Fender Musical Instruments Corporation

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Fender Musical Instruments Corporation
Industry Musical instruments
Founded Fullerton, California, U.S. (1946; 69 years ago (1946))
Founder Clarence Leonidas Fender
Headquarters Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
Area served
Key people
Scott Gilbertson (CEO)[1]
Robert Roback (President)[1]
Divisions Corona, California (USA) Ensenada, Baja California (Mexico)
Website Fender.com

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC), commonly referred to simply as Fender, is an American manufacturer of stringed instruments and amplifiers. It is particularly known for solid-body electric guitars and bass guitars, including the Stratocaster (also known as the strat), Telecaster (also known as the tele), Precision Bass, and Jazz bass. It is headquartered 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.[3]

The company is a privately held corporation, with the controlling majority of its stock owned by a group of its own company officers and managers. Larry Thomas is Chief Executive Officer and James Broenen is Chief Financial Officer. The company filed for an Initial public offering in March 2012.[4] In addition to its Scottsdale headquarters, Fender has manufacturing facilities in Corona, California (US) and Ensenada, Baja California (Mexico).[5]


Fender offered the first mass-produced solid-body Spanish-style electric guitar, the Telecaster (originally named the 'Broadcaster'; 'Esquire' is a single pickup version)[6] the first mass-produced electric bass, the Precision Bass (P-Bass); and the popular Stratocaster (Strat) guitar.

While Fender was not the first to manufacture electric guitars, as other companies and luthiers had produced electric guitars since the late 1920s, none was as commercially successful as Fender's. Furthermore, while nearly all other electric guitars then were either hollow-body guitars or more specialized instruments such as Rickenbacker's solid-body Hawaiian guitars, Fender had created versatile solid-body electric guitars. These guitars were and still are popular for musicians in a variety of genres.

Many bands still use Fender guitars today. Some notable Fender players, both past and present, include Jeff Beck, Ritchie Blackmore, Roy Buchanan, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Albert Collins, Steve Cropper, Kurt Cobain, Bob Dylan, Rory Gallagher, Buddy Guy, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler, Johnny Marr, Hank Marvin, John Mayer, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Brian Wilson and many others.[citation needed]

The company also makes and / or distributes 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), Guild (acoustic and electric guitars and amplifiers), SWR (bass amplification), Passport Tacoma, Jackson, Charvel, Gretsch guitars and collaborated with Eddie Van Halen to make the EVH guitars and amplifiers.

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. On October 28, 2007, Fender announced its intention to buy Kaman Music Corporation (owners of Hamer Guitars, Ovation Guitars, Genz Benz amplifiers, Gibraltar Hardware, 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 Beetle, Volkswagen Jetta Sedan, Volkswagen Passat, and Volkswagen Tiguan.


Diagram of Leo Fender's lap steel guitar from 1944 patent application.

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 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 rental of self-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 partnered 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 however remained 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. 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), Mr. Randall assembled what Mr. 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 literature 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 CBS[edit]

In early 1965, Leo Fender sold his companies to the Columbia Broadcasting System, or CBS for $13 million.[7][8] 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.

The Stratocaster was released in 1954.

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 1968.

These cosmetic changes were followed by 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. This pickup also gave rise to 3 new incarnations of the classic Telecaster. 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 lacking a second tone control and a bare-bones output jack, as well as redesigned single-coil pickups, active electronics, and three push-push buttons for pickup selection (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.

After selling the Fender company, Leo Fender founded Music Man in 1975, and later founded the G&L Musical Instruments company, which manufactures electric guitars and basses based on his later designs.

After CBS[edit]

Leo Fender and early guitar models at the Fender Guitar Factory Museum.

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 the "Fender Musical Instruments Corporation". Behind the Fender name, the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has retained Fender's older models along with newer designs and concepts.

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. Channing Ward is the lead designer of the 2009 Stratocaster. Fender also contracts Asian guitar builders to manufacture Fender guitars and the economy priced entry-level Squier guitars. In 1991 the 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.[9] 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. Japanese Fenders are now manufactured specifically for the Japanese market, with only a small number marked for export.

In recent years, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation 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, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation 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 addition, Fender has recently purchased 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.

Fender is currently owned mainly by the private equity firm of TPG (43%), and the Japanese distributors Yamano Music (14%) and Kanda Shokai (13%).[10][11]

The Fender Visitor Center and Factory Tour[edit]

Fender Center for the Performing Arts, Corona, California

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.[12] The Visitor Center functions as a small museum, full of displays related to the history of the company, photos and a biography of Clarence Leonidas "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 Fender guitar bodies and necks are cut from planks of wood. Tour groups then view the Sanding Room where the 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.[13]


Main article: Squier

Squier was a string manufacturer subsequently acquired by Fender. The Squier brand has been used by Fender since 1982 to market inexpensive variants of Fender guitars intended to compete with the rise of Stratocaster copies, as the Stratocaster was slowly becoming more popular. Squier guitars have been manufactured in Japan, Korea, Mexico, India, Indonesia, China, and the United States of America.


For a full list of products made by Fender see: Fender Musical Instruments Corporation product list

The core of its instrument line — the Telecaster, Stratocaster, Jaguar, Jazzmaster, Mustang, Precision Bass and Jazz Bass — remains largely unchanged from the 1950s and 1960s originals (Roberts, Jim. 2003. American Basses: A Illustrated History). The Stratocaster ranges from many editions; Standard, Modern Player, Deluxe, American Standard, American Deluxe, American Vintage, Classic, Classic Player, Vintage Hot Rod, Blacktop, Highway 1, American Special, Roadworn, Ultra, Artist, Fender Select and Pawn Shop. And the Telecaster; American B-Bender, American Deluxe, American Special, American Standard, American Vintage, Artist, Blacktop, Cabronita, Classic, Classic Player, Deluxe, Factory Special Run, Fender Select, Limited Anniversary Edition, Modern Player, Roadworn, Special Edition, Standard, Tele-bration and Vintage Hot Rod.

Electric guitars[edit]

Acoustic guitars[edit]

Electric basses[edit]


1953 Fender Champ in tweed covering
A 2x15" Fender Bassman speaker cabinet, with a separate AB165 amplifier "head" unit
Blonde twin, 1963
Blackface Deluxe Reverb

The first big series of amplifiers were built in 1948. These were known as tweed amps because they were covered in the same kind of cloth used for luggage at the time. These amps varied in output from 3 watts to 75 watts. This was an innovative period: whilst Leo made a Tweed Princeton in 1948 for his Professional 8 string Lap Steel guitar (very short lived, as later he would focus on 6 string student models) later the Princeton would become a push–pull class-AB tube amp.

The Champ had the lowest power output and simplest circuit of all Fender tube amps. The Champ had only one power tube, which meant that the circuit is single-ended and class A. Five watts and the simple toneful circuit let the Champ be used easily and often in recording studios. In 1948 it was a single-ended class-A amplifier similar to the Fender Champ, with the output transformer mounted to the speaker frame and bereft of any negative feedback. Also, in 1964, Fender reissued the Tweed Champ amp in black tolex in small numbers, along with the newer model with the slant front panel and controls. The stacked plywood boxes Leo Fender used often went uninventoried.

In late 1963, Leo Fender found a couple of hundred Tweed Champ chassis boxes in these bins. He had had them chromed and printed in 1958. Being frugal, he built them in black tolex with a chrome and black Champ nameplate, as he had money tied up in them already.

Fender moved to Tolex coverings for the brownface amps in 1960, except for the Champ, which kept its tweed until 1964. Fender also began using Oxford, Utah, and CTS speakers interchangeably with the Jensens. Generally, they used the speaker they could get most economically. Jensens and Oxfords remained the most common during this period. By 1963 some Fender amplifiers had a black Tolex covering, silver grille cloth, and black forward-facing control panel. Other 1963 year model amps, including in particular the groundbreaking 1963 Vibroverb (the first Fender amp featuring internal reverb and tremolo) retained the brown cosmetics. By 1964, the tremolo in the overall Fender line of amplifiers was changed to a simpler circuit based on an optical coupler and requiring only half of one 12AX7 twin triode tube. Reverb became widely featured. The amps still spanned the spectrum from 4 watts to 85, but the difference in volume was larger, due to the improved, clean tone of the 85w Twin.

The Fender Bassman is a bass amplifier introduced by Fender in 1952. Although it was originally intended for amplifying bass guitars, the Bassman was also used for non-bass electric guitar & pedal steel guitar amplification. During 1952, the Fender Bassman amplifier with circuit design "5B6" was introduced as a combo Amp product with one fifteen inch speaker (1x15). The 1952–1954[14] Fender "5B6" 1x15 Bassman is a closed back cabinet with two small three-inch rear ports and a single fifteen inch speaker.

The Blonde amplifiers were produced between 1960 and 1964. The blonde amps included all of the piggyback Fender amps (the Tremolux, Bassman, Showman, and Bandmaster) and a few of the combo amps, including the Twin amp. Two different colors of grillclothes were featured on the blondes, oxblood and wheat. There are several experimental Fender Tweed amps in blonde. While the majority of the piggybacks were produced in blonde tolex, there are a few examples of the brown tolex Bassman amplifiers.

The Blackface Fender amplifiers were produced between 1964 and 1967. The first piggyback blackface amps (as well as the Princeton) had white knobs. After 1964 the amps had skirted black knobs. The blackface cosmetics were discontinued in late 1967; they returned for a brief period in 1981 before their discontinuation the following year. Recently, Randall Smith of Mesa/Boogie Amplifiers noted that Blackface amps were "cleaner sounding" than previous versions, which inspired him to make "dirtier sounding" amps.[15]

Blackfaced cosmetics do not necessarily mean "pre-CBS" since the CBS company takeover took place in a legal sense on January 4th, 1965, while amps with blackfaced cosmetics were produced up to 1967. After the buyout the front panels were changed from "Fender Electric Instrument Co." to "Fender Musical Instruments". Few substantial changes were made to the amps until the silverfaced amps of 1968 where certain circuit changes made them less desirable than the blackfaced amps. Nevertheless, a general slip in production quality of amps produced in the 1966-68 era has been observed by amplifier repair technicians, particularly in chassis lead dress and other subtle electronic details. The silver face resigns affected some models more than others. For example, the Twin Reverb and Super Reverb combos, along with the Dual Showman Reverb and Bandmaster Reverb "piggyback" heads were equipped with a master volume control while other models such as the Deluxe Reverb were not altered in any way except for the change in cosmetics.


  1. ^ a b Company Overview of Fender Musical Instruments Corporation on Blumberg Businessweek
  2. ^ FMIC Brands at Fender website, 8 Dec 2014
  3. ^ "Fender Guitars: The Complete History". March 31, 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-31.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  4. ^ O'Toole, James (2012-03-08). "Guitar-maker Fender files for IPO - Mar. 8, 2012". Money.cnn.com. Retrieved 2014-03-15. 
  5. ^ Hennigan, W.J. (March 8, 2012). "Guitar maker Fender files for initial public offering". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-03-08. 
  6. ^ "Broadcaster Guitar Development". Britannica. 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  7. ^ "CBS Acquires Guitar Concern. Purchases Fender Co. for $13 Million in Cash Deal". New York Times. January 5, 1965. Retrieved 2012-08-23. 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. 
  8. ^ Day, Paul (1979). The Burns Book. pp Publishing. p. 36. 
  9. ^ "About Fender Musical Instruments Corporation". 2014. Retrieved 2014-09-22. 
  10. ^ "Amendment No. 6 to FORM S-1 Registration Statement - Fender Musical Instruments Corporation". Washington, D.C.: United States Securities and Exchange Commission. filed in July 10, 2012. p. 146. Registration No. 333-179978.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. ^ "Fender changes tune on IPO". The Orange County Register. Associated Press. July 21, 2012. p. Business 3. 
  12. ^ Kreuzer, Nikki, "Best Guitar Factory Tour 2013- Fender Factory Tour", "LA Weekly", October 4, 2013, p 121.
  13. ^ Kreuzer, Nikki, "Offbeat L.A.: The Fender Guitar Factory Tour","The Los Angeles Beat", March 13, 2013.
  14. ^ "Fender Wide Panel Tweed Bassman". Ampwares. Retrieved 2014-03-15. 
  15. ^ "Mesa Boogie Limited Edition King Snake - Carlos & Randy 2013". Youtube.com. Retrieved 20140-03-15.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)

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