Workplace Oddities: Innovation at Fender in the late 60s/early 70s
If the ‘50s were about establishing themselves as a tycoon of instrument sales, for Fender, the ‘60s were all about change. Looking back on it, some of these changes were welcome. The earlier years of the decade brought about many beloved Fender features: custom colors, new models, and a fun, fresh approach to their advertisements that few of their competitors could replicate at the time. The latter years, however, brought some of Fender’s most controversial changes. Many fanatics mark the brand’s sale to CBS as its downfall in quality, a clear departure from their earlier years. Adversely, some revel in this period – excited by the changes Fender made or the models the company launched under a new owner. Now, we’re not here to pick any lane; as we always say, “to each their own.” Instead, we will offer an additional perspective – an appreciation for the craftsmanship and creativity of Fender’s Research and Development Department in the mid-60s to early 70s.
In 1962, Fender hired German luthier Roger Rossmeisl. Well known for his work at Rickenbacker, he was hired to develop acoustics initially, though Rossmeisl eventually grew into archtops and semi-acoustics as the head of Fender’s R&D Department. Rossmeisl was responsible for several of Fender’s mid to late ‘60s models, including the Coronado, Wildwood, Montego, and LTD.
We are lucky to have a Fender LTD in our store, allowing us to examine the fine detail and careful artistry that characterizes this model. Rossmeisl, with the help of his assistant Philip Kubicki, hand-crafted this limited-production run, making only 36 LTDs over a couple of years. Ours is a 1972 and was #33. This beautiful guitar features a German-style carved body, highly flamed maple, and a special headstock design with mirrored Fender “F” logos. These are but a few intricate specifications that make this model so remarkable. To examine it more thoroughly, click here to read our blog post about this specific guitar and how we discovered something special under its carved top.
Though his independent contribution as a luthier was undeniable, Rossmeisl’s mentorship and partnership with Phil Kubicki was one of his most valuable steps at Fender. In 1964, after being hired by Rossmeisl, Kubicki began as a production worker in the company’s acoustics division. Initially, the two did not work side by side. However, one fateful day Rossmeisl called on Kubicki for some advice on aging metal, and soon after, Kubicki became Rossmeisl’s direct assistant. Kubicki states that “[their] main focus was LTD and Montego production, but [they] always seemed to have a special project going on the side.” Special projects they had going on the side indeed. Over the years, we have had the privileged opportunity to purchase many of these Fender oddities, the prototype/one-off experimental guitars that Kubicki spoke of in this quote. These projects are unique and nothing short of incredible Fender History.
This first example is a 1967 Telecaster that is semi-hollow. It has a spruce top, zebra wood back, and a maple cap neck. The body is double-bound, like a Custom Telecaster. The inside of the body is similar to a Thinline as it is built with a center block, even though the top lacks an f-hole. This gives the appearance of a solid body while remaining remarkably light at just 4 lbs 15 oz. As a one-off guitar, this Tele is well-documented and featured in Fender: The Golden Age 1946-1970 (Kelly et al.) and The Fender Telecaster (Duchossoir). This Telecaster, and most of the semi-hollow Fender rarities we have seen, seem to be prototypical or exploratory designs for the Thinline Telecaster.
Our second example is a 1967 Stratocaster that is fully hollow and without contours. The top and back are crafted from red-stained zebra wood, with sides painted a shade of deep brown. Much like the spruce-top Tele before, this guitar is also double bound.
It weighs only 6 lbs 7 oz, with a noticeable lightness the second you pick it up. Accompanying the body is an intensely flamed Jazzmaster-style neck with a bound fretboard and block inlays, topped with a large CBS-era headstock. You will notice that this guitar also lacks an f-hole, allowing for the same solid-body illusion we saw with the previous Telecaster.
Because Rossmeisl was once in charge of producing Fender’s Wildwood Acoustic line, and both he and Kubicki started in the acoustics department, it is only fitting they would develop this 1966 Telecaster in Wildwood Green. Fender’s Bill Carson even supposed that the duo used surplus Wildwood with this design.
This guitar may have the oddest combination of appointments out of all the prototypes in our store. Along with a bound body and Jazzmaster-style bound neck with block inlays, this guitar also features a Mustang tremolo system. The headstock has no Fender logo, though it is unclear why. There are two f-holes found on the front of the body, and one is even reversed, giving a mirrored effect! A custom-cut pickguard is fitted to the front of the body to make room for the second soundhole. The sides of this body are even painted in Sherwood Green. This guitar was featured in Guitar Player Magazine’s April 1992 issue and as a highlight in Electric Guitars and Basses: A Photographic History (Gruhn and Carter).
The pair loved experimenting with Telecasters, and this one from 1971 is another prime example. While the body may look like it is made of solid Zebrawood, this is another illusion. It is actually an ash body with a thick Zebrawood veneer applied to the top and back. The sides are painted brown, though, with time, the paint has worn away around the edges revealing the ash underneath. The high contrast of this grain pattern is paired with high contrast appointments, taking us back to the early 50s with this black pickguard and maple neck, complete with a walnut truss rod plug on the headstock. Even in their experimentation, Fender calls back to their roots.
Last is this jaw-dropping Circa 1970s “Stringer” Telecaster. Interestingly, this guitar did not leave the factory until 1975, after Kubicki and Rossmeisl left Fender. However, it was built by one or both of them while they were working in the R&D Dept. This Telecaster is strung together (hence the nickname) with many different kinds of wood used by Fender at the time. The body is made of Ash, Alder, Rosewood, Mahogany, etc., paired with an incredibly dark, solid Rosewood Neck. The neck and the black pickguard look to be appointments pulled from Fender’s Rosewood Telecaster design.
All of the prototypical designs mentioned above were never pursued further. We have never seen other examples of these guitars (though if you have, send them our way!!). We are privileged to compare each of these oddities to the next, admiring how they are similar and how they differ. This is something that we wanted to share with you. We would give anything to go back and exist as a fly on the wall, watching Roger Rossmeisl, Phil Kubicki, and everyone in the R&D Dept at work crafting these creative instruments. Truly, stories like this one at Fender are what it’s all about for us.
Gruhn, G., & Carter, W. (1994). Electric Guitars and Basses: A Photographic History. Miller Freeman Books.
Gruhn, G., & Carter, W. (1994, April). Rare Bird. Guitar Player Magazine.
Kelly, M., Foster, T., Kelly, P., & Kelly, P. (2011). The Golden Age of Fender, 1946-1970. Cassell Illustrated.
Duchossoir, A. R. (1992). The Fender Telecaster: The Detailed Story of America’s Senior Solid Body Electric Guitar. H. Leonard.