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We had cut some tough driving the day before coming down the old coast road from Monterey, a road NOT dissimilar to that of the coast road between Cannes and Monaco. This morning it was Gabby to take the wheel and drive like psychopath through Los Angeles and get us to the Fender factory before it closed at 4pm - as they were closed for the following day (Wednesday) all day. As I mentioned in an earlier post HERE we turned up the previous Wednesday when closed and they still looked after us!!
The choice of driver was well founded. Gabby who is known on the web as @Gabsatrucker and famed for International half marathon running, 100 mile cycle racer, former Harley rider and kick-ass big rig driver – can adapt to pretty much to any driving style and can make progress where most people simply can’t. Her adaptation and traffic reading of the nightmare known as the freeways of LA are not for the faint heart – but every defensive and offensive action founded in years of advanced driving skills were positively put to use.
For me this meant bemused pondering like “Toyota Sequoia drives well on two wheels” and “These brakes are GOOD!” including “The view from the rear window is great” and of course, that old nugget “I left my teeth in the dashboard”.
Finally, minutes before the 4pm deadline I phoned Fender and left a message to say we were only 5 miles out…
We arrived at 4:10pm and as I walked up to the door – it opened with the smiling face and ever greeting persona of David Brown the Manager of the Fender Visitor Center and Ralph Esposito who is the Projects Coordinator / New Product Development for the Fender Custom Shop.
Running past us was Gabby, hoofing it at speed towards the toilets.
We hung out a while and it was decided that as they’d had an extremely busy day, they’d invite us back the following day (when shut)to carry on and Ralph Esposito wanted to give us a complete, indepth and thorough tour of the Fender Custom Shop.
We set to retire, but was delayed by sudden outpouring of adoration from the Fender team over the two dogs Elsie (who I call Wubble) and Ben, the most timid little fella who we took in from a Dog Shelter. With adoration over, we headed in to Anaheim and a hotel.
The following day was an education the likes of which no ordinary factory tour could ever provide. David Brown took us over to the Factory to check on the body of the Telecaster they’re building for me and which has been principally engineered by David.
We went through the main factory and into some parts where no one from outside goes, through the paint shop, curing areas and final assembly. In the waiting area of hundreds of guitar bodies we found my Telecaster body and inspected work already done prior to that evening’s satin coating.
We headed out in search for a walnut neck to see if there had been any left over from the limited run of the Stratocaster’s, one of which I had purchased. With none left, we headed down past the wood shop we entered the Fender Custom Shop and was taken through to catch up with Ralph.
To describe Ralph is easy - he knows his shit! He’s been there a long time, believes in what he does and believes in getting the very best for whoever the customer is. He’s knows that what they do in the Custom Shop is the very best of their efforts and abilities, yet with so much knowledge and insight he’s very down to earth and easy to listen to and indeed – learn from.
We were taken through every work area, if there was a master builder about we were introduced and where not – Ralph explained the work that each did. We talked and talked as he led us through a history of music from a side few rarely see. We moved on to the Gretsch Custom Shop and then into an area where they’re building a special run of Eric Clapton guitars. We went further to where they turned the finished necks and so much more.
Back in the Custom Shop, examples of models they make and have made were everywhere, and even one incredibly light weight Stratocaster which was so light I thought was made of balsa – but obviously wasn’t. With much talk of food and beer next time we’re in town – thus sealing my return at some point (it was this word : “Beer” that did it) we headed back to Visitors Center so I could put the rest of my guitar parts together with David Brown.
There was still more to choose including neck type, electronics, metal furniture and finally the information to be placed on the Neck Plate of the guitar. This Neck Plate will show the name of the guitar which is TWBrit, the date and where it was born and finally “Engineered by David Brown” whom has been the most outstanding, outgoing and friendliest person from the outset.
Together David Brown and Jane Esposito of the Visitor Centre are a great team; they’re knowledgeable and passionate about what they do and the products they provide. In fact it was Jane’s husband Ralph who we’d met the evening before while waiting to go home who taken us around the Custom Shop and all it’s workings.
Now I’ve said this before; We’ve been to Gibson hollow body factory in Memphis, We’ve been on a fantastic tour of Taylor Guitars in El Cajon, San Diego (who had no interest at all when I wanted them to build me a custom guitar). But out of these, nothing prepared us for the welcome, friendliness and great people at Fender. While this is easy to throw all under the title “Great Customer Service”, of which I am the greatest of sceptics and picky when presented with the good stuff – the team at Fender humbled us! No, they didn’t make us feel special, they made feel welcome and like friends and that is very rare, very rare indeed!
To David, Jane and Ralph who did so much for us
Of the three guitar companies we have visited; Fender has not just done a little more or been a little better than the rest – they have and are miles ahead in the entire experience of dealing with and understanding customer wants and needs. They go the extra mile without being asked and around the world Fender and these great people in Corona, California create things so iconic to the USA and music as a whole it is amazing how they take all this in their stride without any of the pretentiousness of so many other companies.
Gibson for instance will charge hundreds and hundreds of dollars to add a plastic strip around the edge of a guitar (called a binding) and in some cases, add $1000 for that added extra – not great for the present financial climate and considering how much work you have to do to get Gibsons truly playable. But with the “can do – will do” and friendly reception that awaits all at Fender; Fender is certainly on the road to a better recovery from the financial doom and gloom of the past few years – and frankly? I will buy from the people who give me their time and effort and appreciate their customers where so many others don’t!
Fender Musical Instrument Corp is now one of (if not) the biggest guitar manufacturers in the world! Their other products include:
Guild Guitar Company
SWR Sound Corporation
They are also exclusive the U.S. sales representative for Sabian Cymbals and exclusive worldwide distributor of Takamine Guitars and Gretsch Drums.