Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Fender Performer

There was a time in the history of Fender Guitars and Amplifiers when there was no domestic manufacturing.

In 1985 CBS owned Fender Electric Musical Instrument Company was in negotiations with a group lead by Bill Schultz to purchase Fender.  The deal went through and thus the Fender Musical Instrument Company (FMIC) was started.  However there would not be a manufacturing facility to later that same year.  Fender guitars were all manufactured in Japan during this period, including the Fender Performer.

It is believed this guitar was produced from leftover scap wood from Japanese manufactured Fender Stratocasters. The ever thrifty Leo Fender would have loved this idea.

The Performer was designed by John Page. Page worked for CBS Fender and the privately owned FMIC in their R and D department for many years and is responsible for other Fender guitar and bass designs.

Page was the force behind Fender’s Custom Shop when FMIC took over the company. Page states this guitar was a predecessor to the Fender Elite Jazz Bass.

At the time Fender was competing with Kramer, Jackson and B.C. Rich and Fenders Teles and Strats were considered pretty conservative.

Page came up with this design in 1983 as Fender’s entry into the market. He also states the peghead he designed was more Fender-like, however was changed during the manufacturing process.

The guitar’s double cutaway horns are reminiscent of a Stratocaster, but more pronounced. The quality of this instrument is excellent. The headstock is not typical of Fender as it is triangular, similar to the Fender Swinger, (which also was made of leftover wood). The tuning gears were enclosed. It came with a locking nut that clamps the strings behind the plastic nut. The guitar had a floating tremolo System with Fender style adjustable bridge saddles.

The 24 fret micro-tilt neck is maple with a rosewood fretboard. The knob on the pickguard have inset rubber grips for easy grasping. The jack socket is an improvement over that found on most Fender guitars.

The guitar came with a metallic finished paint job. The variety of colours could be burgundy mist, candy green, white or sun-burst (which was non-metallic).

The guitars two humbucking pickups both were set at a reversed angle than what one would find on a Stratocaster or Telecaster. The coils were offset to keep in line with the strings and potted in epoxy, which meant you better like these pickups, because they could not be replaced.

The controls featured a coil-tap switch to provide a sweet humbucking sound or a brighter single coil tone.

The tone knob was unique in that it used a stacked potentiometer with 250k and 1M capacitors with a center detent.

The bass version of the Fender Performer also had a two octave, micro-tilt adjustable neck. Due to this, light gauge strings were suggested. The neck was slim and the action was set low.

The Bass pickups were parallel to the strings. It came with the same accouterments's as the guitar, although the pick-ups were similar to the single coil versions of those on a Mustang Bass. However they were wound tighter for more punch.

The bass guitar came with two volume knobs and a single tone knob.

I believe Fender learned a valuable lesson from making these guitars and several others; stick to making great guitars, such as the Strats, Teles and P and J Basses that we all know and love.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Rogue Aluminator and Able Axe Guitars

The Rogue Aluminator was featured for a few years in the late 1990's in Musician's Friend catalogues.  It was truly a unique instrument.  The slotted body was made from billets of aircraft grade aluminum. 

The history of this guitar is somewhat fuzzy, however here is what I know.

The body shape of the aluminator is reminiscent of a Fender Stratocaster. As mentioned already the guitar was milled from a billet of aluminum.

The 25.5" scale, 22 fret, bolt-on neck was made of maple with a rosewood fretboard with dot markers.  The six on a side headstock pointed and painted featuring the Rogue logo.

Rogue is the house brand featured by Musician's Friend.

The perimeter of the body is slotted, thus allowing a decrease in the guitar's weight.  The center of the body contains the pickups controls and wiring harness.

This guitar had 1 volume control and 1 tone control. The potentiometer knobs were similar to those on a Telecaster.  The Aluminator also had 3 mini-throw switches; one for each pickup.  This allows any combination of pickups to be off or on and gives 11 different sounds.

The end of the body featured a non-trem Strat-style bridge with six adjustable saddles.

Although it did not allow for the Kahler style, dive bomb sounds that were popular with the shredders of the day, the fixed bridge did help with sustain. 

It was offered in different MF catalogues from $549 to $699.  The catalogue I recall was asking $599 for the guitar. 

The guitar came in silver, purple, red or black.

The Rogue Aluminator is sometimes confused with guitars manufactured by Able Axe.  Able Axe founder and builder, Jeff Able built the guitars for Musicians Friend to sell under the Rogue Brand.

Able Axe was a guitar manufacturer started by Jeff Able selling guitars he built out of aluminum.  Between 1994 through 1996 and started up again in 2001.

Abel Axe guitars have bodies made of solid 6061-T6 aluminum billets and are only one inch thick. Less than 250 of the original Swiss cheese body style were made from ~1994-1996. The bodies had holes drilled into them.  The holes were there to reduce the body weight.

The bodies on these instruments were approximately 9.5 lbs or 4.3 kilograms

All of the guitars were designed and manufactured by Jeff Abel of Bitteroot Valley in Wyoming. He started building again in 2001. This run featured slots instead of holes. 

All the bodies were coloured with anodized aluminum finishes. Most were finished in red, black, blue, violet, gold, teal, and even mult-icolor. There rarest would be 3 with a green grass finish and 20 with a clear (aluminum) finish.

These guitars featured a small Strat-type body with holes available with a trem or fixed bridge. Since they were made one at a time by Jeff Able there are subtle differences in hole beveling, spacing, and drilling depth. There was a small run of single humbucker Abel Axe made with slots instead of holes. 

The very first batch (a dozen or so less) were released with DiMarzio humbuckers: PAF Pro in the neck position and Tone Zone in the bridge position. These were replaced by Kent Armstrong pickups (at one point manufactured by Sky pickups) which were HRE-1 in the neck position and HSDE-1 in the bridge position.

Many of these Able Axes featured a Kahler Tremolo and Sperzel Trimlock tuning pegs.

The necks were made by Musickraft Inc. and were rosewood or maple fret boards on quarter- sawn hard rock maple. All guitars made after 2000 featured Warmoth necks were used. From 2007-present, necks are made by Delaney Guitars. Scale length on all necks: 25.5″.

These pickups are now called are sold through

In 2010 there was an article that Jeff Able was going to sell his guitars in partnership with Mike Delaney of Delaney guitars.  There is no mention of this on the Delaney website.

According to recent posts by Jeff Able’s daughter Jenna, Able Guitars will be back in business. There is a Facebook page for Able Axes.

.The retail cost in 1994-96 for an Able Axe was $1395 to $1495.  A variety of colours were offered, including plain stainless aluminum.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

This is mostly about Mike Delaney Guitars, but around 5:53 he talks about the Able Axe


Friday, July 23, 2010

The Jagmaster

In 1966 I was 14 years old.  My drumming buddy, Stew Williams, was able to procure 2 passes from his drum teacher, for the Winter NAMM Convention that was held in Chicago.

We spent a couple of days there, with badges that stated we were representatives of Slingerland Drums.  It was better than being in a candy store; an unforgetable experience.

I picked up a suitcase full of catalogs including the 1966 Fender Catalog.

This catalogue featured a display of guitars with no visible pickups called the Fender Marauder. The text stated the guitar had 4 pickups under the pickguard.

In later years, I learned the guitars pictured in this brochure were in all probability non-working prototypes.

It wasn't until 1996 that Fender introduced a guitar which had a shape similar to a Jazzmaster/Jaguar with a 25.5" scale and a Fender Stratocaster tremolo bridge with the bridge cover and screw-in bar. This would be the "crafted in Japan" Fender Jagmaster.

In 1996-98 Fender introduced the Jagmaster as part of the Squier Vista series. This guitar was originally built in Japan. You can distinguish this guitar by the word Vista on its headstock.

This guitar was only produced for two years under the made in Japan, Squier Vista series. Based on its design, it had the Stratocaster style tremolo, making it more similar to the Maurader than the Jazzmaster or Jaguar.

The Jagmasters wiring was less complex than that of the Jaguar-Jazzmaster. The Jagstang had a two humbucking pickups with a single volume and tone control and a three-way throw switch mounted on the lower bout. 

The pickups were designed by Seymour Duncan.

The bridge was a Strat-style bridge/saddle came with adjustable saddles.  The body was basswood and the neck was maple with a rosewood fretboard. The 22 fret neck was similar to the Jazzmaster's 25.5" scale.

The Squier Jagmaster Vista was manufactured in Japan for only two years, ending its run in 1998.

In 2000 Fender resurrected the Jagmaster under, naming it the Squier Jagmaster ll.  They dropped the Vista designation. Manufacturing was outsourced to China.  This version was modified from the original model. It now had a 25.5" scale, 21 fret neck. The guitar's pickups remained twin Seymour Duncan humbuckers.

Further changes were made in 2005.

At that time the Squier Jagmaster's neck was shortened to a 24" scale and an extra fret was added. Following what seems to be a trend, Fender produced this model for two years.  In 2007 the model was updated to a 21 fret guitar. This guitar is still in production.

The silver sparkle version of the Jagmaster no longer is available.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Squier '51

The V.C. Squier Company started in 1930 by the son of a British immigrant, Victor C. Squier.

The Squier Company originally made violins at the shop in Battle Creek Michigan.

At the time all violin strings were manufactured in Europe. Squier saw a need and an oportunity to make economical violin strings domestically rather than import strings for his instruments. He accomplished this by the use of a treddle sewing machine as a string winder.

The strings were offered to retail shops and eventually became their primary product.

Squier set about manufacturing strings for all stringed musical instruments, including the piano.

In 1965 Fender Guitars acquired the V.C. Squier Company with the goal of manufacturing Fender guitar strings.  By 1970 the Squier brand was retired and sold only as Fender guitar and bass strings.

'80's Tokai
The 1980's brought a flood of Fender "copy" guitars that were manufactured in Japan and Korea. Some of these instruments were surprisingly of excellent quality, but the majority were poor imitations.

Fender made a decision to compete with their imitators by outsourcing some of its guitar production to the same companies making copy Fenders,. but Fender did not want their name associated with non-domestically manufactured instruments.

In 1982 Fender decided to market these instruments under the Squire brand.  The original Squiers were sold with the logo Squier "JV" which stood for Squier Japanese Vintage.

The JV series sold through 1984 when Fender realized the success of the brand, continuing production through the present

Though the majority of Squier's guitars are reproductions or variations on the more expensive line of Fender guitars.

But every now and then Fender designers come up with a truly unique instrument under the Squier brand.

I've recently described two of them.  Probably the most unique and desirable Squier is the Squier '51.  This guitar was an immediate hit. The price point was around $150.

Box stores and catalogues were letting them go for $99.  For that price a player could afford to upgrade this instrument with higher quality pickups, an improved tailpiece, nut and perhaps a custom paint job.

There are currently forums on the web that are devoted to modification of Squier '51's.

The '51 combines aspects of different Fender guitars and basses into one unique looking guitar.

The body is somewhat similar to a Fender Stratocaster.

The pickguard, switch plate and knobs are based on a 1951 Fender Precision bass.  The headstock is reminicent of the one on a Telecaster neck.

The slanted neck pickup is similar to that of a Strat, with it's exposed pole-pieces.  The bridge pickup is a split coil humbucker.

The controls on the switch plater. are much different than those found on other Fender instruments.  One potentiometer for the guitar's volume is also a push-pull switch that allows the bridge pickup to work in the single coil or humbucking mode. 

This guitar does not have a tone control.  The other potentiometer is actually a 3-way rotary switch that controls the on-off function of the pickups.  Center position is the two pickups running in combination.

As I recall, this guitar's six-saddle chromed bridge unit was somewhat flimsy, although different models seemed to be of differing quality. The bridge was mounted on the guitar's topside with 4 screws and was a top loader.

The body was made of basswood. The neck was maple with a maple fretboard. The pickguard was generally white, but was also available in black.

The body colour options were Sunburst (2 tone, which was found on the older 1951 P-bass), Black and Creme.

This model was produced from 2004 through 2006.  Leftover models were drastically discounted in 2007.

The Squier '51 was a clear winner.  In my opinion Fender should consider introducing it into their regular Squier line up.
©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Squier and Fender Super-Sonic - The Other Guitar in the Vista Series

In today’s market when we associate Fender with the words SuperSonic, we tend to think of their amplifier that is part Bassman - part Vibrolux. However, in 1997 Fender marketed a guitar under their Squier brand called the Super-Sonic. This was the second guitar in their short-lived Vista series.

We all know Jimi Hendrix was one of the most revolutionary rock guitarists to come down the pike. His style left its mark on the way we play lead guitar. Using  a couple of Marshall stacked amplifiers, a handful of guitar pedals and a Stratocaster played upside down, Hendrix was able to coax sounds out of his instrument that were never before imagined.

Hendrix was the inspiration for the Squier Super-Sonic. Designer Joe Carduci was a Hendrix fan and insisted on the upside down headstock based on watching Jimi play a Fender Jazzmaster upside down.

During these years, Japan was the main site for manufacturing Squier guitars. The body was reminiscent of a Jaguar/Jazzmaster body, although the lower bout was not offset. With its prominent lower horn and diminished upper horn, the Super-Sonic looked something like Fender's answer to a Gibson Reverse Firebird.

The pickguard was similar to a Jaguar with a chromed switch plate for the twin volume controls.

There was no control for tone. The potentiometer at the top controlled the bridge pickup, while the lower one controlled the neck pickup.  In other words, this guitar controls are wired back-asswards

The pickups were designed by Seymour Duncan and manufactured in Korea. Despite Mr. Duncan lending his name to the pickups; it is said they could be microphonic. The neck pickup was parallel to the necks base. The bridge pickup was angled with the 6th string lower than the 1st string; like an upside down Stratocaster. A three-way toggle throw switch controlled which pickup was working.

The bridge was Strat-style with a screw-in arm for the tremolo. The saddles were Strat-style as well. The guitar bore Kluson-style tuners on its upside-down headstock.

It was offered in Silver or Blue Sparkle finishes as well as White or Black.

Like the Jaguar, the guitar had a 24" scale, which was not preferred by most rockers with the exception of Ted Nugent who prefers the 23 1/2" Byrdlands.

Players were unhappy about the placement of the toggle switch. It was right in the area most of us use to pick or strum. The Strat tremolo was not meant for dive-bomb solos and overuse put this guitar instantly out of tune. The biggest issue was the pickups, which were said to be microphonic and tinny.

It was not a popular instrument and was gone by 1998.

But in 2013, it's back! This time as a Fender in the Pawnshop series. Fender re-released some of their greatest Squier creations as Fender guitars in the Pawnshop series.

On the Fender model he twin pickups are slanted the same way. The Fender body is made of solid alder (the Squier was basswood or alder). The neck is "C" shaped and features a bullet style truss rod and a 9.5" radius.

The toggle switch controls which pickups are active and the potentiometers are topped with Fender Jazzbass style knobs. This guitar comes with a vintage style synchronized tremolo and vintage style machine heads.

It is offered in dark gun metal flake, sunfire orange flake or apple red flake.