...by Guitar Bob Ohsiek
I worked assembling amps at Fender in '72 and '73, so I thought I'd repeat some bits I had shared with Greg Gagliano and which can also be found in his excellent "Dating Fender Amps" series of articles.
I was playing around LA with bands The Baxters and Oliver Walrus when the other guitarist and I decided to get real jobs. Living on the pay from sporadic gigs at beach clubs and beer bars wasn't quite cutting it. We ended up applying around Orange County and I finally got a call back on one of my applications.
CBS Musical Instruments put me to work in their amplifier section. There were 5 or 6 guys building chassis then. The foreman came around to tell us what we'd be building on a particular day. We just went to a big bin every morning and loaded up our wheeled rack with a batch of whatever chassis we were to be working on. Likewise we'd load up pots, transformers, etc. that we'd just dig out of boxes. Super Reverbs, Bassman, Twins, whatever; maybe we'd assemble 30 per man, per day. I think the better, older hands did more. It wasn't always 'cool' guitar amps; sometimes I was putting together Fender Rhodes Satellite amps on bent aluminum, other times Champs.
Our boss was a thirty-something guy--real nice. The rest of us assemblers were twenty-something except for the occasional lifer. I was trying to hold down this job while sometimes gigging way up in Hollywood until 2:00 AM; I was always tired. I remember one week two "suits" from upstairs standing behind us doing time studies. They actually held clipboards and stopwatches to measure how long it took to attach various parts.
When I walked through the plant mornings and afternoons I would pass bins of 'blem' guitar necks slated for destruction at the bandsaw. I agonized over it: "Can't I just take 'em home?" As it was, I ended up importing a few handfuls of pots, switches, and jacks home in my lunchpail for fixing up amps over the decades.
Around Christmas, they had an employee sale to clear out inventory. I showed up hoping for Teles and Strats. Instead it was Dimension IVs, Tel-Ray can-style echoes, import Fender acoustics with rattles and dings, and other flotsam...all for $5.00 each. I left with armloads of 'gifts'.
I remember the circuit boards were premade, from Mexico, easy to screw into the chassis. Same with the little rectifier boards. When we had filled our cart with assembled chassis we'd wheel it over to the Chicano ladies for wiring. They were something to behold, all chatting away while soldering so quickly, it didn't seem like they were hardly looking. After that the foreman would add the tubes, turn 'em on, and set the bias; I guess! What did I know from bias back then? I just played 'em until they needed work. I recently read that Abigail, the pickup winder, still works for Fender. (Those tight, twangy gray-bottom pickups were sure the best.)
Sometimes I wish I'd stayed there longer to learn more, but I just wanted to tour and play music (which I did the rest of the decade). Who'd have known that this whole RocknRoll/Fender trip would just keep getting bigger and bigger?
patriotic 'Strat' (from a Saga kit) in time for the 4th of July gig.
Here's a new one I just completed; just what the band needs--another guitar.