By on December 21, 2010

“”By partnering with Volkswagen on the Fender Premium Audio System, we are creating a unique partnership with a truly innovative company allowing us to deliver a product that is as unique, expressive and dynamic as the customers who use it,” said Mark Van Vleet, Senior Vice President, Business Affairs for Fender.

Well, that may be… but do Volkswagen and Fender really want to be associated with each other? I can think of one solid reason why the two brands should have mucho distancia, hombre…

Volkswagen and rock music have been connected in the American mind for a long time, with the nadir perhaps being John Mayer pimping a genuinely horrible buy-an-ugly-Beetle-get-a-ugly-guitar deal in 2006. Still, this tie-up with Fender, which has been in the works for the past three years, doesn’t exactly spark the imagination.

To begin with, Fender is the low-fi American guitar brand, both in the music their guitars are typically used to play and their distortion-heavy amplifiers. Furthermore, there’s no actual “Fender” in the Fender sound systems; the speakers are made by Panasonic. Last but not least, the typical VW customer is far more likely to be listening to “A State Of Trance” than she would be to crank up some Jimi Hendrix or Buddy Guy.

With that said, there is one thing that Fender and Volkswagen have in common, although they’d both prefer you not think too much about it. The photo that heads this column is of my 2009 Fender American Standard Stratocaster and an old key for my 2006 VW Phaeton. Two iconic creations: the all-American guitar and an uber-luxury sedan straight of der Vaterland, right? Problem is, the bulk of Fender’s production actually comes from their Ensenada facility, while Volkswagen’s “German Engineered” mass-market cars are assembled a few thousand klicks south in Puebla. Fender and Volkswagen: Hecho In Mexico, baby!

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38 Comments on “Fender/Volkswagen Tie-Up Is More Ironic Than That One Song About Irony...”

  • avatar

    So what’s “Fender” about it? Will it be better or worse than the Monsoon tie up? (like I care…)

  • avatar

    So where’s the ironic bit?

    • 0 avatar
      H Man

      His point exactly.

    • 0 avatar

      The irony is that a couple of iconic brands, one American, one German, are getting together to market auto sound systems to American consumers, though the bulk of the products they sell in America are neither made in Germany nor America, but rather in Mexico.

    • 0 avatar

      The tie-up may be somewhat cynical, but it’s not ironic.

      If the manufacturer’s values were ultra-nationalism and protectionism, then yes this would be ironic (and hypocritical). Surely Fenders and Volkswagens being manufacturered in a low cost base country has made the products more attainable in the market. Volkswagen is the ‘People’s car’ so what better way to get it to the people than make it cheaper? Fender is the ‘All American guitar’, a cheaper guitar means more Americans can buy it. In any case, Mexico was still in North America last time I looked.

  • avatar

    VW clearly wants their products to sound way too trebly and thin,
    be fairly overpriced except in the most basic models,
    come in colors that are kinda lame and nobody’s really in-love with,
    and only use 1 speaker size that
    when it’s not ramming an icepick into your ears in the mad hands of Buddy Guy,
    otherwise only sounds good, and by ‘good’ I mean still under-distorted, when wildly overdriven by an over-hot input and with the outputs set at 11 and subenclosed in their own little rooms.
    Now if they’d partnered with Bogner, and created the “Uberschall”-brand car stereo for their TOTL units, then, tally-ho! (or whatever the deutsch term for that is)
    …Or maybe Diezel
    -but then the stereos would all have real narrow powerbands. (yes, I went a hair too far for that joke; sue me.)

    • 0 avatar
      Domestic Hearse

      There are two kinds’a people in this world. Single-coils. And humbuckers.
      Willman is obviously a Les Paul into a Marshall half-stack kinda guy.
      Agree on the Buddy Guy reference, but his tone has taken a giant leap forward in the last few years, having switched from his collection of stock vintage Fender Bassmans (with every knob turned to “11”) to Chicago Blues Box boutique amps. The icepick is gone, replaced with much more tonal complexity.
      But still, all Fender Strat jangly-jangle goodness. Turned to 11.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      The new Buddy Guy record is a keeper.

      I just went through a mental pickup count. I have about 56 guitars right now, can’t be exact because there’s stuff on loan and in transit.

      * three acoustics
      * four with P-90s
      * about ten with primary single-coil
      * nine with HSS, HSH, or SHS (Electra X195) combos

      The rest are humbuckers.

      Most of the guitars I play regularly are at least shaped like a Lester or 335.

    • 0 avatar

      @Domestic Hearse: DAMN! You got me there. I guess I Am that transparent.

      @Jack: P-90s? Awwe-SOME.

  • avatar

    Come on….  Fender does not really make car audio systems.

    It is all just a slick marketing gimmick, and people fall for it.
    Fender needs some cash, so they license the name, and some anonymous asian company re-labels some already existing system and sells it to VW.
    We saw this with Lexus.  Mark Levinson (the actual guy) retires and sells his high end audio company to Harmon International, who simply re-labels a top of the line Harmon Kardon car system for Lexus.  Mark Levinson never sold or designed a car audio system. Mark’s equipment was all hand built. Current Levinson gear is designed by some unknown Harmon team and factory built in asia.

    Mark Levinson still plays around with audio recordings and equipment, with another company of his, Red Rose Music

    • 0 avatar

      Mark “I never met a preamp that cost too much” Levinson’s company, MLAS, was broke, so he sold his name.  He then started Cello, which folded.  Red Rose is a trendy hi-fi boutique store that began by selling Chinese sourced electronics.  Don’t know what they are up to, now.  However, if VW was smart, they’d team with Marshall, put 20 knobs on the face-plate, and make sure that the volume control goes to 11.  Just in case the driver needs that “extra push” to get them over the cliff.

  • avatar

    Between this and the Volt/Garbage article, I must applaud today’s very dry approach to the fine (lost) art of headline writing.

  • avatar

    Stupid attempt at hipster marketing.
    VW’s have the worst sounding stock stereo systems I’ve yet encountered. The Monsoon one even sounded bad.

  • avatar

    Will Korean-build VWs be called “Squires”?

    And will I accidentally keep shifting gears when I’m steering?

  • avatar

    So…. is there a 1/4″ jack on the dash somewhere where I can plug in my SG? Will I have to keep some 6V6GT and 12AX7 tubes on hand in case I go over a big speed bump? Will I have to remove that plastic engine cover thing to change them?

  • avatar
    H Man

    And since when has Fender been known for consumer audio?  Boggles the mind…
    REAL Fenders are called “G&L”s, btw.  Leo’s last and best designs.  I own 3 of their basses.
    And a Ron Kirn Tele, but that’s another story.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      George and Leo! I just had a fellow unroll a deal on me for a blue Legacy Special. Great stuff.

      When you consider that Leo was involved with the Stingray as well… lot of designs coming from very few people.

    • 0 avatar
      H Man

      Yeah, Leo did it all.  My own bass progression follows his.  I started with a Mexi Fender P, then went to a Stingray and Sterling combo, and then discovered G&L L-2000s.  Sold the Ernie Balls, they were outclassed, although still very nice basses.

  • avatar

    I don’t get it.
    Fender do not make mass market consumer audio equipment. VW would be better off with someone like B&W or B&O or someone who does high end consumer equipment.

    • 0 avatar

      While this makes no sense to anyone who knows audio or guitars (those 1950s era tube designs like the Champ and Bassman may sound great with guitar and harp, but they sound that way because of their characteristic distortion) the bottom line is the bottom line. There’s way more brand recognition for Fender than there is for a small company like B&W or even a bigger company that advertises more like B&O.

      I wonder if anyone’s ever approached conrad johnson or AR about car audio.
      Frankly, I’m surprised that Fender hasn’t licensed their brand for consumer audio before. It’s a natural tie in with rock ‘n roll.

  • avatar

    considering that the stock stereo in my old 2010 Jetta sounded like crap, had a glitchy interface, and only worked with iPods made before 2008 (it’s a 2010 model! wtf?), anything would be an improvement.  Besides, I’m sure the VW dealer techs will appreciate the upgrade. After all, they listened to my stereo more than I did.

  • avatar

    Who’s worse: the wine snobs, the golf snobs or the electric guitar snobs?
    Looks like the guitar snobs are enjoying their comfortable lead from the clubhouse while nursing a promising but slightly immature cab with notes of vanilla and cardamom.
    Lighten up, fellas…

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah.  I think I’m going to throw up if I hear any more talk about how many guitars, of which vintage, what brand, using what pickups through which amps….
      Want good guitar tone?  Take a two-by-four, put a neck and pickups on it, string it up, and play it like you know how to do it.  If it’s all about the equipment you don’t know what you’re doing.  At all.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry to disagree guys, but nothing wrong with a craftsman appreciating good tools. Lots of great guitarists are serious gearheads. Perhaps too serious, according to Bruce Ignater, who makes his living selling boutique amps, so he should know. Still, while a good player can make good music on even an Esteban guitar, there are reasons why most professional guitar players have at least a small collection of axes.

  • avatar

    Just think if it was a pre-CBS VW tie up. They could have came up with a cool name like VWCBS, or VWBS as in Fender VW Bus. Just think how much those would be worth.
    Damn, I need some sleep.

  • avatar

    slick marketing has kept VW coffers in the black more than any other manufacturer. anyone remember ‘Grundig’? now there’s a radio; except their cassette players [remember those?] were junk. today’s techno-savvy consumer wants a disc player with MP3 ability and bluetooth for the phone. so what’s in a name? better upselling options …

  • avatar

    Boy is there some truth in this article.  The only record in my normal rotation that sounds like it uses a fender is Radio City by Big Star.  And it was made in the early 70s.  My bandmate uses a tele, but that’s a whole different world than the stratocaster, a guitar that seems like it may well be relegated to infamy.

    The basses are generally great though.  I have a Japanese made non-export Aerodyne.  It’s a Jazz bass with a P pickup at the neck.  Sounds great, didn’t cost USA prices, and it’s actually a well made guitar.  It’s not for sale.

    Volkswagen?  Friends tell me they should have listened when I told them not to buy one.

  • avatar

    guitars cost about 25$ dollars to make at cost (or somewhere in that range). through the eighties and early 90s, v dub was not exactly basking in the sun with positive brand recognition.
    Memories are short, marketing budgets are large, and the idiotic idea of corporate synergies hasn’t fallen by the way side yet so, to put it politely, people will eat anything if you sell hard enough, if your marketing budget is large enough and your sales staff is hungry enough, anything can be dumped down the throats of the public, its just a function of money, not taste. KFC taco bell anybody?

  • avatar

    “allowing us to deliver a product that is as unique, expressive and dynamic as the customers who use it”

    Interesting choice of words. Products like the Routan, New Jetta and upcoming New Midsize Sedan were products delivered to lure customers who are so “unique, expressive and dynamic” that they’d otherwise reflexively buy Camccords.

  • avatar

    “Fender is the low-fi American guitar brand, both in the music their guitars are typically used to play and their distortion-heavy amplifiers.”
    Huh, I always felt that fender amps were geared towards people looking for clean jazz tones. the Twin cleans up nicely (but is, indeed, way overpriced).

  • avatar

    Based on his screeds about Chinese made guitars and the offshoring production Dick Destiny (  among others) may have something interesting to say about this.

  • avatar

    Atleast Mitsubishi was smart enough to partner with Rockford Fosgate an established name in car audio. While like every one else in high-end car audio, RF are just making slightly better then average Chinese stuff these day they were at one time pretty much at the top of the hill. Face it: 95% of the “premium” stereo systems in any car are garbage. For the money they charge you can do much better with a quick shopping trip to Sonic Electronics online. Currently I’m running Pioneer, Audio Control (still made in the USA), Kicker and Polk gear. I guarantee my system would destroy anything with a “Fender” label on it.

  • avatar

    I think some of these tie ups can be very valid.  I mean, the stock Bose stereo that came with my RX8 sounds just as bland and mid-range biased with a complete lack of any highs or lows as any stand-alone Bose junk I’ve ever heard.  Totally deserving of the Bose branding in my car.  It also has the advantage of being totally proprietary and making it a total pain to upgrade.  (as the from their still independent days Orion HCCCA amps continue to gather dust in my attic.)
    For somebody still in the first half of their thirties, I feel bad having to be so grumpy about all of this new stuff being absolute junk.  I haven’t heard much new stuff (at a reasonable price) that sounds even half decent. A lot of the expensive stuff sounds horrible as well…. and get offa’ my lawn!
    Anyway, to put things back on topic, I have to say the Fender tube head and amp that my father-in-law has owned since the 60s sounds terrific.  Even his newish stratocaster sounded pretty good through it, but the 67 Precision bass made me feel warm and fuzzy.

  • avatar

    FWIW, the B&W system in the Jaguar XF I recently tested sounded superb.
    Why cheap stuff doesn’t sound good is perplexing in light of the availability of T-Class amps-on-a-chip and other really good sounding inexpensive gear.
    Still, the Emerson stereo bluetooth noice canceling headset that I got sounds terrible. Very disappointed in the sound quality. Even voices sound distorted.

  • avatar
    George B

    Volkswagen and Fender.  Two brands that just don’t go together.
    Interesting story of Dick Dale testing early prototype Fender amplifiers, causing some to catch on fire.

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