Don’t Hate The Player…. Fender’s New Player Series Eclipses their Standard Models

by Victoria Wasylak • in
  • Fretted
  • January 2019
• Created: January 23, 2019

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Hey, modern music naysayers – Fender Guitars has some news for you.

“We’ve got more interest in live and recorded music than at any time in history,” Fender CEO Andy Mooney explains on the phone with MMR. It’s the perfect time, then, to launch a new chapter of the iconic guitar brand with their Player Series, which entirely replaced their time-tested Standard series as of June 2018.

After 27 years, Fender has retired the Standard series in favor of a new line of guitars and basses, all updated in the least obvious ways for the most noticeable improvements to their sound and feel – all in the $649.99-$774.99 price range.

“We offer guitars that are in a range from $200 to $200,000, but what the guitar player sees is the first entryway portal into the Fender brand. We wanted to update everything on the guitar, give it a new name, and put some marketing muscle behind it,” Mooney says, referencing the new Player series.

“A lot of people who are not players kind of look at the guitars vis a vis the previous model and ask, ‘Well, what’s changed?’ My response is, ‘Nothing really, except the sound, the feel, the touch, and the color,’” he continues. “It’s got different pickups, it’s got different controls, a different fret height – it’s even got a more mainstream logo than we’ve had on the guitar before. All of these things are really important for that particular consumer.”

Specifically,  some of the upgraded features on models include Alcino pickups for all models, updated body radii, 22 fret necks, upgraded bridges, and a revised classic logo for a more traditional look. Colors like Sage Green, Polar White, Tide Pool, Butter Cream, and Sonic Red pop across the 94 new SKUs, which Mooney says reflects how color is now more important to players than in the past. All these changes, he explains, namely reflect how players’ preferences have changed over the recent years.

“The basic form that Fender designed in the ‘50s and ‘60s with the Stratocaster and Telecaster – they’re very, very difficult to improve upon, but the nuances of the guitars have evolved,” he notes. “Players’ preferences on the length of the neck, the shape of the neck, the wood types that are used, even small things like the height of the frets. These are all really important things.”

Due to Fender’s three-year product line plan, the Player series has been in the works for two to two and a half years, Mooney says, much of which was time spent listening to feedback from Fender artists.

“Leo [Fender] himself was not a guitar player, but he was a great listener, and we proved ourselves as a company on being good listeners,” he says. “We have relationships with 1,600 artists who are giving constant feedback on what they like, what they think could be improved upon, and we put that feedback into every model that we do.”

Prior to their release, the Player series already hitchhiked across the country, being used on tour with groups like Turnstile, Mattson 2, Cherry Glazerr, and Whitney Morgan, spanning from the realm of free-flowing jazz to underground grunge and garage rock. For Mooney, himself, as a heavy metal fan, he’s most excited about the 22 fret necks (the original guitar had 21).

“As artists dig deep to find new sounds and means of expression, the guitar continues to be central to so much of this creativity that’s happening in music and culture,” adds Justin Norvell, SVP Fender Products. “We hope to empower the next generation of artists and players by arming them with the best tools to help bring their craft to life. The Player Series guitars embody that coveted Fender sound and form that has made guitars iconic with so many generations of creators.”

As for why Fender elected to release all these new models under a completely new name and cycle out the Signature series, Mooney says that decision stemmed from previous confusion regarding updates. Especially online, distinguishing between any of Fender’s prior Standard models and their sequential updated versions could be close to impossible for anyone who’s not a complete guitar geek.

“One of our classic guitars was a guitar called the American Standard, and that guitar was first introduced in 1986, and had actually been updated seven times. Every time the name has been the same. As a consumer outside of the industry, when I joined, you really had to be well-informed to understand the evolution. You could find American Standards from 1986 on eBay sitting alongside brand-new American Standards that had been updated, same name, essentially the same look,” Mooney says.

Based on similar experiences, Fender chose to give models new names going forward, starting with the Player series this past summer.

“We decided that any time we did a significant update to a model, we were going to get a new name and drop the old name. We wanted to distinctly signal to players that Standard is the old model – if you like that model, you can buy that, but the Player is the new model, and we encourage you to buy the new model. The response from the dealers and the consumers has been really positive.”

For musicians who are devout to the older models, Mooney says getting their hands on them shouldn’t be an issue, especially with their custom programs. After-market customizing, of course, always remains an option for other finicky players.

“There are some people who think that original 1954 Stratocaster is the one to have, and any update that was done to that was a step in the wrong direction. For those fans, we do faithful reproductions of the 1954 Strat in our custom shop, so if you like the specifications of a previous generation of guitar, that option is available to you,” Mooney says. “In our custom shop, you have 70,000 options to customize your own guitar within the mod shop. Or you can do what a lot of people do – for a lot of lower-priced models like the Player, a lot of players modify them. They buy them and they put in different pickups or different wiring because they just prefer it that way.”

Preferences and all, Mooney says that “death of the guitar” remains a total falsity, and that according to stats from LiveNation and various streaming services, delving into music – kids, parents, retired folks, whoever – has never been better or more accessible.

“Really there’s been growth in electric guitar sales for the last five years – all guitar sales, electric, acoustic, and even ukuleles,” he explains. “The two external things that are really fueling the growth is a growth in streaming music. There’s about 125 million people paying for streaming music now, and our latest estimates are about 65 percent of streaming is back catalogues [older music]. The other thing is, the demand for live music is at an all-time high. Live Nation, in their public records last year, [noted that] 86 million people went to see a LiveNation concert, and that was up 21 percent.”

Certainly, if there was ever a time be a player – and/or buy one – it’s now.

“The guitar as an instrument is being embraced by a more diverse group of players than we’ve ever seen in history – more genders, more genres,” Mooney says, “and I think the Player really appeals to that.”

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