Miscellaneous Rumbles

nobody talkin about Bigsby being sold by Gretsch, into Fender’s claws?

4

Better than being grabbed up by Gibson, I guess.

5

I'm having trouble seeing the trouble with this. FMIC has done well by Gretsch (and did well by Guild, when they had it), in both cases jealously guarding the family jewels and unique brand identity.

With several of their own venerable tremolo designs, FMIC has no need to change Bigsby at all. I'd think they'd keep the design and intent sacrosanct - that's its unique value in the market.

And Fender surely knows manufacturing, and - dare I whisper it? - quality control. Bigsby already has licensing agreements to have product made over there, and none of that can be any mystery to FMIC. Arguably, Bigsby's licensed Asian product is more consistent in quality than the American flagship, which has long been plagued (at a low level) by rough castings, flaws, interchangeable parts that sometimes don't, flaky plating, etc. Improving production quality wouldn't hurt anything, and FMIC certainly knows how to do that (if they want to).

It occurs to me too that Gretsch's current growth may have put pressures of scale on Bigsby that it's had trouble keeping up with. It makes sense to me that FMIC take on that responsibility.

It's not like FMIC would be goofy enough to buy the brand and then bastardize or kill it to sell more of their own tremolos. No one at FMIC is that daft.

6

I wonder if its going to harder for small and new builders to purchase them at worthwhile prices. I've got a new guitar coming out and the bigsby is everything on it. Super thin top and back like an acoustic but reinforced for bigsby.

7

"Into Fender's claws"?

Fender has done right for Gretsch, and I don't see why that'd change at all. Fred doesn't seem to be that involved in the minute daily operations, and Joe C. seems to be a great liaison between the two companies. Fender has a great reputation overall for quality control, and I'd think that Bigsby wouldn't suffer under their control in the least. I'd expect Bigsby gear to be sold individually as well as included on guitar models. I don't see Fender making the same mistakes that Gibson did.

8

"Into Fender's claws"?

Fender has done right for Gretsch, and I don't see why that'd change at all. Fred doesn't seem to be that involved in the minute daily operations, and Joe C. seems to be a great liaison between the two companies. Fender has a great reputation overall for quality control, and I'd think that Bigsby wouldn't suffer under their control in the least. I'd expect Bigsby gear to be sold individually as well as included on guitar models. I don't see Fender making the same mistakes that Gibson did.

– wabash slim

This guy is running Fender, read about him and make your own mind up.

9

I do understand Tavo's concern. The musical instrument business, especially guitar related business is becoming a bit of an oligopoly. I do not believe this is a healthy development in a free market.

Good intentions are just good intentions. Look at what happened to 'don't be evil' Google.

10

Proteus 10 hours ago I'm having trouble seeing the trouble with this. FMIC has done well by Gretsch (and did well by Guild, when they had it), in both cases jealously guarding the family jewels and unique brand identity.

Hmm...I wouldn't bring Guild up as an example of Fender being the good guys. Fender bought Guild, which seemed like a possible good thing, but what followed can really only be described as somewhat of a corporate fiasco. At first, it was business as usual at the old Westerly factory, and the talk about that is good in that Fender seemingly enforced somewhat tighter quality control than what had become the standard at Westerly. Then, when that factory was declared "too far gone to invest in", it was closed rather unceremoniously, what was worth moving put into trucks to California, longtime Westerly staff laid off, and Guilds were going to be made in California. Quite a bit of history in the shape of parts, fixtures and jigs literally ended up in the dumpster because the beancounters decided it was of no value, some of that stuff ended up being "dissappeared" by employees when they realised what was about to happen.

That was also the period of the short lived DeArmond brand - Guild inspired asian built guitars, a line that was launched with a lot of fanfare and publicity, but was unceremoniously killed off a couple of years later, massive blowout, in another mysterious corporate decision. Nobody seems to really know what happened there, with a lot of myths and legend circulating on the interwebs as a result, one of the most popular (and debunked by various FMIC folks) ones that Fender's dealings with Gretsch were at the root of DeArmonds having to go.

The "we'll just build them in California" idea turned out to be a little over-ambitious, a lot of acoustics ended up on Ebay as 2nds with the serial number scratched out and a "used" stamp on the headstock. These had all kinds of finish problems, from mild checking to complete "broken mirror" disasters, and from all accounts quite a few Corona made electrics had weird neck angles and other rookie mistakes.

By that time, FMIC had acquired Tacoma, ended up killing the brand, and housing Guild in the Tacoma facility. Guild electrics were discontinued, acoustics made in Tacoma. This was also where Guild's "all new revolutionairy bolt on modern acoustics" were made, the CV series. These turned out to be a disaster, self destructive guitars that didn't hold up, and they were scrapped, and again a lot of them ended up as 2nds and refurbs on ebay.

Then Tacoma was killed off, factory closed, and in 2008 Guild was yet again moved to another one of FMIC's take-overs : the old Ovation factory in New Hartford, where Hamer, another FMIC acquisition was being made too at that time. Both Ovation and Hamer would be ....drum roll.....killed off not long after. Guild made some wonderful acoustics in New Hartford, with ex Montana GIbson magician Ren Ferguson at the helm, but apparently the beancounters at Fender decided enough was enough, and New Hartford was closed in 2014, and sold to the Cordoba music group. Obviously another decision by the bean counters, as they'd only just released the Mike Lewis designed "Newark Street" line of Korean made electrics - I remember thinking it was very odd, and wondering what was up.

Anyway, long story short, I wouldn't bring up Guild as a shining example of FMIC "doing right". It was at the very least a strange, bumpy ride riddled with seemingly illogical corporate decisions.

I'm not 100% looking forward to Bigsby being owned by the biggest company they've been owned by so far. Call me paranoid, but I'm not so much in love with current corporate tactics of mindset.

11

I just hope not all units get the generic slick computer CNC treatment. See the example on the left:

The 'not so perfect' logo on the right looks so much better.

12

"Good intentions are just good intentions. Look at what happened to 'don't be evil' Google."

Boy ain't that the truth...

13

I just hope not all units get the generic slick computer CNC treatment. See the example on the left:

The 'not so perfect' logo on the right looks so much better.

– Mike2000

The new one's look more like the square , defined imports. I've been buying old stock whenever I can.

14

My comment?, "The road to Hell is paved with "good intentions"

15

My opinion, not that it matters, is that Mr G is the one that put up his money to buy the brand a few years ago. It was a good business decision, if for no other reason, that fact that many Gretsch guitars come with a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece as part of the standard hardware. He has worked hard and done well, and in the process, he risked everything to bring back a brand we all love, and also re-established his family name as a leader in the guitar world. For whatever reason, he made the decision a few years ago to turn over the marketing and manufacturing oversight to Fender, because it was the best of both worlds for him, and also sold more guitars. We all win. And, now, for whatever reason, the decision has been made to divest further of one less box to check in his daily activities.

Mr G is not 35 years old. He has worked hard and provided a product that we all know and love. He is the one that has taken all of the risk, and all we have had to do is enjoy, and now it is time to pull in the horns a bit and enjoy the fruits of the labor. I wish him well. He is a good man.

16

My opinion, not that it matters, is that Mr G is the one that put up his money to buy the brand a few years ago. It was a good business decision, if for no other reason, that fact that many Gretsch guitars come with a Bigsby vibrato tailpiece as part of the standard hardware. He has worked hard and done well, and in the process, he risked everything to bring back a brand we all love, and also re-established his family name as a leader in the guitar world. For whatever reason, he made the decision a few years ago to turn over the marketing and manufacturing oversight to Fender, because it was the best of both worlds for him, and also sold more guitars. We all win. And, now, for whatever reason, the decision has been made to divest further of one less box to check in his daily activities.

Mr G is not 35 years old. He has worked hard and provided a product that we all know and love. He is the one that has taken all of the risk, and all we have had to do is enjoy, and now it is time to pull in the horns a bit and enjoy the fruits of the labor. I wish him well. He is a good man.

– Richard Hudson

Amen Richard.

All this "oh no, this isn't going to be good," reminds me of when it was announced that FMIC would handle the marketing and development for Gretsch.

The world was coming to an end back then.

Well, that got proved wrong.

17

Gretsch heresy maybe but I'm at a phase where I'm kind of getting over Bigsbys. I just ordered a G tailpiece for my Duo Jet and I'm going to pay close attention to the differences in tone. Bigsbys look cool and they function well but they are clunky. I notice a lot of buzzing going on even though mine is a stationary handle and super solid. Overall tone and feel is more important to the way I play than an occasional warble. If I notice no difference or if the B3 sounds better I'll switch it back. I wrote a riff that utilizes the Bigsby that I'll have to switch guitars for if I ever play it live. I still have 3 other guitars with B5s.

I'm thinking the G tailpiece with less moving parts may clean up my sound the same way the Tru-Arc bridge did with its less moving parts. I could be wrong but I will definitely share my conclusions either way.

19

I don't think that's heresy. In fact, in my experience Jets do sound better with G tailpieces. I still prefer a Bigsby just because, but based on what you're saying, I think you'll like the results of the swap.

20

Hmm...I wouldn't bring Guild up as an example of Fender being the good guys.

I wasn't thinking about that whole history, Walter. Those are all excellent observations. I was thinking most of the stellar job Mike did with the Newark series. (And, for what it's worth, FMIC tried to maintain the more expensive American line at the same time. I would guess the price point killed it.)

When you tell the whole story, as you say, it looks much different - or at least checkered. I'm not sure I'd lay all that at FMIC's doorstep, nor even the seemingly scattershot flip-floppy way it all evolved. (Which did take, what, 15-20 years in total?) Guild was obviously already in trouble when Fender bought the brand; I assume FMIC hoped both to honor and build on whatever market cachet the brand had. I can't imagine why else they would have bought it.

Guild had/has a stellar reputation among a nichey coterie of players who remember the great stuff that came along through the years. A Guild strength was that acoustics and electrics were equally prized (among those who prized them), in a way I think only Gibson has managed. (While we can think of serviceable Fender acoustics - and they've sold millions - they aren't seen as premium instruments.) So that's good, and I would expect FMIC hoped they could exploit that. A Guild weakness is that there were never nearly as many of the guitars as Gibsons, Gretschs, Epiphones, etc - and, despite pockets of enthusiasm, the brand just isn't/wasn't as well known.

With all production in the US, the brand was under a competitive disadvantage from the 80s onward, whether home-owned or under FMIC. I'm guessing, but can imagine the brand just couldn't fight the uphill battle. It wasn't boutique enough (and Westerly quality control wasn't strong enough) to survive as a luthier-built brand; it didn't have the history or market dominance of Gibson (who was also in trouble when Henry J bought it), and it was too expensive for the mass market. Blaming all that on FMIC ignores the fact that Guild had been through numerous production convulsions during its 30-year history before FMIC got involved. Stability of the company itself was never assured.

I don't have enough information or insight to second-guess the decision to move production to the Tacoma facility - or to know why FMIC bought Tacoma itself. Again, I suspect it looked like a good idea at the time - "here's an acoustic brand with more cachet (if not more sales) than Fender's, maybe we can finally build acoustic guitars that get some respect" - and I bet it looked like a bargain. Once again, Tacoma would not have been for sale had it been in great financial condition itself.

Same like Hamer. Always a tiny brand in numbers, it had a great reputation as a very particular thing - a better Gibson than Gibson was making when Hamer started, and better value for the money. But Hamer had even a shorter history than Guild, and as Gibson came back resurgent in the early Henry J years, must have been struggling to sell enough USA-made guitars to stay afloat. (I think there was an import version too?) Paul Hamer himself left in 1987 (so, about 14 years after starting the company), leaving partner Danzig to manage the brand when Kaman bought the company a year later. Danzig survived the FMIC acquisition, left soon after. So - again - a brand with a very strong reputation among a very narrow demographic whose reason for being (to make better Gibsons than Gibson, and give more value for the money) had been eroded by market conditions. It didn't really have enough legacy in the market to sustain expensive US-made Gibson alternatives, the brand was never terribly innovative - and of those who cared about Hamer, who would want import versions?

Ovation, don't get me started. I'm surprised they paddled those plastic musical kayaks as long as they did - and if Kaman had been doing so wonderfully with them (or their other corporate acquisitions), why was Kaman for sale?


I get that Fender sometimes looks something like the last man standing, and would appear to be surrounded by the gutted carcasses of its victims. That makes it a convenient target. (And really, have we online whiners ever found a company NOT to bitch about? Fred and Dinah got no respect, Gibson has famously come in for horrendous bashing, now Fender is suspect? Do we like anyone?)

It's hard to know if there was an actual corporate policy of eliminating competition (though did ANY of those brands really compete with Fender?) and profiteering by dismantling companies - or whether FMIC recognized potential value in brands that more or less crawled to it wounded, tried to revive them, and finally had no choice but to administer final mercies.

If there's one thing I know about Fender, it's that the company likes to sell stuff. If it's another, it's that they know how to build guitars. Their problem succeeding with set-neck Gibsonny guitars has never been inability to build them - it's been convincing the market that a set-neck guitar with "Fender" on the headstock should be a thing. Thus an ongoing interest in brands the market already respects. I can't imagine Fender "killing" Tacoma or Hamer if the market really wanted the brands.

I think the record suggests that, among all these brands, Guild was the one FMIC had the most respect for, and tried the hardest (in the most ways, some of them inscrutable) to maintain. I can't argue with you that, in the process, they moved marketing and product decisions - as well as production - around as they juggled all their assets. The disruption clearly couldn't have been good for the brand, or for the people in the factories who whose jobs were lost. In one way, it was more of the kind of chaos Guild had always suffered; in another, hopes that Guild had finally found a stable home were ultimately disappointed.

But I don't think Fender is callous about any of this - that they don't care about the people or the brands. Fender employs thousands of people, many in the US. Fender knows how to make guitar factories work. You can't visit Corona and not recognize that. It just doesn't look to me as though Fender ever acquired a company with the intention of profiteering on the dismantling of revered brands. Just...markets, economies, humans making decisions, change. If an investment isn't making money - or is losing money - at some point someone pulls the plug.

Can we imagine a small group of luthiers still lovingly crafting Hamers, a la Heritage? If that was working, why sell out to Kaman? Can we imagine acoustic and electric Guilds, still coming in small numbers from an American facility? Sure - but that model wasn't working for Guid itself.

Like you, I don't know why the decision was made to offload the Guild brand to Cordoba. The Newark St series looked to be a resounding success, and I would have thought FMIC could continue to operate it as they were. After all the shuffling around Guild suffered as Fender tried to make it work, it seemed to me they'd done right by the brand, and I do think they delivered a viable asset to Cordoba. Maybe Cordoba was just going to pay more attention to it; maybe there was a feeling Guild was a little too close to Gretsch for comfort; maybe a lot of things.

As for DeArmond...man, there's not much of a foul there. It's a hallowed brand name - for pickups and a few accessories. Making it a guitar brand might seem either gutsy or desperate, but as it had never been a guitar brand, either motivation depended on there being enough guys who remembered DeArmond's contributions to the electric guitar - and who would accept a newly-invented Asian-made guitar bearing that name. I would think you, of all people, would consider that whole enterprise quixotic at best - and possibly cynical and/or silly.

As it worked out, I think FMIC proved with the project that it could conceive and build really nice set-neck guitars, with original design and spec, which honored the nature and heritage of the brand name itself - and which directly addressed the market niche they were going for. The guitars garnered some respect, and, yep, probably could have been continued. I don't think anyone thought the DeArmond guitars really had a direct connection to the products of DeArmond's past, but they didn't tarnish the good name of the brand, and arguably introduced it (and its history) to some who otherwise wouldn't have been aware of it.

Why drop it? The obvious and conventional take is that, with Gretsch, FMIC had no further need of the brand, and it might both divide FMIC resources and undermine Gretsch sales.

So yeah, I agree with you that FMIC's handling of Guild might not appear the company's finest (but very long) hour. I just think the reasons for that weren't entirely under FMIC's control.

And it's hard to see how any of that history bears on how FMIC might handle an "accessory" which is not only a historical institution in the guitar biz, but very much of this moment, with strong demand and wide deployment. Bigsby doesn't need to be "saved;" it just needs to keep on keeping on.

And since Fender began its history with lap steels (and steels on sticks), holding the Bigsby brand does seem a marvelous opportunity to revive both marque's glorious history with those instruments. I wonder how many guys would line up for a new Bigsby pedal steeli

21

Maybe we'll finally see cheaper and better Bigsby guitars.

22

What I was getting at Tim, is the size of the operation. Small companies operate in a different way, huge corporations like Fender are more ruthless and about money by nature, because that's the very nature of the beast, once you get to that size/type operation.

I'm not versed or interested enough in big business to know exactly why companies like Fender and Gibson do what they've been doing for a while now : buying brands that are suffering and/or for sale, and more often than not, closing them down or turning them into a cheap import mail order items (which is what happened to Steinberger, Tobias and Kramer under Gibson's ownership) Guild, Ovation,Hamer and Tacoma aren't the only brands FMIC bought and either sold or closed down, SWR is another one that comes to mind.

Bigsby as an accesory is obviously at an all time-peak, but as fashion goes, that could stop at any time, who knows? And as small and obscure as McCarty's operation must have been in the 70's/80's, when Bigsbies were about as fashionable as Ovations are now, I think McCarty was OK with his operation being small as long as he could pay the bills. An operation the size of Fender is a lot more likely to decide "not enough profit in maintaining the traditional sand-cast US made Bigsby, from now on they're a generic CNC'd Asian made item only", just like Gibson decided with Steinberger at a certain point.

That's obviously not going to happen now , as there are more guitars than ever that come with a Bigsby on them as standard equipment, but you know what I'm getting at.

And I agree the Fender thing was a good move for Gretsch - the pre-Fender "reissue" Gretsch guitars left a lot to be desired compared to when Mike Lewis stepped in with his "it doesn't cost more to build them right" mantra - Mike obviously knows guitars, and is fantastic at his job, because he seems to have a knack for pleasing even annoying little knowitalls like myself while being succesful from a commercial standpoint as well. But Fender doesn't own Gretsch, and that's a different ballgame.

23

Maybe we'll finally see cheaper and better Bigsby guitars.

– lx

I'm almost sure that Fender owning the Bigsby trademark will eventually result in Stern or maybe the Fender Custom Shop showing off some incredible replicas for high dollar prices, and maybe I wouln't want it any other way, if I'm honest. Bigsby guitars were always expensive custom shop items, and I'm not sure you can build a realistic replica any other way. They're not exactly telecasters, quite the opposite, actually.

I do think a (beautiful) guy like TK Smith might be bracing himself for a barrage of cease and desist letters from Fender's legal staff though, and that would be kind of sad IMO.

24

The new one's look more like the square , defined imports. I've been buying old stock whenever I can.

– Curt Wilson

Yep. I hate that look too. The charme of Bigsbys is there handmade look.

25

Fender is way too big to do anything well. They're like the government.


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