*** Preface - I like to name the guitars I own and use. The following is a post
about one of them, presented with a classic b/w slideshow portfolio.
Photographs by yours truly. ***
"Iwis it is not halfway to her heart.
But if it were, doubt not her care should be
To comb your noodle with a three-legged stool,
And paint your face and use you like a fool."
(1.1.61–65) The Taming of the Shrew ~ William Shakespeare
I have a love / hate relationship with Fender®. I love the distinctive classic sound one can achieve with a Stratocaster® or a Telecaster® but I hate some of the idiosyncrasies inherit in these instruments. Some of these quirks I attribute to the modern Fender Co. apparent apathy, at times, with quality control and how these guitars are sometimes put (or seemingly slapped) together these days. Believe it or not, the worst offenders I've found are the top-end American made guitars. I've quite often been presented with "American Standard™" or "American Deluxe™" guitars exhibiting workmanship, fit and finish so shoddy I felt sick to my stomach, considering how much money they cost. Some model years are good. Some model years are bad. Fender is currently the biggest guitar company in the world. To be quite candid, I think that fact goes to their heads sometimes. I certainly applaud Fenders tremendous success. Never-the-less, I often feel the company slips in and out of what I call, "branding syndrome", where the powers that be seem more concerned with propagating the Fender name than continuing Leo Fender's tradition of building a quality instrument. Other issues lie with the original design itself. Although Leo Fender was a pioneer in the adaption of "electrified" instruments, some of his initial ideas, by today’s standards, seem strange and clumsy to me. In Leo's defense, however, I do acknowledge that Mr. Fender could not have completely foreseen the direction and type of playing demands future electric guitar virtuosos would require of his instruments. Hence, the introduction of the 80's "Superstrat" by Kramer®, Jackson® and Charvel®, to name a few. Over the years, Fender has quietly attempted to overhaul perceived “short comings” but seemingly does so at a "snails pace". The reason Fender can get away with such sluggish progress is due to the company's accomplishments with identity and branding, I suppose. There defiantly, however, exists a modern spirit (or opinion) amongst a section of guitarists that one should not re-think the Fender look or engineering. This, despite the fact there are often better ways to go about things today. An analogy might be like a Jazz musician who has learned to play off his / her mistakes while attributing the results to, "improvisation", instead of going back and "woodshedding" the knowledge of scales and modes.
I named the American Special Telecaster I own, "Kate". This name refers to one of the main characters in Shakespeare's famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) play, The Taming of the Shrew. In the play, Katherina Minola (aka, Kate) is a harsh and unruly "shrew" that no man, so it is thought, wants to marry. Well, this is pretty much how I felt when I first acquired this Telecaster. I put down a pretty good chunk of change for this guitar brand new and, despite my initial investment, it still needed the frets to be dressed properly, the nut cut properly, the truss rod adjusted properly, and the neck angle adjusted properly. All of these things SHOULD HAVE BEEN DONE AT THE FENDER PLANT! This was not a Korean, Japanese, or Mexican made Fender. This was an American made one. For the price paid, the problems I just listed SHOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN CARE OF AT THE FACTORY!! One cannot set the action and intonation correctly if these things are not taken care of first. "Fender must consider themselves too big and too busy to concern themselves with trivial things like . . . workmanship!" I remember thinking to myself. At the time, I needed to get a hold of a telecaster ASAP to keep up with recording production demands so I put even more effort and money into "Kate" to tame all the unexpected "wildness" out of her. I suppose I should have just returned the guitar and asked for my money back. I'm a romantic kind of guy though. Once I succumb to the charms of an instrument, even if it has issues, I tend to "see it through". Besides, maybe "Kate" initially considered me to be rough and ill behaved too!
Not so long ago I was recording at one of my favorite places, Wavelength Studio. Charles Thompson (aka - Frank Black / Black Francis) let me barrow one of his vintage 50's "Broadcasters" to record with ("Broadcasters" were renamed "Telecasters" by the mid-fifties because of a trademark violation suit pursued by Gretsch®). The guitar happened to be sitting in the studio. So, Charles graciously let me try it out. You can hear this guitar in the single, My Animal. It's the really aggressive sounding one panned to the left of the stereo field played in groups of three chorded eighth note bursts during the songs bridge section. Jason Carter, who engineered and produced the recording session, felt that its sound contrasted well against the other tracked guitar ("Smoothie", my Stratocaster). I agreed. Jason has a very good ear for these kinds of things. While I absolutely appreciated the special sound and quality of the Broadcaster, I was amazed at how well "Kate" measured up to Charles' classic guitar when Jason and I compared them against one another. I was delighted to discover my efforts to tame "Kate" were not in vain after all. Despite what I considered the Fender factory's initial "incomplete treatment" of this American built Telecaster, "Kate" had none-the-less been transformed into a beautifully refined instrument. "Kate" was the Tele I used for the single, Real Magik, as well as other recently released songs.