Fender Introduces Forward-Looking New Design: The Meteora Guitar

Fender took a big step this week by expanding its production line of guitars and basses with the new Player Plus Meteora HH Guitar and the Player Plus Active Meteora Bass.

The sleek, high performance Meteora is the first new design to be added to Fender's line in years. The Meteoras boast a unique body shape, visual aesthetic and sonic concept for a new generation of guitarist to make their own.

First introduced in 2018, as part of the retro-leaning Parallel Universe Series, the Meteora was an instant hit among Fender enthusiasts. The company took the proof-of-concept back to its R&D department and resigned the Meteora as a modern guitar, free of ties to any previous generation.

Fender EVP of Product Justin Norvell told Q104.3 New York's QN'A that the Meteora reveal is a special moment for a company that was originally defined by its forward-looking spirit.

"We've continued to honor the past, but also we understand that we can remove the golden handcuffs and completely lean forward in a new direction as well," Norvell said. "That line of constant evolution is from Day 1. I think we're doing the best job of embodying the spirit of Leo Fender by throwing out new things and continuing to try new ideas."

Read the full QN'A conversation with Norvell below.

Watch Japanese Breakfast and frontwoman Michelle Zauner show off the Meteora in Fender's 'Player Plus Sessions' via the video player at the top of this page!

For specifications and more information on the Meteora guitars and basses, go here.

Fender doesn't often introduce new designs like the Meteora. When was the last time you brought a novel design to the Fender production line?

You know, every once in a while we'll do something unexpected or odd, but it's usually very limited and rare, and it's usually like a test. To have the fortitude and the faith to take a new shape and put it in the line amongst the Strat, Tele, etcetera, is a big move. It's probably been [since] the late-'90s, the Toronado and the Cyclone. The Jag-Stang was a [Kurt Cobain] signature model, so I probably wouldn't count that.

But those guitars [the Toronado and Cyclone] were much more evocative of a modified Mustang or Jazzmaster, so a really honestly new shape, it's probably been since the '70s.

Leo Fender made the Telecaster and he didn't stop there. He did the P-Bass. He did the Strat. He could have stopped there. He could have been like, 'That's a great business.' But still, the Jazzmaster, the Jaguar, the Mustang, all of the amplifiers. It's that relentless pursuit.

If you go back to the '50s, those designs changed modern music as we know it forever. The idea of the electric bass and some of these guitar tones informed the music that was being made in a way that we wouldn't be where we are without those. That's just what we hold ourselves to with these new designs.

The way people record has changed. The way people write music, play music has changed. People used to have to get in a room together and play really loud, and now people are sending stuff via Dropbox back and forth. The record button is always on, even if you're just messing around.

I think it's very important for us to make ourselves consciously uncomfortable and not just retread the past. [We want to] continue to offer new designs, new shapes, new sounds for new players.

I guess this has been in development for a while. I recall the Meteora making its debut [in the Parallel Universe Series] a few years back.

Yeah, and that was more of a vintage-era nod. It was dressed up in a Butterscotch Blonde finish with a black pickguard with single-coil pickups. It was very evocative of a '50s Telecaster.

That was kind of a test case and giving it some aesthetic comfort by anchoring it to the past. But the reaction was so great to it that we knew that we had something there. We knew the aggressiveness of the body-shape probably warranted a more modern or contemporary electronics and spec,. package — make it more of a sports car.

We kind of dipped our toe in the water [with the Parallel Universe edition] and saw a really great response. Then we said, 'Okay, we're actually going to design an instrument ... that makes sense as a whole unit.'

So you had the shape and you kind of built it out from there.

Yeah, [we asked] 'What is this shape telling us? What does it need?'

It needs humbucking pickups for higher output. It needs to match its avant-garde or sports car look. It needs to behave in that way and sonically give you back what you think it should. So that's how we designed it.

I remember there were other designs in that Parallel Universe series. Did you kind of let the customers decide what they wanted more of?

I think that when the Meteora first came out — and it leaked, so it wasn't by design — the reaction was pretty crazy out of the gate. A lot of the other designs work and live because they're limited and because it's an oddity, it's a rarity, but if you mass-produced it, it kind of wouldn't do as well; it's almost built to be special.

Even the [Alternate Reality] Sixty-Six was basically a Jazz Bass body modified [into a guitar], so not an entirely blank slate.

This guitar [the Meteora], one of our R&D engineers was sketching new body shapes that were not informed by or base upon the prior 75 years of Fender, but something that would aesthetically fit into the line. If you look at the [Meteora], you wouldn't say, 'That doesn't make sense with the other guitars.'

Why was the Player Plus series the point at which to introduce the Meteora to the line?

When people have thought in past decades of an Ensenada [Mexico]-produced guitar, it's a pretty straight-down-the-middle — it's a regular Strat, a regular Tele. ... very true to the classics.

We were like, 'What if we take the Player Series, which is super popular, and hot rod those a little bit and give people something in that price arena that's got a little bit more, the way the Ultra has at the higher price-point?'

Then it gives you room to soup it up even more...

Yeah, you can take it up [into a U.S.-made guitar] or take it down into Squire [an Asian-made guitar]. And we were excited to add the bass as well. It really cemented it as being more of a true new vertical in the line.

Guitar players as a rule are probably a little more tradition in a broad stroke, but I think bass players are a little more adventurous and down for something new.

In the 26 years you've been with Fender, do you feel like this is a definitive new era of the company in terms of its reputation and what people expect?

Yes. I think historically, maybe if the '70s and early-'80s were wilderness years for the company, there was a lot of effort in the next couple decades to re-cement that we know who we are, we know what the recipe is and we righted the ship, as it were.

We did that in a way that was inspired by the original instruments from the '50s and '60s.

Since then, we've continued to honor the past, but also we understand that we can remove the golden handcuffs and completely lean forward in a new direction as well. That's not just guitars — that's amplifiers as well.

That line of constant evolution is from day 1. I think we're doing the best job of embodying the spirit of Leo Fender than we ever have by throwing out new things and continuing to try new ideas.

Is there a next step that you're looking at that you can talk about?

We're zooming out a little bit in a way that we're not looking at being just solely focused on guitar or amps as they used to be. Now people plug into an interface and they use a digital audio workstation to do a lot of their work.

We've widened our aperture to just what tools are people using to create. I think all of those things in our world are fair game. We recently acquired Presonus [Audio Electronics], that speaks to the idea of where it's going. We're not going to make Presonus into a guitar-based company, because there are beat makers and hip hop artists and all kinds of people that use Presonus. However, we also are completely aware of where guitar is going and how music is being made.

You know, people can make a thrash metal album while their baby is sleeping in the other room, with headphones, quietly (laughs). That's different than it was 20 years ago.

It's all about liberating people creatively.

Photo: Ashley Batz

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