Tools Of The Trade: Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson’s 1965 Fender Telecaster – “I’ll Bring Over My Fender and Play All Night For You”

by | Sep 27, 2019 | 0 comments

Today in the rock room we examine one of the most famous guitars in the annals of rock and roll history. Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson’s
1965 Fender Telecaster traveled the globe, was cheered and jeered on the road
while also being played on many of rock and roll’s most enduring recordings.
While first played by Dylan, then Robertson, the guitar was also caressed by
the hands of Eric Clapton and George Harrison throughout its rarefied existence.
This guitar recently (2020) went to auction and sold for nearly a half a million dollars. The exorbitant sale price a reflection of the guitars historic importance. To quote Robertson, “This guitar has been on the front lines of so many phenomenal events”.
When Bob Dylan decided in the late summer of 1965 to take
his electric music on the road following his legendary appearance at the
Newport Folk Festival he started to put together a touring band. Once he made his decision to have a Canadian group, The Hawks as his backing group, guitarist Robbie Robertson took
Dylan out to pick out a stage guitar. Dylan’s knowledge was limited to acoustic guitars, so Robbie was able to lend some electric recommendations.
Robbie played a Telecaster in the Hawks, so it made sense that he recommend the same to
Dylan. After shopping around, the duo decided on a 21 fret, black 1965 Fender Telecaster guitar,
serial number L97811. The guitar’s body made of alder wood, its neck made of
maple with black dot fret markers. The date of manufacture is noted as
June 3, 1965. The stock guitar had at the time both bridge and neck pickups,
volume and tone control knobs as well as a three switch pickup selector.
Weighing just over 7 pounds, both Robertson and Dylan felt the
guitar was perfect for touring. After placing the guitar into Dylan’s hands, Dylan and the Hawks had a dual Telecaster attack for their upcoming performances.
For Dylan’s purposes the guitar expressed a metallic scrubbing rhythm
underneath the Hawks churning and swirling R and B grooves. 
Bob played the
guitar for the entirety of his 1965-1966 World Tour concerts as well as the accompanying studio sessions
where it assisted in disseminating some of the most aggressive and creative
rock and roll ever. The live shows were confrontational and defiant and the Telecaster was the aural weapon of choice. Bob also used the guitar in Nashville for his recording of
Blonde on Blonde, where its gritty attitude can be
discerned when listening to the opening of “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat.” The Telecaster’s journey had just begun.
Following the 1966 tour and Dylan’s motorcycle accident on
July 29, 1966 both Dylan and the Hawks retreated from the road to work on music
in the green hills of Woodstock, NY. In what would famously become the Basement Tapes, Robbie Robertson became the caretaker of the road tested Telecaster lending air and clarity to Dylan’s tramp through his folk past and his rock and roll present. In Robertson’s hands the guitar colored both Dylan’s songs and the traditional readings in cutting and
twangy recitations. Robertson coaxed soft swells and hard honky tonk riffs with
his finger picked approach. It was during these times where a
degree of alchemy was soaked up by the instrument. 
From the basement of Big Pink and into the near future, the
Telecaster became Robertson’s gift. Transferred from Dylan’s hands to Robbie’s,
the instrument’s voice would be heard on the Hawks (soon to be Band) debut, Music From Big Pink and would become
Robertson’s instrument of choice through the next 6-7 important years.
Robertson used the guitar for the Band’s debut concerts in
April of 1969 (where it was still black), the group’s performance with Dylan at
the Isle of Wight, as well as the recording of the Band’s Stage Fright album.

The Tele sung the licks for most if not all of the Band’s
period pieces like, “Up On Cripple Creek,”  “Stage Fright” and others. The Telecaster can be heard warbling
through a Leslie speaker on “Tears of Rage”, or striking like a “viper in shock”
on “Chest Fever.” It can be heard
slicing through the Band’s double keyboard set up on stage, and being strangled
on rock and roll classics like, “Slippin and Sliding” or “Loving You Is
Sweeter than Ever”. The guitar is resonant, a combination of Robbie’s touch and the instrument’s internal fortitude.
By the time the Band played on the Festival Express tour in
1970 Robertson had stripped the guitar of its black finish back to bare wood.
Many guitarists (Clapton, Harrison, Lennon) during this time did this to their instruments to let them breathe and to get a more natural feel out of their instruments. 
Robbie also modded the guitar to his own specifications by adding a Gibson PAF humbucking
pick up in the neck position. Robbie said in interviews that he was always
looking for a better guitar but he just “couldn’t beat it (the Tele)”. He also
stated, “Each incarnation of my hot-rodding this instrument seemed to give it a
new life, along with a different creative surge.”
Robbie continued to use the guitar in studio and on stage
through 1971. The next major event for the Telecaster came on New Year’s Eve of 1971
when Dylan joined the Band onstage for their encore. Dylan showed up with a
Gibson SG to join the group for a few numbers. Robertson remembers that Dylan
had tuning issues with said Gibson so Robbie reunited Dylan with his old warhorse guitar and just like the old days Dylan tore his way through a New Year’s
set with his close pals.
Over the next couple of years the guitar remained Robertson’s
main instrument including but not limited to the Band’s appearance at Watkins
Glen in 1973. Eventually the guitar took a back seat to Robbie’s on stage
Stratocaster which used when the Band returned to the stage with
Dylan in 1974 for reasons unknown.  That
does not mean the Tele did not travel with Robertson nor was part of his arsenal.
When Eric Clapton decided to join the guys on stage in Buffalo in 1974, the Telecaster was
the guitar he was handed off of the rack.
As the Band’s career began to wind down so did the
appearances of the 1965 Telecaster. Robertson never let it go though, as it
always remained an integral part of his collection and his inspiration. As late
as 2000 Robbie fitted the guitar with a Bigsby B16 vibrato tailpiece, so his
search for the sound continued up and into the new millennium. As previously
mentioned ,it was 2018 when Robertson decided to part ways with the
Telecaster with only one wish, “Whoever ends up with this guitar, you have to
treat her with love”. The ‘rock room’ believes instruments need to be played or they cease being instruments and become museum artifacts. The hope
is that the 1965 Telecaster continues to provide aural gifts to whomever plucks its strings in the future.

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