Ousted Fender CEO Should Have Made This His Top Priority (LATE BREAKING: Richard McDonald Moves Up Fender Ladder)

GuitarCollector.com Editor: High Time Richard McDonald Moves Higher Up… But is EVP Good Enough?

SUMMARY: Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has promoted Senior VP Richard McDonald to Executive Vice Presdent–but industry insiders say he may not have been moved up enough.

Bellevue, WA, For Immediate Release - When iconic American brand Fender, by far the most popular guitar maker on the planet and an inescapable part of pop culture for 75 years, let go of its former CEO Larry Thomas, rumors were that Fender brand manager Richard McDonald should take his place, and it would have been the best choice Fender could make. GuitarCollector.com has dealt with McDonald for years and knows he’s the best person for the job, so his elevation to Executive Vice President of Fender is both good news and bad for the company.

Move to Executive Vice President: Is That Enough?

Former CEO Larry Thomas left a mixed legacy at Fender. He clearly loved guitars, but perhaps not the guitar business itself. An undeniably enthusiastic guitar collector (As Fender CEO he was once featured on a magazine cover with one his favorite instruments–a classic guitar by Martin, a Fender’s archrival in the acoustic guitar space), he didn’t seem to have the ability to look at market realities and deal with them methodically. The Execution part of CEO was not a strength of Thomas, who should have been far more active on the global stage. Fender is a company with many moving parts, and the only ones Thomas seemed to enjoy were guitars themselves.

Many industry insiders assumed that should Thomas step down he would be replaced by McDonald, a move that could be described as obvious and perhaps even essential. McDonald was formerly the Senior Vice President and was responsible for Fender electric guitars, amplifiers, and pro audio. As EVP McDonald will continue that work and will consolidate under him the acoustic guitar and accessories business. One can be sure McDonald will never been seen on the cover of a magazine playing his rival’s instruments.

This is good for Fender guitars, but Fender the company also oversees many other brands. Over the decades they have rolled up many other companies: Guild, Jackson, Gretsch, Eddie Van Halen’s EVH, and many others. Can the company afford not to put someone as experienced in an EVP position when they need him in one of the jobs that starts with a C and ends with an O?

McDonald An American Success Story; Fender a Piece of American History

McDonald, quite frequently the face of Fender at global business conferences, company videos, and ubiquitous NAMM presence, is a classic American success story at a class American company.

  • He’s a legitimately good guitar player and toured for years as a youth with popular regional band Morningstar.
  • He started 20+ years ago in the parts department, a sleepy post not considered to be a launching point for executive talent
  • In the parts department he instantly realized that instead of passively fulfilling orders as they came in he could use it as a data collection hotpoint and company outreach, giving Fender street-level vantage point no guitar manufacturer had ever used full to its advantage
  • McDonald expanded the company into Chinese production years before anywhere else, with the result being superb instruments that far exceed the quality of guitars made almost anywhere else, and a decade’s head start on the turbulent and sometimes treacherous Eastern front
  • As the company grew and McDonald’s stature in it, he deftly kept touch with everyone from dealers, to Fender Artists, to charity outreach, to both friends and foes in the music industry. At the same time he furthered his business education constantly, getting an MBA and teaching business classes at leading educational institutions

Is Fender’s Move Enough In These Troubled Times?

“He’s by far the best man for the job, and Fender has a deep, deep bench,” says GuitarCollector.com publisher Edward Banks. “They have a lot of great guys, but Richard has both the common touch and an astonishing grasp of the business as a whole. He knows the company, loves it, and he’s a damn good guitarist, too. Maybe just as important: everyone in the industry knows Richard McDonald and they all love him. It’s pretty hard to go a lifetime  without making enemies in the very competitive musical instrument industry. He seems to have done just that.”

Found in a garage, Fender boasts the creation of the electric bass and not one but two legendary guitar brands: the Stratocaster, played by luminaries from Buddy Holly to the Beatles’ George to Chili Pepper John Frusciante, and the Telecaster, from Muddy Waters to Bob Dylan to Brad Paisley. It is one of America’s iconic brands, and one beloved of guitar collectors worldwide.

Fender Price List 1986 Featuring the Never-Made Performer Elite

This Fender Price List Dated June 2 1986 (PDF) shows the $539 Performer but also lists a guitar that was never made: the Performer Elite, which was to have an ebony fretboard, a different tremolo, and would come in some colors that never made it to the assembly line, including Candy Apple Red, Frost Pink, Emerald Ice, Burgundy Ice, and Montego Black. Sweet!

Fender Price List 1986

The previous Fender Elites were active (the guitars required batteries). It is not clear whether these Performers would have used batteries. Unlikely, because the stock Performer’s TBX circuitry already sounds pretty hot, and many people who play it think it’s an active guitar as is.

Note that Performers now go for more than twice the suggested retail price of the time. Figuring inflation, they’re about retail or more, depending on condition.

Squier by Fender USB Stratocaster Review: Apple Store Squier Stratocaster Review

The Squier by Fender USB Stratocaster http://www.fender.com/features/usbstrat is a sensational product at a ridiculously low price–at $199.95 from the Apple Store, it’s priced more like a video game accessory than a guitar, but the moment you hold it in your hands you’ll see it is a real guitar with absolutely no compromises.

Most guitars can’t be plugged into your computer, or at least they can’t be used for recording that way. If you’re not overly familiar with audio equipment you’d think you could do something like plug it into the microphone jack of your computer (if it has one), but sadly that won’t work. To record a guitar directly into software like GarageBand require a separate piece of hardware called a sound interface. Plug the sound interface into your computer’s USB port, maybe install some drivers, then plug in the guitar into the sound interface.

Not too bad, but it’s a shame, especially with a laptop as tiny as the MacBook Air, that you have to carry around yet another box when all you want to do is lay down a scratch track (or something more ambitious). With the Squier USB Strat, that’s a thing of the past. Along with the standard guitar output jack, it has a micro USB connector and an included cable that goes right into your computer’s USB port. It’s a plug and play device, which means you don’t have to install any software. It just works, right out of the box. It works off USB power, so the guitar doesn’t need batteries.

It’s an HSS configuration–the pickups consist of two single coil and one humbucker pickup. Single coil pickups are what give Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters their characteristic sound, but they are theoretically subject to buzzing. Humbuckers are like two single coils together, wound out of phase, and they give a richer sound. A pickup selector switch gives you 5 combinations of pickups of the theoretical 8 possible. All of this gives you perhaps the most versatile combination of sounds you can get out of a Strat. Mine sounded good to great in all settings.

It seems to come in only one style: a sunburst finish with a rosewood (or something like rosewood) fingerboard. No maple option. The fit and finish are magnificent. It feels right. It sounds right. If it said Fender on the headstock and went for 3 times the price, I would buy it in a second. It’s that good.

The ordering experience from the Apple Store was astonishing. I ordered it on the morning of November 14th and got it the afternoon of the 15th. In case you thought the Apple was all about digital goods, think again. Amazon couldn’t beat this level of distribution.

I have a theory that whenever Fender enters a new market, they try to put their best foot forward to start with. This guitar backs up that theory big time. It is ridonkulously beautiful. It was set up perfectly. It sounds, well, exactly like a Strat, and of course that’s the point. If you never plug it into your Mac you’ll still have a first-rate instrument. But the second you want to fire up Garageband, you won’t have to worry about a tertiary piece of hardware.

This is not a new idea. Other manufacturers have beaten Fender to the punch, perhaps most notably Yamaha with their stupendously high quality RGX A2 series. Fender, like Microsoft, tends to let its smaller competitors do market research for them. They have done it honorably here.

If you’re confused about the Fender/Squier thing, most guitarists think of Squier as the “entry-level” instrument and Fender as the top of the line. That’s pretty much how Fender positions them. I stubbornly refuse to take these distinctions for granted, and instead evaluate guitars on a case by case basis. This is one of those times where the distinctions are heavily blurred. I feel like this is a pure Fender quality instrument. Yes, it’s made in Indonesia, but whoever that team is, they sure know what they’re doing. If you took off the branding altogther, I don’t think very many guitarists would call the Squier By Fender USB Strat entry level; I think they’d just call it a player.

Welcome to GuitarCollector.com

This is for people who want to learn about guitars, get some guitar reviews, learn about vintage guitars, and get guitar buying tips.

Fair warning: there is a strong bias toward Fender guitars. I am friends with Fender and have pretty much worshipped their guitars since I was a kid. Nothing against other guitars. I have some lovely Gibsons and a half a dozen other brands, but Fenders (and Squiers) just feel the best to me.

This doesn’t mean I’m beholden to anyone including Fender, nor that I am unwilling to criticize them. Unless otherwise noted I bought everything I review or write about with my own money. But damn, I love guitars.

I’m super excited that the inaugural post is also the first published review of the Squier USB Strat as far as I can tell. I ordered it on Thursday morning and got it on Friday. (In my review at the Apple Website I mistakenly claimed I ordered it on Wednesday.) Since I love Fenders, and this Squier is as good as a Fender, it’s the perfect way to start the site.