While the designs of Fender’s traditional lineup make up the bulk of modern guitar typologies, every now and then the company ventures into the unknown with models that channel the past yet forecast the future or explore what might have been.
This week, we’re pulling from the flip-side of Fender’s iconic catalogue to bring you three guitar series that haven’t ascended to the iconic status of the Stratocaster or Telecaster, yet made a bold statement on the company’s ability to innovate and imagine.
The Fender Squier Vista Series
By the mid-1990s, Japanese-made Squiers arguably outshone their Fender counterparts crafted on any continent. Beyond their exceptional build quality, Squier also had the advantage of a greater latitude for creative designs. Among the Vista Series are a number of instruments that are arresting and original, including the Super-Sonic, Jagmaster, and Musicmaster Bass. The true cult classic within the cult classic, however, has to be the Squier Venus. This guitar stands out for at least two reasons. First, it was released as an artist inspired signature for Courtney Love. You might shrug this off as a natural marketing move given the rise of grunge in the early 1990s and Fender’s release of the Cobain inspired Jag-Stang, yet culturally this maneuver made its mark on gear history. At this point, country artist Bonnie Raitt was the only female musician to boast a signature guitar with Fender. Second, while the guitar certainly looks original, there’s an underlying controversy regarding just how similar the Venus looks to the body shape of the lesser known Mercury guitars from the same era.
The Fender Pawn Shop Series
Drawing on their history of one-off experiments that blurred the lines — such as the Fender Jag-Stang — starting in 2011, Fender exploded the concept to an entire line of indie-inspired guitars that were the sort of hybrid happy accidents you might have found in a dingy pawn shop window. Oddly enough, you’ll find some familiar faces here. For example, the Fender Super-Sonic is clearly a rebranding and re-issue of the same instrument released as a Squier in the Vista Series. What defines the range as a whole, however, is the almost endless combinations of Frankenstein’d pickup configurations and orientations. The Jaguarillo is an SSH with all three pickups offset. The Mustang comes equipped with a set of 70s style Enforcer humbuckers. The 70s Strat Deluxe is loaded with an Enforcer in the bridge position and a Tele twang single coil up front. Fender let their imagination run wild with this series until 2013, when it was retired from the catalogue. So, keep your eye on the pawn shop windows!
The Fender Parallel Universe Series
Fender’s most recent foray into the world beyond is the Parallel Universe series (2018), which gave way to the Alternate Reality series (starting 2019). What these two lineups have in common is they imagine what might have been if two or more vintage Fender designs were launched into a black hole. What might come out the other side, you ask? Well, the flagship Meteora guitar is a good place to start. This guitar channels the black-on-blonde color scheme and ashtray bridge of a Tele, a contorted Jazzmaster-esque body, and an oversized 70s Stratocaster-style headstock atop a neck with CBS era block inlays. If that’s not enough hybridity for you, the lineup demands endless double takes for the recombination of feature sets and shapes of Stratocasters, Telecasters, and basses down through the decades of Fender’s catalogue.