As Bruce Springsteen fans know, it’s all about the live show. Playing some of the longest sets on the planet, Springsteen wows his acolytes with sets that last in the three-hour range or more, depending on the night. Springsteen certainly has an arsenal of road-ready guitars to choose from onstage, but his signature electric—which he played continuously through 2005—is a customized Fender Telecaster that has easily become one of the most iconic in the music business. Here is that axe’s story.
In his recent released memoir, Springsteen noted that the guitar dates back to the 1950s, and actually Frankensteins together Fender parts from different models: The body is a Telecaster, which country artists tend toward because of its twangy tone; and its neck, or the part on which you play the notes, is from an Esquire, a primitive version of the Telecaster. All in all, Springsteen paid just $185 for it in 1973 at a local guitar store, and calls it “the best deal of my life.”
The cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ album, featuring his iconic guitar (Columbia Records)
What shot Springsteen’s guitar into a new realm of rock history was having it featured on the cover of 1975’s blockbuster album, Born to Run, which was a major mainstream success (it topped out at No. 3 on the Billboard 200) and established Springsteen as a uniquely talented guitarist and songwriter. Although the album features lush arrangements, one of the most understated aspects of the album is the twang-heavy guitar work on it. Springsteen even refers, in song, to the guitar in “Thunder Road”: “Well, I got this guitar/and I learned how to make it talk.”
These days, Springsteen actually plays a number of different cloned (and Frankenstein-ed) Telecasters, because the original from the Born to Run cover is too fragile and worn out from being battered on stage. Says Men’s Journal: “[He] still records with the original, and he takes his old friend out onstage for special occasions like the Super Bowl Halftime Show.”
It’s also highly sought after as a collector’s item now, with a price estimate on it of anywhere from $1 million to $5 million (though it’s clear Springsteen won’t be parting way with it anytime soon; he told the Los Angeles Times that he wanted to be buried in it).
Learn even more about Springsteen’s signature guitar on Men’s Journal. Enjoy behind-the-guitar stories? Read about Willie Nelson’s “Trigger” here. Below, watch Springsteen put a hurtin’ on his old Telecaster in the video for the song “Born to Run.”
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.