A look inside Fender University
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Imagine a magical place where the greatest guitar players on Earth will welcome you with open arms, be your best buddy in the whole world and give you a Fender Stratocaster. Imagine if you will a Fantasy Island for guitar players where legends like James Burton just happens to walk by. You get to ask him the tough questions about Ricky Nelson, Elvis, or the metaphysical properties of that “Suzy Q” guitar lick.
Open your eyes. This place is real. It’s called Fender University and I was there! It was real and surreal! Guitar freaks of all levels can partake in a truly once in a lifetime experience that only Fender can offer. It’s a school inside the Fender Museum of the Arts Foundation in Corona, California. The chosen few receive personalized instruction on how to improve practice techniques, write bitchin’ guitar solos and get the most from their gear. It’s Club Med for guitar players wrapped in 60 years of Fender music history and the players who made them famous.
$6500 bucks gets you three hots and a cot in a fancy hotel with great food all week long. The Spring 2009 session included guitarists Greg Koch, G.E. Smith, Gary Hoey, Dick Dale, James Burton, John 5, Phil Collen and Wolf Marshall. The one-on-one guitar instruction, group master classes and after hours elbow rubbing is like Candy Land for guitar players. Their clinics get deep into string bending techniques and chord inversions for students of all levels. From absolute beginners to the advanced, their master classes challenge everybody.
The genius that came up with this idea is Richard McDonald, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing for Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. McDonald wondered why Fender would give away all their stuff to rock guitar programs when they could make a rock guitar program themselves and do it better. I sat down with McDonald and came to the conclusion that he has the coolest job in the world.
“If we’re making someone else’s party cool, just imagine how cool ours would be,” explained McDonald. “It was a vision that I had a couple years ago. For several years we would always get the request to participate in various rock n’ roll academies and the rock n’ roll experience type programs. It was either to hook up artists who were our friends or supply equipment. That was combined with all the requests that people were making to get a factory tour or to meet a master builder in the custom shop. I thought it was time to do it ourselves but make it very intimate.
I needed to figure out what it would be, what it would look like and what it would feel like. I laid it all out last year when we did the first session with Yngwie J. Malmsteen, John 5 and Greg Koch, giving lessons and personalized clinics. The thing I didn’t realize would happen was the friendship dynamic. These people really came together.”
Students apply, tell why they want to come, discuss their musical background and what they expect to get out of the experience. Fender University chooses the people they think would be the best fit and by the time they arrive, they know exactly what they’re doing. Programs are setup, lessons created, books, recordings and everything else. The curriculum is custom tailored to the player. It’s an entire week of intense Fender guitar immersion.
|Fender University Spring 2009 Graduating Classphoto: FMIC|
Upon arrival students choose a Strat, Tele, Precision bass or Jazz bass, meet master builders, get their instruments set up to perfection and get a factory tour. They learn and experience what Fender is all about. Fender University not only teaches students how to wail over a Cm7b5 chord, but also teaches them how Fender master builders create necks, how a guitar set up is done and the varieties of tone woods.
Gary Hoey's Fender U classphoto: FMIC
Students arrive from all over the world with varying degrees of musical ability, but they all share a common passion for the guitar. From Madison Square Bedroom novices to seasoned pros, I met a wide assortment of enrollees that were lucky and grateful to be chosen to participate in the program.
Fender University student Tim Ellis has been playing guitar for 43 years. He plays guitar for a living and like all the best musicians, understands that the pursuit of guitar excellence is an ongoing quest for knowledge. “I’ve learned that it’s not so much about the notes that you’re playing, but the way people think when they’re playing,” recalls Ellis. “When you hear James Burton, Greg Koch and John 5, it’s incredible to hear three completely different players and get insights and attitudes into the way they play. It reinforces what you know and shows you another way to write a story. That’s really the most important thing that I’ve gotten out of coming down here. It’s invaluable.”
The lunch buffet was quite awesome on a multitude of levels and it was great to hang out and meet G.E. Smith whom I have the utmost respect for. The guy knows a million songs and can not only play the hell out of them with style and precision, but can sing them as well. He seems like a stand up guy and shared some great stories. He performed a concert with James Burton that was truly inspired. Seeing James Burton on stage from ten feet away is like getting a living breathing history lesson with a heartbeat.
G.E. Smith Jams with James BurtonPhoto: FMIC
Fender University student Paul Blackwell had this to say, “They’re not looking for top-notch guys who have been playing all their lives or anything. They’re looking for people who have a feeling, the spirit of the guitar. That’s what this is about. There’s such a vibe here. Everybody’s just having fun and living a fantasy. I’m 50 years old and started playing guitar two years ago. For 48 years of my life I dreamed about Hendrix and The Allman Brothers. That’s what it’s all about.”
I took a tour of the Fender Museum and got a brain full of Gear Acquisition Syndrome inducing eye candy. Fender has quite the tradition and the Johnny Cash exhibit was wonderful. Everybody in the building owned cool Fender guitars. I saw Wolf Marshall walking around with a Fender Esprit Robben Ford model and I kept seeing John 5 Signature Telecasters lying around everywhere. Just lying around!
Fender U students tour Fender's factoryPhoto: FMIC
Two-time Fender University student Michael Sanchez had the coolest beat up black Strat I’ve seen in a while. I stopped him in the hallway for an interrogation. “The biggest thing I learned this year was getting into the music a little more and letting the music breathe,” says Sanchez. “I usually go out there with guns blazing. Gary Hoey was my instructor this year and he really helped me to get my eyes open and into the groove. Making it mean something more than just a flurry of notes up and down the neck. The number one thing that Fender University did was help me feel comfortable playing in front of people. They gave me the courage to really get up there and jam.”
Bassist extraordinaire Reggie Hamilton took time out to show me how to play Sly Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” on bass. It was his down to earth, laid back vibe that really sold me on the authentic friendly atmosphere of the faculty.
The pre-graduation jam session.Photo: FMIC
By the end of the session students attend a jam session for their pre-graduation ceremonies so they can take their newly acquired skills to the stage under real deal battlefield conditions. They take the stage with people like Greg Koch, G.E. Smith, James Burton and all their friends, playing the tunes they learned over the past week.
John 5 shares some knowledge in his class.Photo: FMIC
Fender’s Richard McDonald wraps it up, “It’s great to see these players bust past their personal barriers and get up on stage and really understand what it feels like. It’s about playing like you, not your heroes. It’s not about being like John 5. It’s about playing like you. John 5 is here to make sure you understand that.”
For more info, visit fender.com/university.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
Adding to the company’s line of premium-quality effects pedals, Missing Link Audio has unleashed the new AC/Overdrive pedal. This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal – the only Angus & Malcom all-in-one stompbox on the market – brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
The AC/OD layout has three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone. That user-friendly format is perfect for quickly getting your ideal tone, and it also offers a ton of versatility. MLA’s new AC/OD absolutely nails the Angus tone from the days of “High Voltage” to "Back in Black”. You can also easily dial inMalcom with the turn of a knob. The pedal covers a broad range of sonic terrain, from boost to hot overdrive to complete tube-like saturation. The pedal is designed to leave on all the time and is very touch responsive. You can get everything from fat rhythm tones to a perfect lead tone just by using your guitar’s volume knob and your right-hand attack.
- Three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone
- Die-cast aluminum cases for gig-worthy durability
- Limited lifetime warranty
- True bypass on/off switch
- 9-volt DC input
- Made in the USA
MLA Pedals AC/OD - Music & Demo by A. Barrero
Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
- Upgraded materials, including a water-resistant 1680D Ballistic Nylon outer shell, plush inner lining and new reflective trim for maximum backstage and night visibility
- Enhanced protection with a shockproof shell structure and heavy-duty water-resistant YKK zippers for protection from the elements
- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
- Flexible storage options with added space for touring essentials