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The mighty Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone Review! Get down low without breaking the bank!

The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone Review! An affordable giant down low!

I love this guitar. I am so glad I bought one! Read on.

I’ve been playing lots of very distinct sounds and ideas in the past couple of years. It’s great that I’ve been able to use such a diverse array of instruments from guitars to basses to keyboards and even some folk instruments and meditation instruments…

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonFullFront

The Fender Blacktop Tele Baritone in all its glory

But sometimes you just need something that adds more richness to recordings. It’s well enough to use guitars and basses – but what about something that layers sounds in between? Here’s where 8- and 7-string guitars come in, and my favorite mid-voice: the Baritone.

The baritone guitar is an interesting animal. You get the neck feel of a 6 string guitar – just longer. It doesn’t have the width of a 7-, 8-, or even 9-string guitar’s neck. It feels right at home to the traditional 6-string guitar player – just a little further to the left (or right, for my left-handed friends). I personally love just about any of the extended-range guitars including the old Fender Bass VI – very nice. But sometimes, you just wanna get low without having to deal with a different feel.

Baritones are generally like a thin-necked 7-string minus the high e. It’s important to note that the interpretation of “Baritone guitar” has many permutations. Some feel that 7-strings (and more) are baritones. Some feel that it has to be a 6-string guitar with a longer scale. Yet others feel that putting telephone wires (humor me here… laughter is great) on a standard 6 and just tuning the guitar down a bunch. My definition is really more simple: a long-scale 6-string tuned the next “string” lower – generally starting on a low B below the “standard” low E of a traditional 6. I’ve played Baritones from LTD/ESP to Fender to Epiphone to Gibson and Agile. I’ve liked them all.

Fender is no stranger to the Baritone business, with adaptations of the Bass VI, the Jazzmaster Baritone, and even the wonderful Jaguar limited edition HH Baritone guitar all being great guitars that give Fender some wonderful credibility for making a long scale low-tuned beast.

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonBodyShotPickupDetail

HSS with a crunchy humbucker and two Tele pickups. Nice!

Back to the subject: This review is about a new Blacktop Fender Telecaster in long scale Baritone tuning. WOW. Love it. Read on… I’m keeping mine for a good long while.

Please visit zZounds and get more information as well as pricing info about the awesome Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone – click here! (visiting my sponsor helps me fund more reviews! (And G.A.S., of course! :-))

Quick Opinion: The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone is a winner.
Simple and easy-to-play design? Telecaster with a long neck: check!
Diverse sound pallette – more so than the standard HH config? HSS with Tele neck pickups in mid and neck with the humbucker being hot rock: check!
Nice long scale with a great neck: Telecaster at 27″ 9.5″ fretboard radius, medium-jumbo frets, maple neck (the back of the neck, anyway) with a nice finish: check!

This grandaddy-long-legs Telecaster is a scream to play and really sounds great. There are a few things about it that I wish were different – but overall, these guitars are a major buy… well-priced, nicely executed, fairly high quality, and sounds like it’s a nice chunky rock and roll machine! This Fender Baritone is easy to play – just like a Tele should. It’s fun, interesting, and feels good in the hands.

How low can you go!? If you play metal and need something metal-y, I like the Fender Baritone Telecaster – it has a lot of spunk. Of course, for metal, you could always paint it flat black and use bright orange duct tape to attach a pointed cap on the end of the headstock to make it monstrous :-). Have fun, play guitar!

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonFretDetailShot

Really nice: Blends of gloss, buffed natural, and metal. Nice!

Playability: The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone plays like a dream when it comes to playing baritone guitars. The neck is easy, the body is familiar and simple, and the strings aren’t massively bigger (but enough that you know it). It’s oddly satisfying to handle that big long neck with the thicker strings. It’s chunky yet very comfortable feeling. The overall guitar somehow seems to feel “more substantial” when you are playing it. In some ways, the neck-to-body balance seems to be just right. If you’ve felt comfortable with a Tele before, this guitar is not a big stretch to which to make the leap.

I guess I had one issue with the playability of my Blacktop Baritone Tele: tuning. The Ping tuners work fine, smooth, and consistently. But their tuning ratio is too close/low to be useful on a thick-stringed baritone. When you’re trying to get the Tele Bari in tune enough to play with others or to record, you spend a LONG time hair-touching the tuner buttons trying to get them into tune. Not a picky thing here: a real issue. If you tweak the button just a little bit, it can go almost a quarter-tone out of tune on the low B and low E strings. Solution? Either use a tuning crank (and some care) to slowly adjust the button, or put in tuners that are 16:1 or better 18:1 (I could be wrong, but I believe that the current tuners feel like 14:1). I did the tuning crank for about a week. I got frustrated spending too much time tuning and re-tuning (the Pings didn’t hold tune once set) – and bought a set of locking 18:1 in-line mini Grovers. Tuning baritones is still a challenge, but these tuners cut my tuning times into half. I have nothing against Pings – but I just wish they had a larger/wider ratio on any of my Ping-tuned Fenders.

Sound: The sound of the Fender Telecaster Blacktop Baritone is substantial. It’s rock-oriented and can handle country and alt styles as well. The stock pickups (like the Gibson Les Paul Studio Baritone) aren’t generally well-suited for super-clean styles like New Age and Jazz. You can use the neck pickup in combination with the middle pickup to get a nice noise-canceled Tele sound – just remember that it is a Tele – it’s not rich and broad like a humbucker with AlNiCo magnets… I have gotten some nice single-coily cleans with my Fender Tele Baritone – albeit that the tones can get a little snappy… snappy is not always a bad thing!

A short note: I’ve discovered that my Telecaster Baritone sounds best through a bass amp or a guitar amp coupled to a/some cab(s) with 15″ speaker(s). I’ve played my blacktop through Crate, Peavey, Marshall, and Bugera guitar tube amps and cabs – without a doubt: the Tele Baritone sounded great through my bass amp; it sounded woofy and too muddy through a guitar amp with 12″ speakers. For more, read on to the “sound” section of this review.

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonBack

There are many components to sound quality in an instrument. Like many of my more recent reviews, the sound section deserves a little extra detail. In this case, I’ll write about:
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods, body, neck, bridge
3) The Telecaster body as a choice of shapes

Pickups and Electronics: For this review, there is a bit of a mashup of “sound”, “quality”, and “value” wih respect to the pickups and electronics in the Blacktop line of Fender guitars, including the Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone.

From the ear’s point of view, the Blacktop Telecaster Baritone sounds like a rock-and-roll favorite for the future. Guitar players will look for these in decades to come, particularly if Fender doesn’t continue to make them year after year. This guitar rocks. It knows how to grumble and growl, it can scream and yell, it can blanket you with a wall of sound through a tube amp with some big speakers. I’ve found that this guitar’s electronics work MUCH better through a bass amp or a big-wattage head through a cab with several 10″ speakers or a 15″ speaker. No doubt, my little 2×10 Behringer 450-watt garage amp smacked out the Baritone tone like a champ! My Marshall sounded good with it, but only through the Behringer’s speakers – and not my Peavey 4×12. Keep this in mind: The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone does exactly just the right stuff… we just have to think about how we play baritone guitars in general – my comments are about my experience – not shortcomings of a particular guitar or amp…

The pickups have a huge strength and two weaknesses. The pickups are economically-made, and they are muddy in many amplification settings. They do gain definition with the right amp and even with DI computer input or something like a Line 6 TonePort. The strength? They sound GREAT when you put them in the right place.

The electronics are a surprise. Gone are the everyday solid CTS (or similar) high-quality pots, the burgundy chicklet capacitor, and the time-proven mechanical blade switch (like a CRL or an Oak). Now? The really, really cheap bargain-bin pots, an unknown quality cap, and the super-cheap circuit board flat ultra econo-switch. I’m not thwacking Fender for doing this: the Blacktops are cheaper than Fender Standards when it comes to street price – but grrrr: They could be STANDARD Fender stuff without killing profit. I think these guitars sound pretty good overall, but I was truly saddened when I popped open the control cavity and pickguard. Fender could have done better. Sad face. I popped in a Fender OEM volume pot, a nice push-pull 250kOhm tone pot (for 7-way switching), a Fender OEM tone cap, and a real Fender OEM mechanical blade 5-way pickup selector switch. It sounds AWESOME now – and I’m lovin’ my Fender Baritone being a Fender.

The Factory electronics of a Fender Blacktop Baritone Telecaster

The Factory electronics of a Fender Blacktop Baritone Telecaster

I do like the simplicity of the wiring as it comes from the factory, though:
Positions, starting from the bridge:
1) Bridge only, full humbucker
2) Bridge and middle, birdge still in full humbucker mode
3) Middle only as a single coil
4) Middle and neck in humbucking mode (quacky, but warm – LOVE me some Tele!)
5) Neck only as a single coil

Tone woods: The tone woods of this Telecaster are on par with the Fender Standard Telecaster. I am pleased with the overall sound, resonance, and weight of the guitar. You can count on it for consistency in manufacturing detail, and it sings nicely when you play.

Why Telecaster?: Why not? Baritones work well with most standard guitar shapes and configurations. The Tele Baritone sounds good because of many things, not the least of which is because of its slab-o-genius body. I like it. It sounds nice, especially with the swimming-pool-esque rout under the pickguard: the Telecaster lends itself to a certain sustaining resonance. That’s one of the MANY reasons why I love having them around.

Shameless sponsor plug 🙂 To be honest, though, zZounds has a great return policy and a love-your-gear guarantee that’s hard to beat. They price-match, too.

Quality: My Fender Telecaster Blacktop Baritone is extremely well made. It came out of the factory box without a single flaw or problem at first, and I was extremely pleased to wipe it down, tune it up, and start playing. I do think the bridge could have been seated a little bit further towards the lower bout tail – it would be easier to set the intonation.

I did have one problem after a week: The neck pickup stopped working. The PCB cheap switch was the problem. When I put in standard Fender stuff (including an OEM Standard switch), the neck pickup issue went away. I can now play all 5 positions with glee. Works great! (And, now that I have modified my Bari, the neck pickup is independent with a push-pull – that way I can get neck + bridge and neck + middle + bridge sounds, too.)

I had to set the intonation on the saddles – a step almost always necessary on production-line guitars (why is that, anyway? Can’t a factory person at least do the 12th fret harmonics setup?). No worries. Five of 6 saddles adjusted the intonation into place. The sixth ran out of room on the spring – I can’t get it any closer than 10 cents unless I clip the spring or change the saddle in some way. Overall? It does fine.

The fit and finish is flawless. it looks like people who really love guitars built it (and, I think they do). The feel of the finish on the neck and body are excellent, the fret ends were nice and simple – no jagged edges on frets. The fretboard is nice and smooth – none of that cheap rough stuff you see in economy guitars.

The Ping tuners (if they are indeed still made by Ping – they look like standard everyday Ping Fender two-pin tuners) are good tuners overall – but they don’t work well for this baritone (see the “playability” section of this review). The quality is excellent, though. I love the traditional old tiny simple thin string tree for the g and high b strings.

The neck pocket was sweetly dressed, and when I put on my trademark “F” Fender OEM neckplate, I found the fit to be paper-smooth and just the right tightness. I also found the neck shape to be something I love. It’s thicker than a regular standard or USA Tele neck, but not excessively so: the neck grinder did an excellent job at the factory.

Value: This guitar is a bargain. It is just about impossible to find a decent baritone 6-string in this price range, new from the box. With only two foibles (neither of which is a red x to me), this guitar performs and sounds and plays like many guitars in the $799 street price range. The Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone sells for (as of this writing) $549 street, and occasionally $500 on sale here and there on the internet.

I think the price makes this guitar extremely good in the price-for-value ratio. I would buy a new one again if I was in the market. As of this writing, there aren’t very many used ones in the used marketplace, so only time will tell if they do a good job of keeping reasonable value after purchase.

FenderTeleBlacktopBaritoneJimPearsonFullBodyShotFront

The Amp knobs are a nice touch. A new classic cool - even in its first incarnation

Wishes: Fender: Please use real CRL-style switches, CTS/CGE-quality pots, and the good old burgundy chicklet cap. Also, please find a way to use tuners with a wider and bigger tuning ratio. It would be nice if the bridge were seated about a 1/4″ more back on the body for better intonation setting.

Oh: and Olympic white with a tinted maple neck/fretboard, please? Maybe for 2012/2013 model year? I would buy an Oly white with maple/maple in a heartbeat!

23 thoughts on “The mighty Fender Blacktop Telecaster Baritone Review! Get down low without breaking the bank!

  1. I have one of these puppies on its way to me. After reading your info here
    I ordered an Oak 5 way switch. Would you have the wire diagrams for a standard
    5 way switch (rather then the el cheapo unit that comes in the guitar) ? I
    also have a set of 250K CTS pots and some standard Tele chrome knobs
    that I plan to install…

    Thanks
    jim in gold bar

    • Hi Jim,

      Sorry I haven’t done the picture yet. Just now getting to sit down after work… busy these days. Will put it up ASAP.

      The standard Tele sound works best with a .047 cap… I wanted mine just a bit warmer, so I ended up using a .0333 film cap (a great big thing similar to an Orange drop – just round)…

      The bigger the number, the brighter the sound, in this case.

      jimp

  2. This is next on my list, after the Strat im eye balling.. Sweet guitar for the price. Interesting read, thanks for posting the pics and info 🙂

  3. Thanks for the excellent and informative read! I ordered one shortly after reading your review and just need to swap out the strings before it hopefully becomes one of my main-stay guitars. It’s a bit muddy through my amp, and I’m having some trouble finding the style want to explore with it, but part of the fun in playing guitar is getting past the challenges. Thanks again!

  4. I have a Blacktop Baritone and while I love it I think I will make some changes.

    Firstly re-wiring with better pots and tone cap .

    Secondly thinking about swapping humbucker for a Seymour Duncan P-Rail pick up … not sure how I am going to wire it just yet.

    Any thoughts about the P-Rail ??? and how to wire it so I can coil tap ?

    Anyway they are a great guitar to play and I think once tweaked it will be AWESOME !!! .

    Thanks for the article and let me know if you have any thoughts. Cheers, Cosmo.

    • Hi,

      I like the P-Rails. I’ve played them in several instruments since they were introduced.

      I like the idea of getting a rail (like a strong Strat) plus/or a P90. Nice changes from the traditional humbucker sound. The full pickup (both sides on) is like a no-noise P90 with some more punch.

      Wiring is pretty straightforward where you can put in a separate on-off-on mini-switch in between the volume and tone knobs on the metal plate. You could buy a second control plate to help you practice and see how things go.

      Seymour’s wiring diagrams are here: Choose the one for humbuckers to see the P-Rail options. If you put a hubucker-in-a-strat type pickup in the middle, you could even do the wild thing and do two push-pull tone pots and get a zillion sounds out of the Bari. Sounds like fun, but it really is a good bit of patch soldering…

      Jim

  5. Hi
    Being new to the guitar – bass, I don’t fully understand the Baritone tuning. Is each (guitar) string tuned…lower by a forth? Does this put it in similar tuning to a bass, which is an octave lower than guitar tuning? Are the second and third strings still a third apart?
    Norm

    • Hi Norm!

      There are, as always with guitar players :-), lots of different ways to tune them.

      But: In my experience, there is one main way to do the tuning. First, make sure to use a baritone string set and not a standard set. Second, think of the tuning the same way as you would a regular six-string in E-standard. Except this:
      The bass side lowest string is a B below the E of standard tuning. Just compare fifth fret of lower to open of the next just like a regular six until you’re tuning the 2nd string (2nd lowest to the floor). Tune it on the fourth fret. This doesn’t change what notes you are changing or what chord shapes are like. You just have to think this way: On a baritone, an Em chord fingered and played is actually a Bm chord. A DM chord is actually an AM chord.

      Here’s a quote from Wikipedia on tuning – for a more general perspective:
      “A standard guitar’s standard tuning (from lowest string to highest) is E A D G B E. Baritone guitars are usually tuned a perfect fifth lower (A D G C E A), a perfect fourth lower (B E A D F♯ B), or a major third lower (C F B♭ E♭ G C)…” (source:

  6. Man, what a super informative and expertly detailed review! I’m dying to own a baritone and when I found out that Fender manufacturing them again I got really excited. I just have one problem, I’m a southpaw and it doesn’t look like there are any lefty models available. Still, the Telecaster has always been my favorite so I’m hoping someone out there might have some idea of how I might make this dream come true. Does anyone know if Fender has any plans to make a left handed model? If not is this the sort of thing that their custom shop would be able to do? Please, any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Hi Ben,

      I am not aware of a lefty Fender baritone at the moment… They don’t seem to be making any left-handed Blacktop instruments.

      However, you can do this a few ways:
      You can purchase a righty Blacktop Telecaster instrument and sell the neck, then buy a left-handed neck from Warmoth here, then put on the neck and some new bari strings – of course, you’d have the age-old left-handed-upside-down thing like controls on your picking arm and the wrong side of the cutout.

      You could also purchase a standard lefty Fender telecaster and use the Warmoth lefty neck in replacement of the original – converting your Tele to a Baritone is fairly straightforward – put on the bari neck, acquire a set of bari strings, string it up, then re-set the intonation (you’ll probably have to re-set all 3 or six saddles.

      Or, you could buy a lefty Warmoth body, electronics, and neck and assemble your own. Warmoth rocks – but it won’t be cheap… Their stuff is high end.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Thank you for this review. You gave me the exact info I was looking for, as I heard that one would need to put some extra work on it to make it truely playable. I’ve looking at this one, as well as the Gretsch and the hollow body Hagstrom Viking. I liked the sound of the Hagstrom in the YouTube segment I watched. I really wish Carvin would make a TL60 Baritone, as it would cost more, but I’m sure they would do it right. I may just go ahead and get one of these anyway and have all that stuff you mentioned done to it.

  8. I juts got one. The sound is terrific that also works amazingly with some classic pieces. I have a problem though. After a while I notice that the sixth string (B) losses sonority (I.e. the sound is quenched) when it is pressed (or “stepped”) from the first fret (C) to all the way down. It doesn’t happen with the rest of the strings. Actually is quite frustrating because the rest of the strings sound like heaven. I don’t remember having this at the moment I got it. Can you please tell me what the problem would be? Some suggestions to fix it please?

    • It may be that your saddle is too low on the bass side. I’ve just written something about buzzes in this article here: I don’t know if this will help, but if it doesn’t ping me again with this info:

      Are they factory strings or the same gauge as factory?
      Are you tuning the strings to the standard notes (as in, are you standard, or dropped or alternative tuned?)?
      Is the neck straight?
      And, do you get much buzz on the other strings?

      Let me know. I’ll reply as quickly as I can.

      • Hi there,
        Thanks a bunch for your time.
        “It may be that your saddle is too low on the bass side. I’ve just written something about buzzes in this article here: I don’t know if this will help, but if it doesn’t ping me again with this info:

        Are they factory strings or the same gauge as factory?
        I’m afraid I don’t know. I bought it from a small shop. I can ask but I don’t think I could get the info entirely accurate. Suggestions?

        Are you tuning the strings to the standard notes (as in, are you standard, or dropped or alternative tuned?)
        Yes I tune as BB and while the others sound fine. Although each time I play it I tune the 6th in “A” (a tone lower) Suddenly I noticed the 6th sounded “soggy”, without any bright. That happends in both B and A tune. The others sounds fine

        Is the neck straight?
        Well that’s a good point. When I played it by the first time it was bended and the guy straiten up with the apical screw. After two month I see it like is bending just a little. Although it could be paranoia. Can you please tell how often the neck bends?
        And, do you get much buzz on the other strings?
        No. the other strings sound fine.
        Is it possible that the 6th string is too old and requires to be changed?
        BTW for this baritone telecaster, I understand the gauge is 12,15,20,32,44,64. Is that correct? Or they have to be thicker? Which brand do you consider is the perfect for this particular guitar? Finally please, can you tell whether the gear should be for guitar of bass?

        Dude thanks a bunch for this one.

        Jon

  9. hey! i have this guitar too, i’m for Cusco-Peru and these guitars are not very common here, i want you to help me because i’m having problems with the intonation, it seems that the saddle doesn’t have more space to properly intone the 3th and 6th strings, do i have to get some shorter saddles? Also i would like to know which are the best strings gauge for the guitar, any brand? i have recently bought some ernie ball baritone strings, but they seem to be a little thicker for the nut, ( the 6th string ) and the gauges are not the same as the information provided by “proguitarshop”. hope you have an answer.

    • Hi!

      Thank you for writing!

      You could buy smaller/shorter saddles for it, as some variety is found on eBay (for example) and places like StewMac… You might have to hand-shave the back of the saddle a bit to shorten it if it won’t go backwards far enough.

      I’ve been “back and forth” on the strings on my Fender and my Gibson baritones. On the one hand, the Ernie Ball Baritone 13-72 strings sound great, but are thicker than I want. D’Addario makes a set 14-68, too: D’Addario Baritone strings at zzounds, opens new window.

      Here’s what I did in the end. I got a set of the Ernie Ball Baritone strings and a set of the ernie ball 7 String Strings (here: Opens new window: the regular slinky Ernie Ball 7 string set.)

      I take the combination of those two sets and do this:

      On my baritones, I use a hybrid of the sets, with usually .062 on my fender and .072 on my Gibson LP bari. Then, from there, I tend to use the middle five strings from the 7 string set, such as .013 .017 .026 .036 .046.

      I have changed strings from time to time to make the bass string something inbetween, by buying an individual .68 or .070 D’Addario from here: Opens new window at juststrings.com.

      Hope this helps!

      Let me know what you think.

      Jim

  10. I want to get one of these in ghost silver. My only worry is a case. Does this Fender Baritone Blacktop fit in a regular strat/tele fender case. Scale length is longer than regular Telecaster guitar (27″ compared to 25.5″) but what is scale length. I know it has something to do with the length from the bridge to the tuning machines. But does it also mean the complete guitar is longer or is the same and fits a regular case.

    • Hi,

      Indeed, Fender doesn’t make a case for it. And, a normal Tele/Strat case won’t fit it…

      I purchased a generic short-scale bass case for mine. There is also an Axl case that takes funny shapes (and also has more length from upper bout to edge of case.)

      I hope this helps and thank you for reading!

      Jim

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