Review Date: Thursday 3rd of January 2013 02:57:47 PM Last Updated: Thursday 1st of January 1970 01:00:00 AM Reviewed By: Huw Price
Few Fender designs in recent times have generated as much interest as the La Cabronita, and this affordable Mexican-made version may make rockabilly guitarists’ lingering resistance futile. Review by Huw Price
It's well-known that Gretsch players tend to have an affinity with Telecasters, and vice versa so dropping a pair of Gretsch pickups into a Tele and throwing in a prototype pickguard and hot-rodded controls was a fantastic concept, and all credit to Fender for doing it so well. Unfortunately the La Cabronita dream guitar looked likely to remain a dream for most players, as few could afford the Custom Shop price of an original.
The Mexican-made version changes all that. Of course, Fender has to ensure that the quality gap between its Mexican-made guitars and the Custom Shop models is apparent enough to justify the price differential; however, at the same time the quality of the mid-price guitars mustn't suffer because that could damage Fender's reputation.
Naturally, comparing the Mexican and Custom Shop versions of the Cabronita, there are compromises: most significantly, there's no S1 switch, the pickups are factory-made, and the neck has a slim rather than a full profile.
Finally, even fans of the Custom Shop version have expressed their distaste for the hardtail six-saddle bridge it came with and we must say that, if anything, this one's even less appealing.
The Cabronita Telecaster is a perfect example of a guitar that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. The obvious assumption would be that Cabronitas are going to sound like the bastard offspring of a Gretsch and a Telecaster. That's what the name implies, and of course that's what they do but like any wilful child, this one has a personality of its own.
In clean mode the bridge pickup has a discernible brrrang that combines the meaty mids of a Gretsch (pseudo) solidbody with the twang of a Tele.
At the risk of over-simplifying things, it's like mixing the sound of a Gretsch with the dynamic response of a Tele. You also get an extra frisson of bite, and way more sustain than you'd expect from a traditional Gretsch Duo Jet.
In contrast to the raw, rude and slightly aggressive bridge pickup, the neck setting is sweetness itself. It's not exactly mellow; instead you get a hi-fi kind of quality with tremendous clarity and a real sense of the timber underpinning the tone.
The in-between setting provides just the right degree of phasiness and midrange scoop to reward you with a sound that's absolutely killer for picking Merle Travis-style. Add some slapback echo or reverb, and it's blissful.
Few guitars seem to handle clean and overdrive with equal aplomb, but the Cabronita Telecaster certainly can. The bridge pickup thickens up to deliver real grunt and grind, with the neck setting morphing into something that sounds not unlike a Les Paul. You even get that note bloom effect, and both pickups have an expressive and vocal quality that soloists will love.
But the big question has to be how the Fidelitron pickups compare to TV Jones Classics, and luckily we had a Cabronita with TV Jones pickups on hand to compare. The bottom line is that the TV Jones units sound smoother, clearer, and far more refined.
Having said that, the Fidelitrons have their charms too, and they're not that far off. In fact the extra growl of the Fidelitrons works particularly well for harder rock, grungy Gibson-esque blues and even fusion.
They're also highly effective for clean and semi-dirty stuff, so there's not too much to concern us there.
It’s hard to put one’s finger on the lure of Cabronitas, but we believe it’s the easy combination of vintage fantasy styling with tones that are at discernibly classic yet just different enough to be intriguing. With the Cabronita Telecaster, Fender has compromised on the hardware, which is fair enough given the price; ditto the impressive poly finish that’s standard on Mexican-made guitars, rather than relic’d nitrocellulose. However, the bridge is somewhat graceless and it makes this version look and feel a little too cheap when compared to various Mexican-made vintage reissues and ‘Player’ models that cost about the same. Without a treble-filtering S1 switch, the absence of a conventional tone control may be viewed as churlish – particularly when there’s ample space in the control cavity rout to accommodate one. Of course stripped-down functionality is a big part of the Cabronita appeal, but Filtertron/Fidelitron pickups can sound superb with some treble rolled off.
Essentially, the Mexican-made Cabronita Telecaster is a fine guitar that provides much of the feel and sound of its Custom Shop cousin at a fraction of the price.
Given the culture, few rockabilly fans would shy away from modding one of these, and as such we think it’s a prime candidate for cool hardware upgrades and electronic tweaks – once the warranty period has expired, of course.
If you’re a fan of classic tones but you feel the need for something new, this Cabronita may provide exactly the inspiration you’ve been looking for.
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