Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Minor Seventh Heaven -- 1959 Fender Factory Tour

Aw, yeah. That's Leo Fender hisself in the office at the beginning of the video. A little later on, you can see Freddie Tavares playing one of the finished guitars. Freddie was a lead designer of the Stratocaster, which is the guitar you mainly see being built in the video. Freddie was a well-regarded steel guitar player, born in Hawaii. How cool is Freddie Tavares? He played the big glissando that opens every Looney Tunes cartoon. That makes Freddie Tavares cooler than everyone you ever met, and everyone they ever met.

I've owned a Fender Telecaster. I still own an old Stratocaster. If you bought one of the Stratocasters you see being made in the video and stuck it in your closet, it would be worth about twenty grand right now, according to the place I bought my Strat back in the day, Gruhn's in Nashville. Stevie Ray Vaughan thought the old beater Strat he played the most was a 1959, but it was probably a couple years newer than that. The 1959 written on the back of his pickups might have thrown him off. Maybe those lovely ladies you see winding pickup coils were winding his right then, and they went in a bin for a while.

I used to work in a factory not far from the Fender factory in Fullerton, back in the early eighties. It looked just like that. Concrete block and a metal roof. It's hot as hell out that way in the summer, and the doors would hang open a lot, just like you see. I was a welder, and would have much preferred to be bandsawing a poplar guitar body. I had to wear a long-sleeved shirt buttoned up to the neck. Amusingly, I was the only anglo guy working with all messcans, and we had a Hawaiian floor boss, so it looked like I'd have fit right in at Fender. The video can't capture one aspect of it. I bet that place was loud. And not from guitar music, either.

I'd be able to walk right up to any work station in that Fender plant and start working without training. Part of me --a substantial part -- wishes I could. 


Johnny Glendale said...

That was the best seven and a half minutes I've spent today, although I always thought there were angels or Roman gods involved in making those.

John Lien said...

Would that place be closed down today as being a threat to human health and safety?

Great video. I'm amazed as to how much appeared to be done by hand versus using jigs.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful video. Thanks.

Did he do the gliss with fingers, bottleneck, or is the tremolo bar involved?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful video. Thanks.

Did he do the gliss with fingers, bottleneck, or is the tremolo bar involved?

SippicanCottage said...

That sound is a lap steel guitar, probably with a metal bar that looks like a lipstick tube slid along the strings. Tavares played a Rickenbacker "Frying Pan" before he went into the manufacturing business.

Declan said...

Today, G&L guitars (George and Leo) carries on this same tradition each and every day in Fullerton, California.

JC said...

Anon, probably a Stevens bar
Massive as all hell, but with the concavities you can hold it between fingers.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi everyone- Thanks for reading and commenting.

Declan! - I still own one of the first G and L basses ever made.

Dr Bob said...

Fascinating video -- interesting: all wood run through bandsaws by hand, no gloves, no safety guards, no respirators or safety glasses, even in the spray booths; likely hotter than hell in there that the fan did nothing to alleviate (but the ladies got to look at the ripped guys with no shirts on...)

Thanks for posting this

Dr Bob

alicegwen said...

Very interesting video, but I really loved the music track - Minor Seventh Heaven indeed! Does anyone know who is play, and what is the name of that music piece?

The factory reminds me a lot of the Buck Knife Manufacturing Plant in El Cajon CA. I worked there right after I graduated from the US Army in 1971. Yes, lots of Mexicans and lots of heat. Good people,even the floor supervisors were pretty tolerant if you came in on time and tried your best.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Dr. Bob- That appears to my eye to be a very safe workplace for the day. They have dust collection on the machines. Respirators are not common in places where there's a substantial spray booth exhaust. The fumes are exhausted directly away from the work and the operator. Can't even smell it. The EPA wouldn't like the exhaust outside, though; heavy VOC. Bandsaws are very safe saws. It's not usual to have a guard on them. The overarm (pin) routers used on the shaped parts look like freehand work, but there's usually a template on them and the operator follows it around shape.

The place I worked in down the road apiece, twenty years later, was medieval compared to the Fender plant.

Hi Alice- The music is identified on the video as Russell Eldridge.