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Guitar Maker Thrives From Its Fine-Tuned Approach by Michael Hiltzik
Guitar Maker Thrives From Its Fine-Tuned Approach by Michael Hiltzik
The Heretic’s Guide to Alternative Lutherie Woods by John Calkin
Guthrie Govan Takes His SixString Fusion to New Heights with The Aristocrats’ New Album, “Culture Clash” by Alan di Perna
Ibanez AFJ957 7-String Archtop Review by Joe Charupakorn
A Guitar Maker Aims to Stay Plugged In by Janet Morrissey
Hellraiser Extreme C-1 Guitar
How I Chose the Parts to Build My Dream Guitar by Dave Eichenberger
Jim Root Telecaster速 Guitar
The sound of California business success came to my ears the moment I stepped through the door of Fender Musical Instruments Corp’s 3-acre manufacturing plant in Corona. It reached me as riffs and scales on electric guitar, audible over the thud of metal stamping and the grind of band saws that one might customarily hear on a factory floor.
Guitar Maker Thrives From For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, November 13, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 of the National Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction November 12, 2009 | Michael Hiltzik Fender guitars: A graphic accompanying a great Business article Thursday about Fender Musical Instruments Corp.’s plant in the Corona misspelled the last name of musician Stevie Ray Vaughan as Vaughn. But this is no ordinary plant. The last step in Fender’s quality-control process requires an experienced musician to play every note on a finished guitar, listening for a stray vibration or tuning flaw to be corrected before any model, including the American Standard Stratocaster that is the plant’s bread and butter, reaches a dealer. Fender’s Corona shop is a testament to how U.S. manufacturing — California manufacturing, especially — can survive in a world where even complex products such as microprocessors can be turned out by the millions by unskilled laborers overseas.The secret is to marry assembly-line efficiency and hand-tooled precision. Much of Fender’s manufacturing process that also includes the rough cutting of the guitar body and the stamping of the metal parts (some still based on dies cut personally by Leo Fender, the company’s founder), is at least partially automated.
“California is hewn into Fender's DNA, says Justin Norvell, director of marketing for the electricguitar lines.” Construction
“Let’s take everything we think we know about solid body electrifying guitars and throw it out the window. Let’s start over.” Leo Fender on the invention of the Telecaster
American Vintage '52 Telecaster®
Leo Fender’s simple and modular design was geared to mass production, and made servicing broken guitars easier. Guitars were not constructed individually, as in traditional luthiery. Rather, components were produced quickly and inexpensively in quantity and assembled into a guitar on an assembly line. The bodies were bandsawn and routed from slabs, rather than hand-carved individually, as with other guitars made at the time, such as Gibsons. Fender did not use the traditional glued-in neck, but rather a bolt-on. This not only made production easier, but allowed the neck to be quickly removed and serviced, or replaced entirely. In addition, the classic Telecaster neck was fashioned from a single piece of maplewithout a separate fingerboard, and the frets were slid directly into the side of the maple surface—a highly unorthodox approach in its day (guitars traditionally featured rosewood or ebony fingerboards glued onto mahogany necks). The electronics were easily accessed for repair or replacement through a removable control plate, a great advantage over typical construction, in which the electronics could only be accessed through the soundholes in the case of hollow-body instruments, or by taking off the pickguard after removing the strings (in a design popularized by Fender’s own later guitar model, the Stratocaster).
Above: Different woods used by luthier
The Heretic’s Guide to Alternative
Lutherie Woods by John Calkin
This article first appeared in American Lutherie #69. American Lutherie is the official publication of the Guild of American Luthiers. This article is reprinted with the kind permission of the author, John Calkin, and Tim Olsen from the Guild of American Luthiers (GAL). Why do we even need alternative wood species for musical instruments? That’s a perfectly valid question, and the answer is that we don’t. Rosewood, mahogany and maple have served us well for centuries, we know what to expect of them, and our customers have already come to accept them as trustworthy and will pay for them. So why look further? First of all (and speaking from a steel string guitar perspective), let’s discard the notion that some species of wood make good instruments and that others don’t. The concept of tonewood is a hoax. Of the few things that we can do to a guitar and still call it a guitar, changing the wood it is made of will have the least impact upon the quality of the sound that it produces. The tonal difference between a mahogany guitar and a rosewood guitar is exactly the same as the difference between two mahogany guitars or two rosewood guitars. Can you tell what a guitar is made of while listening to an unfamiliar recording? No one I know claims they can. No one at the blind listening sessions I’ve attended could reliably distinguish between mahogany and rosewood guitars, or maple and koa guitars for that matter. Guitars sound like guitars. No matter how poorly or bizarrely they are made, you’ll never confuse the natural sound of an acoustic guitar with that of a banjo, a mandolin, a drum or a flute. Obviously,
not all guitars sound alike, but even when we think we can distinguish a night-andday difference, it won’t be so extreme that one will sound like a guitar and another won’t. We may have a strong preference for one or another, but they will all sound like guitars. If they didn’t, they would be called something else. The tone of a guitar lies more in the hands of the builder than in the materials from which it is constructed. With increased experience, the level of craftsmanship increases. As the quality of the luthier’s instruments goes up, the tonal difference between the instruments goes down. There are not only fewer dogs, but it becomes more difficult to build one that stands noticeably above the others. I noted this phenomenon in my mountain dulcimers years ago, and more recently have seen it happen to my guitars. Psychoacoustics plays such a large role in this matter that it’s difficult to discuss tone objectively. (I think that it’s called psychoacoustics because trying to figure out stringed instruments will make you psycho.) We hear what we expect to hear, what we have been taught to hear, what we want to hear, and often what we hope to hear. Many luthiers and musicians alike spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars collecting information and recordings and they have come to have a stake in the sanctity of its rightness. They need the vast body of instrument mythology to be correct, and strongly oppose the possibility that it may be bogus. This makes it extremely difficult for a daring luthier to sell instruments that aren’t made of standard varieties of wood.
So if the type of wood doesn’t matter to the instrument, and if we can’t get good money for instruments made of alternative wood, why bother with them?
Indian rosewood is much harder, heavier, and stronger than mahogany.
Some species are easier to deal with than others. For luthiers, this is really primarily a matter of precise bending the sides.
So if the type of wood doesn’t matter to the instrument, and if we can’t get good money for instruments made of alternative wood, why bother with them? I like them because I need a certain amount of variety in my life. Curiosity has often been a stronger task master than the buck, I guess. I’ve tried as many types of alternative woods as anyone I know, which is what led to my conclusions about tonewood. I also want my personal instruments to be as unique as possible, regardless of how others may judge them, and alternative wood is an easy way to produce a singular appearance. Alternative species will eventually become more
acceptable as standard species go the way of Brazilian rosewood. Alternative wood can also be cheaper and more accessible than standard tonewood. This can especially be an important factor to beginning luthiers. If your favorite wood should become accepted by the industry, you’ll notice an astonishing price increase as it is stocked by tonewood suppliers. Instrument-grade wood is the cream of the crop and should demand a premium, but lumberyard stock can be just as satisfying to work with, and without breaking your bank account. Perhaps I should briefly describe my experiences with conventional wood species, just so you have a
gauge for my opinions about the alternatives. Mahogany is a lovely wood to work with. Oldtimers maintain that the quality of mahogany isn’t what it used to be, and I am forced to believe them. Supplies today vary widely in hardness and density. Some mahogany is stiffer and heavier than other samples. Some mahogany guitar sets seem almost fluffy and floppy by comparison. Most mahogany is plain, yet pleasing to look at. Sets demonstrating a ribbon figure ar prettier, but tend to ripple across the grain during bending, though the rippling can almost always be sanded out without compromising the guitar. Straightgrained mahogany can be predictably bent into a tight cutaway without breaking. Tool marks and
sanding scratches are easily removed. Mahogany is a dream wood. Indian rosewood is much harder, heavier, and stronger than mahogany. Guitar sets seldom show much figure, but we’re all accustomed to looking at it that Indian rosewood just looks “right”. Sanding this wood clean takes more effort than mahogany, but a good random orbital sander relieves most of the grief. Indian rosewood is extremely compliant. I once accidentally bent a side into a tight cutaway, having forgotten to plug in the heat blanket. iI was quite surprised when I removed the wood from the Fox bender and it sprang back halfway to straight. No other wood of my experience would have survived such a trial. If it weren’t for the allergy I am developing toward rosewood, I would have nothing bad to say about it.
The most trying wood that I have used to any extent is Brazilian rosewood. The stuff loves to warp while it is sitting on the shelf, and, once installed in a bender, is capable of almost anything. Brazilian can be so squirrelly that an occasional side may have to be discarded, since trying to sand out the ripples would leave the wood paper thin. We might expect this from the dregs of Brazilian that are left today, but I bought wood thirty years ago that was just as bad. Once made into a guitar, Brazilian rosewood frequently checks and cracks for no apparent reason. If it wasn’t for the incredible premium that the wood demands, I don’t believe anyone wood use it today. The stuff is grossly overestimated. The makers of other instruments are probably glad that not many flattop guitars are made of maple, which
Left: Chris Broderick. Top Right: Tosin Abasi 8 string Ibanez. Bottom Right Javier also with signature Ibanez
leaves the supply of good stuff for them. Maple sort of proves my point about tonewood. Quilted maple is soft and floppy. Bird’s-eye maple is very hard and stiff. Flame maple can cover the whole gamut. Yet guitarists believe that all maple sounds the same, which goes against the rules they have set up for rosewood and mahogany. Go figure. Figured maple can put up a fight when bent and might ripple badly across the grain. It’s also very abrasion-resistant, which makes it difficult to sand out scratches. Blond guitars can be hard to sell if they aren’t shaped like a Gibson jumbo. Pretty maple can often by found at the lumberyard, which makes it a bargain guitar wood if you have the means to resaw it. Before you start daydreaming about having all the cheap wood you want, remember that some tonewood companies will join backs and sand sets to usable thickness for you (for a fee, of course), thus saving
you the cost of a large bandsaw and a thickness sander. All the tasty lumberyard alternatives you may process won’t actually be so cheap until you’ve paid off this equipment. Some species are easier to deal with than others. For luthiers, this is primarily a matter of bending the sides. Hand bending is the cheapest way to go, and learning the process with mahogany will make the process the most bearable. Some say they like to “communicate with the wood” this way, but I never felt the wood had anything to tell me. Continued...
Guthrie Govan Takes His Six-String Fusion to New Heights with The Aristocrats’ New Album, Culture Clash” by Alan di Perna
The world needs more guitar heroes like Guthrie Govan. No mere notes-per-nanosecond noodler, Govan has musical tastes and a command of music history far more eclectic and adventurous than those of the average shred demon. As a result, his playing is markedly more interesting than anything else in the current chops-guitar marketplace. Ample proof of this can be found on Culture Clash, his latest album with the Aristocrats, a polynational power trio that teams the British-born Govan with American bassist Bryan Beller (Steve Vai, Dream Theater, Dweezil Zappa) and German drummer Marco Minnemann (Paul Gilbert, Necrophagist, Mike Keneally). Culture Clash is the second album by the allinstrumental Aristocrats, who take their name from an “inside” dirty joke among comedians (see the 2005 documentary The Aristocrats). Frank Zappa, a key Aristocrats influence, once asked, “Does humor belong in music?”
Govan, Beller and Minnemann would certainly answer in the affirmative. Rubber chickens and pigs constitute part of their stage gear and are immortalized on Culture Clash’s cartoon cover art. Even Govan’s look seems a bit tongue-in-cheek: the scraggly bearded, shaggy-maned guitarist is a dead ringer for Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson, one of prog-rock’s more outlandish progenitors. In fact, he once met Anderson’s son at a Joe Satriani gig. “I couldn’t resist the temptation,” Govan recalls. “I just had to say to him, ‘I bet I’ve been told I look like your dad more often than you have.’ ” Not that Govan’s grotty, early Seventies hippie vibe is deliberately cultivated. “My look is entirely a byproduct of not caring what I look like,” he says. And indeed, the Aristocrats are not going to win points on image. But then the level of their musicianship renders that somewhat unnecessary. The 41-yearold Govan strikes an ideal balance between
“We realized that we don’t have to adhere to any kind of genre,”
“We wanted to make the extreme parts more extreme, so the violent stuff is more violent and the pretty stuff is more pretty.” ~Gunthrie Govan
classic “brown tone” guitar sensibilities and a 21st century extreme-guitar aesthetic. His remarkably fluid playing effortlessly blends elements of fusion, prog, metal and even EDM with more traditional styles like blues, straight-ahead jazz and country chicken pickin’, often in the same song. Govan’s masterfully nuanced tone is generally much cleaner than what’s heard in the average chops guitar performance and serves to bring the blinding but nonchalant precision of his playing into sharper focus. “We realized that we don’t have to adhere to any kind of genre,” Govan says of the Aristocrats’ musical modus operandi. “The sound of the band, if we have such a thing, doesn’t so much come from adhering to any particular style of music. It comes from the way we play together. So we wanted to be a little bolder and crazier in terms of the writing and scope of this new album. We wanted to make the extreme parts more extreme, so the violent stuff is more violent and the pretty stuff is more pretty.” Govan’s eclectic musical outlook was hatched at an early age when he learned some guitar rudiments from his baby-boomer dad. “I had this wide-eyed
fascination with all of music when I was three years old and learning to play my first Elvis Presley songs on guitar,” he says. “And something that I figured out a long time ago is that music is all around you. You don’t just have to learn guitar solos from your favorite records; you can learn jingles from the TV; you can learn the music that the ice cream man is playing. I’ve always tried to stay open to all the noises I hear around me.” Adolescence marked a big transition for the guitarist in many ways. “When I was 13 or 14,” he recalls, “I started hanging out with kids at school who were older than me. I was always the guitar-playing misfit. I could never find anyone my own age who
Left: Charvel So-Cal Style 1 HH. Top Right: Body close up of Charvel So-Cal Style 1 HH. Above: Gunthrie Govan playing Charvel So-Cal Style 1 HH. Right: Gunthrie Govan finger tapping Charvel So-Cal Style 1 HH.
Above: Gunthrie Govan playing Charvel So-Cal Style 1 HH.
“Suddenly I heard Yngwie Malmsteen. I heard Steve Vai. I think I heard Steve Vai before I heard Eddie Van Halen. How’s that for messed up? I heard lots of guys on Shrapnel Records. I heard Metallica, which of course mostly had an impact on me in the rhythmic department. I loved the kind of chuggy, monstrous tone those guys were getting.” “It was a time in my life when there was a huge ear-opening thing going on. And the players I really warmed to were Steve Vai, for his creativity and humor, and the fact that he made the vocabulary of the overdriven guitar so much bigger. And then Yngwie, who, to me, demonstrates that it is possible to have all these chops and play these outrageous fast things but still sound like you mean it. This may not be a popular viewpoint, but when I listen to Yngwie playing, there’s as much sincerity as there is when B.B. King is playing. He plays every note like it could be his last.”
was at a comparable level or had a comparable amount of passion for playing, so I would always end up hanging out with the older kids. And they took it upon themselves to corrupt me with heavy rock and metal. Prior to that I’d essentially been a blues-rock guy with some smatterings of country and jazz. But I didn’t know what a Floyd Rose was. I didn’t know what tapping was. And I didn’t really know what you could do with a pinched harmonic if you had enough gain on your amp, cause I’d never tried having that much gain.Apart from some brief studies in violin, Govan has no formal musical training. He studied English, rather than music, during his one year at Oxford. But his remarkable natural ear for music made him an ace transcriptionist for the U.K.’s Guitar Techniques magazine and a much-sought-after clinician. Govan’s 2006 solo album, Erotic Cakes, took its title from the name of a fictitious bakery in The Simpsons and featured a guest shot by Richie Kotzen, garnering praise and acclaim in the virtuoso-guitar community. Govan has played with several bands, most notably a latter-day incarnation of Asia and an ensemble led by kindred spirit and neo-prog/psychedelic singer guitarist Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree fame. But with the Aristocrats, he seems to have found his niche—for the moment, anyway.
Top: Charvel So-Cal Style 1 HH front, back, and body close up. Above: Charvel So-Cal Style 1 HH. Right: Gunthire Govan soloing on Charvel So-Cal Style 1 HH.
GUITAR WORLD: Juxtaposition seems to be one of the Aristocrats’ key musical strategies—putting prog-rock stuff alongside blues, alongside jazzy chording and so on. Is that your view of this band’s brief? I think the brief is to do whatever the hell we like and assume we can get away with it. And to try crazy things. All of us are the kind of players who can go to a trade show like NAMM and get mobbed by hundreds of people with demos CDs in a very specific style. We get a lot of fusion-shred guys saying, “Check this out,” and really, that’s not the stuff we listen to.If you could be a fly on the wall inside the van when we’re driving from one venue to the next, exchanging iPods and comparing musical tastes, there’s really not much complicated fusion going on. There’s everything else. So it’s not just me. Everyone in the Aristocrats is interested in a broad canvas of music.
Which of your guitars came into play on the new record?
Most of it is the first prototype I’ve developed with Charvel, which has a koa body and this lovely barking, rock kind of tone. That’s on everything apart from “Louisville Stomp” and “Desert Tornado.” For those two, I hired a Gretsch, more specifically the Reverend Horton Heat signature model Gretsch. And I’d never played a Gretsch before! I just hired it, brought it to the studio, opened the case and realized, Wow, playing a Gretsch is like playing guitar on another planet when you’re eight months pregnant. Everything is in a different place. It’s a completely different beast. Dynamically, it responds differently. The Bigsby was a big learning curve.
And you’ve been able to draw fans from a few of those different camps—various metal subgenres, prog fans, jazz people.
Yeah, I like the crosspollination that’s happened with respect to fan bases. When we play now, we might have fans of the crazy Keneally/Zappa-type stuff who are familiar with Bryan, or some death metal guys who saw Marco with Kreator or Necrophagist or something like that. We started to get a few Steven Wilson fans showing up—more somber prog-rock guys. Normally you wouldn’t find all those disparate music fans at the same gig. So I think that’s a good thing. I guess the level of playing is the common draw. Yes, you can use the musicianship angle to draw people in. But hopefully they have fun when they come to the gig. It’s not fun if everyone in the front row has brought their binoculars and notepad and they’re scrutinizing what you do. It’s nice if you can get a smile out of people.
I thought it was a Gretsch on “Desert Tornado”! That’s the only way to get that lovely Duane Eddy/David Lynch kind of mysterious mid–20th century tone. Totally. And it was a real bonding experience for me: learning to love Gretsches. You’re one of the few virtuoso guitarists who doesn’t go in for what I call the “NAMM show tone”—that hackneyed, super-distorted, cheesewhiz tone that everybody else seems to have. Continued...
7-String Archtop Review Joe Charupakorn | 03 /27/2013
Since the days of “lawsuit” guitars, through the company’s breakout period of Icemans and Professionals, and on into the JEM age, Ibanez has always been about delivering excellent off-the-shelf instruments. But though many of us tend to associate the brand with rock chops these days, some of the company’s first, most important artist associations were with jazz guitarists. And it’s rather telling that some of the genre’s biggest icons like George Benson, Pat Metheny, and John Scofield choose to tear through their IIm–V changes using Ibanez signature axes. These are the guys that transformed jazz guitar— players to whom any boutique maker would happily hand over a oneof-a-kind custom gem just to see it slung about their shoulders. Yet, these legends all choose Ibanez production models that retail to the rest of us mortals for attainable, if not entirely affordable, sums. Previously, the only way to get a 7-string jazz box was to commission a handmade, custom instrument that was likely to come with a prohibitive-for-most price tag. In 1998, though, Ibanez released the Japanese-built AF207, which was just about the first production 7-string hollowbody. Since then, 7-string jazz boxes have become a more familiar sight. They’ve also become more affordable, as evidenced by the Ibanez Artcore Expressionist AFJ957. Priced at about 800 bucks, this Chinese-built axe is perhaps the least expensive, quality 7-string hollowbody on the market.
Seven Steps to Heaven Players like George Van Eps and Bucky Pizzarelli proved that the 7-string guitar is a formidable jazz instrument, but it took a while before players were ready to break from 6-string tradition in any real numbers. Nowadays it seems every other jazzer sports a 7-string and it’s not hard to figure out why: You get lower notes to add a greater range to chord voicings or walking bass lines. The AFJ957 has a strong visual appeal. The vintage sunburst finish coupled with gold hardware, wooden ART-7 bridge, cream binding,
Above: Ibanez AFJ957 7-String Archtop
“The bridge pickup is even further away from the traditional jazz sound, but it’s a great fit for funky fusion, as well as rockabilly and traditional blues.”
and bound F-holes give it a majestic look that exudes class. Smooth, gold minihumbuckers also lend a touch of luxury. The workmanship on our test model was excellent—there’s not a lot to complain about from a quality perspective, and I’ve seen much, much worse on instruments costing more than three times the AFJ957’s price. Playability is excellent on this guitar. Its 20-fret neck, which features a 24.7” scale and a
sans amp. To put the 7-string through its paces, I ran it through a blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb and a Polytone Mega-Brute, with the low string tuned to A, à la Van Eps.
doubt aided by the factoryinstalled D’Addario .011– .065 flatwound strings. The neck pickup is fairly dark. In fact, I thought the tone knob was rolled off even though it was all the way up. Rolling it back softened the attack a little, but also made chords sound a bit muddy. Unlike its predecessor, the AF207, which had only a neck pickup, the AFJ957 is equipped with both neck and bridge pickups, and a 3-way selector switch, which is a very practical
Rich sounds at the right price. Excellent quality.
Neck pickup can be a bit muddy.
Tones: Playability/ Ease of Use: Build/Design:
15.75” fretboard radius is very comfortable for playing lines and chords. And if it’s not quite as silky feeling as the neck on my Ibanez George Benson, it’s still easy to move around fast on the neck. Acoustically, the AFJ957 is not super loud, but it’s vibrant and sounds clear and full enough for a late-night practice session
The guitar’s combination of a spruce top with flamed maple back and sides, and a 3-piece mahogany/maple set neck with a bound rosewood fretboard is a fairly classic archtop formula. And the sonic evidence suggests it works here. Starting with the neck pickup, I immediately took note of the AFJ957’s dark and velvety character, which was no
addition. At one point during a jam session, I wasn’t cutting through the mix very well so I switched to the middle dualpickup position, which yielded a slightly sharper attack that made all the difference in terms of being clear and audible. It wasn’t quite as warm as the neck pickup alone but was a great option— and color—to Allguitars
have available in a situation where the neck pickup alone was not going to cut it. The bridge pickup is even further away from the traditional jazz sound, but it’s a great fit for other jazz styles like funky fusion, as well as non-jazz styles like rockabilly and traditional blues. One minor complaint is that the pickup selector was slightly stiff, demanding a little more effort than I would like for switching pickups mid solo. If your style leans more toward John Scofield than Pat Martino, the AFJ957 can still make the cut. I pulled out a Pro Co Rat pedal to dirty up the AFJ957 and I was able to get some killer sounds. As you might expect though, controlling feedback required continuous attention to proper string muting. And if your mind wanders for a second in these higher-volume environments, the axe will grab your attention by howling like a beast.
The Verdict If you’re in the market for a 7-string archtop, you probably already know that there are very few instruments out there that can truly be termed affordable. You’re
usually looking at instruments that start at $3,000 and quickly head higher. At the ludicrously low price of $799, the AFJ957 is almost a nobrainer—a particularly great choice if you’ve always been intrigued by 7-string jazz boxes but were afraid to take the plunge. One slight issue I have that directly corresponds to the instrument’s rock-bottom price tag is that there is no case included. The Ibanez hardshell case runs about 100 bucks, and you’ll certainly need that, or something like it, if the guitar is ever going to leave the confines of a practice room. In some ways, it might have been better for Ibanez just to include the case and raise the price because there’s no real way around it. Case or no case, Ibanez should be applauded for making such a killer instrument priced within reach of most musicians. It’s not just a great guitar for the price. It’s a great guitar, period.
Left: Ibanez AFJ957 7-String Archtop. Right:Portrait
of Kurt Cobain
A Guitar Maker Aims to Stay Plugged In by Janet Morrissey
IN 1948, a radio repairman named Leo Fender took a piece of ash, bolted on a length of maple and attached an electronic transducer.You know the rest, even if you don’t know you know the rest. You’ve heard it — in the guitar riffs of Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Bruce Springsteen, Mark Knopfler, Kurt Cobain and on and on. It’s the sound of a Fender electric guitar. Mr. Fender’s company, now known as the Fender
Musical Instruments Corporation, is the world’s largest maker of guitars. Its Stratocaster, which made its debut in 1954, is still a top seller. For many, the Strat’s cutting tone and sexy, doublecutaway curves mean rock ’n’ roll. But this heart of rock isn’t beating quite the way it once did. Like many other American manufacturers, Fender is struggling to hold on to what it’s got in a tight economy. Sales and profits are down this year. A Strat, after all, is what economists call a consumer discretionary item