Friday 26 April 2013

Guitar review: cheap Chinese-made "no-name" unbranded Tele from eBay
We've all seen these cheap guitars on eBay, often with prices that seem too good to be true. If you're like me you'll have said to yourself that one day you'll buy one and give it a whirl, see if it really is as good as the eBay seller claims (and don't they always claim they are wonderful?).

Leo Fender's famous Telecaster design is still as popular as ever after more than 60 years, and is a design that is ripe for copyists. Recently I've noticed several eBay sellers here in the UK who have been importing cheap Telecaster copies in from China and who seemed to be making quite a killing selling them on at sub-£100 prices. Checking the feedback on the sellers' accounts would seem to confirm that these guitars are worth having a look at, so when I saw this black no-name Tele offered at a special knock-down price (i.e. even cheaper than usual from this particular seller), I hit the Buy It Now button straight away.

The guitar arrived two days later, which was quite impressive, and removing if from the box, it looked to be a fairly faithful replica of the Fender original. The seller had made claims about the impressive weight of the guitar (apparently with a body made of basswood) and that it could "demolish a house". I must say I didn't quite see eye to eye with him on this particular claim, I think there's a certain amount of advertising BS that we as buyers need to spot and ignore, but the guitar did seem solid enough, nicely put together and finished. It even came complete with a (cheap) guitar cable and a pair of Allen keys, one each for the adjustment of the truss rod and bridge saddles.

The eBay listing already mentioned that "guitars may have minor assembly marks or imperfections as are a custom made item" and whilst I didn't really follow the logic behind that statement, at least it prepared me for a few minor imperfections, most notably a couple of dents in the top edge of the headstock and also the slightly erratic placement of the dots along the top of the fretboard - they were all at the correct positions, but several were not centred very well and the 12th fret double-dot was decidedly askew. But really, these are very minor quibbles and hardly noticeable. Slightly more noticeable was the discolouration of the rosewood(?) fingerboard at the 4th fret beneath the bass strings. A guitar with a fretboard like this would be consigned as a "second" with many quality guitar manufacturers, but it's only a visual imperfection and not something I could care less about. In fact I think it gives the guitar a little bit of character.

While the bridge is of the three saddle Telecaster variety, it does feature the more modern flat bridge plate rather than the "ashtray" type with an upturned lip on three sides. I must say that I would have preferred the latter as I automatically wanted to rest my right hand against the top side of the bridge but kept ending up gouging my thumb on the threaded inserts protruding from the bridge saddles. It's not really much to worry about and I'm sure I can train myself not to put my hand there.

So far, so good. I'm thinking at this point that the guitar is easily comparable to a Squier-branded Tele, and at a fraction of the price. Even the action and the intonation seem OK; I'm not saying they couldn't be improved upon, but essentially the guitar was ready to go right out of the box. Perhaps it could do with a light fret-dress, a few of the fret ends were slightly rough, but I've known other guitars costing considerably more that far more urgently needed attention in this area.

So, how does it sound plugged in?

Well, it sounds Tele-like, no surprises there. Of course these pickups are not going to be the world's best, but having said that they don't sound bad. If anything they are a little too harsh. I used this guitar at band practice this week and I found I was having to roll off the tone all the time, especially on the bridge pickup (hey, good thing this wasn't a Strat-type guitar!). But yeah, it gives a good Tele twang, and I guess the pickups could always be upgraded if so desired, although a new set of pickups could easily cost more than the guitar itself!

On a less positive note, I noticed considerable hum from the guitar, especially when I removed my hands from the strings. Uh-oh! It's that old problem of a guitar not being properly shielded and/or grounded.

I wasn't going to let this be a problem, and so I bought two sheets of self-adhesive copper foil from another seller on eBay, a very reasonably priced purchase at just over £3 a sheet, and I set about dismantling the guitar and lining the pickup cavities with the foil. Note that the cavity for the neck pickup is large enough to accommodate a humbucker should such an upgrade be required.

I was thinking I'd need to take a wire from the back of the volume pot and ground it to the bridge plate, but I found that (despite the hum) this had already been done. But just to make sure that contact was being made I spread out the individuals strands of wire and then stuck these down in place with another small piece of copper foil. By the way, that copper foil is extremely adhesive and when the backing sheet is peeled away it has a tendency to curl up and stick to itself. I found it easiest to cut and stick very small sections at a time. It was also tricky getting into the pickup cavities seeing as the pickups and controls were still all wired up together, but I really didn't want to completely disassemble the guitar, and de-solder the pickups, etc. That prospect seemed like too much work. This also meant that I had unscrewed components resting on the top of the guitar, and I did manage to make a few small dents between the bridge and the control plate - I'm not too worried about that, you could say I'd begun to "relic" the guitar. (Actually, I think a guitar with this finish would look better "worn-in", but I'm not about to take sandpaper to it, or to knock it about with screwdrivers or whatever. A few natural knocks I am not going to worry about).

I also decided to shield the reverse of the pickguard; perhaps I didn't need to do as much as that considering it's mostly the timber of the guitar beneath the plate other than the neck pickup rout, but I'm sure it can't harm. This would be a better move on a Strat-type guitar where the plate is covering three pickups. And of course, I shielded the inside of the control cavity, but I forgot to take a photo of this stage.

Plugging it in now, it's silent when you want it to be! I'm so pleased that my DIY shielding job, although not the prettiest, worked. And so what if it wasn't the neatest job, you can't see it now the guitar is re-assembled.

So... my cheap no-name eBay Tele... A good buy?

Definitely! I am really pleased with this guitar, and I'm sure it'll prove to be a very useful addition to my small arsenal of guitars. I would recommend these guitars to anyone wanting a cheap T-type, with the only proviso that you need to be prepared to do some tweaking. In my case it was shielding the guitar, but some might have other set-up issues.

As for the blank headstock, I would NEVER put a Fender logo on there. That would just be a lie, whereas I'm happy to tell anyone that this is just a cheap eBay guitar.

G L Wilson

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  1. paste your Guitarz logo on that head stock and resell as a prototypelawsuitcustom model for 15,000.00

    1. I never thought of putting the Guitarz logo on there, but that could be an idea!

  2. Although Cheap guitars where available when I started in the late 80's early 90's they where still pretty pricey. My first new guitar was a Yamaha Pacifica which cost around £130 which was around weeks wages for me then. The equivalent in todays money is around £220 which is what Yamahas equivalent model costs now. So to be able to buy a guitar is great if your a beginner on a tight budget.

  3. I've had a good experience with an Indonesian "Strat" (sold under the Silvertone label). One fret wasn't seated quite right, after that was corrected it was a fine guitar, certainly worth the $50 I paid for it.

  4. link to seller?

    thanks for the great info GLW

    only thing that looked nasty to me, and always does on these ebay cheapos is the nut.

    1. Sorry, I was deliberately being vague as to the identity/seller of this exact guitar, as the point I was trying to make is that it can be worth looking at the cheapies so long as you are prepared to do a little work on the instrument when it arrives. I also knew that not everyone would be able to buy guitars from the same seller as I did seeing as he supplies to the UK; I mean, it would hardly be worth the while shipping such a guitar to America as the post & packing charges would cost in excess of the price of the guitar itself.

      I mentioned that there are various sellers on eBay selling guitars like these, but since you ask, the specific guitar in the review came from the UK seller chillytbone:

      I think the guitars are actually sourced from here:

    2. thank you very much

      hope you enjoy it!

  5. Kind of hate to see Chinese junk (sorry couldn't resist the pun) promoted, but whatever. Crusader mode off.

    That shielding needs to be grounded to be effective, it doesn't do anything unless it is. The shielding that touches your control plate will be grounded, but the other areas need to have a wire soldered to them. But I wouldn't worry with that. But that's up to you. The shielding under the pickguard is unnecessary.

    As to the brightness - well, it's a Tele, but check the pot value (If it's not on the back of the pot, unscrew one and look at the hidden side, there is often a value written there). I have seen these with 500k pots, and they are supposed to have 250k. If yours has 500k, you can add a 500k resistor between hot and ground to bring the value to 250k. This will bring down the brightness a little.

    1. As for "promoting" Chinese Junk, it's all in the name of balance. I wanted to see how good these cheap guitars really are. We often look at expensive guitars on here, it seems only fair we address the very cheapest of the cheap too.

      Yeah, I kinda got the idea about grounding the shielding, and I thought perhaps the amount of foil that I used was a bit unnecesary, but hey, the guitar is quiet now when I want it to be, so I'm happy with it.

    2. Actually, I wasn't thinking correctly (or really at all) about the bridge pickup. The bridge will ground the shielding of the bridge pickup cavity. The other one would need a wire though.

      The junk comment was just a pun about a type of Chinese sailing ship called a 'junk'.

    3. That's OK, I understood the "junk" gag, I was just reapeating it.

  6. Chinese doesn't necessarily means junk. In its time Japanese products were considered as bad imitations of american and european brands.Just see how old Ibanez or Yamaha guitars sell today. Among the 25 guitars I own there is a peculiar one that I can trust for any gig or any situation; it's a "Young Chang" telecaster copy from 1986. I didn't modify or customise anything on it, just chose it among 12 others in a shop many years ago. What I want to point out is that there are MEN on the other side of this planet that WORK really well and had time to learn from our mistakes.The only problem that could occur is quality of woods and timbers. Far east has been specialised for centuries in fabulous finishes. It must not hide what constitutes the instrument...

    1. You are completely right, and i would add that there is also lot of junk produced in USA and Europe.
      Actually Chinese people are really good at copying products, often producing stuff of the same quality as the original.

  7. Congrats GL! You can find good alnico mag pups from GFS (guitarfetish) and Arctec that sound good and won't break the bank. The harshness your hearing is from the ceramic magnets ;-)


    1. When I get some more money I might just do that. This Tele could be an on-going project guitar.

    2. I've found another supplier in the UK who might be worth a look at, Axesrus - I think this pickup set looks like what I'm after:

      When I've got some more money to throw at the guitar, that is.

  8. Hi,

    Thanks for the review. One question though, what was the neck like in comparison to a standard Squier?

    I'm on the lookout for a new neck, but don't really want to spend anywhere near the prices for a Mighty Mite or equivalent. The same eBay seller has necks for £30, but I have no idea what they'll be like.



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