Gear Up: Should You Fish for Fender’s Kingfish Telecaster Deluxe Guitar or Cut Bait? Review
By Ian Freeman
September 1, 2022
Fender has been on a mission to win the hearts and minds of both old-school guitar lovers and a new generation of musicians. So collaborating with Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, the 23-year-old Grammy award-winning recording artist and guitar virtuoso with a penchant for taking the blues across multiple genres, is right on message for them. Having talked to Kingfish about releasing his project 662, we were excited to hear that Fender had tapped him to work on his signature guitar, the Kingfish Telecaster Deluxe. And it might be one of the truest meetings of artist and instrument I have come across.
Many signature guitars are production models with some embellishments artists throw their name on for a cut of the proceeds. Enthusiastic fans rush out to buy them to be nearer to their idol or for a chance to sound like them. However, a signature guitar done right can be a transformative experience. One that not only meets the artists’ technical specifications but manages to capture the artist’s spirit. Tosin Abasi created his line to achieve it. Fender’s recent Nile Rodgers recreation of the Hitmaker was scanned, observed, pruned, prodded and painstakingly sent back and forth until he felt it accurately replicated not only the specs but the feel of his guitar. With this guitar, Kingfish and Fender sought out more than to capture his sound but embody what he brings to music, a polyamorous relationship of vintage, modern, and the future. Achieving this era-spanning and capturing Kingfish in an instrument made the choice of the Telecaster Deluxe an understandable one. Having been in the hands of everyone from chicken-pickers to Jazz guys, the Telecaster Deluxe is known for its versatility.
The Kingfish Telecaster Deluxe is not just another telecaster deluxe. Specifically designed to cater to touch players, each spec emphasizes and encourages flourishes and dynamics. But the first thing you will notice isn’t any of that. It’s the color. The guitar has a signature color called Mississippi Night, a deep dark purple fleck inspired by the night sky of his hometown. Having spent many a summer down south, they pretty much nailed it. The Kingfish features an alder body with a 3-ply pickguard. It has a “V” shaped roasted maple neck with a satin finish that gives it a vintage, slightly worn-in feel. Fender specs calling it a “V” made me apprehensive at first, but once in hand, it felt more a soft “V” and was comfortable. The V-shape also makes it a little easier to play with my thumb over the top of the neck, allowing for varying how I grab chords. It has a rosewood fretboard with a 12” radius like a Les Paul, which is perfect for bends and riffs. It has a 25.5” Scale length, bone nut, medium jumbo frets, and dot inlays. Keeping the vintage theme, it has one of those big 70’s headstocks, which I am not a fan of, but it works and has vintage tuners. A custom square Kingfish logo neck plate is on the back of the neck.
One of the things making the Kingfish stand out from any other Deluxe is the choice of a six-saddle Adjusto-Matic bridge with an anchored tailpiece (tuneo-Matic with a stoptail) over the traditional string-through hardtail. This choice offers more sustain from the guitar.
Electronics are standard with a 3-way switch and two sets of tone and volume knobs. It comes with 10-gauge strings, which threw me off initially because Fender usually strings with 9s. And it comes tucked inside of one of those cool Fender deluxe molded cases.
Aside from that color, the star of the Kingfish Telecaster Deluxe has to be the pair of custom humbucking pickups. First, they have a “K & Crown” logo on the covers, which looks cool. And they sound crisp, present, and ready. I know ready is an interesting way to describe a sound but bare with me. If you have ever heard him play, you can tell that the Kingfish humbuckers were designed to capture that overdriven rock but still bluesy sound he is known for. They clean up nicely but can easily be pushed from a snarl to a full growl with a touch of the volume knob or a bit more digging in with your pick. And that’s what I mean by ready. They don’t sound on the verge of breakup unless that’s where you are playing them. Instead, they accentuate and emphasize what you’re doing. I played them through my Vox TB18, Roland Jazz Chorus, and Spark, and it forced me to be present in my playing. Not just aware of the notes and the fingering, but the dig of my pick, strength of strum, grip strength, everything. And it felt great. To be able to make a slight adjustment and hear the difference so clearly. The humbuckers also have outstanding balance, so they don’t get muddy like others.
When introduced in 1972, the Deluxe Telecaster was Fender’s entry into the harder rock market that humbucker pickup guitars dominated. Unfortunately, it didn’t fare too well on its onset as it was discontinued in ’81 but relaunched in 2004. Since then, it has garnered fans noting its versatility. The Kingfish Telecaster Deluxe hits these same notes as it is a versatile guitar that caters to those who chant the mantra “tone is in the fingertips.” But does it outshine other Deluxes? At $1999, is it $200 better than the American Professional II? Well, the AP 2 can coil-tap, allowing for single coil sounds. It also has a carved heel joint for more comfort around the higher frets and the cut saddle bridge for better intonation. But I would still give it to the Kingfish because of the custom humbuckers because, truthfully, I haven’t heard a split humbucker that outdid a real single-coil. And the guitar, as a whole, is an upgrade in terms of playability, if not in gadgets. But guitars are subjective, so grab one and see what tickles your fancy. I think the humbuckers, general layout and specs, the strings, v-neck, and the 12-inch radius make the Kingfish Deluxe perfect for the guitarist who wants to be expressive. They do not rely on pedals and a bunch of extra and want to see what they can get out of their fingers. Also, I think, albeit an expensive beginner guitar, it helps teach those nuances that make guitarists go from good to great.
The Kingfish Deluxe Telecaster is a great-sounding and looking guitar. I am not a fan of the oversized headstock. I think they missed an opportunity in not giving it a contoured neck joint, a point I also made with the Player Plus series. The soft-V might be hard for some, but these pale in comparison to the color, detail, and pickups. And in a stroke of genius or madness, depending on how the economics plays out, you can get the Kingfish Custom Pickups without buying the guitar. Maybe Fender learned from the John Mayer Big Dipper backlash and decided to let anyone be able to get them. I would have kept the pickups exclusive to the Kingfish Deluxe, making it more rare and unique. Ultimately, I think the Kingfish Deluxe Telecaster is a signature guitar worthy of the name and a must-get for those who are Kingfish fans, want to live the tone in the fingers creed, or want an amazing-looking and sounding guitar. And while $1999 isn’t inexpensive, it’s worth every cent. Available at Fender.com
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