For more than four decades, Fender electric guitars and amplifiers have had a tremendous influence on the way the world composes, plays and listens to music. In the early part of the century, within the folk, country and blues circles the norm was to play on acoustic guitars, but by the 1930’s due to the problems being heard over the brass instruments in their musical ensembles, some jazz musicians began to experiment with amplifying their traditional hollow bodied guitars. The main problem with this was that when played at high volume the speakers and pick-ups generated feedback and from then on the battle for volume was also very much the battle to eliminate and later control, feedback.
In the 1940's, a Californian inventor named Leo Fender had made some custom guitars and amplifiers in his radio shop. Through various evolutionary steps and developments, he created the first instrument amplifiers with built-in tone control but more importantly Fender realized that the problem was better tackled from the other direction. Why struggle to improve the amplification when it is better to improve the guitar and that became his vision.
Using his knowledge of existing technology, electronics, acoustics and physics in general he knew he could improve on contemporary amplified hollow-body instruments, and improve upon them, he did. In 1951, he introduced the Broadcaster, the prototype solid-body guitar that would eventually become the legendary Telecaster®. The Tele®, as it became affectionately known, was the first solid-body electric Spanish-style guitar ever to go into commercial production. Soon to follow were the revolutionary Precision Bass® guitar in 1951, and the Stratocaster® in 1954.
By 1965, Leo was in poor health poor health and so sold his company to corporate giant CBS. Over the next two decades, Fender Musical Instruments experienced some tremendous growth. But as time wore on, CBS's lack of commitment and real understanding of music and musicians was becoming apparent.
In 1981, CBS recruited a new management team to "re-invent" Fender. William Schultz was soon named President and was supported by associates William Mendello and Kurt Hemrich. They had developed a five-year business plan based on the idea of increasing Fender's presence in the marketplace by dramatically improving quality and making a significant commitment to research and development. This association continued until CBS decided to divest itself from the non-broadcast media business.
So, in 1985, a group of employees and investors led by William Schultz purchased the company from CBS. This sale put Fender in the hands of a small group of musically dedicated people who have committed their lives to creating the world's best guitars and amplifiers. The team had to start from scratch as there were no buildings or machines included in the deal. They owned only the name, the patents, and the parts that were left over in stock and nothing else, but it was enough to set off down a more understanding and integral path. Supported and encouraged by a core group of loyal employees, dealers and suppliers, some of whom had been with the company since Leo Fender began making guitars and amplifiers, Bill Schultz and his colleagues set out to re-build an American icon.
Initially, Fender imported their guitars from offshore manufacturers who had proven their ability to produce affordable, viable instruments. But the quest for even more control over quality soon led to the construction of Fender's flagship domestic factory in Corona, California. Eventually, Fender would build a second modern manufacturing facility in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, with the goal of being able to build quality instruments and offer them at more budget-oriented prices.
In 1987, Fender acquired Sunn, a line of amplifiers whose past endorsees have included iconic acts such asThe Who, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. This jump-started Fender's re-entry into the amplifier business by making accessible Sunn's manufacturing facilities in Lake Oswego, Oregon. But this was still an early stage of the "new" Fender, so Schultz put the Sunn line of amps on the shelf until the Fender name had been re-established as the world's leading amplifier. The Fender name was key to re-building the brand.
One of the attitudes that has always set Fender apart is that it always recognized the importance of an open-door policy for the professional musician. When artists first started requesting specific features for their guitars, they were accommodated on an individual basis. These relationships led to the formalizing of Fender's custom operation in 1987. Today, the world's greatest guitarists work with the renowned Fender Custom Shop in Corona, California, to create their dream instruments. Recently, Fender has added amplifiers to the list of custom-made instruments that can be produced at the Custom Shop in Corona.
In 1991, Fender moved its corporate headquarters from Corona to Scottsdale, Arizona. From here, administration, marketing, advertising, sales and export teams oversee the operations of Fender's satellite facilities around the world, which now include the locations in the United States (California, Tennessee, New York and Rhode Island), as well as international operations in: Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico; London, England; Dusseldorf, Germany; Suresnes, France; Brussels; Japan; Korea; and China.
Also brought to Scottsdale at this time was Fender's Amplifier and Pro Audio Research & Development. With guitar amplifiers, Fender sets the standard for sound and value. Its R & D staff has pioneered many technological advancements in developing amplifiers that meet the needs of the performing musician. In late 1992, the Amp Custom Shop was opened in Scottsdale, Arizona, to offer custom and limited editions of professional amplifiers for working musicians.
Recognizing that country music and acoustic guitars were increasing in popularity, Fender expanded upon its acoustic guitar line. In addition to working with respected manufacturers in Japan, Korea and China to produce quality acoustic guitars, the company has become the exclusive North American distributor of the prestigious Manuel Rodriguez line of nylon-stringed guitars, which have been hand-crafted in Spain by the Rodriguez family since 1905. These additions have put the company in an excellent position for growth within the acoustic guitar market.
Another big part of the modern Fender story is the acquisition of Guild Guitars. Founded in a loft in New York City in 1952, Guild Guitar Company continues to be known for its quality instruments and exceptional value. Faced with internal financial troubles in the early 1990's, Guild management had decided to sell the company. Fender acquired Guild in 1995, signaling a return to ownership by a group of people dedicated to producing the finest value in American-made acoustic and electric guitars. Today, Guilds are still being produced at its historic, 60,000 square-foot facility in Westerly, Rhode Island.
1998 would prove to be a banner year for Fender and its subsidiaries. With Fender amplifiers once again enjoying a very strong presence in the marketplace, it was now time to dust off the Sunn line of amps. R&D had spent the previous three years studying the original products line and developing prototype models that faithfully replicated the trademark Sunn sound. The timing was right, and Fender introduced the new Sunn line of amplifiers to an immediate industry acclaim.
And for Guild, 1998 brought the expansion of its Custom Shop in Nashville, Tennessee. First opened in 1996, the new Guild Custom Shop boasts an 8,000 square-foot , climate controlled facility near downtown Nashville that allows a great deal of extra space for production and storage of raw materials.
Guild had also introduced DeArmond guitars in 1998. Fender had purchased the DeArmond brand of musical instrument pickups in 1997 and then combined the company with Guild to produce an alternative line of high quality, affordable guitars and basses that are modeled on Guild designs. The guitars themselves are built and assembled in Korea before being sent back to Corona, where they are fitted with American-made DeArmond pickups. Following their successful test runs in European and Asian markets, DeArmond guitars were introduced to American and Canadian consumers and received instant acclaim as an exceptional value.
But the biggest event for Fender in 1998 was the opening of its new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Corona. The 177,000 square-foot facility was built on a nineteen-acre site, with over half of that space set aside for future growth, and is the culmination of a vision that at times seemed almost impossible. The entire line of American-made Fender guitars are built at the Corona factory, which is capable of making over 350 guitars each day. In addition, the Corona facility utilizes the innovative UVOXÔ system, which combines ultraviolet light, a special scrubber process, and a carbon bed absorption system to help ensure that the air emitted from the factory is 95% clean. The new factory is not only a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, but a tribute to how a group of dedicated individuals, when they set their minds to it, can create the “impossible".
The Fender Custom Shop also shares space at the new facility. Over fifty artisans now work at the Custom Shop, offering the world's finest custom-made instruments to professional musicians, as well as a complete line of hand-crafted replications of classic Fender models. And to complete the Corona operation, the amplifier Custom Shop was brought back from Scottsdale and incorporated into the guitar Custom Shop. Simultaneously, a new 70,000 square-foot addition was completed at the Ensenada facility. The extra space was added to bring amplifier production, aside from those produced at the Custom Shop, into one main facility.
During the past decade, Fender has grown dramatically in sales and stature. The company manufactures and distributes virtually everything that a guitarist needs to perform, from the guitar, strings, and accessories, to the pro audio products including amplifiers and mixing boards. Today, under Schultz's direction, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation is a world leader in the manufacturing and distribution of electric guitars and amplifiers.
Fender became the world leader by defining the sounds we hear, meeting the needs of musicians, creating quality products and backing them up with service and stability. As Fender Musical Instruments Corporation forges through the 1990's and into the 21st century, its management team will maintain Fender's number-one status through a winning combination of business acumen and a love of music.