The Indie Band Telecaster Phenomenon

Warning: Guitar nerdisms ahead.

I saw a lot of bands last week, and I saw a lot of telecasters. It was uncanny. Nearly every scruffy indie band I saw last week played either a Fender tele or maybe a Gibson ES. There was nary a stratocaster, Les Paul, PRS, or even a weird pawnshop junker to be seen. Fender stratocasters and Gibson Les Pauls are far and away the most popular instruments in rock, or at least mainstream rock. Indie bands apparently go far enough out of their way to avoid playing popular instruments. I guess that makes sense, since they want to avoid the norms of popular music. Generally the telecaster is considered a country music guitar, so I guess there’s an added visual irony for a snarky indie rocker to choose a tele.

The one notable exception was Animal Collective. They had a strat, a PRS AND a pawnshop junker onstage. I think there may have been a tele, too, though. They were musical deviants that sounded like nothing else around, though, so they’re the exception that proves the rule.

Overall, though, I realized that, as much as indie rock claims freedom from the restrictions of the mainstream, they too have their own rules and norms and boundaries. Their uniform is just as strict as mainstream rock: must have thrift store shirts, must have Chuck Taylor All-Stars, must look generally scruffy, holes in clothing preferred…must have telecaster. Indie rock isn’t as self-defined as it might think. It exists only as a reaction to the mainstream, and can only define itself by what it’s not. The mainstream is pretty narrow in its scope, though, so there’s a lot more room for creative expression in indie rock.