What we should know about The Fender Vintage Reissue. Part 1.

One of the questions I have been asked by guitarists newer to the world of Fender instruments, is: “What makes a Vintage Reissue a 'Vintage Reissue?' ”, or “How do I know a Vintage Reissue when I see one?”. In this article I am going to look at one of the most widely-respected models from fender's line-up - The Fender Vintage Reissue and how it has changed over time.

Fender Vintage Reissue Timeline

Fender Fullerton US Vintage Reissues (1982-1984) (CBS production)

Firstly, The Vintage Reissue line-up was introduced in 1982 and initially consisted of 6 core models; the 52 telecaster, 62/57 Stratocaster, Jazz Bass and 57/62 Precision Bass. These models were selected for their historical significance in the Fender line-up and also on account of them being popular instruments. Fender made accurate representations of these guitars for their clients, and it was fenders' duty at the time to provide correct copies of these guitars with all of the appropriate measurements and specs so that purchasers might get closer to obtaining a guitar they had only DREAMED about.

The original 1982-84 vintage reissues were produced as near to the orignal guitars as possible, which is why they are so sought after. They were made with original tools, had minimal changes to their specifications (i.e., no changes in pickups or electronics), and were intended to replicate a Fender guitar one would have bought at that time period from a dealer. It has been estimated about 10-15 American Vintage Reissues per day are produced at full capacity during Fullerton era by hand using old tooling machines. However, the US Fender reissues of the 1980s could never be passed off as originals. Not to an expert, anyway. This was due to the incorrect spacing of the twelfth fret fingerboard dot markers.

Fender Corona US Vintage Reissues (1985-1998) (FMIC production)

In 1985 Fender started offering a Vintage Reissue line-up from Japan moved there USA production line from California to Fullerton. The negative repercussions of this was that the demand for the American made Fullerton models went up in value and quickly became collector's items, therefore no longer affordable to many players. The move from Fullerton to California meant that they could use CNC machines which was a huge step forward from the hand tooling work used before.

Over time the guitar models had small changes, wood quality alone was going to run up the cost of production, and that was before anyone started looking at the small details that needed attention. The pickups were hard to duplicate, and those vintage finishes were difficult to authentically reproduce. The whole process was turning from the realm of manufacture into the realm of art. All the time, Fender were budgeting for greater accuracy, the price was going to increase, which would mean increased expectations from its consumers, these reissues had to be accurate. The concept seemed very viable, but the real world was restrictive in many ways. In 1998 it was decided to stop producing the Vintage Reissue guitars; therefore it was only possible to buy these instruments second hand.

Fender American Vintage Reissues (1998-2012)

By the end of the '90s one of the most important challenges Fender had was to renew the Vintage Series (1982). With the help of new machinery, construction techniques and Michael Stevens (master builder at the Fender Custom Shop), this was possible and it led to the re-edition of the American Vintage '57 Stratocaster and the Vintage '62 Stratocaster.

Mike Lewis commented how Fender could now afford a wider use of nitro lacquers. The pollution laws in California could have made it very difficult for Fender, but the containment system for the pollutants they installed in the new factory was so advanced the air coming out was cleaner than the air going in! The clear coat and the colour were lacquer-based, polyester was used at the bottom, but a much thinner coat than that of the end of the CBS period. American Vintage Series headstock and neck shape contour were finally made similar to the original Stratocasters. 1961 pickups were analysed and duplicated, and the fret markers at the twelfth were widened like Leo’s first guitars. This technological advancement enabled fender to offer a variety of there ever so popular Vintage reissue such as the 1962 Jazzmaster.

The American Vintage Jazzmaster 1962 model reissue was almost true to the original in 1962. It featured vintage style pickups, aged hardware and period-correct brown tolex case with gold interior. The guitars were came in a variety of Custom Colours. In 2006 the American Vintage '70s Stratocaster was launched: The key features of the CBS period were kept, the 3-bolt neck plate with Micro Tilt, the “F” tuners and big headstock the '70s Logo, and bullet truss rod. A ash or alder body with transparent finishes and a large “U”neck shape.

Fender AVRI "Pure Vintage" (2012-2016)

In August 2012, the historic reissues '57 and '62 retired together with the new '70s. They were replaced by the new American Vintage '56 Stratocaster, American Vintage '59 Stratocaster and American Vintage '65 Stratocaster. The motivation for this important decision can be seen in the Fender catalog: “Today, Fender cleared the slate to make way for a fresh American Vintage series with new features, new specs and a meticulous level of vintage accuracy yet. Rather than just replacing the previous models they completely and comprehensively re-imagined the entire vintage-reissue concept - using original tooling , voicing new pickups, creating vintage colours and more - "vintage guitars we tracked down to make sure they had it right". they did the work, and it showed, there is pure tonal magic in each new American Vintage instrument”. There intention to recreate new factory reissues as near as possible to the originals using fabrication techniques from the past. “We recreated the work process from the past, consequently these guitars turned out to be authentically unbelievable,” Richard McDonald declared.

In order to make it possible, Mike Lewis and George Blanda went directly to dealers and collectors all over the USA to survey the golden age Fenders, Dan Smith and John Page had done this thirty years earlier, back when 1982 Vintages were introduced. Mike joked “We were working at a forensic autopsy level,”. They called the project “Pure Vintage”.

The changes made to this series consisted of the new flash coated finish, applied with a quick spray of nitrocellulose to obtain a very thin layer, Michael Frank Braun designed the new pickups. The hardware was modified, eggshell knobs with slightly smaller numbers were used, the bone nut, the Pure Vintage Tremolo Assembly Bridge, exhibited the “FENDER” and "PAT.PEND." the Single Line Fender Deluxe Vintage Style tuning machines with the “FENDER” engraving on the back, very similar the old Kluson Deluxe tuners. Attention was also given to the shape of the body and the neck, which now had rolled edges on the fretboard. The necks and the rolled edges were to be the most unique things about these Pure Vintage guitars.

The '56 Stratocaster was characterized by a large maple neck with a soft “V” profile, eight-screw monolayer pickguard and an alder or ash contoured body. The string tree remained butterfly shaped. The '59 Stratocaster came in two versions, 1959 was a year of transition and they both had an alder body and a Slim “D” neck but the first one stood out for the one-piece maple neck and a white eight- screw pickguard, the second for its rosewood slab board fretboard and a three layer pickguard and ten-screw pickguard. The 65 Stratocaster had a much thicker neck with a “C” profile, a three layer and eleven-screw pickguard and pearl dots, but it also had a Transition Logo, patent numbers and "ORIGINAL Contour Body Pat. Pend." decal.

Pure Vintage Stratocasters was an enormous success, Richard McDonald stressed, “We rediscovered our past in a significant way. It was an awakening.”

Fender American Original Series (2016 - Current)

2016 saw Fender rebrand their vintage reissue line up to “American Original series” the six new guitar models and four bass models which, like the American Vintage range, replicated the specs and style of these instruments from Fender's past. Fender stated the American Original guitars offer "modern play-ability "using a contemporary fingerboard radius and switching. The drawbacks of producing a “year” accurate reproduction were two-fold. A lot of customers knew they liked a 50s or 60s era guitar but struggled knowing specific year, models like the ’56 versus ’59 Stratocaster. Fender had come a long way in terms of ease of playability but wanted to make the vintage reissues were more comfortable and player friendly, but keeping the vibe of a vintage guitar. Many players could not decide between a near perfect vintage reissue or the improved playing performance of these modern guitars.

Fender have introduced a lot of reissues over the years. You can imagine how hard it is to keep track of all these variations. Especially as new innovations create change and improvement.

Fender's main purpose with the Vintage Reissue and American Vintage Reissues was to familiarize people with the tones of their classic guitars – once musicians had heard vintage fenders they know what tones and sounds to expect.

So to conclude on where fender guitars will be in the future, it is difficult to say.

With the hi-tech tooling but lack of natural resources perhaps we can only assume the prices of these early guitars will increase but there research and development will continue with better playabilty, colours and sophisticated electronics. But they wont be made of precious tonal woods - only a very few boutique models will be. So look after those beautiful guitars guys and gals as they are a bit of modern music history and will increase in value if looked after and also give great pleasure as your adventure continues with the Fender guitar.