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The Fender CBS Period

The Fender CBS period is remembered as a low point of the Fender history.

In the early 1960s, Leo Fender’s health was deteriorating. Despite the success of the Fender electric guitars, he decided to sell the company. On January 5, 1965, Fender’s ownership was transferred to giant corporation CBS for US$13 million.

Fender surprisingly recovered from his health problems and rejoined the company for a brief period. He left then definitively and established first the Music Man and then the G & L companies.

Fender continued to grow under CBS ownership. However, guitarists soon perceived a slow but continuous drop of quality of the instruments produced. The guitars produced were increasingly deviating from the original specifications, mostly due to a cost-cutting mentality.

The 3-bolt micro-tilt neck plate and the big headstock are visual characteristics of most of this period. However, the big headstock still became somewhat popular, because Hendrix did use Stratocasters from this period.

 The Fender CBS Period

An extreme case of the cost-cutting mentality is exemplified by the 1983 Standard Stratocaster Revision, with its simplified electronics and hardware. Pre-CBS Fenders soon became extremely sought after, both by guitarists and collectors. Japanese makers such as Tokai took advantage of this. By the end of the 1970s, some of their replicas had become closer to the original quality than the actual Fenders of the time.

Only in 1981, CBS took measures to revert this situation. A new management led by William Schultz focused on improving the production quality.

However, in 1985 CBS decided to focus on broadcasting business and sold the Fender company for US$500,000 less than it had paid for it in 1965.

Here you have an overview of the most important changes introduced to the Stratocaster during the Fender CBS period:

1965 Big headstock.
1968 Polyurethane instead of nitrocellulose finish.
1971 3-bolt neck plate with Micro-Tilt adjustment, one-piece die cast bridge & truss rod adjustment switched to the “bullet” style at the headstock instead of at the body end of the neck.
1974 Even pole pickups instead of staggered poles.
1977 5-way pickup switch replaces the 3-way switch.
1981 Standard Stratocaster with pre-CBS small headstock, 4-bolt neck plate and body end truss rod adjustment.
1957 and 1962 model reissues.
1983 Standard Stratocaster with just one volume and one tone controls.
Elite Stratocaster with a new “Freeflyte” vibrato and covered pickups.
1984 Most Stratocasters are built by Fender Japan.