Miscellaneous Rumbles

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

26

buying brands that are suffering and/or for sale, and more often than not, closing them down or turning them into a cheap import

But then WHY were the brands suffering? What business model would have worked? Very often these failed companies have been spun up by one or two guys with an idea and a passionate mission, who managed to put something great out there which become all the rage, and then had to scale up production and brave all the horrors of the retail music business. Production, personnel, capital, regulation, supply chain, marketing, trade shows, dealer relations, logistics, etc.

For a guy with the skill set, it's easy to build one-offs and prototypes and maybe sell a few - and be loved by everyone for innovation and doing-it-the-old-fashioned-way determination. Being the feisty little guy, doing it right.

Scaling that up to actual commercial production - and surviving - is a bitch. I believe the dreamers and founders of every "failed" company we've mentioned burned out on some part of the business - or just got bored - and either cashed or just got out, leaving their brands behind with best wishes to be run by whoever was left to run them.

Depending on decisions the remaining caretakers made, and how they responded to music fashion and evolving market conditions, the brands then either thrived or thrashed about, based. A few kinda made it - most foundered. It's possible to argue that FMIC kept most of the flounders alive for longer than they would otherwise have lived - always by trying to continue to build (under evolving production conditions, to be sure) and sell the signature products which had floated the flounders in the first place.

Very few companies manage the trick of remaining the same size, with the same character they had at startup. If it's a handful of people doing the thing they love, and that they know how to do, maybe. But it's in most entrepreneurs' nature to try to grow the thing they do, to make more of it, possibly to get to the point where they don't have to work 60-80 hour weeks themselves.

Growth is just hard to manage. It takes investment and risk to get economies of scale that make your product more affordable. Once you grow to a certain point, take on responsibilities of personnel and debt, the thing takes on a life of its own, wants to survive at all costs. Then the love goes out of it and it turns into a monster. That monster either grows or shrinks; in any case, it's never again what it started out to be. Unless those key people are in place to continue to infuse the operation with purpose, passion, and fresh ideas, it turns into a zombie hulk.

The challenge is to continue to do that One Thing well - just more of it. If you can't, or the market doesn't want it, it may be time to close up shop.

I don't know what was so special about Tacoma that they deserved to survive (or Ovation, for that matter, though Ovation at least had a "thing" - just a thing I found ridiculous). On the basis of a number of original products, I think Guild deserved to survive - but whatever the "original" company was was already long gone when FMIC came along, and the brand's family jewels are now under the care of another custodian. Hopefully it will survive.

Hamer? Again, I have a great US-made Hamer, a Korinna LP doublecut shape thinline with P90s. It's a wonderful guitar. But in the end, Hamer's thing just wasn't unique enough - and there apparently weren't enough people with warm fuzzy feelings about the original guitars to sustain a brand. Had Paul Hamer's original crew continued building guitars, a few at a time? He'd still be ready to retire now.

Did Kramer deserve to live? Not in my view. The company would have sunk in the 80s with its fabulous reason-for-being original aluminum-necks, and only got "important" enough for anyone to buy because of the brain-dead inane Eddie guitars and me-too superStrats it pimped out through the 80s. Not even nostalgia should be enough to save Kramer. Some may have a soft spot for the brand name, not me. (And I'll never give up my aluminum-neck 350.)

I do think Steinberger and Tobias deserved better. They were unique items in the market. I can't speak to what happened to them under Gibson's stewardship - but given what Henry J's Gibson was doing to itself, I wouldn't conclude they had to die.


ANYway, each of these sagas certainly has its own arc, details that make its business history distinct from the others, and I don't know that we're doing them any favors by lumping them together as "brands Corporate USA bought in order to kill them."

I mean, I get being suspicious of "big companies." I get not trusting The Man. But geez! This isn't a national broadcasting company buying a little guitar company. It's not a piano maker diversifying and getting into both guitars and mortgage service. It's a guitar company - who makes and manages the guitars we all like best, integrating vertically by owning a critical component which goes on, I'm guessing, hundreds of thousands of guitars a year.

It seems no company big enough to survive is pure and authentic enough to satisfy us.

There might be a parallel to draw between General Motors in its heyday and Fender today. GM assembled a family of complementary brands, all of which competed in the market with each other, but only infrequently cannibalized each others' sales. GM also ending up owning and operating many of its component suppliers. And for over 40 years, GM did all that very successfully and, I think, did justice to all its divisions. Each was allowed to be creative and innovative, each was allowed to go the direction its market lead (or in which it lead the market). I think the public benefited.

GM had been "too big to fail" for decades before it finally did fail - and it wasn't Big that killed it. It was a combination of the ongoing weight of negotiated benefit responsibilities, failure to adapt soon enough or well enough to changing automotive tastes and needs, complacency about quality, and - worst of all - stagnation of creativity and vision at the top, with a corresponding loss of identity (and then sales) among its brands.

FMIC won't last forever - no business can - but I don't see signs of internal rot yet. It seems to me we distrust Fender because it's successful.

Ya just can't win.

27

Don't get me wrong, short-term, I'm not worried at all. Bigsby distribution will get better, the backorder problems Curt mentioned in a different thread will dissappear, the operation will get more efficient.

And who knows, Fender marketing is smart enough to satifsfy even the geekiest vintage minded snobs to create an upmarket $400 "authentic vintage reissue Bigsby" with a cute name like "the Downey Authentic Aluminum" line or something, with removable pins, "cast from the old molds", in a fifties cardboard box, with the cute typewritten photocopied instructions that used to come with Bigsbies in it, if they smell there's a market for it.

But as you know, I have a part time job in (very) small guitar retail, and I can tell you first hand a company the size of Fender (or Gibson, for that matter) has become almost impossible to deal with for almost anything except other corporate entities, and that's where I get Tavo's comment/fear about with might happen. And that's the way it works now, I know. But I don't have to like it!

28

I can tell you first hand a company the size of Fender (or Gibson, for that matter) has become almost impossible to deal with

Yes, that I know. I don't like it either.

Peavey had a reputation for being hard to deal with in that way ("here's your master order, take it or leave it") in the 80s, when I worked in a shop. At that point, the mom & pop I worked for actually had a Fender rep - guy named Ken - who came to see us at least once a year, and didn't make onerous demands.

I think it's unfortunate small retailers have been thus frozen out of the market, and I confess I don't see why. At one point it may have been to create and protect market territory for the big box stores, back when they were the evil empires eating the local music retail business. But so many mom-n-pops have failed, and even the big boxers are further between, and their lunch is being eaten by the monstrously attractive efficiencies of e-tail. The distribution landscape has changed dramatically.

I can't think it would cost Fender - or their biggest dealers - a thing to ease up on demands made on small shops. Those are the shops that are least likely to pimp out the product at low margin, and they're typically the dealers who keep customers the happiest. I think at this point any business FMIC would get from small dealers would almost be plus business to them.

29

IIRC one additional problem for Hamer is that they acquired a bad reputation for fragility. i remember a number of complaints of the necks of their flagship model (the flame-topped doublecut that looked to be based on the Les Paul Special) breaking off at the neck/body join.

30

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.

– WB

Gretsch built some good looking Prototypes a few years ago, afaik not in the custom shop price range. I'm sure we'll see them again. Bigsby is the last important brand in guitar history that isn't reissued (in larger quantities) so far.

31

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.

I would hope that doesn't happen. Leaving aside the question of whether anything TK Smith does infringes on anything that would be protected (and I don't think it does), there's at least some precedent to suggest that it wouldn't. As far as I know, Gretsch/FMIC have never made any efforts to freeze out TV Jones or Seymour Duncan from the upscale DeArmond or FilterTron market, instead choosing to partner with them as suppliers. Similarly, Gretsch could have responded to the formerly latent demand for radius matched bar bridges revealed by the success of Proteus's Tru-Arc bridges by correcting the flaws in their own bridges, but instead of doing that, they now equip many Custom Shop guitars and at least one Professional Collection model (the DE) with Tru-Arc bridges. My guess (or at least hope) is that the more likely relationship between TK Smith and FMIC would be TK supplying pickups for the occasional Custom Shop Bigsby replica.

32

Gretsch built some good looking Prototypes a few years ago, afaik not in the custom shop price range. I'm sure we'll see them again. Bigsby is the last important brand in guitar history that isn't reissued (in larger quantities) so far.

– Stefan

They were a lot less impressive in person, and quite different from original Bigsby guitars in different ways.

33

Off topic but still Fender. What’s the first thing you do when you get a new Stratocaster? Remove that weird arm thing attached to the bridge would be my answer.

34

Off topic but still Fender. What’s the first thing you do when you get a new Stratocaster? Remove that weird arm thing attached to the bridge would be my answer.

35

What’s the first thing you do when you get a new Stratocaster?

Wonder why many of my favorite guitarists play Strats, but I can't seem to make friends with it.

36

Off topic but still Fender. What’s the first thing you do when you get a new Stratocaster? Remove that weird arm thing attached to the bridge would be my answer.

– Mr_Christopher

Nope... Change out the springs in back of it. The stock ones are always, always always too stiff for the kind of subtleness I tend to want. I like to aim for as close to a Bigsby as I can, so I play with the springs.

37

Remove the back plate and throw it away.

38

It is hard for me to believe that competing guitar manufacturers (Gibson, et al.) are going to happily continue to purchase Bigsby vibratos from FMIC.

Perhaps some enterprising folks will come up with a competing vibrato design that is sufficiently unique to not step on any Bigsby patents. The Next Big(s) Thing, so to speak, might quickly gain acceptance with guitar makers outside of the FMIC family.

39

It is hard for me to believe that competing guitar manufacturers (Gibson, et al.) are going to happily continue to purchase Bigsby vibratos from FMIC.

Well now. That's an interesting consideration, and I hadn't thought of it. That's the nearest thing to a gotcha anyone has proposed. I'm sure Fred and the Fendersketeers considered it though; when your business is supplying an accessory, not an assembled instrument, surely you think about how your customers will react to a move like this.

Also, I think it within the realm of possibility that economies of scale and other efficiencies might give FMIC a lower manufacturing cost, plausibly yielding a lower OEM cost. Money always talks. If the buyers get good deals, I bet they keep buying.

And I don't know about Bigsby intellectual property. I don't know what functional elements would be protected. Lots of companies have made vibratos that work (to my analysis) exactly like a Bigsby. Wurlitzer in the 60s and Ibanez now come to mind. Duesenburger's is pretty much a Bigsby. I don't know if there are licensing agreements for the basic technology, or if perhaps only ornamental and brand elements are still protected.

Interesting considerations.

40

I bet Gibson will now come up with their own version of a Bigsby.

41

I bet Gibson will now come up with their own version of a Bigsby.

– BuddyHollywood

I don‘t think so. A Bigsby vibrato is an iconic original like a Fender Telecaster or a Levis 501.

42

Not sure I can see what difference it makes to Gibson.

I would suggest Gretsch are a closer competitor to Gibson when you look at their product ranges. If they buy them from Gretsch, why not Fender?

43

That's exactly what I was thinking Deke. I don't see the problem. Everybody's been buying or licensing from Gretsch so far, why not from Fender? Same difference.

44

Off topic but still Fender. What’s the first thing you do when you get a new Stratocaster? Remove that weird arm thing attached to the bridge would be my answer.

– Mr_Christopher

take out 2 of the vibrato springs and switch the other 3 to the center three hooks on the claw. 5 springs = i can't move the vibrato at all.

45

The first thing I do to a Strat depends on what year & model Strat. The first thing is to take the slop out of the lever. On my 1999 Custom Shop model, that meant taking out the vibrato block and smacking it with a ball peen hammer to tighten the threaded hole. Then I fowled the threads on the lever like I always had to do on the older Strats. Then I removed two springs, and adjusted the body screws so the block sat right in the middle of the cutout. It already came with a 3-position switch, so I only had to re-wire it Memphis style, and change the tone cap. Neck was shimmed with a piece of hardwood veneer, and pickups were changed to DiMarzio Red Velvets.

46

I predict that Fender will immediately scrap all the molds and tooling, and then have a poor quality copy made somewhere in Indonesia. The prices will only increase slightly at first, but the quality will plummet. It will then join the DeArmond "in name only" products. Bigsby will eventually be discontinued entirely. The only reason Fender acquires other companies is to manipulate the price of Fender stock. RIP DeArmond, Bigsby, Sunn, etc.

47

I predict that Fender will immediately scrap all the molds and tooling, and then have a poor quality copy made somewhere in Indonesia. The prices will only increase slightly at first, but the quality will plummet. It will then join the DeArmond "in name only" products. Bigsby will eventually be discontinued entirely. The only reason Fender acquires other companies is to manipulate the price of Fender stock. RIP DeArmond, Bigsby, Sunn, etc.

– Billy Zoom

I don't want to agree with you but with trends in manufacturing I've seen in my career, this is the best bet with the odds closest to 1:1.

48

Ouch, Billy. Pretty harsh.

Harry retired in 1976, and DeArmond had been dormant for years when Fender got it with Guild; I'm not clear what they should have revived. Clip-on magnetic pickups, in the era of under-saddle piezos? Mechanical tremolo or the square wave generator and phasers of the late 60s? Mass production of 2000s...but to sell to whom? Cast-aluminum volume pedals?

Cool and iconic though some of that stuff is (to a small demographic), it's hard to see where any of it would have fit in the early 2000s.

Sunn? They'd stopped making tube amps long before Fender got'em; were their contemporary solid-state offerings that compelling? Were there enough people who fondly remembered Sunn to sustain a revival?

There was barely enough Ampeg love left for SLM to rejuvenate the name (and flagship products) in the 80s, and Ampeg had a considerably stronger history than Sunn.

I may be naive, but the notion that FMIC would discontinue the Bigsby brand seems pretty far-fetched. It's a strong, viable, vibrant product line, an industry standard for decades - and no signs of any drop in demand. It weathered the dive-bombing lock-trem era of the 80s and 90s, and I'm pretty sure more guitars are getting Bigsby vibratos now than at any time in the past. Whyever would Fender abandon something like that?

49

side note : the DeArmond trademark is now owned by the Cordoba group, who bought it from FMIC along with Guild. And they're slowly reviving DeArmond too.

50

The first thing I do to a Strat depends on what year & model Strat. The first thing is to take the slop out of the lever. On my 1999 Custom Shop model, that meant taking out the vibrato block and smacking it with a ball peen hammer to tighten the threaded hole. Then I fowled the threads on the lever like I always had to do on the older Strats. Then I removed two springs, and adjusted the body screws so the block sat right in the middle of the cutout. It already came with a 3-position switch, so I only had to re-wire it Memphis style, and change the tone cap. Neck was shimmed with a piece of hardwood veneer, and pickups were changed to DiMarzio Red Velvets.

– Billy Zoom

hey bz, can you elaborate on the tone cap change?

50's memphis pre 5 way switch hot rod wiring!!

janes

cheers


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