One era of Fenders history that many collectors and players are often less fond of was the takeover of the company in 1965 by the CBS Corporation. When looking at vintage Fender’s, many are now labelled as “Pre-CBS” meaning they were built to the spec Leo and his team set in print from 1954 to 1965. Pre-CBS models are very desirable for collectors and players, with many from that era fetching over 5 figures on the re-sale market.
During the CBS era, the focus was shifted to mass production which many felt had a detrimental impact on the quality of the Stratocasters being put out at this time. Many collectors felt a lot of the production changes in this time frame were a step in the wrong direction and took away what made the guitar magic.
The first change was to change the pickguard from celluloid to ABS or Vinyl. These harder wearing pickguards were a very bright white compared to the slightly off-white, softer hue of the predecessors. CBS also took the carefully sculpted contours of Leo’s design and reduced the contouring to speed up the production process.
In 1968 the finish on all Fender guitars was changed from the vintage spec preferred Nitrocellulose to a harder wearing Polyurethane. Poly is a much thicker finish than Nitro and offers a higher gloss shine as well as being more resistant to wear. For vintage guitar aficionados, this removes the natural wear of a vintage instrument and many feel, affects the tone of the guitar due to the thicker finish restricting the woods natural movement.
During the CBS period, the vintage clay fret markers were also changed to a more visually appealing, and longer lasting pearloid material.
In 1985. Employees of Fender bought back the company from CBS and set up the Fender Musical Instrument Corporation (FMIC) and relocated their main headquarters from Fullerton to Corona, CA.