The Fender Cabronita Telecaster (or colloquially as Cabronita) is a class of guitars built by Fender Musical Instruments Corporation based on their Telecaster body shape. The name Cabronita is Spanish slang and roughly translates as little bastard or little devil. While retaining the shape and general feel of a Telecaster, they are a radical departure from the traditional electronics and sounds associated with the instrument. Like virtually all Telecaster submodels, they are labeled simply as a Fender Telecaster on the headstock logo, identifiable only by their features.
The original Cabronita was introduced in 2009 and called La Cabronita and was a Custom Shop built guitar. Custom Shop guitars are built in Fender's Corona, California factory. They are made to order and represent Fender's highest quality, and fetch prices considerably higher than their standard OEM models. Most of the La Cabronitas had only a single guitar pickup with one volume and tone knobs. These could be ordered with one, two or three pickups as they were custom made instruments. All regular La Cabronita guitars used the TV Classic pickup by TV Jones. The idea was spawned by Mike Eldred, head of the Fender Custom Shop. The goal was to make very different than traditional Telecasters. As Eldred put it:
"Well, I've played a Tele for a good part of my life, and I wanted to make something that was kind of going against the grain of what a normal Tele would be like. I wanted something that was a bit more aggressive - the best way to describe it is when you have family gatherings, but then the asshole cousin will show up and kind of disrupt everything. And I wanted to make a guitar that had that kind of vibe to it: something that didn't really sit in the normal box, and challenged people who normally play Telecasters."
In 2011, Fender marketed what they called their "Tele-Bration" year (a portmanteau of Telecaster and Celebration). This was the 60th anniversary of the Telecaster design, which was the original design by Leo Fender and the world's first successful, mass-produced, bolt on neck guitar. As part of this, the American made Cabronita was created. Like the Custom Shop versions, these used TV Jones TV Classic pickups, but in a limited color pallet, and always with two pickups. The tone knob was deleted and in its place was a three way switch. This switch was a simple toggle design rather than a blade design, which was unusual for a Telecaster. These models were only manufactured for a short period of time. They cost slightly more than a Fender American Standard guitar, but priced at a fraction of a Custom Shop version.
The following year, Fender began production of a less expensive Cabronita by shifting production to their Ensenada, Mexico factory and using their own Fidelitron pickups, under their Classic Series line of Telecasters. This pickup was similar in both look and design to the TV Jones pickup, sharing the same basic dimensions and mounting style. Although the tone was different, it still provided a high quality sound. Like the American version, the Mexican built (often informally abbreviated as MIM for Made in Mexico) had two pickups, a single volume control and a three way switch. At the same time, they also produced a Thinline version (semi-hollow) that was identical except for the body type. Most were built of alder, with the single exception of the white blonde models that used swamp ash, which allowed the grain to show through the translucent white finish. Unlike most imported Telecasters, it had 22 frets.
Around the same time, they began production of two Cabronita models under their less expensive Squier brand. These Vintage Modified Cabronita models included one that had two of the Fender Fidelitron pickups and was very similar to the Mexican built versions. A second model with had the Fidelitron pickup in the neck position, but opted for a traditional Telecaster single coil pickup in the bridge, plus a Bigsby B5 vibrato system, something not offered on any of the North American guitars. These were built in Indonesia and featured a 22 fret neck and vintage style tuners as well as single volume and 3 way toggle switch. They used basswood bodies and were offered exclusively with a black polyurethane finish.
Most Telecasters use two single coil pickups, although over the years a large number of variations have existed that has utilized one pickup, three pickups, one or two humbucking pickups or a blend of these. With most all of these models, the pickguard is sometimes modified as are the electronics, but many were more or less the same guitar with subtle differences. The Cabronita arguably drifted farthest away from the original Telecaster, using only the body shape.
The pickguard is quite small compared to most, and clearly is influenced by the first couple of prototypes built by Leo Fender back in 1949. Unlike other models, it does not extend over the area of the neck pickup. In most models, the pickguard has squared edges instead of beveled, is a single ply material in either black or white, and is designed very simplistically, as is the rest of the guitar.
The majority of Telecaster have always had the controls mounted to a chrome plated, steel plate, going back to the prototype. The first production model using this plate was in 1951 and it has not changed in specification since, making it an identifying Telecaster feature. A few models instead had the electronics mounted to an extended pickguard, but the Cabronita has the electronics fed from the back of the guitar, and mounted through the wood of the guitar. While common for many other guitar brands, this was a first for a Telecaster.
Most Cabronitas have two pickups but do not have a tone control. This is another first for the Telecaster. A tone control can be added aftermarket by using a stacked potentiometer, but many argue that dropping the tone control gives the instrument a bit more sparkle and highs in the tone, as a tone control filters some of the higher frequencies even when set to the highest level.
The most striking and obvious difference is the use of TV Jones or Fidelitron pickups, both of which are based on Gretsch designs. Gretsch was the first to patent the humbucker pickup (although Gibson had filed two years earlier), but there are significant differences in their designs. Gretsch pickups are said to have more of a jangle in their tone whereas Gibson humbuckers are more full bodied in tone and slightly larger. Over time, the Gibson design became the standard for humbucker pickups, although the Gretsch design has a smaller but significant following. The TV Jones Classic pickups are a modified and arguably improved version of the Gretsch Filter'Tron. Similarly, the Fender Fidelitron is based on the Filter'Tron design, although they have a tone more akin to a single coil pickup, the tone most associated with Fender.
With the exception of the Squier model that uses a Bigsby vibrato, all the Fender branded Cabronitas use what is typically called a hardtail Stratocaster bridge, meaning it wasn't designed for a tremolo system. This is used on other models of Telecaster that have a humbucking pickup in the bridge position, although humbuckers are rarely used as OEM equipment on Telecasters. Regardless of country of origin, all Cabronita models feature a one piece maple neck and 22 medium jumbo frets as well as a 9.5 inch fingerboard radius, the common modern "C" shape, and either a 42.8mm wide nut (US built) or 42mm wide nut (imported).
The name and translation of Cabronita essentially means a bastardized version of a Telecaster, as the design choices go against many of the traditional designs by Leo Fender. While the allure and demand for these particular models is dwarfed by traditional Telecasters, there is still a significant following that has developed in a short period of time. As such, it has spawned a host of aftermarket bodies and parts that conform to the Cabronita template, which itself has become a new standard. Traditional Gretsch Filter'Tron pickups may be used if a guitarist wants a warmer tone than the newer offerings. TV Jones has taken a number of pickup models and made them available in the same size format that the Cabronita (and obviously Gretsch) uses. Like the original and subsequent Telecasters, the Cabronita is an easy to modify guitar with a simplified electronics system, well suited for aftermarket modification.
While there are several models that fall under the Cabronita title, they all feature at least one Gretsch style pickup and the prototype style pickguard.