First introduced at Winter NAMM ’18, Fender’s Parallel Universe represented a dramatic statement for the iconic guitar builder. Pushing the boundaries of what people had come to expect from Fender, the instruments got people talking. Parallel Universe was followed up in 2019 by the Alternate Reality models, a more affordable Made in Mexico series of instruments.
For Winter NAMM ’20, Fender has announced a brand new line of Parallel Universe guitars. To get the inside scoop, we caught up with Fender’s Vice President of Electric Guitars, Basses and Amplifiers, Max Gutnik.
The HUB: What thought process or philosophy drove the creation of the original Parallel Universe instruments?
Max Gutnik: The ethos behind Parallel Universe is to forget Fender “normal” for a moment and create a playground in which to experiment with unique takes on familiar shapes, reimagining forgotten models from Fender’s past and even to introduce new concepts the world has never seen.
The HUB: What surprises did you experience in the public’s reaction to the instruments?
MG: We’ve found that the Fender community can quicky blossom into spirited debate whenever a guitar doesn’t have a familiar face. It evokes their passion, and that’s exactly what Parallel Universe is designed to do.
The HUB: Did you adhere to similar guidelines in creating the newest line or were different influences brought in?
MG: Yes, similar guidelines in that there are almost no rules. And yes, the influences in this current round are much different.
A closer look at Fender's Strat Jazz Deluxe
The HUB: What new challenges or surprises did you run into in moving the line forward?
MG: It’s always a challenge to create new radical ideas in the face of 72 years of innovative product design at Fender. The key is to leave no stone unturned and to allow yourself the suspension-of-disbelief to imagine “what if?”
The HUB: Why were 3 Teles included this time?
MG: The Tele was where it all started for Fender! As the oldest model in our line and the cornerstone of the company we thought it was mandatory. In addition, 2020 is the 70th anniversary of both the Broadcaster and the Esquire.
The Troublemaker Telecaster Deluxe relies on a mahogany body and vintage style, splittable humbucking pickups to deliver a fat, midrange heavy tone, topped off with a bound fretboard and block inlays for an upscale look.
The Troublemaker Telecaster Deluxe Bigsby takes the Telecaster Deluxe and adds a middle humbucking pickup for expanded tonality and a Bigsby vibrato for classic look and feel.
The Tele Magico is a gorgeously adorned Thinline Tele with a bound fretboard, book matched and double bound ash body, and Ron Thorn custom-designed gold foil pickups that deliver thick, lo-fi tone.
These new models are definitely more dressed up than their earlier counterparts, having block inlays on ebony boards and painted matching headcaps. As far as functionality goes, the addition of our patented Double Tap™ humbucking pickups really expand the tonal possibilities by allowing players to switch between single coil and humbucking tones. The added benefit of Double Tap technology is that we can make the single coil sound like anything we want – hot, vintage and anything in-between. In the case of the Troublemakers, we made the split sound big and robust.
The HUB: Digging a little deeper into the Tele Magico, can you describe how Ron Thorn was involved in the process?
MG: We really wanted to collaborate on a guitar with one of the Custom Shop Master Builders. Ron offered his fantastic original design for the project. The Fender Product team and R&D worked on it with him to be able to scale up to a limited-edition of about 400 units.
The HUB: Can you tell us a little bit about the creation of the Jazz Strat?
MG: Cosmically stunning in Mystic Surf Green lacquer, the limited-edition Jazz Strat® is a sublimely surreal celebration of classic Fender design, transmuting the known into something new and curiously beautiful.
As the Jazzmaster has become more popular (it was once a black sheep in the Fender family) we felt a throwback-inspired reimagining was in order. Starting by retrofitting the traditional Strat body with 60’s style Jazzmaster pickups and classic Jazzmaster tremolo, we utilized Mustang bridge saddles for added stability and a bound neck with block inlays. Topped off with a custom Decoboom pickguard, radio knobs and finished in Mystic Surf Green, it has a distinct Mid-Century Modern vibe.
The HUB: Tell us about the tonal versatility of the Uptown Strat’s S-1 switching with Doubletap humbuckers.
MG: Double Tap™ patented technology simultaneously splits a humbucking pickup and un-taps the single-coil to a higher wind, which gives the single-coil a more powerful output that “plays” better with the other pickups on the guitar.
The HUB: Were there any design challenges with scale length and trem on a Strat body?
MG: We wanted the Uptown to be lean and mean, manifested by a Fijian mahogany slab Strat body, 2 PAF-style Double Tap humbucking pickups and a slightly shorter 24.75” scale. This simplicity is balanced with a bound rosewood fretboard with block inlays and push-pull switches for the Double Taps. One thing we love about the Static White finish on this model is how the dark grain fill highlights the grain of the mahogany!
The HUB: Moving on to the Spark-O-Matic Jazzmaster. How would you sum up this instrument?
MG: Understated elegance. It has the elusive quality of an exquisitely crafted tool, produced of the finest components and designed to do one thing exceedingly well. The Spark-O-Matic Jazzmaster is a high-performance, no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll machine with unlimited range.
The HUB: Can you speak to the body build a little bit? It features a mahogany core and chambered ash wings.
MG: This was another Parallel Universe experiment – fat sounding center block with light wings to keep the weight off. We tried a number of combinations, this one sounded best.
The HUB: How would you describe the sound of the three Duncan mini-humbuckers?
MG: The Duncans have a great, sparkly, delicate tone with a lot of kick. They do justice to this guitar. The 5-way works just like a Strat.
The HUB: And now for the wildest looking guitar, the Maverick Dorado!
MG: Inspired by the bravado of the original ’69 model, the Maverick Dorado kicks up the swagger with a pair of Tim Shaw designed Filter’Tron-style humbucking pickups, a Bigsby® vibrato and dark ebony fingerboard. Available in Mystic Pine Green, 3-Color Sunburst and Firemist Gold, you’re sure to cause a sensation with your Maverick Dorado.
The HUB: What’s the background on the body and “hockey stick” headstock designs?
MG: One of the most outlandish models offered by Fender over the years, the Maverick – also known as the Custom – may just be the boldest of them all. Comprised of leftover 12-string necks, bodies and pickups and transformed into a very unique 6-string, it was like nothing else on the market — with a kind of misfit glamour that made it greater than the sum of its parts. Whether you loved it or not, playing a Maverick was a statement.
The HUB: The pickup design has a very unique look and familiar name, can you talk about the tone, output, vibe
MG: The pickups are the custom Tim Shaw-designed models from the 60th Anniversary Triple Jazzmaster. The sound is powerful and raw – lots of gutsy elegance.
The HUB: Were any of these new designs controversial internally at Fender?
MG: The Maverick Dorado has definitely generated the most “spirited” discussion amongst the team. We’ve got a friendly internal bet going about whether or not it will be the most successful of the group!
The HUB: The future of Parallel Universe seems unlimited. How do you see it evolving?
MG: As long as we are bold and fearless, Parallel Universe with continue to evolve and inspire.