Inside an 8,000 square foot facility in Southern California, just 20 miles east of Fullerton where Leo Fender started out making guitars and amps in the 1930s, thousands of Fender guitars, Stratocasters, Telecasters, Vintage Jaguars, Precision Basses and J-Basses hang from the ceiling like bats, suspended on a conveyor belt that rotates them like suits at a dry cleaners. This curing process alone can take up to three weeks to achieve an authentic finish. And that’s just the beginning.
More than 108 techniques at a bare minimum are applied by hand to create a standard Stratocaster, and all of them are on view at the factory, now a public site open for tours. The crowning of the frets and the shaping of a Fender neck, arguably the most critical pieces of any guitar, can take 30 minutes each, up to several days. Inside the master workshop studios that run along a corridor inside the building, artisans like Josefina Ybarra, whose mother Abigail wound guitar pickups by hand for more than half a century, regularly spend several months working on custom projects for Fender loyalists and clients like Bono, Prince or Eric Clapton. As proof, models of their frets flank the walls, slung from pegs and Sharpied with names.
Following Leo Fender’s vision of quality, every Fender detail is fashioned onsite, from the carving of the ash, alder or mahogany that makes up a Fender’s frame down to the manufacturing of its tiniest bolts. Fender was a fan of music, a concertgoer who got the idea for amplified sound while listening to swing bands perform on acoustic instruments at outdoor arenas. He believed, as the aficionados at the Fender Factory will tell you, that his goods should stay in service and be repairable, which is why the neck of a Fender guitar famously bolts on. So that it can easily be replaced, or “Frankensteined,” a process that, thanks to Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, is as much a facet of Rock and Roll lore as the guitars themselves.
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