Guitar Gavel Lick of the Week with Christos Fragias - Throwback edition
Since we're talking mid 80s shredding this week...
In this lick Christos provides a breakdown of LEGATO. A free-flowing sequence of notes without using machine gun picking.
Flashback to neon guitars and Aqua Net hairspray... right in the thick of super strat shredders and aggressive metal guitars there was Fender, the odd man out.
In 1981 Fender (CBS) poached three executives from Yamaha to help rebuild the company and its reputation. The guys were Bill Schultz, John McLaren, and Dan Smith.
Dan was the marketing guy and one of his first ideas was to revamp the basic production model Strat which was unveiled as the Standard Stratocaster complete with a pre-CBS smaller headstock.
The changes were well received and this version (1981-1983) has the unofficial title of the “Dan Smith Stratocaster”. To Dan’s credit, this version also signified the end of the 70s styled CBS strats, a welcomed change.
A few years later CBS sold to Bill Schultz and a group of investors, Dan remained in his role as marketing chief. That was towards the end of 1984, the deal was finalized on March 5, 1985.
However, the deal did not include machinery or the Fullerton, CA factory. All production stopped and nearly all guitars in 1985 were made in Japan.
To backup the timeline a few years... in 1982 Fender created Fender Japan, Ltd. It was a move to thwart the onslaught of Fender copy guitars leaving Japan and stealing market share away from Fender USA. Fender's top brass reasoned that a legitimately produced Japanese Fender guitar would slow the pain and this is when Fender Squier was born. Initially the Squier's were exported to Europe, then released in Japan, and onto the U.S.
To fill a couple of voids Dan had another “great” idea. Except this one wasn’t so great.
Dealers were anxious for a more aggressive Fender guitar that rivaled the likes of Jackson, BC Rich, and Charvel. They wanted something pointy. Plus Fender needed inventory, almost any inventory would do, but inventory of something bold and different was the theme.
The result of Dan’s vision was the Fender Katana, made by Fender Japan, and launched in tandem with the Fender Performer. Both guitars were a commercial failure, considered too wild and outside of the "Fender box". Although guitar retailers were begging for something new, the end user was not having it. Production lasted one year. Used prices vary, but somewhere in the $1,000-$1,500 range is respectable.
1985 Fender Katana specs: Set maple neck, Rosewood fretboard with small triangle fret markers, Fender floating tremolo, Fender humbuckers, 3-way switch, 1 volume and tone control, Truss rod cover on the arrow headstock, Headstock painted same as body color.
Despite the Katana's lack of popularity, Dan Smith is regarded as Fender's savior from CBS and his efforts not only resuscitated the company, but he had a legendary 25-year career at Fender ending in 2006.
Dan Smith from NAMM's Oral History video catalog, click the image to watch a short interview with Dan from 2009.