Eliot Hunt | January 24, 2023

The first Hidden Gems of 2023 finds us taking a closer look at the extraordinary b3 Telstar. For me, this is an endlessly fascinating guitar that masterfully, and creatively, combines two iconic Fender models - the Telecaster and Stratocaster - into something refreshingly new.

Before we begin, I must confess that I own one of these guitars. I am indeed “the president and customer” of the Telstar guitar club, as the old commercial used to say. (In the interest of full disclosure, I bought mine through the shop with my own hard-earned cash.)

Ok, with that out of the way, I also have another confession to make and it's one I feel conflicted about confessing...alright, here goes: initially, I wasn’t sure what to make of the Telstar when I finally got one in my hands.

I am conflicted about this admission because I began working with Mike and Gene at b3 about a year ago on the idea of relaunching the Telstar as a TME exclusive after it spent some 10+ years dormant in the folder of "great guitar ideas" (the original run was done through Destroy All Guitars). I knew what to expect theoretically - it's a Strat and Tele mashup and I've been playing both my whole life. Plus, b3 makes incredible instruments that meld modern build techniques with vintage heart and soul so I had no concerns whatsoever there - yet, I found myself unsure of how to wrap my head around it once we took delivery of them and I actually sat down to play one.

"WHOOOOO ARE YOU?" (Who, who, who, who?)

Is it a Strat? No, not 100%...but...well, yes, I suppose it mostly is. It does have that familiar body shape, three single coil pickups, and a whammy bar. Well, is it a Tele? In some ways I suppose it is. It does have a Tele bridge pickup and control plate, but then again....

To help solve the riddle I was facing, I a/b’d the Telstar’s b3-wound Tele bridge pickup against my trusty Lentz Traditional Tele’s bridge pickup by plugging into my beloved '68 Princeton Reverb, and sure enough, it was pretty damned close tonally.

Telstar Demo | Kara Snethlage

And Now for something completely different

All of this said, the Telstar 's feel and response is quite a bit different than a Tele. The feel is almost exclusively Strat - it's a bit more nible than a Tele and lead work is a breeze thanks to the slinky feel. With the Telstar, it’s simply that you can cop authentic Tele tones in a way I’ve never encountered in a Strat. It’s quit a bit like overlaying the tonal image, if you will, of a Tele on top of a Strat. It’s not one or the other, it’s an amalgam of the two. Factor in the 10-way (!) switch and there are few Fender tones you can't access, and quite a few not found on any Fender.

This 'neither here nor there' aspect is where the magic lives with the Telstar's design. Fender fans will love looking down at a very authentic Fender style guitar while playing - Gene was a master builder at the Fender Custom Shop after all - but it’s a new experience altogether, unique from a Strat or a Tele. It's quite literally the best elements of both instruments rolled into one, hence the familiar-yet-new playing experience.

final thoughts

I found this 'hybrid' aspect of the guitar really fascinating (read: inspiring) as I was exploring new sounds in a guitar that still felt familiar. For me, that’s not an experience I have often and was the main driver for why I wanted to own a Telstar. I immediately envisioned the situations where I’d get use out of it - gigs (bring one via two guitars), sessions where a variety of sounds can be called upon quickly, even simple living room practice sessions where I could focus on tone production and exploring what this guitar has to offer. It’s a super fun guitar to get to know.

And that, for me, is the whole point of buying a new guitar.