Fender Telecaster & Software Design

Late last night I pulled out my Tele from its case and started to practicse some scales. It occurred to me that the guitar I was holding has not changed in over 60 years.

In fact I couldn’t think of any other product with that kind of longevity. Or a design that is used by a such a wide range of the market. Everyone from jazz musicians to death methal guitarists use the exact same basic design.

The 1952 Telecaster:

The new 2012 Telecaster:


Which got me thinking – what is it abouts it’s design that, even after all of these years, it is still in production and one of the most successful instruments? I came up with the following:

It is simple as it can be and still achieve its goal

The Fender Telecaster is basically a flat plank of wood – usually ash or alder, and a single peice maple neck. They are joined together by four screws and have two magnets under neath its strings. No other manufacture has been able to build an instrumeht with less materials then Leo Fender’s additional design in th 1950s

Every design element has a purpose

Fender dispensed with elegant inlays, beautiful tone woods, and fancy color schemes. The Telecaster is downright plain in every respect. It was designed as a tool for a working musician and it makes no apologies for it.

It is virtualy industructable

The body is made of solid wood. No need to baby it. If you snap the headstock, just screw in a new neck. The electrical wiring is easily accessible righ on the front of the guitar with a screw driver. There are a lot of ‘52 Telecasters still on being used on stages today. Testifying to strength of its design.

It is a platform

The Telecaster, being as simple and user servicable as it is also makes it a magnet for tinkerers and third party parts suppliers. There are literally dozens of companies that make necks, bodies, pickups, tone pots, switches, tuners, etc.

It defined the tone of what an electric guitar

Being the first widely successful electric guitar, the Telecaster has shaped what our perceptions of guitar tone. While many have attempted over the last 60+ years to better tone, the Telecaster is still the standard. Fender even tried with its extremely successful Stratocaster, but the Telecaster is still one of their biggest sellers.

Unique by what it was not:

  • The first commercial electric guitar – They were preceded by the Ro-Pat-In (later known as Rickenbacker) A22 and A25 guitars in 1932, as well as the more contemporary looking Bigsby/Travis guitar in 1947
  • Provided carved tops, glued-in necks, and fretboard inlays on their guitars.
  • Planned to be obsolete

So, what does this have to do with software design?


All the principles that made the Telecaster successful can be applied to the design of software as well: It should be built as efficiently as possible without sacrificing quality. It should be easy to use. It should satisfy the goals of its customers. It should be easy to maintain, upgrade, and customize. It should inspire loyalty.

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