By Tom Beaujour
As the Sixties drew to a close, guitar manufacturers were faced with a dwindling supply of lightweight ash. This affected Fender in particular, as the company had traditionally relied on this timber for the bodies of its Telecaster guitars. Early attempts to produce a weight-relieved Telecaster using heavier ash yielded a small number of guitars with hollowed-out portions under their pickguards. (These “smuggler’s Teles,” as they’ve become known, are sought after by vintage collectors.) Ultimately, Fender deemed that a more radical redesign would be required.
The job fell to famed German luthier Roger Rossmeisl. A specialist in archtop and acoustic designs, Rossmeisl had just defected from Rickenbacker. He conceived of an elegant solution: a “Thinline” model that retained the classic Telecaster body shape but featured a solid center block and hollowed-out upper and lower portions. To accomplish this, wood was removed from the back of the guitar, which was then covered with a thin ash cap. In a final flourish, a classic, elegant f-hole was added to the top bout. Rossmeisl also deigned a new pearloid pickguard for the Thinline that incorporated both the guitar’s neck pickup and electronics.
The Thinline was introduced in 1968 and was originally available only in natural finishes. By 1971, a sunburst variant was also being manufactured, but it’s safe to say that the purple guitar seen here was never available to regular consumers, even those willing to place a custom order. David Davidson of New York’s We Buy Guitars says that this instrument was purchased from a collector who had more than a half-dozen Thinlines in ultra-rare, off-the-color-chart hues.
According to Davidson, “These instruments were probably built for a trade show or for display and use at one of the era’s ‘teenage fairs,’ events at which Fender would have a trailer full of gear to demonstrate their newest and coolest guitars.” At this early period in their CBS stewardship, he says, “Fender were really striving to be different and to get away from the same old thing. They probably thought, No one has ever seen a purple guitar like this before… and kids will think it’s cool and hip!” —Tom Beaujour