This poly coat is thicker and flatter than the Hot Rod’s sure-to-age-gracefully cellulose, and will still be this shiny when all that’s left is Keef and the cockroaches.
As for contouring there’s nothing in it: both bodies have that substantial slabby feel for which Teles are loved and loathed in equal measure.
Moving to the necks, both guitars receive two important tweaks to vintage spec in the form of a flatter-than-vintage 9.5-inch radius fingerboard and medium-jumbo frets.
The fret jobs are uniformly tidy and well executed, making the most of the flatter ‘board radius for problem-free bends anywhere on the neck.
Aesthetically, the fact that the 12th-fret dots are positioned ‘wrongly’ too close together is an annoyance to this reviewer, but much more importantly, the neck profiles are inviting; a soft ‘V’ behind the first couple of frets for the Baja Tele, and a marginally clubbier ‘U’ in the case of the Hot Rod.
As we said last month in the Vintage Hot Rod Strats review, the satin-backed nitrocellulose finish is a qualified success for the Hot Rod series as it still feels stickier than the Baja Tele’s full-on gloss polyurethane.
Also, for some reason the Hot Rod has an unusually ungainly contour where neck meets headstock on the rear – it doesn’t affect tone or playability one bit, but it looks too squared off nonetheless.
Both guitars have vintage-style Tele bridges with brass barrel saddles – again considered tonally ‘best’ for fifties Telecasters.
Potential intonation issues are addressed in the case of the Hot Rod by slanting the threads in the saddles so they sit slightly at an angle, lengthening the G string in relation to the D string for example, which is what you need to do to set the intonation correctly.
It’s hardly an exact science on the single-saddle set-up, but it is a theoretical improvement over the Baja Tele’s straight saddles.
In practice, there’s really very little in it – you could even argue that the intonation fight with this style of bridge is all part of the classic Tele tone and vibe. As it is, only the endlessly fussy will be bothered by intonation niggles on either guitar.
More noticeable is that the Baja Tele’s bridge and saddles feel marginally less substantial than the Hot Rod’s. Whether that’s down to the materials used or how well it’s coupled to the body isn’t clear, but when you tap them, the Hot Rod’s bridge sounds fuller, meatier and more solid.
There’s very little discernible difference between the slot-head machineheads on either guitar; they do their job with stoic understatement and reliability if the myriad examples that have passed through our hands over recent years are anything to go by.
The Hot Rod ’52 Tele gets a pair of uprated pickups; a ‘Custom Vintage Tele’ single-coil for the bridge, and a Seymour Duncan Vintage Mini Humbucker at the neck, which is a relatively low output, Alnico V design.
It’s the kind of pickup you’d find in Gibson Firebirds or Les Paul Deluxes and is a popular mod for Tele players who want more balls from the front pickup (Keef and Ronnie fans in particular). They’re controlled via a three-way switch that selects bridge, neck or both, as you’d expect.
Also worth a mention are the black pickguards. It might seem like an insignificant thing to some, but the Vintage Hot Rod’s guard is made of a high quality material and has lovely bevelled edges.
If you’re in the market for a high-quality, traditional sounding Tele, the American Vintage ’52 Reissue should always be your first port of call.
It has balls where lesser models can be weedy, and underlines just how fundamental a decent piece of ash, nitro-cellulose lacquer, and top hardware and pickups are to Leo’s seminal plank.