Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Fender Lead Series

Beatlemania and the British Invasion hit the world in 1964. The result was a huge uptick in guitar sales, particularly electric guitar sales.

The Weavers - A Folk Revival Group
A similar event happened shortly before this during the American Folk Revival era, the enhanced the sale of acoustic guitars. However, the guitar world had not witnessed anything like the demand for electric guitars that occurred starting in 1964 and ended a few years later.

Columbia Broadcasting System
The Columbia Broadcasting System; aka CBS was most interested in increasing profits, and in 1965 purchased the Fender Electric Company from Leo Fender for 13.5 million dollars.

Fender Logo

The sale included the companies existing stock, the brand name Fender it’s existing brands, which included Fender Sales,  Fender Electric Instruments, Fender Acoustic Instruments, and Fender-Rhodes.

It also includied some acquistions that Leo Fender had made; Terrafin Incorporated, Clef-Tronix, Randall Publishing Company, V.C. Squier strings, Electro-Music, Rodgers Drums, Steinway Pianos, Gemeinhardt Flutes, Lyon & Healy Harps, Rogers Organs, Guilbransen Home Organs, and all the existing Fender facilities.

As one can imagine this was a huge gain for a company that had it’s root firmly planted in only radio and television broadcasting.

1960 Stratocaster and
1967 Stratocaster
The existing stock was sold off by the following year without many changes. However by 1966 cost-cutting began to take place. CBS was looking at any means to turn a profit.  And this is why "Pre-CBS" is such a big deal to guitar and amplifier collectors.  But I must admit that many of the products offered during the CBS years were excellent.

1979 Ibanez Roadster
Moving the clock forward to 1979 CBS/Fender was looking to attract new guitarists, Japanese, and Korean manufacturers had made great strides, and were offering products that rivaled U.S. brands. And these Asia produced instruments typically sold for a lessor retail price.

The Fender Lead Series Guitars
In that same year Fender came out with a series of guitars that were based on a Stratocaster, but sold at a reduced price. In 1979 a Fender Stratocaster sold for almost $500. The  Fender Lead Series sold for around $400. This series of guitars were designed by Greg Wilson, John Paige, and Freddie Travares, and named The Fender Lead Series by Fender Marketing Director Dennis Handa.

The bodies of the Lead Series guitar had horns that were more symmetrical than those on a Stratocaster.

'79 Lead II neck
The bolt-on maple neck had a 25.5” scale and black dot position markers, with medium frets, and a skunk stripe on the back. However some came with a rosewood neck and white position markers, without the skunk stripe. The headstock was slightly smaller than the one found on a Stratocaster, however this changed by the end of the instruments production to a more elongated style. The top end of the neck, where the nut sits, was .04” smaller than that of a Telecaster or a Stratocaster.

Fender Lead body

The guitars bodies were made of either 3 piece Ash or Alder. These guitar had an adjustable hard-tailpiece that bolted to the body.

Fender Lead II

Strings attached through the body to string ferrules mounted on the guitars backside.

Fender Lead I pickguard assembly
Besides the hard tail bridge/saddle, other cost-cutting measure included the same routing for the Lead I, Lead II, and the Lead III, and all of the electronics were confined to the pickguard, including the jack. The plastic pickguard for all the instruments had the backside covered completely with aluminum for grounding.

Fender Lead I

The Lead I came with a single special designed Seth Lover split humbucking pickup in the bridge position.

1981 Fender Lead I

The pickup on the Lead I had a 3 position coil selector switch that enabled the front single coil, both coils, or the rear single coil, plus a series/parallel switch (which was effective when both coils were active). The guitar had a single volume and tone control.

1980 Fender Lead II

The Lead II came with twin single coil pickups called X-1’s. These were hotter than those on a Stratocaster. One was at the bridge position, while the other was in the neck position. Both were slanted.

1980 Fender Lead II

This guitar had a 3 position pickup selector, plus a 2 position phase switch that worked when both pickups were active. Once again it came with a single volume and a single tone control.

1982 Lead III

The Fender Lead III was only offered in 1982, at the end of the run, for one year. It came with twin specially designed humbucking pickups, that were larger than most units built at that time.

1982 Fender Lead III

The guitar had a 3 position pickup selector switch, and a 3 position coil selector switch that allowed for neck single coil, both coils neck and bridge in full humbucker mode, or bridge single coil. Of course it also had a single volume and tone control.

Fender had designed a Lead Bass guitar that apparently never went into production. A prototype was photographed of the instrument.

Fender Lead Bass

This bass guitar was built to have 2 single coil bass pickups, each with 8 poles, that slanted in the opposite direction of the Lead II guitar. The Lead Bass was designed to have a 3 position pickup selector switch, and a 2 position phase switch that acted when both pickups were engaged.

Steve Morse with Lead II
Initially Fender recruited Steve Morse, who in 1979 was playing guitar with The Dixie Dregs, to use the Fender Lead II guitar onstage.

They also signed Ritchie Blackmore as an endorser. Later Eric Clapton played a Fender Lead II, and donated it to the London Hard Rock Cafe.

Clapton's Lead II

The Lead Series of guitar were in production until 1982. By 1981 Fender had implemented the Bullet Series that would replace them.


Shnookylangston said...

Played in a band with a guy who had a Fender endorsement. He had a Lead I and two Lead II's, and everyone who played the Lead II's raved about them and wanted to buy one from him. That red Lead II is still his main guitar.

marcus ohara said...

They are nice guitars.

Thanks for stopping by.


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