Post '65, Garbage or Jive?

by Nick Katzban-Beren
(Nick in the Forums)

I have a 1966 Jaguar, you might have a 1964. Is there a difference? Could there be? I mean mass production is mass production, right? Well this very quandary is one that guitarists have been toiling over for over 30 years!

On January 1965 the Fender Company was bought out by the Columbia Broadcasting System. Yeah that’s right! The same people that bring us Bill Cosby brought us Stratocasters and Telecasters for the duration of the lates sixties through the 70’s and finally ending in 1985. Well, what’s the big problem? It’s just a conglomerate it couldn’t effect the guitars, or could it? It’s hard to deny that over time, serious changes were made to Fender production. Whether Positive or Negative is up to your own opinion.

The bottom line is that CBS is a conglomerate, not guitar manufacturers. They don’t know about headstocks, or nuts, or tail pieces! They know about stocks, bonds, and profits! And that’s what they were concerned a bout, profit! They poured millions of millions of dollars into fender. Manager Forrest White remembers income almost doubling in the first year. In the beginning things were looking fine. Salaries were up, workers were happy, and CBS were making good modifications to popular models. They spent more money on better and more materials. They also introduced nylon finishes. Until 1967 everything was looking fine and no one outside of fender noticed much of a difference.

Of course, by 1967 the problems were becoming more apparent. CBS brought in tons of people from glassware. Perhaps they were good workers, but they were not trained in the manufacturing of guitars. An unqualified workforce was only one of the factors that could jeopardize quality. Just listen to this horror story as told by Forrest White:

“They brought some guy into purchasing, didn’t know one thing about musical instruments, but he made this boast that we were paying too much for everything and he was gonna save the company all kinds of money. Someone comes in selling a bunch of magnet wire they wanted to clear out. To this CBS guy, magnet wire was magnet wire, the heck with gauge and coating. So he buys all this crap. And when I found out, I told him we couldn’t make our pickups with this stuff, it’s not the right specification. But I was told we were going to use it.”

Makes you think, “Did my Fender get that wire!?!?!?” Well its that kind of CBS thinking that affected Fender production for 20 years! The finishes were getting sloppy, the Neck slots were being cut too big and it was starting to show. Music stores would call back complaining that the new Fenders didn’t feel or play as good. The original Fender men like Leo, George Fullerton and Forrest couldn’t go out without People complaining to them about the new Fenders. Around 1970 everyone started leaving. And in 1980 George and Leo started the G&L Company (George & Leo) and made quality renditions on their original classic designs of their Fender guitars like the Stratocaster and Telecaster.

As everyone left and time wore on Fender was falling through a downward spiral and was looking like it was gonna hit bottom. New features like bullet truss rods and new finish materials were proving to be unpopular. CBS started having all these new “hip” looking models manufactured. Making them look cool was the aim. “Give it a ‘Floyed Rose’ and sharper horns! Whatever! As long as it looks like Eddie Vanhalen’s they’ll like it!” Models like the Katana, Heartsford, and Prodigy were aimed at a more “Heavy Metal” look. They’d add features they thought were helpful, but guitar players just found them annoying. Other companies like Gibson were killing Fender in sales. They just couldn’t keep up.

In 1985 Fender was bought from CBS and models like the American Standard returned to a simple and classic design of the Strats and Teles. Fender was born again!!!! Sadly though in March of 1991, Leo Fender died, but I think he enjoyed knowing that quality was once again returned to his name.

-Thank You Leo

[authors note: I got my Information from “The Fender Book: A complete history of Fender electric guitars” by Tony Bacon & Paul Day, GPI BOOKS. I suggest you check it out!]

Author: Nick Katzban-Beren (aka Nick in the Forums)