You’ll Never Get Rich


What the... This is, of course, Fender's somewhat lame attempt to capture a chunk of Gibson's market share. It didn't work out so well. I "borrowed" this photo from an Ebay listing and it shows most of the Coronado incarnations.

What the… This is, of course, Fender’s somewhat lame attempt to capture a chunk of Gibson’s market share. It didn’t work out so well. I “borrowed” this photo from an Ebay listing and it shows most of the Coronado incarnations.

Yes, it was the original title of  “The Phil Silvers Show” also known as Sgt. Bilko and it was a Fred Astaire/ Rita Hayworth movie in 1941 but it’s also the beginning of a well known (OK, sort of well known) quote that goes something like this: “you’ll never get rich playing another mans game.” Which means, essentially, do what you do best not what someone else has already been successful at. Gibson? Guilty. Fender? Guilty. Fender has the better story so we’ll tell that one. By 1966 sales of electric guitars went absolutely through the roof. The electric guitar was on the cover of Life Magazine it was such a big deal. The Beatles were, of course, largely responsible along with the rest of the usual British Invasion suspects. Fender sold a huge number of guitars in 1965 and saw an opportunity to cash in on some of its biggest competitors market share. The Beatles were playing Epi Casinos by then (Lennon played his through most of “Revolver”) and Gibson was selling a lot of hollow and semi hollow electrics. Fender didn’t have a single one in their line. So Fender set out to design their own version of a thin body arch top laminate guitar and called it the Coronado. Bad name choice to begin with. The design, while a bit dated, is kind of interesting and doesn’t look Fender-like at all. It looks more like a Rickenbacker probably because it was designed by Roger Rossmeisl who worked at Rickenbacker until the early 60’s. The Coronado was meant to compete head to head with the Casino, the ES-330 and the 335. It was, like a Casino and a 330, fully hollow. Fender, being terribly cost conscious under the leadership of the CBS suits, probably figured nobody would notice the absence of a center block and went ahead and introduced the new model for the 66 model year. I remember when it came out. I was playing a 62 ES-330 at the time and was kind of into the hollow body thing. I loved Fenders too but the design of the Coronado (and the dopey name) left me a bit cold. The first year models were the Coronado I, a single pickup like a 330T and the Coronado II with two (DeArmond) pickups and a trapeze tail (trem extra). A twelve string followed as did a single and a double pickup bass in 1967, I believe. The shape was kind of funny but was essentially a sort of cubist version of the 335. Symmetrical, with double cutaways and a small floating pick guard and double body binding, it was somewhat derivative to say the least. The two pickup two volume two tone configuration is, of course, the usual Gibson setup. Block markers? Check. Trap tail? Check. Three on a side headstock? Uh, no. Fender wasn’t about to let its true trademark disappear. The earlier ones had checkerboard bindings on top-a nod to Rossmeisl’s Rickenbacker roots. I do sort of like the elongated bound f-holes now but I didn’t like them then. And it was a bolt on neck and that seemed a little cheesy as well. The Coronado came in all sorts of colors and sunbursts but also in something called Wildwood where they dyed the wood while it was still a tree but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Antiqua finishes showed up later. But how do they sound? Well, they don’t sound like Fenders, that’s for sure. They tend to feed back at high volume and while they are pretty good at mellow sounds and quiet cleans, they aren’t much for rock and roll, in my opinion. A better blues guitar than some but not really well suited there either. It’s really a guitar that does everything in a fairly mediocre fashion. Faint praise indeed. Here’s the good part…they are dirt cheap. I may have to buy one just because they are so cheap. I’ve never owned one and it might look good on the wall in my office (my wife doesn’t let me display guitars at home). A good Coronado II can be had for under $1000. I don’t think there’s another Fender that cheap. That said, it isn’t a Gibson (or even an Epiphone). The Coronado was a failure-not a colossal failure but it only lasted until 1972-a total of 7 years. Consider this-the ES-335 has been in continuous production for 55 years. And what manufacturer beats that record? Fender with both the Telecaster and the Stratocaster. As I mentioned up at the top, Gibson tried the same thing in the 80’s with the somewhat Strat-like US-1 which was truly a piece of crap. I know, I owned one.

Gotta love the checkerboard binding but the red just doesn't do it for me.

Gotta love the checkerboard binding but the red just doesn’t do it for me.

4 Responses to “You’ll Never Get Rich”

  1. Rob says:

    I remember them when they were introduced and years later played a few used ones in stores. The ones I played felt like cheap clones of Gibsons, especially with their bolt-on necks. Like something made in a third-world country. Fenders always reminded me of Erector Set instruments with their bolt-on necks. Very handy if you broke a neck or wanted a different radius or fretboard material. Just unscrew and replace. I guess its just my bias growing up with all those set-neck Gibsons in the house.

  2. RAB says:

    A travesty for sure! Would be interesting to feature other git-failures like the Gibson Corvus!

  3. Rob says:

    Irony of Ironies: Fender has re-issued this gem with a MSRP of $899.99 per their website. Now equipped with “Fideli’Tron” pickups. Maybe Gretsch’s made in Roma?

  4. Harry says:

    Even more ironic is that the new Coronados and Starcasters ARE made in a third world country! The one notable change to the original Coronados is that they are semi-hollow body guitars with an alder center block. Atleast that did not bring back the burnt binding Antigua finish.

Leave a Reply

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)