Thursday, May 29, 2014

In Search of Star Power, Fender Enlists Members of U2

Few guitar makers can claim the same perch in the rock music pantheon as Fender, whose Stratocasters and Telecasters have been favored by musicians as diverse as Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain.

Now Fender, in the middle of a revival and expansion effort, is turning to two prominent musicians for help.

The company plans on Thursday to name Bono and the Edge from U2 to its board, both brought in by Fender’s majority owner, TPG Growth. Their challenge is to help Fender, which is 68 years old, thrive in a digital age, when Spotify is a more prominent music brand than the Strat
“I believe that guitars are here to stay and, far from digital technology being their death knell, I think it throws up some new ways to power creativity and give people greater access to the huge potential of the electric guitar,” the Edge wrote in an email from the studio where the band is recording its next album.

It is the latest twist for a company that helped give birth to the modern electric guitar, when Leo Fender fashioned a solid-body instrument that could be mass produced easily. The design gave rise to the Telecaster, the choice of Bruce Springsteen, and then to the world-famous Strat, the beloved instrument of Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Edge and his famously minimalist playing style.

In his email, the Edge — who was born David Evans — noted that some of U2’s most popular songs, including “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride (In the Name of Love),” were recorded using Strats and Telecasters.

Two years ago, Fender sought to become a publicly listed company, hoping to raise as much as $160.5 million. But the stock sale’s prospectus revealed some signs of struggle under the guitar maker’s owner at the time, the investment firm Western Presidio. Among them were lukewarm financial results, with an $11.8 million loss for the three months that ended April 1, 2012, a reversal from a $6.5 million profit in the period a year earlier.

Beginning several weeks ago, Mr. McGlashan reached out to Bono through a mutual friend, and the U2 frontman in turn asked his longtime friend to join him in the enterprise. While Bono has had a history as an investor, including as a co-founder of Elevation Partners, the Edge had comparatively less experience. But after meeting with Fender’s owners and then touring the company’s factory in Corona, Calif., he signed on.

“It was the combination of time-honored traditions of guitar production with some very fresh ideas about what the company can do going into the future that hooked me,” the Edge wrote.

The U2 stars bring different qualities to Fender, Mr. McGlashan said. Bono brings a gut understanding of whether a brand is working, while the Edge can guide the company in innovating both its instruments and in helping to educate consumers.

The addition of the U2 members won’t change one thing, the Edge said: He will still use equipment from other companies, including an array of Gibson and Gretsch guitars and Vox amps.

“I’ll continue to use my favorite guitars and amps and effects units made by other companies,” he wrote. “I’m sure I always will, but I’m excited about what new instruments and hardware I can help create with Fender.”

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