When you picture a classic Fender in your mind’s eye, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a few unmistakable shapes. The Fender story, of course, doesn’t end with the Strat and the Tele – for example, there’s a broad range of offsets that have wormed their way into the public consciousness over the decades. Few but the most die-hard aficionados would have encountered the Fender Leads.
The Lead guitars were the brainchild of influential Fender engineer, Freddie Tavares. This line of electrics first emerged in 1979 – featuring double-cutaway bodies, hardtail bridges and wiring that offered players a novel approach to creating tones, it was anything but the classic Fender formula.
Now, the Californian guitar gurus have brought back the Lead II and III, giving a new generation of player the opportunity to discover a rarity in the company’s back-catalogue and be inspired to set off on entirely new adventures in tone.
Fender has brought back a rare deep cut from their impeccable archives. The Lead II and III encourage a new generation of guitarists to venture into uncharted sonic territory.
The ’70s was somewhat of a turbulent time for Fender and the American guitar industry in general. The company had been acquired by CBS in 1965 and Japanese factories were catching up fast – competing in quality and delivering products at a cheaper price throughout the ’70s.
While Fender had already amassed a roster of bona fide classic varieties by then, they had to stay on their toes. This challenged the Tavares-led team to design a guitar that would meet the expectations of modern rock players, plus be able to compete with imported guitars on price. The Fender Lead was born, with the first guitar emerging from the factory in 1979.
These axes were not for traditionalists. Fender’s earlier era guitars were built for a different style of music and a different style of playing. The Leads catered for an adventurous and brash brand of modern rock.
Building on the legacy created by this unique series, Fender has revived the Lead II and III, originally offered in 1979 and 1982 respectively.
The modern ‘C’ shape neck – offered on both Lead II and III – provides a fluid platform for attacking the fretboard with speed. They feature a 9.5″ radius fretboard – a standard that would be adopted across the majority of Fender instruments from the ’80s onwards. This, coupled with the 22 jumbo frets, further enhances the slick playability of these models. The hardtail string-through-body bridge is equipped with individual block saddles. With no tremolo, the strings resonate with strength.
Where the models differ is in their pickup configuration. The Lead II features slanted Player Series Alnico 5 Strat single-coils in the neck and bridge positions. There are two toggle switches on hand, one that enables you to switch between and blend pickups. The other is a phase switch, which greatly enhances the tonal options on offer. If the pickups are ‘in phase’, the signal from both pickups work together to create a rich, full-bodied tone. If switched to the ‘out of phase’ position, the electrical current from the pickups flow in opposite directions, resulting in a thinner, squawky tone.
The Lead III is fitted with Alnico 2 Player Series humbuckers. The mix of tones is derived from a toggle for selecting the neck or bridge humbucker, plus a switch for splitting the humbucker pair, effectively creating a single-coil guitar.
Of course, the most fetching attribute of the new Lead series guitars is their look. Their double cutaways and headstock bring the Stratocaster to mind but are different enough to cut a unique silhouette. The finishes are also unlikely to be spotted on many other Fenders: Crimson Red Transparent, Black and Neon Green are available on the Lead II, with the Lead III sporting Olympic White, Sienna Sunburst and Metallic Purple.
On aesthetics, budget and tone, the Lead series II and III from Fender is a welcome return. For these reasons alone, it’s bound to launch a score of sonic adventures for an entirely new generation of guitarists.
The Lead II and III series are priced at $1,199. Visit Fender for more details.