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Longtime Fender Neck Guru Herbie Gastelum Retires After 56 Years

Gastelum was known as the 'King of Feel.'

Herbie Gastelum was to necks what “Queen of Tone” Abigail Ybarra was to pickups – the indisputable “King of Feel.”

And on Nov. 16, 2017, he handed his throne to his successors as he announced his retirement from Fender after 56 years of service.

“I’m going to miss my friends and work,” said Gastelum. “I really enjoyed working for the company. I’ve known people who started here when they were 18 years old. You never forget people like that; they become like family.”

Gastelum, 77, joined Fender in 1961 in the Buff and Polish department in our Fullerton facility once located on Raymond and East Streets. His story at Fender is a labor of love – love for his craft, love for the brand, and love for another employee who would later become his first wife.

“I had relatives in Buena Park, and started dating a girl across their street,” he said. “Her sister used to work for Fender; she started in the ‘50s. She asked me if I wanted to work at Fender, and I applied and got the job. I didn’t end up marrying that girl, but I got the job and fell in love with another lady, Maria, who later became my wife. It’s all a love story.” That love transpired into all areas of his work – and people immediately took notice.

“I never had anybody’s name come to my attention as much as Herbie’s,” said Jon Cherry, a legend in his own right and now a consultant with Fender. “When the topic was necks, Herbie’s name was the only one to ever come up, and it was always because of his extreme high quality.”

Cherry joined Fender in 1969 as an hourly worker in the cabinet shop in Fullerton, and worked his way up to Corona Vice President of Plant Manufacturing from 2002–09. He first met Gastelum in 1972 and recalled that during a routine customer return report, a dealer asked him, “Why can’t all the necks be made by H. Gastelum?”

“The neck is really what the guitar is played by,” said Cherry. “If you’re a guitar player, you know that’s what makes the guitar, so that aspect was noticed by everyone who played a guitar, including dealers. And his necks were known for being some of the best.”

After working in the Buff and Polish department, Gastelum moved to the metal shop and eventually transitioned into the neck department, where he found his calling and remained for 40 years.

“The most important thing about a neck is the feel of it,” said Gastelum. “People who play can tell right away. For instance, I can feel a bump or flat spot when it’s not fully shaped around the sides. Other people ask me, ‘How can you feel that?!’ I’m so enveloped with the neck itself that I can tell. I always tell people it takes practice.”

The latter part of his career saw Gastelum at the Custom Shop, where he worked his magic making relic parts.

And it is in the Custom Shop where one of his greatest apprentices resides – Custom Shop Master Builder John Cruz.

“Everything I learned about shaping necks was from Herbie,” said Cruz. “It was a prize to have him as a mentor early on in my career. Herbie told me to develop a rhythm with the necks, and gave me confidence to work. It’s a sad chapter in Fender history, but a proud moment for us to carry the torch.”

Fender CEO Andy Mooney put it all in perspective, stating that Gastelum’s indelible touch reached the most musicians in the world out of anyone in Fender’s 71-year-old history.

“Leo Fender once said that all artists were angels, and that his job was to give them wings to fly,” said Mooney. “Herbie built wings for angels for almost six decades – longer than anyone at our company. On behalf of Fender and the multitude of artists Herbie helped to create and serve over the years, I’d like to thank him, and hope he enjoys his retirement to the fullest.”

Fender Chief Product Officer Richard McDonald noted how Herbie’s work also reached some of the world’s greatest members of rock royalty.

“It’s humbling when I stop to consider his body of work over the years,” said McDonald. “His fingerprints are everywhere; his tenure spans the careers of the most iconic artists to hold a guitar, from Jimi Hendrix, to Eric Clapton, to Jeff Beck, to Ritchie Blackmore. Fender’s history has passed through Herbie’s hands.”

While Gastelum never learned to play guitar during his tenure at Fender, he said it’s never too late.

“Now that I’m retired, I have a lot more time to learn,” he said. “I’ll just have to make sure that neck is right!”

And he would know.