Just when you think you’ve seen or heard of everything Fender ever did, along comes another tidbit about a guitar that was prototyped but never produced.
In 1969 and ’70 the Acoustic Guitar Division was going strong, with Babe Simoni in charge of production. Roger Rossmeisl was the head of the R&D department, which was busy producing the LTD and Montego jazz guitars. The first rosewood Tele and Strat, for George Harrison and Jimi Hendrix (VG November ’98), were also in the works.
Rossmeisl was the driving force behind a proposed new acoustic guitar designed to meet market demand for a short-scale acoustic, and the company committed a great deal of energy to the project.
Although it was never produced, it was very close to becoming a reality. Evidence of that is that when a new product is prototyped it is thought out, discussed and idealized to a point that the developers and marketing people first have a gut feel for success. These people have to agree to continue beyond the idea stage. The Songwriter project was not only prototyped, but the marketing department produced a flyer, and there was even a “Songwriter” decal made. The flyer shows the prototype with a Fender decal, probably before the Songwriter decal was designed. These lead one to believe the Songwriter was very close to being produced. Rossmeisl had a small stash of acoustic woods he kept in R&D for special occasions. The Songwriter was one such project.
The guitar was designed with an 18-fret, 221/2″ scale neck with a rosewood fingerboard. The flyer refers to the overall size of the guitar as three-quarters the size of a regular acoustic. The 221/2″ scale, however, is 88 percent of a 251/2″ scale. The neck was a fully adjustable bolt-on “no heel” neck. The neck was probably made in the production department and delivered finished to spec with a very Fender-like style.
The flyer lists features including a spruce top, mahogany sides and back, dot position markers, and a tortoiseshell pickguard. The guitar was available, “In the following colors of the seventies: Sundance Yellow, Shamrock Green, Heather Lilac, Persimmon Orange, Calypso Pink, Raven Black, and Grained Mahogany.” The flyer is even copyrighted 1970.
Unfortunately, the handmade prototype in the flyer was the only Songwriter ever produced. The back and sides were Brazilian rosewood. Rossmeisl knew Marty Robbins was using a small guitar and thought that as a result, a market might develop. The guitar was eventually given to Robbins, but never scheduled for production.
The 1970 flyer for the Fender Songwriter short-scale acoustic boasted “…the lightweight heavyweight in 7 fashion colors. The famous Fender sound from a new guitar about as portable as a tennis racket,” and featured the only one built. Photos courtesy of Phil Kubicki.
This review originally appeared in VG‘s June ’99 issue.