The Complete Telecaster

Fender USA Factory Tour Report
by Chris Greene 

This report is originally posted on the
Fender Discussion Page by its host Chris Greene. With his permission, I put its copy on this site. 

 I created this message area to write a review of what I learned after a day long tour of Fender's new Corona manufacturing facility. I will do my best to answer your questions and hope that the guys from Fender who read this will correct any mistakes I make from a lapse of memory (hey, I grew up in the 60's!).

I was met by Doug Mills, who is the big bossman of the factory and VP of US Operations for Fender. Doug gave up his whole day to show me around and try to get me educated as to how things are done there. He is justifiably proud of this facility as it was his baby. BTW, for any of you guys who think Fender's management are just a bunch of suits, let me tell you Doug was about the most comfortable executive I've met in many a year (I used to do investment work and have met more than a few). He was dressed casually: Fender logo golf shirt, slacks, and comfortable shoes as it's a big plant.

We spent some time getting acquainted in his office where he showed me some oddball guitars hanging on the walls and a true slab of one-piece body sized ash. He reaffirmed how much Fender is into the FDP. They read most of what we talk about here and respond to what they feel are the most pressing questions and comments.

This facility of Fenders is brand spanking new and looks it. It is a model of efficiency and environmentally friendly design.

We walked into a section of the plant where necks were being fitted to guitar bodies. If you've ever seen pictures of the old Fender factory in Fullerton (Leo's factory, not CBS') this would have reminded you of it in the respect that each worker was at an individual work station decorated with their own personal effects. Doug seemed to know everybody we talked to and they obviously have a great deal of respect for him. Not the typical bossman/underling relationship.

There were work sectors for each operation. Some folks were assembling pickguards, some fitting necks to bodies, others operating the machinery that cuts out the bodies and necks.

Some interesting things I noted in this early part of the tour. They season all the wood and the factory has a very sophisticated climate control system that maintains temperature and humidity. There were piles of precut neck blanks all of hardrock maple. I picked through a couple of piles and noticed that the grain was mixed between straight to flamey. That's why some of you have seen some real pretty necks on your guitars. All the necks and bodies are made in Corona including ALL of Mexico's production.

I also noted a pile of uncut bodies that were assembled of up to seven pieces of poplar (although some was alder) and veneered top and bottom. This was a stack of material that would eventually become bodies for their MIM Standards.

While machines cut the raw material and do the rough shaping of bodies and necks, there is a huge amount of handwork at most every stage. Those of you who think today's Fenders are built by robots couldn't be more wrong.

The necks are shaped using a few different machines. Some from the old days and a few new ones that Doug was really proud of (I think he persuaded the powers that be to invest in them). There are a number of stages for a neck to go from raw wood to finished but EVERY one of them has a fair amount of handwork in the final stages which is why there is still a possible variance from one guitar to another. It doesn't take much to change the feel of a neck - a few swipes of sandpaper. Lots of handwork in finishing the frets too.

Similar equipment for the bodies. Human operated machines cut out and rout the bodies but a significant amount of hand work goes into the final shaping.

We saw the area for pickguard manufacturing and while this stuff is done on huge stamping machines again the final touches (foil backing
and finishing) is a lot of handwork.

One of the most sophisticated areas of the factory are the paint rooms. Again all climate controlled with fancy dust filtering capabilities.
In order to move around, you go through a series of double door systems; really almost like an air lock. You go through one set of sliding, gasketed doors and push a button to close them before entering the next set. This is, in part, why the finish on Fender guitars is close to flawless. Depending on the finish, there are a number of steps but everything goes into curing rooms for a few days (maybe more, maybe less. This is one of those things I've forgotten).

There didn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to what was on the racks other than Strat bodies and Tele bodies were segregated as I recall. I did note the '52 Tele bodies that were curing. Fender was doing a fairly large run of those and the new American Deluxe series. Most were two-piece bodies and some were three-piece. The only one piece bodies I saw were on a couple of one-off Custom Shop guitars. The grain on the '52 reissue bodies was all over the place. Some were very straight, some rather wavy, and some just wierd (to me). All were exquisitely finished and I suspect all will be bought by people who will say, "I got the good one!"

Each stage of the assembly of necks, bodies, electronics, and final assembly is done by real people; almost all of whom seem happy in their work. That's no small thing. Unhappy people can ruin the best efforts of management. Fender factory workers are paid well and get a great benefit package. While there are also pt hourly workers, they have a good chance of becoming full-time.

All along the tour were trash bins filled with reject bodies, necks, and all the rest of the components that didn't pass muster. Yes, Virginia, they really grind up the rejects! Employees who try to deal in black market seconds find themselves in a heap o' trouble. Fender works to make sure only the good stuff leaves the factory.

The final set up is done along a double row of work stations that looked just like a throwback to Leo's day. Each guy has an amp of his choice and works on each one for quite awhile. If your guitar comes to you screwed up, I'd look to the dealer. While the occasional clunker gets out, there are soooo many checks and inspections in the chain that it's a rare occurance. These set up guys know what they're doing. Most of them are real good guitar players too!!

The bottom line is that those of you who complain about Fender's quality, while entitled to your opinion, just don't know what you're talking about. Over the years, I've had an opportunity to tour a number of factories, large and small. Fender's new facility is perhaps the finest one I've ever toured. These guys know what they are doing, spend a lot of time researching what we want as players, and make sure we get good product with traditional Fender value.

As this was a seven hour day and there is so much to say, I'm going to write separate reviews of the amp assembly lines and the Custom Shop.

BTW, all of the above is my opinion based on what I saw. While I did get a free lunch and a couple of hats and shirts, I didn't get a free guitar or anything for a favorable review. Fender offered me this tour so that I could tell FDPers about what really goes on at the factory.

Your questions and comments are welcome.
Chris Greene

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