Sonic State reviewer Richard Beech gives his review of the MIM Fender Cabronita Telecaster...
When Fender announced an affordable Mexican-made Cabronita Telecaster, the reaction was universally positive. One of schoolboy excitement and general flapping of the hands.
This is one of the most celebrated and iconic guitar designs in the history of the electric guitar. The Fender Cabronita Telecaster blends hot-rod 50s chic with the most rock and roll of items, the guitar. It is the Cabronita - the 'little bastard'.
It's a beautiful marriage, but it's been something that has been almost completely unattainable for the average guitarist, the Fender US-made Cabronita Telecaster was pricey, you'll have to go through the Fender Custom Shop to get one.
So the cult of the Cabronita found a way to diversify, you'll more often see somebody playing an unbranded Cabronita copy (still probably worth a fair bit of dollar) than you will somebody playing one with the Fender insignia on the headstock.
So 'all-hail the Mexican Fender Cabronita Telecaster' was the cry to be heard upon the momentous news of its release.
Particularly exciting given that Mexican production standards are currently very good, and also very consistent.
It's all about those Fideli'Tron pickups, they sound great. They offer the sort of tone you might expect from a set of pups on a Gretsch hollowbody, but with a big slab of ash wood for tonal support you get a sound that is much easier to tame at high volumes.
Luckily that C-shape maple neck feels like it matches the tone produced by the body and the pups, substantial, but also slim enough to get your hands round and really work at the fretboard, it'll feel fairly natural to anybody who feels at home when playing a standard Tele.
The hardware is good quality, some of the same hardware used on Fender guitars made north of the border. Chrome obviously. You can't have a Cabronita without chrome.
The tailpiece sends the strings through the body, which blends with neck pickup to create tight snappy lows even when you're playing through a small combo amp.
But does the Mexican Fender Cabronita Telecaster match up in stature to its cousin north of the border? Let's break it down, shall we?
Put the Mexican Fender Cabronita through a Blues Junior, AC30, Deville or a Twin Reverb, and try not to crack a smile. It's impossible.
On those classic clean amps it sounds gorgeous, the Tele tone is there, but the pickups, especially in the middle position, bring something altogether more exciting to the party. You'll find yourself playing some jazz, even if you can't play jazz.
It's a classy sound, it really is. Switch to the neck pickup and dial off the volume knob slightly, just give it a little nudge, the smallest of knocks, and you are in blues heaven.
The dynamic response is unbelievably inspiring. If you, like me, struggle to get the best out of your playing unless you really connect with an instrument, then you'll enjoy the neck pickup on the Fender Cabronita.
You'll feel like an electric-blues player in a smokey room in 60s Chicago, firing off licks that start off slow and quiet, teasing out a bend or two, getting louder and picking up the pace before running back down and finishing it off with a slow, smooth quiet chord.
It's easy to get lost in 'blues mode' with the Cabronita, but then you switch to the bridge pickup and you'll find yourself in an altogether different territory, and an altogether different mode.
It snaps at you, pluck those higher strings with enough venom and you'll coax enough attack and volume out of the guitar to wake up your neighbour's cat.
I thought the bridge pickup sounded best with the volume knob dialled in on 10, and plugged into an Orange Rockerverb 50.
I also tried it with the aforementioned Fenders and Vox amps, and also with an Egnater Tweaker and just for a laugh even tried the monster four-channel Diesel amp, but something about the mid-range warm gain of a good ol' Orange just brought the Cabronita to life on the bridge pup.
So now I've gone back a decade and I'm stuck firmly in the 50s, coaxing out rock and roll tones that suit the aesthetic beauty of this hot-rod babe.
All of a sudden, I stare down at that iconic pickguard, the chrome hardware, and it all makes sense. It clicks into place.
But I turn the gain up on the amp. It falls out of place. Despite being from a similar ilk to famous TV Jones 'Trons, these pickups are not as much fun to have on board when you turn up the gain.
Too much high-mid range means you're looking to scoop out the mid from the amp's EQ, and then you begin to feel as though you might as well just be playing any other guitar. It loses the Cabronita magic.
So I turn the gain back down, give it a quick retune, and that's when the problems start.
Ouch. It was all going so well, but have you ever been on a date where it's all going great, and then it turns out they have false teeth? No, me neither.
But that's how it felt between me and the Mexican Fender Cabronita Telecaster. She presented herself as a classy lady with a rock and roll edge. The kind of girl that goes to the ballet and studies classics at Oxford during the week, but then sings for a punk band on the weekends.
But, it was all for show, sadly.
Before I panned the Cabronita for the quality of its factory setup and build quality, I decided to go to three separate guitar stores just to double-check that the model I had wasn't a dud, and they all had the same (or similar) issues.
I then consulted some forums, and a fair few people reported back with the same issues. That's not to say that every model is the same, but it suggests that factory production is hit and miss.
The Mexican Fender Cabronita Telecaster I had was almost impossible to tune by ear, and if you do get the tuning right, then the intonation will see to it that every chord you play is out of tune.
From what I can gather, this was a mixture of the bridge just not being the right bridge for the guitar, and also the neck setup being particularly poor on the model I was playing on.
I checked this by using a polyphonic tuner and the intonation was not even close. Playing lead licks, like I was at first, you assume that perhaps one of the strings is slightly out of tune, and then look for the nearest tuner.
But playing chords, you realise that it really is a dog of a guitar, in terms of its hardware and its setup out of the factory.
This is fixable, intonation *usually* is, but when the problem cropped up on four different guitars, then it begins to look like some inherently off-key is going on at Fender.
These are not cheap guitars, they are cheaper than the American-made models, but you shouldn't get shoddy workmanship and the necessity of a trip to your local guitar tech when you fork out £550/$799 for a guitar.
It's such a shame, because the guitar sounds beautiful and it looks beautiful too. If it just came out of the factory with decent intonation then it would be an absolute bargain, one of the best value guitars around.
But that isn't the case.
In addition to this, the pickup poles don't match up to the string spacing, further suggesting that the bridge on the Cabronita is pinched from an existing model and re-approiated for the MIM Cab. It's a similar story to the Gretsch (Fender-owned!) G5120, and the solution in this instance is to buy a different bridge.
Go to Fender forums and you'll see people recommending the same solution for the Mexican Fender Cabronita Telecaster.
It's so close to being an affordable classic, but it falls short of the mark because of some really silly mistakes that didn't need to be made.
I was biased coming into this Fender Cabronita review, I love the design of the guitar and it's top of my list of things to save up the pennies for.
I would almost look beyond the issues I detailed above in order to buy one, even though I know it'd need a bit of work, if you can get it set up right, then you've got a fantastic guitar.
Mainly, it sounds beautiful, the raw ingredients are there. I fear it just needs a some extensive TLC when you get it home from the shop, and I'd recommend replacing the bridge with something like the Burrito by Marc Rutters, which fixes the intonation issues and alligns the strings with the pickup poles according to some Cabronita MIM owners I have spoken to.
So my advice, if you have your heart set on this guitar, is to go for it. But expect some issues along the way! Get them all sorted and you'll have a wonderful guitar.More From: FENDER