Along with Gibson, Fender is the most well-known and successful guitar manufacturer in the world today. And while much is known and documented about the heritage of Fender’s range of iconic electric guitars, basses, and amplifiers less is known about the history of Fender’s acoustic guitars.
In the following article, we’re going to take a brief look at this unique history and the deliberate choices taken early on by the company that set them on a different path from the majority of acoustic guitar manufacturers of the time.
The Early Days
Based on the initial early success of Fender electric guitars, and amplifiers’ an expansion into the world of acoustic guitars seemed a natural progression.
Acoustic guitars were rapidly gaining in popularity, largely in part to the ever-growing folk scene of the late 40s through to the early 60s, popularized by artists such as Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and The Mamas and the Papas.
The departure from tradition Fender took with their earliest acoustic guitars is mostly attributed to the arrival of luthier Roger Rossmeisl in 1962, who by all accounts approached Leo Fender and essentially told him he’d be working for him.
This introduction, fortunately, went over well, with Rossmeisl’s apparent brashness and confidence leaving a positive impression on Leo Fender, and further impressing thanks in part to his previous work at Gibson, and then Rickenbacker.
In any case, thanks to the arrival of Rossmeisl Fender began producing acoustic guitars commercially in 1963. Keep in mind, that this was almost 13 years after they began manufacturing electric guitars.
This in itself, is quite unlike other iconic guitar companies such as Gibson who first started manufacturing acoustic models in the 30s before later expanding to include electric guitars from the early 50s, or Martin who were producing acoustic instruments as far back as 1833, with a brief foray into the world of electric guitar production during the 60s and later from 1885 – 1986 under the Stinger brand name.
In this sense, Fender never really had the history and heritage these brands have when it comes to their acoustic guitars.
A New Take On The Acoustic Guitar
Fender never really pitched itself as a traditional acoustic guitar company anyway, instead, entering the market offering an innovative, and at times, bold new take on the acoustic guitar.
Fender’s unique approach was more about the enjoyment of music rather than taking itself too seriously.
Fender, say as much themselves on fender.com:
“A Fender acoustic guitar was for throwing in the car and hitting the beach. It was for coffeehouses and campfires”.fender.com
The earliest Fender acoustic models reflected this ‘less serious’ attitude from Fender and included features more akin to their iconic electric guitars with features including Stratocaster style 6 inline headstocks, bolt-on necks, and a unique aircraft aluminum rod, ‘broomstick’ bracing system.
Even the pickguards were screwed on.
This, in itself, was something rarely seen before on acoustic guitars due to the additional weight this added to the top of the guitar, which almost certainly affected the top’s ability to vibrate.
Although it has to be said, Elvis is more commonly associated with Gibson, including the J200 and Ebony Dove. While most people would clearly associate Johnny Cash with Martin guitars.
The Original Lineup
The original lineup, first released in 1963 consisted of The King, the flagship guitar of the fleet, later reintroduced as the Fender Kingman in 1966.
The Concert (1963–1970), The Classic (1963 – 1966), and the Folk which was rather short-lived and were manufactured between 1963 and 1964 only.
THE CBS days
Fender entered a tumultuous time during the 70s, with a number of Fender’s acoustic models discontinued in 1971 as the Fender name started losing appeal due to an apparent decline in quality after being acquired by CBS musical instruments in 1965.
This remained the case until the late 80s when Fender was purchased by a group of former Fender employees, renaming the company Fender Musical Instruments and attempting to return the Fender name to its previous glory.
This coincided with the reintroduction of a number of their earlier acoustics models.
FInal Thoughts: Looking Forward
In many ways, not much has really changed from the early pioneering days when it comes to Fender’s attitude toward the acoustic guitar.
Many Fender acoustic guitars still look far from traditional, featuring Strat-style headstocks and bold colors but this is now mixed with a number of entry-level instruments targeting the beginner market.
In this sense, it seems Fender is still more interested in offering an accessible, and unique alternative to the acoustic guitar rather than competing at the higher price points of Taylor and Martin, perhaps with the exception of the recently released Acoustisonic (perhaps the most radical departure from traditional acoustic design yet seen).