Vintage guitars are all the rage - and Fender has a new lineup of instruments to serve the market
- Fender's new "Vintera" series of iconic electric-guitar and bass designs seeks to bring vintage aspects from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s to modern artists and customers.
- The lineup is made in Mexico and includes Stratocasters, Telecaster, Jazzmasters, and Precision basses.
- The Vintera series combines vintage elements with contemporary playability.
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Vintage guitars are certainly having a moment.
And Fender is definitely part of it. The 73-year-old, California-based legend has been making Stratocasters and Telecasters since the 1950s, so its iconic electric guitars are a cornerstone of the vintage market.But not everybody has ten or twenty grand (or more) to spend on an authentic axe. Then there's the working-musician's problem of taking your precious collector's item on the road, where damage and theft lurk around the corner of every amplifier stack.
Fender has addressed that need, through its US-made American Original series and its budget Squier lineup of Asian-manufactured Classic Vibe instruments.
This week, the company launched a new batch of period-correct, yet updated guitars and basses under the Vintera banner. ("Vintera" is a portmanteau of "vintage era.")
"The Vintera series celebrates the different vintage eras of Fender with the fundamental design of the Stratocaster, Telecaster and Precision Bass remaining largely the same, but with each decade assuming its own unique feature sets," Fender vice-president Justin Norvell said.
"Depending on your feature preferences, bands you love and the era that you grew up in, each of these decades has a different appeal in terms of sound, colors, and pickups."
Everything old can be new again
Fender guitars and basses changed with the times. Materials and pickups used in the 1950s were modified in the 1960s and 1970s, giving each era's instruments a unique personality. Even amateur musicians can become attuned to the variety, favoring the maple fretboards and lower-output pickups on a '50s Stratocaster, say, over the modern example.
What they might not want is to drop a bundle on a guitar made in Fender's Corona factory or take a plunge on a custom-shop instrument. The Vintera line is made in the company's Mexico plant, reducing the cost to between $899 and $1,000, Norvell said in an interview with Business Insider.
"You're getting a vintage sensibility, but with modern playability," Norvell added.
That goes to an underappreciated difficulty when dealing with vintage instruments: After seven decades, Fender has figured a few things out, and with brand-new guitars, it can offer a demonstrably superior product to what it was making in the 1950s.
"Back in the vintage era, the guitars were all made one at a time, by hand," Norvell said. "They were all different. What we're doing now is making all our guitars in the image of the great ones, while capturing the vintage essence."
Fender is good at vintage - and updated vintage
Fender is good at this. I've sampled its high-end American-made guitars, which sound fantastic and are a joy to play, but I've also tested vintage-correct, made-in-Asia instruments, which, unlike some truly old guitars, play well and don't buzz and scratch due to balky electronics (the Squier Classic Vibe '70s Stratocaster I recently tested struck me as being a near-perfect stage guitar - lightweight and smooth-playing, but nothing to worry about in the back of the tour bus).
In keeping with it long history of serving actual artists, Fender launched the Vintera series in partnership with several performers, depicting them in a short video.
"Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram taps into his blues roots, bringing viewers back to the '50s with a classic Seafoam Green Stratocaster and a cover of 'I Put A Spell On You' by Screamin' Jay Hawkins," Fender said.
"Singer-songwriter Curtis Harding brings back the soul of the '60s playing a cover of Tommy James and The Shondells' 'Crimson and Clover' on the Ice Blue Metallic '60s Jazzmaster," Fender said. "Reminiscent of the Woodstock Era, Mexican garage punk band Le Butcherettes shredded on the '70s Telecaster Deluxe in Mocha for their punk rendition of 'Ever Fallen In Love' by The Buzzcocks."
That might sound like smart marketing, and it is, but Fender walks the walk as well as talks the talk.
"Input from artists is constant," Norvell said. He described Fender's main office in Hollywood as an "incubator or lab" where there are always prototypes around for musicians to investigate. I've been through the Hollywood location myself and can vouch for Norvell's point - Fender straddles its history with the need to innovate, and the experiments are everywhere.
Beyond that, young artists embracing what might be termed "new, affordable vintage" shows that Fender has been active in mining its past but keeping the brand relevant. The Vintera series is just the latest example.