When it comes to the guitar industry, many enthusiasts often get caught up in the product itself and pay less attention to where and how these musical instruments are produced. Today, we’re shifting our focus away from the actual guitars and diving into the world of Squier factories – the backbone of the brand’s production line.
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Squier is a subsidiary of Fender, one of the world’s leading guitar manufacturers. While Fender’s American-made instruments have long been lauded for their quality, the company ventured into overseas production in the 1980s to offer more affordable alternatives. Thus, the Squier brand was born, and with it came the need for dedicated factories to produce these instruments.
2.1. Japan and the Birth of Squier
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Fender faced a unique challenge. The market was flooded with high-quality, inexpensive Japanese copies of their guitars. These copies were not only affordable but were sometimes on par or even superior in quality to Fender’s American-made offerings.
To address this, Fender decided that if they couldn’t beat them, they’d join them. They started a collaboration with Japanese manufacturers to produce official Fender guitars, effectively utilizing the Japanese knack for precision and craftsmanship to their advantage.
2.2. Fujigen Gakki Factory
The Fujigen Gakki factory is perhaps the most well-known Japanese factory involved in the early days of Squier production. Located in Matsumoto, this factory was renowned for its craftsmanship. Instruments from this factory, particularly from the early 1980s, have since become collectible and are known for their quality.
2.3. JV Series
The initial batch of Japanese-made Fender instruments bore the serial numbers starting with “JV” (which stands for “Japanese Vintage”), followed by a series of numbers. These JV guitars, made between 1982 and 1984, are highly regarded by collectors and players alike. They were precise replicas of vintage Fenders and were made using many of the same techniques and materials as the original American instruments from the 1950s and 1960s.
2.4. Transition to Squier Branding
As the collaboration between Fender and its Japanese partners continued, there was a need to differentiate between the American-made Fenders and the Japanese-made ones. Hence, the Squier name, which had previously been used by Fender for their string products, was chosen as the brand for these Japanese-made instruments.
The quality of these early Squier guitars was so good that they are often mistaken for their American counterparts, leading to their enduring reputation.
2.5. Economic Dynamics
As the 1980s progressed and Japan’s economy grew stronger, production costs in the country began to rise. This economic shift led Fender to look at other locations, such as Korea, Mexico, and later China and Indonesia, for more cost-effective production. However, the legacy of Japanese-made Squier (and Fender) instruments remains intact.
The 1990s saw a shift to Korean factories, such as the renowned Samick facility, which helped Squier maintain quality while diversifying its production locations.
3.1. Transition to Korea
As we touched upon earlier, the 1980s saw Japan’s economy boom, and as production costs began to rise, many companies, including Fender, sought more cost-effective manufacturing solutions. Enter South Korea, a nation quickly becoming known for its blend of quality craftsmanship and competitive production costs.
3.2. Samick: A Key Player
One of the most influential factories in Korea during the early days of Korean-made Squier guitars was Samick. Founded in 1958, by the 1980s, Samick had grown to be one of the largest guitar manufacturers in the world, producing instruments under its own name and manufacturing guitars for many other brands, including Squier.
The guitars produced by Samick for Squier during this period were, and still are, regarded as reliable instruments that offer good value for money. Many guitarists and collectors believe that the quality of some of these Korean-made Squiers rivals that of their Japanese counterparts, particularly when considering their price point.
3.3. E Serial Numbers
Korean-made Squier guitars from the late 1980s and early 1990s often bore serial numbers starting with the letter ‘E’ (often followed by a six or seven-digit number). These are generally indicative of instruments made in the Samick factory. These “E” serial guitars have since gained a reputation for their build quality and are sought after in the used market.
3.4. Cort and Sungham Factories
Apart from Samick, other notable factories in Korea producing for Squier included Cort and Sungham. Cort, in particular, is another significant name in the world of guitar manufacturing. Like Samick, Cort produces instruments under its brand and has been an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) for numerous other brands.
Korea served as a major hub for Squier production throughout the late 1980s and much of the 1990s. However, as the global market continued to evolve, Fender, like many other companies, diversified its manufacturing, incorporating factories from countries like Indonesia and China to cater to different market segments and price points.
4.1. Rise to Manufacturing Supremacy
From the late 1990s onward, China rapidly became the world’s manufacturing powerhouse. The combination of a vast workforce, developing infrastructure, and favorable economic policies made it an attractive hub for many companies, including those in the musical instrument industry.
4.2. Squier’s Chinese Journey
By the 2000s, several Squier models began to be produced in China. These guitars were positioned to cater to beginner and intermediate players, offering good value for money.
4.3. Quality and Consistency
One misconception is that Chinese-made guitars are inherently inferior. While there was variability in the early days, modern Chinese factories, with access to better technology and improved quality control processes, have consistently produced reliable instruments.
5.1. A New Hub for Guitar Manufacturing
Indonesia, particularly the island of Java, emerged as a significant center for guitar production in the 1990s and 2000s. Like China, it offered a combination of skilled labor and cost-effective production.
5.2. Key Factories
Cort, already a significant name in Korean guitar production, expanded its operations to Indonesia, becoming one of the primary factories producing Squier models in the country. Another noteworthy factory is PT. Wildwood, which has also been instrumental in Squier production.
5.3. Quality Spectrum
Indonesian-made Squier guitars cover a broad spectrum, from entry-level models to more premium offerings in the Squier lineup. The Classic Vibe series, for instance, has garnered praise for its quality and value, and many of these models are produced in Indonesia.
6. Factory Dynamics
The process of creating a guitar in a Squier factory involves a combination of traditional craftsmanship and modern machinery. While CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machines handle precise cutting and shaping, many aspects, such as assembly and finishing, are often done by hand. This fusion of technology and handcrafting ensures both consistency and character in the final product.
7. Quality Control
Every Squier factory employs a rigorous quality control process. Guitars undergo inspections at various stages of production. This ensures that any defects, be they aesthetic or functional, are caught early and rectified. This level of scrutiny is part of why Squier has managed to build a reputation for offering value for money – producing instruments that are both affordable and reliable.
Squier factories play a pivotal role in the brand’s global success. Through their dedication to quality, innovation, and craftsmanship, they’ve allowed millions of budding guitarists to access reliable instruments without breaking the bank. The next time you strum a chord on a Squier, take a moment to appreciate the complex tapestry of work and dedication that went into its creation.