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Guitarchive: The Marauders

 

Two Fender electric guitars have been called the Marauder.

The first was a 1965 phantom that never really came out at all and has since become the stuff of Fender legend. Far more tangible was the second one, which arrived nearly half a century later, in 2011, and enjoyed a nearly two-year run.

With 46 years between them, in fact, the two Marauders are an excellent example of Fender’s practice of dusting off retired names and using them for new products that are often quite different (the names Squier, Starcaster and Telecaster Bass leap to mind). True to this tradition, the second Marauder had little if anything to do with the first Marauder apart from the resurrected name and a vaguely similar body shape. But both guitars did have one major trait in common in that they were highly non-traditional Fender designs; serendipitous in the case of the first one and quite deliberate in the case of the second.

In both cases, the unconventional nature of their designs show Fender’s willingness to experiment and to step outside its own boundaries, then and now.


The 1965-1966 Marauder

A page from Fender's 1965-1966 full-line catalog shows two Marauders with concealed pickups. The model never went into production.
A page from Fender’s 1965-1966 full-line catalog shows two Marauders with concealed pickups. The model never went into production.Two Fender electric guitars have been called the Marauder.

“Non-traditional” is perhaps putting it lightly—the 1965 and 1966 designs for the Marauder were esoteric almost to the point of outlandishness.

The original Marauder was the product (almost) of Fender’s quest for yet another top-line guitar. This notion had proceeded through a succession consisting of the Stratocaster (1954), the Jazzmaster (1958) and the Jaguar (1962), although only the Stratocaster seemed destined for continued longevity by the mid ’60s (the other two did eventually prove successful in ways unforeseen at Fender). Then there was Fender’s first, the Telecaster, which hadn’t succeeded anything and was continuing on its way as a reliable workhorse guitar.

It was time for a new top-line guitar in 1964, and the Marauder was on Fender drawing boards throughout the year. Fender had by then established a tradition of field-testing new instruments carefully and patiently, but this was not to be the case with the Marauder. In a deal that took effect in early 1965, Fender was sold to CBS. The new corporate regime had other ideas about the way things should be done, and the Marauder was one of the early casualties of this development. It was a radical design—too radical, as it turned out—and it was rushed through development quickly—too quickly.

Early in the development of the original Marauder, the concealed four-pickup configuration was tested in a Stratocaster body.
Early in the development of the original Marauder, the concealed four-pickup configuration was tested in a Stratocaster body.

The most visibly—or invisibly—radical design departure was the Marauder’s four single-coil pickups, which were concealed beneath the pickguard. Let us appreciate the audacity of this: the Marauder had more pickups than any Fender guitar that preceded it, yet it outwardly appeared to have no pickups at all.

The guitar itself came from Fender’s R&D department. It had a Jazzmaster/Jaguar-like body shape, but with more pronounced horns. It had an elaborate dual-circuit control layout like the Jaguar, with five switches, two knobs and two inset tone wheels housed among three chrome plates, along with a white pearloid pickguard. It had a Stratocaster bridge/tremolo unit and a 21-fret bound Jazzmaster-like neck. And had the first Marauder seen the light of day, it would’ve been the first Fender instrument with block fingerboard inlays.

Those concealed pickups, though—they proved problematic. Unlike the rest of the guitar, the Marauder’s pickups were not the product of Fender’s R&D department. Rather, they were the invention of western swing guitarist and bandleader Quilla “Porky” Freeman, who offered the design to Fender. The only problem was that they just didn’t work very well. They were over-wound in order to compensate for the increased distance from the strings, but the signal was still too weak. Further, they were unshielded, which made them hum noisily around sources of electrical interference.

Five prototypes were reportedly built. The Marauder appeared in the July 1965 price list (with a custom-finish tremolo model listed at $502—double the price of a Sunburst non-tremolo Stratocaster), and two of the prototypes appeared in Fender’s 1965-1966 full-line catalog, the first under CBS. This literature was printed and distributed, and orders were placed for the expensive new instrument before a single Marauder rolled off the production line. That the guitar wasn’t actually in production yet apparently bothered no one higher up.

And then Fender suddenly scrapped the Marauder. It was decided that the guitar would not be built; that it would not pass the prototype stage. The reasons why have never been made entirely clear, although the troublesome concealed pickup design couldn’t be ignored, and possible legal wrangling with Freeman over design and patent issues is also cited. All orders were cancelled, and most blamed CBS for the bungled genesis of the Marauder.

Gene Fields' first prototype for the 1966 version of the Marauder. Note the Lake Placid Blue finish, wealth of controls, distinctive headstock shape (later used on the Starcaster guitar) and more conventional three-pickup configuration. Like the 1965 model, this version never reached production.
Gene Fields’ first prototype for the 1966 version of the Marauder. Note the Lake Placid Blue finish, wealth of controls, distinctive headstock shape (later used on the Starcaster guitar) and more conventional three-pickup configuration. Like the 1965 model, this version never reached production.

In The Fender Electric Guitar Book, author Tony Bacon notes that, “Naturally, a company prepares many design and prototypes that do not make it to commercial release, but for an instrument to get as far as printed sales material and then be withdrawn implies a serious error of judgment somewhere along the line.”

That “somewhere along the line” was undoubtedly somewhere higher up at CBS. Certainly, work on the Marauder wasn’t typical of the way Fender did things from 1946 to late 1964.

“The guitar’s premature appearance, before adequate field-testing, was indicative of the new regime now in place at Fender,” wrote authors Martin and Paul Kelly and Terry Foster in The Golden Age of Fender: 1946-1970. “CBS executives tripped over themselves rushing to get the new instrument to market in a bid to cash in on potential sales, and the move proved disastrous for the ill-fated Marauder.”

That might have been the end of it, but Fender returned to the Marauder the very next year. Gene Fields, who arrived at Fender in 1961 and joined the R&D department after the CBS deal took effect, worked on a second series of Marauder prototypes in 1966.

Fields’ design differed substantially from the 1965 Marauder, with three exposed pickups and an even more extensive barrage of onboard controls—two knobs, two inset tone wheels and seven switches. The first prototype featured a Lake Placid Blue finish and a sweeping new “German carve” headstock, which didn’t appear on the other 1966 prototypes (Fields revived this headstock in the mid 1970s for his Fender Starcaster guitar design). Eight prototypes were built; four with regular frets and four with angled frets intended to improve playability.

Few responded enthusiastically to the 1966 Marauder design, however, and it too was scrapped.

In the decades since, the original Marauder has taken on an aura of mystery—a creature of the mid-1960s that was arguably the most esoteric among several decidedly esoteric Fender guitar designs lost in the mists of that era. It’s sort of the Loch Ness Monster of Fender guitars—seemingly only rumored to exist, and glimpsed only fleetingly by a very few who were perhaps later unsure what it was they really saw. Few are aware of its existence in the first place, but as shrouded in mystery as it has been over the years, this first Marauder was a real guitar, albeit only briefly.

 

The 2011-2013 Marauder

Imagine the surprise of enthusiasts in the know when Fender introduced a new guitar called the Marauder in 2011. After 46 years, Fender dusted off the long-dormant name and gave it to an unusual new guitar in its Modern Player series.

A new generation of garage rock became popular throughout the 2000s. Bands such as the White Stripes and the Black Keys blasted raw, no-frills guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll back into vogue among a youthful new generation of musicians, and a hallmark of this raucous resurgence was a marked preference for offbeat guitars; unconventional instruments or conventional instruments modified in unconventional ways.

The Modern Player series Marauder of 2011-2013.
The Modern Player series Marauder of 2011-2013.

Fender noted these developments and responded in 2011 with two new instrument families, the Pawn Shop and Modern Player series. The former was conceived as an imaginative group of Fender instruments that “never were but could have been.” The latter, the Modern Player series, was conceived as a family of affordable guitars that took traditional Fender designs and hot-rodded them with modern features and notably non-traditional design elements.

Most Modern Player instruments, therefore, basically look like their traditional counterparts. A Modern Player Telecaster still looks like a Telecaster; a Modern Player Jazz Bass still looks like a Jazz Bass. The exception was the Modern Player Marauder, introduced in fall 2011 as the most unconventional model in the original series lineup. It didn’t look like anything that came before it.

As noted, the 2011 Marauder owed little to its 1965 predecessor except the name and general body shape. Indeed, its official description acknowledged the mysterious original guitar by referring to “the return of a fabled and seldom-heard Fender name from the 1960s,” even though the original Marauder was in fact a real rather than fabled guitar, albeit one that never went into production.

If anything, the Modern Player series Marauder seemed like the offspring of a Jazzmaster and a Jazz Bass, with the single-coil neck pickup of the former and two black plastic control knobs from the latter. Its offset body was made of koto, a seldom-used wood found only on it and the Modern Player Jaguar Bass. It also had a Stratocaster-style five-way blade pickup selector switch on the lower horn—unusual positioning for a Fender guitar—although it functioned nothing like a Strat switch.

That’s because of the powerful “triplebucker”—a three-coil bridge pickup designed especially for the Modern Player Marauder, which was the only guitar in the Fender lineup to feature it at the time. The five-way switch dealt mostly with this unusual pickup, delivering (from positions one to five) its rear and middle coils only, all three of its coils, its front coil only, its front coil plus the neck pickup, and the neck pickup only.

The Modern Player Marauder was thus a most unconventional Fender guitar; as unusual in its era as the original Marauder was in its (“a guitar for players who come to the Fender marque unencumbered by memories of the past” as one review put it). Distinctive-looking, highly affordable and offering remarkable tonal versatility, the Modern Player Marauder remained in the lineup through summer 2013, when it was phased out as a new round of Modern Player instruments were introduced.

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