FMIC’s Justin Norvell

by Christian Wissmuller • in
  • Upfront Q&A
• Created: March 23, 2017

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Fender’s Maverick Spirit Endures with the Launch of the American Professional Series

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) took a bold step – and one which caught some by surprise – when, in January of this year, the company retired the venerable American Standard series.

Rumors of the move began to bubble up on chat boards and social media in the fall of 2016. While Fender had previously altered the name of their flagship series from “American Standard” to “American” at the beginning of the millennium (it reverted to “American Standard” in 2008), this is no mere rebranding. Replacing the line – interestingly, essentially 30 years to the day (give or take) from American Standard’s introduction in 1987 – is an entirely re­tooled and re­engineered series of instruments: the American Professional Series.

Justin Norvell, Fender’s VP Category Management – Electric Guitars, Basses, and Accessories, recently spoke with MMR about the reasons for this major change for the brand and what significant features distinguish American Professional guitars and basses from their predecessors.

Can you talk about the origins of the American Professional Series?

At Fender, we’re always striving to serve the player and improve on every instrument that we make. It’s a very intense and detailed process that never ends, but it’s worth every bit of effort. We literally are always looking at ways to improve our instruments, and that goes back to the genesis of the company. Leo was tirelessly tweaking, changing, and improving. The American Professional has been two years in the making and we looked to improve upon our American Standard series with modern, elevated features for today’s players. We tapped our internal R&D team, and also went out into the field and got feedback from the artists themselves on neck shapes and the smaller, yet still significant, features that make a big difference as they create and perform their music. This new family is representative of where Fender is today, what we stand for, and are capable of.

Specifically, in what ways is the American Professional Series distinct from the outgoing American Standard Series? Should this new line be seen as a straight-­up replacement for American Standard?

American Professional replaces the American Standard as the new flagship series of electric guitars and basses for Fender, but it’s not without saying that we are very proud of our American Standard instruments and the quality music players continue to make with them. With American Professional, everything of consequence is different and we looked closely at features that impact tone and feel. There’s a different neck, pickups, bridges, and electronics. In setting out to create American Professional we really thought about “revolution via evolution.” Overall we made changes to almost every feature that directly relates to sound and playability, so while a Stratocaster still looks like a Stratocaster, under the hood it’s very different and optimized. We took great care with very small details, like reversing the taper on left handed potentiometers, creating different treble bleed circuits for each instrument to match the unique pickup configurations, et cetera. In short, we did the deep dive and did the work to make these the best they could possibly be, further optimizing our iconic platforms.

Regarding that last bit of my previous question – is this truly “the end” of American Standard or might dealers and end­ users expect to see reissues of those instruments?

At NAMM, Fender CEO Andy Mooney presented the last American Standard, which officially marked the end of production for that series. American Professional is the next step on Fender’s journey to create the best guitars and basses to empower musicians. As a 70-­year-­old guitar company, we have such a rich product history and American Standard is a big part of that. We’ve learned something from each instrument that comes out of our factory with the aim to honor our past, while moving forward into the future with American Professional’s improvements for today’s modern musician.

Specific to the American Pro Tele Deluxe, what was behind the choice to go with the “standard” head­stock shape, rather than the larger, “Strat headstock” of the classic ’72 Tele Deluxe?

We wanted to treat this as a new instrument and not a reissue of the old Telecaster Deluxe. So, it has a Telecaster headstock, and also normal­-sized humbucking pickups unlike the vintage model, though we kept the pickup cover design as a nod to the past.

With the official launch of American Professional line in January, what has been the early reaction to the new series, both from retailers and players?

The pickups might be the most talked about feature – with pickup guru Tim Shaw’s V­Mod designs, which custom voice our instruments with a variety of alnico magnets. All the rules were out the window – who says a pickup should have all one kind of magnet? What if we could optimize the blend of a pickup like the pickup was a mixing board? This “outside the box” thinking took us on a great journey that got us to a place that both Fender and our customers are very excited about. We also continue to receive great feedback about the new neck shapes and colors (Mystic Seafoam, Antique Olive, and Sonic Gray) and many were excited about the offsets, in particular the Jazzmaster, in our flagship line. We haven’t offered an American­-made Jazzmaster or Jaguar in our flagship line for a long time, so it has been long awaited and well received.

What are your expectations for the coming months with respect to the American Professional line?

The American Professional flagship line has been received with open arms – not only by dealers, but also players and modern artists, such as Duff McKagan, Local Natives, Mac Miller, J Mascis, and Ty Dolla $ign. We expect this momentum to continue as we work to get American Professional guitars in the hands of more artists and consumers.

Is there anything else about the new American Professional instruments that we haven’t yet covered, but which you’d like to share with MMR’s readers?

It’s easy for large, well-known companies like Fender to sit back and rely on a nostalgic musical legacy, but we come into work every day striving to make our instruments better by looking at all of the details, new sounds, and materials. We still hold onto that maverick spirit associated with Leo Fender. We didn’t necessarily need to make all of these improvements, but we have our eye on progress and continuous improvement for the player’s sake. The little things are everything and I believe that all of those small details and adjustments together helped us create some of the best guitars Fender has ever made.

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