Fender Alternate Reality Tenor Tele - REVIEW

3 Jan 2021

Fender Alternate Reality Tenor Tele - REVIEW

Review day.. and the first of 2021. What better way to kick of the New Year by putting a cat amongst the pigeons! Is it a ukulele? Is it a guitar? Is it neither?  Say hello to the Fender Alternate Reality Tenor Tele.

Fender Tenor Tele Guitar Ukulele Hybrid


So, what exactly is this and does it even belong on a ukulele review site? Mischievous me doesn't really care to be honest, it's a musical instrument, but I know it will irritate some. (I've never understood the anti-guitar thing myself.) Anyway, this was a limited edition  model from Fender launched in late 2019 that has taken an absolute AGE to get hold of in the UK (Covid? Just poor supply on Fender's part? Dunno...). First and foremost though, it is billed on Fender's own website as a 'tenor guitar'...

But, marketing makes things a bit more complicated for the buyer and a little more appropriate for this website.  Firstly, Fender themselves extol the ability to use a variety of tunings on this (which is, of course true of any instrument) yet they ship these with string gauges designed for low DGBE tuning, which is, of course, also baritone ukulele standard. That isn't actually tenor guitar standard though as I explain below.. Some stores even go so far as listing these as 'electric ukuleles' or as a 'guitar ukulele hybrid. What it is at its core is a tenor guitar of course, and in particular a ¾ scale Fender Telecaster with only four strings. But then... a tenor guitar is shorter in scale from a regular guitar.. yet also bigger than a baritone ukulele...  As I say above, this is not usual tenor guitar tuning. Tenor guitars are most commonly tuned in fifths, so that would most normally be CGDA, the same as the tenor banjo, yet this DGBE tuning, which matches the bari ukulele, is also used and is often called 'Chicago tuning'... Oh... just get on with it will you Barry.. It's a four string 'thing' that will no doubt get the attention of baritone ukulele devotees and as such fits here.

And it's built very much like a scaled down Fender Telecaster guitar. The body is made of alder in the Tele shape and comes in three polyester gloss finishes - Lake Placid Blue like this one, Butterscotch Blonde and Fiesta Red. They are all trademark Fender guitar colours so will immediately look familiar to Fender fans. The traditionally shaped Tele pickguard colour depends on the body colour, so on the blue and red you get a very pale mint green (almost white) guard with a thin black sandwich, whereas on the butterscotch you get (what else?) black with a white trim. They are all very in keeping with the look of the guitars so no complaints from me here. It's a mini Tele that isn't a 'fudge' like the Fender Fullerton Ukulele was. 

Fender Tenor Tele Guitar Ukulele Hybrid body

Everything else is also very much in keeping with the Fender look too. The bridge plate is the more recent single lipped style fitted with four modern micro saddles rather than the vintage styled Telecasters using the old ashtray style bridge and brass barrel saddles, but I can live with that. They give a lot of precise control over action and intonation and are spaced at a kind of narrow 34mm here (but remember, these are very skinny strings so usual uke measurements would be unwise to judge against). The control panel is also typically Telecaster though sadly whilst the plate looks shortened, the knobs and controls seem to be guitar sized. It doesn't look totally out of place though, and holds the usual volume and tone knobs in knurled chrome and a three position barrel tipped selector switch allowing one or the other pickup or a blend of both.

Fender Tenor Tele Guitar Ukulele Hybrid bridge and controls

The pickups are custom for the model, but I think that just means they use four pole pieces not six rather than being exotic in any other way. They are standard Fender Alnico V pickups in both cases. The bridge pickup looks authentically Telecaster, set on an angle into the bridge plate, but I think it's a real shame they didn't go the whole hog and put a chrome lipstick cover on the neck pickup. It looks odd for a Tele as you'd expect to see chrome here, not a black hunk of plastic.

Fender Tenor Tele Guitar Ukulele Hybrid pickups

Other than that there is no other decoration (why would there be?). On the body you get tail and upper shoulder strap buttons, a jack socket at the lower bout and on the back the usual through body holes with metal ferrules through which you feed the guitar strings when stringing it up.  You also get the usual chrome metal plate at the neck bolt-on. All very Telecaster.

I must say the finish on everything so far has greatly exceeded my expectations. It's flawless. Maybe it's because I am approaching this from a 'Fender Ukulele department' viewpoint where I usually find 'something' wrong (or in some cases, LOTS wrong). But these are developed by the Fender guitar division and when I expand below on where this is built, you will likely understand why the quality is so good. I can't find anything wrong yet bar that pickup cover omission. The finish is deep and whilst in some photos looks a little plain, actually has a metallic sparkle in it which is very attractive in some lights.  I think it looks great. But then.. I adore Telecasters. A FAR fry from that Fullerton.

The neck is maple (what else?) with a U shape profile and is super glassy smooth with a 9.5 inch top radius. Like the maple neck guitars, the top is glossy and the back is satin. There is a back stripe which is covering the truss rod channel (something that doesn't worry me being absent on ukuleles, but with a steel strung neck, is something essential).  It's beautifully finished and this is where you really start to see that it's NOT a baritone uke. The scale length here is 23 inches which is a fair bit longer than a baritone ukulele which are normally standardised at around 19. As I say, shorter than a guitar, bigger than a uke.. 

Fender Tenor Tele Guitar Ukulele Hybrid neck

You notice that scale length most with the spacing of the frets which feel much closer to electric guitar than to ukulele. You get 21 of those, joined at the 17th and they are all dressed well and are set direct into the maple neck. There is no rosewood option for the fingerboard. Being only a four string it's naturally narrower than a guitar, so tapers down to just under 31.5 mm at the nut (23mm G to A). That is really skinny and narrower than the much shorter scale Flight Pathfinder and the Risa LP.  I find that intriguing, but maybe the playability will also be affected by the rounded back. The profile is also very different to a telecaster guitar, but I am getting on with it ok-ish. It certainly feels more like a banjo than guitar though! Another thing that may throw ukulele players are the position dots as these run guitar style at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9TH, 12th, 15th, 17th and 20th, also repeated on the side. There are multiple theories why some instruments use the dot at the 9th and some at the 10th, but I am not going into that here. They are just different! 

Beyond the synthetic bone nut, set in typical Fender fashion is the usual Telecaster headstock which obviously looks great and in keeping with the instrument. There are no string trees to create an increased break angle. There is an angle though and the headstock being offset back off the neck helps. I think it might still benefit from one on strings 1 and 2 though. The headstock also holds the usual Fender logo (in guitar scale and too big in my view) and the entry point for the truss rod adjustment to control neck relief.

Fender Tenor Tele Guitar Ukulele Hybrid headstock

Tuners are Fender branded sealed chrome gears and work ok. I suspect they will be the exact same tuners as appear on entry level Fender telecasters. I'm pleased to see they didn't go down the ukulele division route and fit ugly faux vintage kluson styles or similar. Saying that, even these look a little big on the small headstock, though I am not sure what they could do about that short of developing a brand new tuner line. In fact, those tuners and Fender logo come together to make me think the headstock is a little out of proportion. I am sure it is 'right' for the body size, but if you don't shrink the other parts it looks a bit, well... odd. I'm nit picking again.

Fender Tenor Tele Guitar Ukulele Hybrid tuners

Finishing off the package are nickel steel electric guitar strings in gauges 9, 11, 15, 24 (running E to Low D) and a rather nice padded branded gig bag with toolkit. At first the price made me do something of a double take at £429 RRP, but that is because I had that 'Fender Ukulele head' on and assumed that these were a cheap Chinese offering. Being the guitar division, had that been the case it would have likely said Squier on the headstock, not Fender (although now there are 'some' Chinese models branded Fender too). The headstock tells you this is made in Mexico so sits alongside their mid level guitar offerings. The starter western Fender Telecaster guitars made in Mexico will hit you in the pocket between five and six hundred pounds these days, so actually that's a good and fair price. Not that cutting two strings off is really a saving anyway and there is no real reason why a tenor guitar should be cheaper. And as regular Fender fans will know, the output from the Mexican factory these days is seriously good. Excellent in fact. That would explain why I can't find any flaws with the build or finish. The setup too is excellent, though as I say pretty much infinitely adjustable. If you KNOW the quality of Fender Mex guitars, then you will know how well done they are. This is in that category.

As I think you can tell, i'm rather taken with this one! Elements like weight and balance that I usually mention in ukulele reviews is a little irrelevant here, but it comes in at 2.5kg for those interested. 

To play - well, yes I did a video. And yes...., I hate doing electric videos. It would be easy to put this into the hands of a top level shredder running through thousands of pounds worth of tube amp tech, but that is not me and nor do I have that kit to demonstrate it with. Also, this is a ukulele blog and one that has always treated sound samples by keeping to the basics. As such the video is using a portable practice amp made by Boss.  Still, I have been mightily impressed.  It's clean clear and very playable. As I have said with other electric ukulele reviews, pure uke players will need to ease off on the fretting hand as regular playing will squeeze the notes sharp, but I found this much more forgiving than other electric tenor ukuleles I have played.  Admittedly, I do dabble with electric guitar from time to time, so that may sway me, but I think this is a good halfway house. This may be down to the lower tuning / thicker strings, or lower crowns on frets - I am not sure, but it is much nicer to play.  What is particularly interesting is that I find this much nicer on the fingers than either the Pathfinder or the Risa LP, despite them both having wider nuts. I still think I would like this a bit wider or shallower on the back though.

The first thing that struck me that can be unusual with Telecasters is how quiet the pickups are in terms of background noise. There is very little hum or hiss which is great to note. They are very distinct in their tone too and very clean and clear. The neck naturally has more warmth, a jazzy feel and 'chunk' to it, whereas the bridge pickup has an icy sharpness that will break glass with the tone right up high! Of course, the blended middle pickup is a best of both worlds and has a nice all round tone. I'm impressed and being so clean in a neutral setting on the amplifier means the world is your oyster when adding effects.  You are not adding effects to an already coloured noisy tone and in fact I have played worse sounding Fender guitars that cost more than this. This is clearly well put together inside as well as out. My only issue is that the bridge pickup is a touch quieter, but that is easily adjusted by raising the height a touch - something that you are SUPPOSED to play with on electrics.

The tone and volume controls have a nice sweep meaning that in all your configurations you get a good range of tones to play with.  Hours of fun, and I have indeed been playing this for hours over the holidays! 

Fender Tenor Tele Guitar Ukulele Hybrid back

Summing up on this is a little difficult as I am looking at it as both a ukulele player (and reviewer) AND an owner of Fender electric guitars. I am actually a little confused by who this is intended for, and personally think it would be more exciting marketed as a true tenor in CGDA.  In fact I think Fender themselves are not sure and trying to cover all bases. Saying that, they they have clearly gained interest in various camps as they are very hard to find. Not necessarily as much from guitar players wanting to explore ukulele but because the tenor guitar alone is gaining a lot of popularity these days with the likes of Warren Ellis in the Bad Seeds sporting one regularly. Though such players may wonder why it's being pushed out as a large ukulele. I think there will certainly be interest from ukulele baritone players to explore tenor guitar though as it would be a fairly straight transition. They will likely also be of interest for children to get started with electric instruments.

I have to come back to the usual summing up I have stated on Fender ukulele reviews in the past. Without exception they have all left me a bit flat, and some have left me damn angry. I have said on multiple occasions that I WISH Fender would give up trying to make an acoustic uke and focus on making a damn good electric version - it's what they do best. This instrument shows me that they can do it and do it very well in a smaller package. No, it's not a ukulele, but it's getting very close and may end up being as good a halfway house as we will ever see. But.... if they made a tenor electric uke to this sort of quality I am sure they would fly off the shelves and give the likes of Flight and Risa a cause for concern.

Whoever this is aimed at, I love it as an instrument. Despite it being a fair bit bigger than a uke, I can't think why you would not put this on your consideration list for a steel strung electric if you are shopping for one. Want something truly uke sized - look elsewhere I guess. You have a choice! The only snag? It looks like supplies are still limited and it may be that Fender are discontinuing this model now. A  real shame if true in my view as this has really clicked with me. You may therefore be limited to the used market, but i'd encourage that all the same. It's worth seeking out and comes very much recommended. Fender Ukulele division this is not!

(Late to the party it seems... though not through want of trying!)



SPECS ROUNDUP

Name: Fender Tenor Tele
Scale: 23" Tenor Guitar / 'Ukulele' hybrid
Body: Alder
Bridge: Fender tele style with micro saddles
Pickups: Two (bridge and neck) Alnico V pickups
Controls: Tone, Volume, Pickup selector
Neck: Maple
Frets: 21, 17 to body
Nut: Synthetic bone
Nut width: 31.5mm (23mm D to E)
Tuners: Fender branded sealed chrome gears
Strings: Fender Nickel Silver - 9, 11, 15, 24 (low D)
Extras: Toolkit, Branded gig bag
Weight: 2.55kg
Country of origin: Mexico
Price: £429


PROS

Superb build in keeping with current Fender Mex standards
Great looks and flawless build and finish
Largely in keeping with big brother style
Nice neck despite profile and width still foxing me a little.
Clear tone and usable controls with obvious differentiation. Some pickup height adjustment needed on the bridge pickup though
Fair price

CONS

No neck pickup cover
Still working out if I FULLY like the neck! (I think I do!)
Heasdstock logo and tuners look a bit out of proportion
In short supply
Not much else, so long as you know what you are buying!

SCORES

Looks - 9 out of 10 
Fit and finish - 9.5 out of 10
Sound - 9.5 out of 10
Value for money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL SCORE - 9.3 out of 10

VIDEO REVIEW





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THANKS!

6 comments :

  1. Really enjoyed this review. Happy New Year! What a fun start to 2021.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice review Barry. These are no longer on Fender's website but I did find a few for sale at different retailers and Reverb.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Time to try a Fanner Pixelator, which is available as either tenor or baritone ukulele. I love my Shabby Chic tenor... especially through a Soul Food pedal with a touch of spring reverb.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This isn't a ukulele though. Besides - Fanner don't seem to want to loan me one on review..

      Delete
  4. I'm glad you reviewed the Vorson before this one. I'm satisfied the the Vorson, and the price was right.

    ReplyDelete

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