Music Connection recently had a chance to sit down with Joey Brasler, Vice President of Product Development for Fender Guitars, to ask him about the new American Original Series Guitars, which were officially announced at January’s Winter NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA.
Music Connection: Tell us about the new Fender American Original series guitars.
Joey Brasler: The Fender American Original series guitars are designed to look and feel like Fender’s classic ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s models, featuring vintage-spec necks, bodies, pickups, hardware and finishes, with the addition of player-preferred 9.5 inch radius fingerboards and vintage tall frets. If you like to play vintage guitars, these are what you want to play.
MC: How does the American Original series compare to the American Standard series and the American Professional line of guitars?
Brasler: The American Standard line were players’ favorite guitars for many years. The American Professional series replaced the American Standard series in 2016 as a complete redesign, including neck shape, new models, new V-Mod pickups by Tim Shaw, new colors––so different that we changed the name. We see the American Professional series as guitars for the player who wants a traditional-looking guitar, but with a modern feel––truly today’s best pro gigging and recording Fender.
On the new American Original series we kept a lot from original Fender designs: true vintage-spec bodies and necks, vintage-spec hardware (much still made on the original old Fender factory machines), vintage-spec pickups and finishes. American Original guitars are for the player who wants a very vintage aesthetic, but with just a couple of updates to enhance the playing experience. American Original guitars and basses are designed for the working professional musician who prefers playing vintage instruments, but perhaps they are too valuable to take on the road or on daily gigs. The vintage player is going to be very comfortable with an American Original the first time he or she picks it up.
Of course, the American Original series guitars are made in our Corona, California factory, as are our American Special, American Professional and American Elite series guitars.
The player’s experience with the American Original series is that they look and sound like vintage instruments because of those vintage-spec bodies, necks, pickups, hardware and lacquer finish. But we also made them just a little easier for today’s guitarist to play, with a 9.5 inch fingerboard radius and what we call “vintage tall” frets––they’re still a vintage-spec width but they’re just a little bit taller, so that today’s bending styles and other tricks are easier to do. And we put in “modern” switching, meaning your ‘50s Strat has a 5-way switch instead of the 3-way, things like that.
These American Originals are a little less expensive than the American Vintage models they replace, so now a customer who really wants to play an American-made Fender vintage-style guitar can buy one––many of these guitars are priced for less than $2,000.
MC: Are the Stratocasters and Telecasters modeled after any particular year?
Brasler: Thanks for bringing that up! Though certain key features, such as neck shapes, body radii, hardware, pickups and more, are very similar to great vintage guitars, we measured to nail the classic specs. With the American Original series we’re celebrating the guitars by decade. For example: ‘50s Telecaster, ‘60s Stratocaster, ‘70s Jazz Bass, etcetera.
This approach gave us an opportunity to select player-favorite neck shapes, pickups, colors, etcetera, from a whole decade, and create these amazing playing, sounding and looking guitars.
We listened to every vintage-spec pickup set we have; we ended up keeping the Pure Vintage ‘52 set for the ‘50s Telecaster and the pure vintage ‘65 set for the ‘60s Stratocaster. The construction of the pickups are exactly as they were back in the day.
MC: And what are the available colors for the American Original series guitars?
Brasler: We added several vintage colors we haven’t used in a while. There are 11 new models in 13 different colors. Each guitar is available in a few of the following colors––check fender.com to see which colors are available on the different guitars: Aztec Gold, White Blonde, 2-Color Sunburst, Olympic White, Candy Apple Red, 3-Color Sunburst, Butterscotch Blonde, Fiesta Red, Lake Placid Blue, Surf Green, Ocean Turquoise, Natural and Black.
MC: Tell us more how the design and development process works when you are launching a new line of guitar like the American Original series.
Brasler: First, the Fender Electrics Product Team sits down to review where we’re coming from and where we want to go. In the case of a line like American Original, which replaces American Vintage, we look back at which key features worked for customers. From there, we dream up where we think we can improve value for players. In this case, we would stay within the vintage aesthetic, keeping this particular customer in mind––and the customer for American Original typically knows every dimension, screw, material and spec from the ‘50s and ‘60s guitars. We would take special care to keep what matters and change anything only after great discussion, not only inside Fender, but also with many customers who actually use vintage Fender guitars, instruments from the prior American Vintage series and even Custom Shop.
We start the development process two years or so prior to launch––it takes that long to talk through, design, develop, prepare for marketing and more. Plus, to be ready for launch, we ship guitars to dealers all over the world so that customers can get their hands on them right away. The guitars need to be stored carefully at the right temperature, care must be taken in shipping. Most of these guitars have a lacquer finish that must be kept safe during shipping. All of this takes time and care.
We are very proud of the Fender American Original series instruments. We think we have captured the essence of the iconic models Fender made in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s––and we’ve added in a couple of special features that meet the demands of today’s players, all at reasonably affordable price points. We wanted the American Original series to be guitars and basses that our customers would fall in love with––and from what we’re hearing back from players, they are!