Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fender Visitor Center and Factory Tour open to public

Photo courtesy: Fender Musical Instruments Corp.
Southern California music fans - or those just passing through in the area - take note of a must-see detour. 

On Sept. 19, Fender Musical Instruments Corp. will open its new Fender Visitor Center in Corona. The company is concurrently offering public tours of the adjacent manufacturing facility for the first time in its long history.

The 8,600-square-foot center exhibits include historic instruments, rare photographs and artifacts, interactive displays of modern Fender musical products, a tribute to company founder Leo Fender, the Fender Hall of Fame, video presentations on the evolution of the electric guitar (including rare archival footage), displays presenting reflections on Fender by musicians throughout the history of modern music and more.
Additionally, the facility also introduces the world’s first Fender retail shop, where people can shop for Fender branded clothing and collectables. The Fender Visitor Center serves as the starting and concluding points for the free public tours of the adjacent Fender factory and legendary Fender Custom Shop.

Last Thursday, special guests were invited to a preview reception, where
Dave Mason, Buddy Guy, Raphael Saadiq and 12-year-old guitar whiz Quinn Sullivan all performed.

Upon entering the center, the first thing you see is song lyrics scrolled along the walls. Then you can view a Fender Legends Hall of Fame spotlighting such guitarists as Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour and others with their respective instrument models of choice.

The individual displays, with various guitarists and bassists' memorabilia and replica instruments are amazing. Those devoted to Nirvana, Blink-182, Green Day, Pretenders, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen were among the standouts.

A display devoted to specialty guitars - like two crafted in honor of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 (with inlayed NYC police and fire dept. badges) and intricate solid gold - were particularly awe-inspiring. 

Musicians can even go into a room and have their own guitars customized for the first time. 

The theater includes short films on Leo Fender, George Fullerton, Vintage Factory and Manufacturing. 

I went on a factory tour and watched workers finishing and sanding guitars in various stages of completion. I passed a row of wood guitar necks with names scribbled on them (John Mayer, Eric Clapton), denoting whose signature lines they belonged to. Later, I saw stacks of guitar bodies that had been initialed, signaling a completed inspection point.

As for the preview reception, Leo Fender's widow Phyllis told the crowd that like "It's a Small World" at nearby Disneyland, the Fender brand is known around the world. "Leo's guitars were like his children," she said. "Without music, the world would be a much sadder place."

Onstage in Corona, former Traffic member and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason performed highly impressive renditions of classic rock staples - notably that band's "Dear Mr. Fantasy," his famous hit "Feeling Alright" popularized by Joe Cocker, a tribute to Hendrix (whose music he played on in the studio) and another recorded by Delaney & Bonnie.

Earlier this year, Raphael Saadiq (ex-Tony! Toni! Tone!) wowed everyone watching the Grammy Awards ceremony and saw him lead the band backing Mick Jagger's tribute to Solomon Burke. Saadiq's own soul revue was equally great, recalling the golden age of Motown. I saw one onlooker standing slackjawed. Songs from Saadiq's latest album "Stone Rollin'" (Columbia) fared especially well. Next time they play a traditional gig in SoCal, I'll do my best to be there. 

Blues legend Buddy Guy, now 75, brought plenty of humor to his performance, teasing the crowd during his extended guitar runs and still dexterous fretwork ("Hootchie Cootchie Man"). He'd say "I ain't done yet" every time a song seemed to near a conclusion and even inserted Fender into a few song ad-libs. Toward the mid-point, he spotlighted the 2010 Grammy Award winning album "Living Proof" (Jive), which features guest spots by BB King and Carlos Santana, on "Let the Door Knob Hit Ya."

The Fender Visitor Center is located at 301 Cessna Circle, Corona and open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays except Wednesdays. Tours commence at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Admission is free for guests age 9 and over. Closed toed shoes required. 

For more information, call (951) 898-4040 or go to

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