Leo Fender’s company designed many innovative instruments before it was acquired by CBS in 1965. Soon afterward, the powers that be decided the company ought to have a series of thinline hollowbody electric instruments to compete with the likes of Gibson’s ES-335 and EB-2, Guild’s Starfires, and others.
Talented luthier Roger Rossmeisl, who’d migrated from Rickenbacker to Fender in the early 1960s, designed Fender’s acoustic flat-top line and was tapped to work on the new thinline electrics. And one would think the company would have learned, from the unenthusiastic reception given the acoustics, that in the eyes of the guitar-buying public, Fender was as a solidbody builder.
Nevertheless, the Rossmeisl-designed Coronado guitars and basses were introduced in 1966; the one-pickup Coronado I bass was first, and the two-pickup Coronado II bass came along in ’67. Both were standard 30″-scale instruments, and our sample model is a primo first-year example of the two-pickup version. Note the rounded “egg” tuners and softened lower portion of the headstock silhouette (no “barb,” as found on Fender’s solidbodies). This is a possible validation of Rossmeisl’s involvement, as the headstock silhouette of Fender’s flat-top acoustics looked the same.
The bound neck with rosewood fretboard has block markers beginning on the first fret. The entire Coronado series maintained Fender’s original instrument construction philosophy, in that the neck on this bass and other Coronados was a bolt-on type. This bass has “18JUN67B” rubber-stamped on the neck butt, and “Cherry” penciled into the body cavity.
The long, thin, bound f-holes sidle up to a thumbrest and fingerrest set at opposing angles (the f-holes on Coronado I basses were unbound).
The bridge is a unique stair-step intonatable unit, and the tailpiece is another indication of the Rossmeisl presence – the traditional Fender “Flying F” is there, and Rossmeisl designed a similar “R” tailpiece during his tenure at Rickenbacker. What’s more, the control knobs (two volume, two tone) sure do look like they’d be at home on a Ric guitar or bass…
The pickups on the Coronado series were uninspiring and fraught with problems, including a propensity to feed back, according to longtime Fender employee Bill Carson, who also recalled in his autobiography, Bill Carson: My Life and Times With Fender Instruments , that “the point of no return” had been reached in production commitment to the series before the pickup problems could be solved. His recollection included pronouncing the Coronado project a “fiasco.”
The term “flop” could also apply to what happened when a player strapped one on. Coronados were fully hollow, unlike the Gibson and Guild instruments, which had a center block of wood running through the middle of their thinline bodies, for sonic and ergonomic reasons. Accordingly, donning a Coronado bass (with a longer and heavier neck than a guitar) revealed a strong tendency for its headstock to take a dive toward the ground.
Variants of Coronado thinlines over the years included the Wildwood series (bodies made from beechwood trees that had been injected with dye while growing), and the ghost-like Antigua series, which had an off-white-and-grey finish.
No bass player of renown was regularly seen plunking on a Coronado when the series was in production, nor are Coronados highly soughtafter in the vintage market because of any unique sonic properties.
The failure of the Coronado thinlines as the first series introduced by CBS/Fender was a harbinger of the problems – to include marketing, design, and ultimately, quality – that would plague the company for the two decades of CBS’s ownership.
This Fender Coronado II bass is a historical instrument, relatively collectible for its own inherent reasons, and makes for a nice piece of (cherry-flavored?) eye candy. But sometimes, looks ain’t everything!
Fender Coronado II SN246768, in Cherry Red.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Dec. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.