The Find: 1971 Fender Thinline Telecaster

October 20th, 2012

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

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  • Chuck Barnett

    Nice article. I have a 1971 purple Thinline. Pink pickguard… the real deal. Its “relic’d” as the kids say and modified but its been that way since before I got it in ’85. Email me for pics or more info. They do exist. Well, at least this one does.

    • Great to read up on this variant but why the reference to purple? The one in the pic there is rather orange! Please send me pics of your thinline ( I have this canary yellow with “mother-of toilet seat”pickguard! ( Yours is pink? Mine is… pink/purple! Let’s compare’em!

    • Delvis

      Wow…I got a purple 1971 as well. Mine has the white pearloid pick guard. It was originally sold from Veneman music in Baltimore and was told to be from the NAMM show that year.

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  • Tony P

    The closest thing I will ever have to a Thinline is my 1975 Ibanez “Lawsuit” Tele Thinline Copy. It is a beautiful guitar with great action and is an exact replica. I have never seen one like it yet. My next guitar to my collection will be a real Thinline!

  • boogalew

    I had the best time putting a custom player thinline together with a 70’s fender USA neck and a pair of Gibson 57 classic humbuckers. Handshaped a pickguard to suit and Bob’s your uncle. Best guitar I’ve ever heard.
    No such thing as too much fun. : )

  • looks more orange to me………but nice still

  • Delvis

    The purple thinline pic shows up in the magazine. The guitar pics are on I think they referenced the wrong one. It is sort of a pinkish purple.