Finished Fenders

Fender factory tour: photo essay

We follow the manufacturing process at Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, by which solid blocks of wood are transformed in to shapely electric guitars.

The manufacturing plant in Corona, California is Fender Musical Instrument Corporation’s flagship production facility. The most expensive and highest quality ‘Made In the USA’ Fender instruments are still produced in California, as they have been since the company was founded by Leo Fender in 1946. Corona is also where Fender’s high-end Custom Shop is based, which is responsible for the special edition guitars the company produces in honour of legendary players and musicians.

1. Finished guitars progress through various testing and checking phases, including a final performance check by an in-house guitar player. Once approved, the instruments are signed off and the familiar ‘swing tag’ attached to the headstock. These guitars are now ready for shipping.

2. The wood for each guitar part is carefully selected, seasoned and dried.  A worker then draws around an existing template, for example a Stratocaster. This piece of wood is then ready for routing into the basic shape appropriate for the guitar to be manufactured.

3. Ash, alder, basswood, poplar, mahogany, koa and maple are all commonly used for the body section of Fender guitars, with each wood having a different weight and a subtly different tone. Solid wood typically offers the best tonal response over plywood, regardless of type or density.

4. Fender's guitar pickups are often wound by hand. Tone will be affected by the number of winds, the stagger of the pole pieces inside the pickup, the type of magnet inside (various types of Alnico are commonly used), whether the magnet is wax potted to reduce microphonic  feedback and whether the pickup is open‑face or covered.

5. Necks are fully assembled separately from the body section. This includes cutting, shaping, sanding and finishing, as well as installing the fret wire, adding and precisely cutting the nut section, adding the clay or mother-of-pearl marker dots on the neck and applying the Fender decal transfers to the headstock.

6. After painting and varnishing - using a polyester finish for entry-level guitars and vintage-correct nitrocellulose lacquer for high-end instruments, including Custom Shop models - the finished guitars are air dried, suspended high over the factory floor.

7. The test bench is an opportunity to check the electronics of the instrument, as well as its tuning and intonation. This may also be when individual components are added, according to the instrument type, such as specific types of volume knobs, toggle switches and other hardware features.

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