The Fender Telecaster is probably viewed by most as being a somewhat specialized guitar, but it is also surprisingly versatile.
Best known for it’s “Twang”, this guitar has been used most often for country as it lends itself well to chicken pickin’ and other similar sounds. Some players have a stratocaster pickup installed in the middle position for more tonal options. This is called the “Nashville” setup. Although most associated with Country, the Telecaster also does a bunch of other things quite well. What makes this guitar so much fun to experiment with is the fact that no matter what you do, that “Twangy” character mostly remains. In the end you get a great hybrid tone that you simply cannot produce with any other guitar. Don’t think that you’ll need to get your scalpel out though; the Fender Telecaster does a bunch of stuff very well with no modifications, but you can also upgrade some of the parts to create your own sounds.
With no modifications, a Fender Telecaster is perfect for funk. The bridge pickup is excellent for creating that urgent tone often used by great funk guitarists. If you need an example, listen to just about anything from James Brown. The repetitive single-note lines you hear in most funk tunes can be created by simply using the bridge pickup with a little bit of grit.
The middle and neck position sounds lend themselves well to R&B and Soul music. For example, Steve Cropper laid down many of this classic guitar tracks for Stax Atlantic using a Fender Telecaster. The inherent thin properties of the guitar work well as they stay our of the way of the bass and keyboards. Once again, no modifications needed here; a stock Telecaster works perfectly for R&B or Soul.
The Fender Telecaster is one of the most popular Blues guitars of all time. Players such as Albert Collins and Roy Buchanan trusted their Tele with their lives. Both of these Telecaster-Masters used stock guitars, but some may prefer a beefier neck pickup.
One would not think of a Fender Telecaster when they think of Jazz; I certainly don’t. But Mike Stern is a perfect example of a guitarists who used the Telecaster in a way that it may not have been intended, and made it work. It is likely that if you wanted to use a Telecaster for Jazz, you may want to swap out the neck pickup for one that has a bit more beef, such as a mini humbucker or full humbucker. But then again, this is purely subjective and whatever works best is best.
If you plan to use a Telecaster for Rock, you probably will want to change the pickups. Stock Telecaster pickups are not hum-canceling, so they are likely to be problematic when using a lot of gain or playing at high volumes. There are plenty of noise-canceling pickups out there made especially for a Fender Telecaster. Also, the inherent thin nature of the Telecaster does not always sound best with Rock. With this in mind, there are plenty of rock guitarists who have used a stock Fender Telecaster. It is all up to you as to what you feel sounds best. The great thing about using a Telecaster for Rock is that combination of an aggressive tone, and the inherent twangy nature of the instrument makes for a really great combination. You wind up with a nice hybrid sound that is both macho and twangy at the same time.