Fender Telecasters typically use Ash Wood, which produces a great tone and is very solid, but can feel quite heavy.
Imitation Telecasters use a variety of materials for their bodies. The Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder PT, for instance, uses mahogany, which is popular among rock and metal players.
Cheaper models, like the Squier Affinity Telecaster, use agathis wood, which feels a little cheaper, but still solid enough to learn how to play the guitar.
When shopping for your guitars, spin the hardware knobs to ensure they stay in place. Check the amplifier jack to make sure it doesn’t jiggle on you. And explore the tuners by tightening and de-tightening the strings. These quick tests can help you determine the build quality of any guitar.
Genre of Music
Traditionally, the Fender Telecaster has been a staple of country music thanks to its twangy tone produced by the single-coil bridge pickup. As other genres, like rock and pop, began to rise, guitarists found other musical uses for their Telecasters.
Imitation Telecasters, however, much like Super Strats, take liberties with their guitars and include electronics and neck styles that allow the instruments to tackle a range of genres, including rock and metal. Because of this, imitation Telecasters are quite versatile guitars.
So, if you need a guitar for country music, you obviously can’t go wrong with a Fender Telecaster, but if you want to expand your musical horizons, definitely check out some Telecaster copycats. Many models on the market today are quite capable of delivering on a range of musical genres.
A standard Fender Telecaster features two single coil pickups — one near the neck and the other right above the bridge. The neck pickup delivers loud, powerful tones, while the bridge pickup highlights the twang of the Tele.
If you need something more geared toward rock music, you’ll want a Telecaster-style guitar with humbuckers, like the ESP LTD TE-1000 Evertune. Humbuckers produce fatter tones than single coil pickups, making them great for genres outside of country music.
When shopping for a Telecaster, there really isn’t a right or wrong answer for pickups. Obviously, cheaper guitars are going to feature cheaper pickups, but that doesn’t mean they don’t produce decent tones. Conversely, more expensive models may have pickups that don’t deliver the tone you desire.
If you simply want to learn how to play the guitar without worrying about the intricacies of electronics, just buy a guitar that feels good in your hands. Unless you’re buying some kind of homemade Telecaster imitation guitar, you’re going to have an axe that produces a decent tone out of any standard amplifier.
If you want to stay more traditional, then go with the double single-coil pickup setup.
Telecasters haven’t always been the most playable guitars as their necks tend to be a little wider, potentially making it difficult for players with smaller hands.
Over the years, companies that make Telecaster-style guitars — in addition to Fender — have updated the guitar with a more modern, thinner neck, allowing for easier chording and soling.
Playability also comes down to the weight of the guitar. A Fender Telecaster tends to be on the heavier side, but imitation models have gone to other woods that are lighter, making them more comfortable to play.
Telecaster-style guitars range in price from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars. Some of the more rare pieces, like the Tokai Breezysound Telecaster, have become collector items over the years, increasing the price even more substantially.
Our advice, no matter what type of guitar you’re buying, is to purchase the guitar you can afford. And if that means waiting a little bit to save up and pay for a more expensive model, then so be it.
For the most part, imitation Telecasters can come at quite affordable prices. They only get more expensive when you start shopping for brands that are smaller and only produce a limited amount of models each year.
Recap of the Best Telecaster Copies & Alternatives
|Fender Player Series Telecaster||Editor’s Choice|
|Squier Affinity Telecaster||Budget Pick|
|Charvel Pro-Mod So-Cal Style 2||Best Under $1,000|
|ESP LTD TE-1000 Evertune||Most Versatile|
|G&L Tribute ASAT Classic||Best Under $500|
|Schecter Sun Valley Super Shredder PT||Best for Metal|
|Schecter PT Pro||Best Value|
|Suhr Classic T||Premium Pick|
|Tokai Telecaster||Best Japanese Clone|
There are many fans of the Telecaster out there today who simply like the look and feel of the body and the way it plays.
Now, there will be purists who only want to own Fender Telecasters and will totally ignore the imitation models, but many players realize you can get more bang for your buck — and a more versatile guitar — if you seek out non-Fender Telecasters.
Use sites like Sweetwater to purchase and test out the guitar that you feel is best aligned for your playing style. These sites have great return policies in case you aren’t totally satisfied.
The Telecaster is an iconic guitar — but don’t be afraid to go after an imitation Tele. You won’t be disappointed.