Fender Musical Instruments Corporation
|Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company|
|Founded||Fullerton, California, U.S. (1946 )|
|Founder||Clarence Leonidas Fender|
|Headquarters||Scottsdale, Arizona, United States|
Andy Mooney (CEO)|
James S. Broenen (CFO)
Evan Jones (CMO)
Electric, acoustic, resonator & classical guitars |
Acoustic & electric bass guitars
Fender Custom Shop |
|Divisions||Corona, California (USA) Ensenada, Baja California (Mexico)|
Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC), commonly referred to simply as Fender, is an American manufacturer of stringed instruments and amplifiers. Fender Guitars are among the most recognized in the world. Fender is famous for its solid-body electric guitars and bass guitars, such as the Stratocaster (also known as the "Strat"), Telecaster (also known as the "Tele"), Precision Bass (also known as the "P-Bass"), and the Jazz Bass (also known as the "J-Bass"). Its headquarters are in Scottsdale, Arizona. The company, previously named the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, was founded in Fullerton, California, by Clarence Leonidas "Leo" Fender in 1946.
The company is a privately held corporation with Andy Mooney serving as the Chief Executive Officer. The company filed for an initial public offering in March 2012, but this was withdrawn five months later. In addition to its Scottsdale headquarters, Fender has manufacturing facilities in Corona, California (US) and Ensenada, Baja California (Mexico).
The company also manufactures acoustic guitars, electric basses, mandolins, banjos, and electric violins, as well as guitar amplifiers, bass amplifiers, and PA (public address) equipment. Other Fender brands include Squier (entry level/budget), Jackson, Charvel, EVH guitars and amplifiers in collaboration with Eddie Van Halen, and the manufacture and distribution of Gretsch guitars under license.
In 1950, Fender introduced the first mass-produced solid-body Spanish-style electric guitar, the Telecaster (originally named the Broadcaster for two-pickup models and Esquire for single-pickup). Following its success, Fender created the first mass-produced electric bass, the Precision Bass (P-Bass). In 1954, Fender unveiled the Stratocaster ("Strat") guitar. With the Telecaster and Precision Bass having been on the market for some time, Leo Fender was able to incorporate input from working musicians into the Stratocaster's design. The Strat's comfortable contoured edges and in-built vibrato system led to its soaring popularity.
While Fender was not the first to manufacture electric guitars — luthiers and larger musical instrument manufacturers had produced electric guitars since the late 1920s — the popularity of Fender's instruments superseded what had come before. Furthermore, while nearly all other electric guitars featured hollow bodies — making them most similar to an acoustic guitar — or more specialized designs, such as Rickenbacker's solid-body Hawaiian guitars, Fender's instruments possessed an unprecedented level of versatility. The solid wood bodies of Fender's instruments allowed for minimal feedback with high-gain amplification, an issue that plagued earlier guitars. The Fender guitars were popular with musicians in a variety of genres and are now revered for their build quality and tonal excellence.
The company began as Fender's Radio Service in late 1938 in Fullerton, California. It got its name from the surname of its founder Leo Fender. As a qualified electronics technician, Leo Fender had been asked to repair not only radios, but also phonograph players, home audio amplifiers, public address systems and musical instrument amplifiers. (At the time, most of these were just variations on a few simple vacuum-tube circuits.) All designs were based on research developed and released to the public domain by Western Electric in the 1930s and used vacuum tubes for amplification. The business also sidelined in carrying records for sale and the in rental of company-designed PA systems. Leo became intrigued by design flaws in contemporary musical instrument amplifiers and began building amplifiers based on his own designs or modifications to designs.
By the early 1940s he had entered into a partnership with local electronics enthusiast Clayton Orr "Doc" Kauffman and together they formed the company K & F Manufacturing Corp to design, manufacture, and market electric instruments and amplifiers. Production began in 1945 with Hawaiian lap steel guitars (incorporating a patented pickup) and amplifiers sold as sets. By the end of the year Fender became convinced that manufacturing was more profitable than repair and he decided to concentrate on that business instead. Kauffman remained, however, unconvinced and he and Fender amicably parted ways by early 1946. At that point Leo renamed the company the Fender Electric Instrument Company. The service shop remained open until 1951, although Leo Fender did not personally supervise it after 1947.
A custom lap steel guitar made in 1946 for his friend Noel Boggs was probably the very first product of the new company, already sporting the familiar Big "F" logo.
In the late 1940s, Leo Fender began to experiment with more conventional guitar designs. As early as 1949, the familiar shape of the Telecaster can be made out in some of Fender's prototypes. Early Telecasters were plagued with issues; Leo Fender boasted the strength of the Telecasters one-piece maple neck while early adopters lamented its tendency to bow in humid weather. Fender's reluctant addition of a metal truss rod into the necks of his guitars allowed for the much needed ability to fine-tune the instrument to the musician's specific needs. With the design of the Telecaster finalized, mass-production began in 1950. The key to Fender's ability to mass-produce an electric guitar was the modular design of the Telecaster. Its bolted-on neck allowed for the instrument's body and neck to be milled and finished separately and for the final assembling to be done quickly and cheaply by unskilled workers.
Fender owed its early success not only to its founder and talented associates such as musician/product engineer Freddie Tavares but also to the efforts of sales chief, senior partner and marketing genius Don Randall. According to The Stratocaster Chronicles (a book by Tom Wheeler; Hal Leonard Pub., Milwaukee, WI; 2004, p. 108), Randall assembled what Fender's original partner Doc Kauffman called "a sales distributorship like nobody had ever seen in the world." Randall worked closely with the immensely talented photographer/designer, Bob Perine. Their catalogs and ads were innovative - such as the "You Won't Part With Yours Either" campaign, which portrayed people surfing, skiing, skydiving, and climbing into jet planes, all while holding Jazzmasters and Stratocasters.
In Fender guitar literatures of the 1960s, attractive, guitar-toting teenagers were posed with surfboards and Perine's classic Thunderbird convertible at local beachside settings, firmly integrating Fender into the surfin’/hot rod/sports car culture of Southern California celebrated by the Beach Boys, beach movies, and surf music. (The Stratocaster Chronicles, by Tom Wheeler; Hal Leonard Pub., Milwaukee, WI; 2004, p. 108). This early success is dramatically illustrated by the growth of Fender's manufacturing capacity through the 1950s and 1960s.
Sale to CBSEdit
In early 1965, Leo Fender sold his companies to the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) for $13 million. This was almost two million more than they had paid for The New York Yankees a year before. CBS entered the musical instruments field by acquiring the Fender companies (Fender Sales, Inc., Fender Electric Instrument Company, Inc., Fender Acoustic Instrument Company, Inc., Fender-Rhodes, Inc., Terrafen, Inc., Clef-Tronix, Inc., Randall Publishing Co., Inc., and V.C. Squier Company), as well as Electro-Music Inc. (Leslie speakers), Rogers drums, Steinway pianos, Gemeinhardt flutes, Lyon & Healy harps, Rodgers (institutional) organs, and Gulbransen home organs.
This had far-reaching implications. The sale was taken as a positive development, considering CBS's ability to bring in money and personnel who acquired a large inventory of Fender parts and unassembled guitars that were assembled and put to market. However, the sale also led to a reduction of the quality of Fender's guitars while under the management of "cost-cutting" CBS. Several cosmetic changes occurred after 1965/1966, such as a larger headstock shape on certain guitars. Bound necks with block shaped position markers were introduced in 1966. A bolder black headstock logo, as well as a brushed aluminum face plate with blue or red labels (depending the model) for the guitar and bass amplifiers became standard features, starting in late 1968. These first "silverface" amps added an aluminium trim detail around the speaker baffle until 1970.
Other cosmetic changes included a new "tailless" Fender amp decal and a sparkling orange grillcloth on certain amplifiers in the mid-1970s. Regarding guitars, in mid-1971 the usual four-bolt neck joint was changed to one using only three bolts, and a second string tree for the two middle (G and D) strings was added in late 1972. These changes were said to have been made to save money: while it suited the new 'improved' micro-tilt adjustment of the neck (previously requiring neck removal and shimming), the "Bullet" truss rod system, and a 5-way pickup selector on most models, it also resulted in a greater propensity toward mechanical failure of the guitars.
During the CBS era, the company did introduce some new instrument and amplifier designs. The Fender Starcaster was particularly unusual because of its shallow, yet completely hollow body design that still retained the traditional Fender bolt-on neck, albeit with a completely different headstock. The Starcaster also incorporated a new Humbucking pickup designed by Seth Lover, which became known as the Wide Range pickup. This pickup also gave rise to 3 new incarnations of the classic Telecaster: the Telecaster Custom, the Telecaster Deluxe and the Telecaster Thinline. Though more recent use by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead has raised the Starcaster's profile, CBS-era instruments are generally much less coveted or collectable than the "pre-CBS" models created by Leo Fender prior to selling the Fender companies to CBS in 1965.
The culmination of the CBS "cost-cutting" may have occurred in 1983, when the Fender Stratocaster received a short-lived redesign including a single ("master") tone control, a bare-bones, pickguard-mounted output jack, redesigned single-coil pickups, active electronics, and three push buttons for pickup selection (on the Elite Series). Additionally, previous models such as the Swinger (also known as Musiclander) and Custom (also known as Maverick) were perceived by some musicians as little more than attempts to squeeze profits out of factory stock. The so-called "pre-CBS cult" refers to the popularity of Fenders made before the sale.
In 1985, in a campaign initiated by then CBS Musical Instruments division president William Schultz (1926–2006), the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company employees purchased the company from CBS and renamed it Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC). Behind the Fender name, FMIC has retained Fender's older models along with newer designs and concepts. The sale however did not include the old Fullerton factory; FMIC had to build a new facility in nearby Corona.
Fender manufactures its highest quality, most expensive guitars at its Corona factory in California and manufactures a variety of other mid-to-high quality guitars at its Ensenada factory in Baja California, Mexico. Fender also contracts Asian guitar builders to manufacture Fender guitars and the economy priced entry-level Squier guitars.
In 1991, FMIC moved its corporate headquarters from its Corona location to Scottsdale, Arizona. Currently, this is where "administration, marketing, advertising, sales and export operations" take place, not only for the United States operations, but many other countries also. Older vintage and U.S. built Fender guitars are generally the most favored, but pre-1990 Fender Japan guitars are now highly regarded as well. Fender guitars built in Ensenada, Mexico now fulfill the primary export role formerly held by Japanese-made Fenders. The Japanese Fenders are now manufactured specifically for the Japanese market, with only a small number marked for export.
On February 11, 1994, the Fender manufacturing plant based in Ensenada, Mexico burned down. Fender President Bill Shultz decided to temporarily move production from the Mexico plant to the U.S. plant. These Fender guitars are fairly rare and can be identified by the unique serial number.
In recent years, FMIC has branched out into making and selling steel-string acoustic guitars, and has purchased a number of other instrument firms, including the Guild Guitar Company, the Sunn Amplifier Company, and other brands such as SWR Sound Corporation. In early 2003, FMIC made a deal with Gretsch and began manufacturing and distributing new Gretsch guitars. Fender also owns: Jackson, Olympia, Orpheum, Tacoma Guitars (based in Seattle, WA), Squier and Brand X amps. In 2007, Fender acquired Kaman Music Corporation, which owns Ovation Guitar Company, Latin Percussion and Toca hand percussion products, Gibraltar Hardware, Genz Benz Amplification, Charvel, Hamer Guitars and is the exclusive U.S. sales representative for Sabian Cymbals and exclusive worldwide distributor of Takamine Guitars and Gretsch Drums.
In February 2007, Fender announced that it would produce an illustrated product guide in place of its traditional annual Frontline magazine. They made this change in large part due to costs associated with paying royalties for both print and the Internet. With the new illustrated product guide, this removed print issues. The new guide contains the entire range of instruments and amplifiers, with color pictures and basic specifications. The New Fender Frontline In-Home is produced during the year, keeping customers up to date with new products. These are available through guitar publications and are directly mailed to customers who sign up on the Fender website. As well as these printed formats, Fender Frontline Live launched at the winter NAMM show in January 2007 as a new online reference point, containing information on new products and live footage from the show.
On October 28, 2007, Fender announced its intention to buy Kaman Music Corporation (also known as KMC, and the owner of Hamer Guitars and Genz Benz amplifiers, along with many others, and exclusive distributor for Sabian cymbals and Takamine Guitars).
Other Fender instruments include the Mustang, Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Starcaster, Duo-Sonic, Toronado and Bronco guitars; basses such as the Jazz Bass, the 'Telecaster Bass' reissue of the original 1950s Precision Bass; a line of lap steels; three models of electric violin, and the Fender Rhodes electric piano.
In 2011, Volkswagen partnered with Fender Corporation to manufacture premium sound systems for its vehicles in North America, under the direction of Panasonic. Volkswagen vehicles in North America that offer optional Fender Premium Sound are the Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Beetle, Volkswagen Jetta Sedan, Volkswagen Passat, and Volkswagen Tiguan.
As of July 10, 2012, the majority shareholders of Fender were the private equity firm of Weston Presidio (43%), Servco Pacific (5%) and the Japanese music distributors Yamano Music (14%) and Kanda Shokai (13%). By December 2012, TPG Growth (the middle market and growth equity investment platform of TPG Capital) and Servco Pacific took control of the company after acquiring the shares held by Weston Presidio.
The Fender Custom Shop produces special-order guitars for customers through a Custom Shop dealer network, creates limited edition guitars, builds limited edition amplifiers, and does some research & design for the parent company.
Squier was a string manufacturer that Fender acquired. Fender had used the Squier brand since 1982 to market inexpensive variants of Fender guitars to compete with Stratocaster copies, as the Stratocaster became more popular. Squier guitars have been manufactured in Japan, Korea, Mexico, India, Indonesia, China, and the United States.
The Fender Visitor Center and Factory TourEdit
The Fender company is currently based in Corona, California, about an hour’s drive from Los Angeles and not far from its Fullerton origins. This location has been a working factory since 1998 and manufactures about 400 guitars a day. They offer hour-long factory tours to the public twice daily for a small fee.
The Visitor Center functions as a small museum, full of displays related to the history of the company, photos and a biography of Leo Fender and displays of Fender instruments and the musicians who played them. The actual guided tour leads participants through the working factory where they view construction of guitars from the pickup fabrication process to the Woodmill room, where workers cut Fender guitar bodies and necks from planks of wood. Tour groups then view the Sanding Room where guitars are sanded and shaped, the Buff and Polish Room where the paint job is finalized, the Final Assembly area where the guitar's hardware is added, and the Inspection/End of the Line room where the guitars are tested.
Many rock, country and jazz musicians have used Fender guitars from 1951 to the present. Some notable Fender players, both past and present, include Muddy Waters, Jim Adkins, Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, Roy Buchanan, Eric Clapton, Albert Collins, Billy Corgan, Robert Cray, Steve Cropper, Kurt Cobain, Bob Dylan, Rory Gallagher, David Gilmour, Janick Gers, Buddy Guy, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Eric Johnson, Mark Knopfler, Scott Lucas, Yngwie Malmsteen, Johnny Marr, Hank Marvin, John Mayer, Dave Murray, Jimmy Page, Nigel Pulsford, Keith Richards, Nile Rodgers, Jim Root, Gavin Rossdale, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Chris Shiflett, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend, Robin Trower, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Brian Wilson, Brad Paisley, and many others.
Bass players favoring Fender instruments have included Geezer Butler, Adam Clayton, Bill Dickens, Mike Dirnt, Donald "Duck" Dunn, Flea, Steve Harris, Cliff Williams, James Jamerson, John Paul Jones, Geddy Lee, Paul McCartney, Duff McKagan, Nate Mendel, Jaco Pastorius, Dave Parsons, Dee Dee Ramone, Troy Sanders, Rudy Sarzo, Robert Trujillo, Roger Waters, John Entwistle, Mikey Way and many others.
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The Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., which entered the sports field by acquiring the New York Yankees, is further diversifying into the guitar and amplifier manufacturing business.
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KMC Music, Inc. dba KMC Musicorp., CT / •KMI Europe, Inc., DE / •B & J Music Ltd., Canada / •Takamine Gakki Co., Ltd. (12% KMC Music, Inc.), Japan
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fender.|
- Fender Musical Instruments official website
- Leo Fender Exhibit, Permanent exhibit at the Fullerton Museum on the Fender company history in the city
- NAMM Oral History Interview with William Schultz (2000)
- NAMM Oral History Interview with Bill Mandello (2010)
- NAMM Oral History Interview with Larry Thomas (2012)