The Telecaster was inspired by the advent of television, which was the center of the media universe when the guitar was launched in 1951. Fender then added the Precision Bass that same year, and by 1954 space was the new frontier, and the Stratocaster was meant to sound as if it arrived from another musical stratosphere. Over the past 75 years, Fender has introduced the Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang, and other designs that found a second life later on, like the 1970s Starcaster resurgence after being picked up again by bands like Radiohead and The Killers. Throughout the decades, there’s been one common thread among Fender guitars: the music made by the musicians that gravitated toward each model over time. Now, Meteora is the latest member of the “family” of Fender guitars.
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Launched in March 2022, the Meteora HH guitar and Active Meteora Bass offer a more futuristic model for Fender within the Player Plus series. “All the way back to the very beginning of Fender, in the ’50s there was the Telecaster, the Stratocaster, and P-bass that changed the direction of music by being part of a zeitgeist of what happened,” said Justin Norvell, executive vice president of product at Fender. “But he [Leo Fender] didn’t stop at the Telecaster, and he didn’t stop at the Stratocaster, so we just want to be part of that through-line that gets into the evolution.”
Just like its guitar predecessors, there was something different in the Greek-inspired name Meteora—even down to the name. “We wanted something galactic, interstellar, the universe of possibilities,” says Norvell of Meteora. “It was evocative and spoke to the largesse to the possibilities.”
First introduced in a limited run in 2018, the Meteora had a different body but was basically a telecaster at heart.
“It was more of a new body shape on an existing style, so it was pretty much a Telecaster with a different body,” said Norvell of the initial Meteora design. “It was aesthetically comfortable, because it looked like a Tele, and people went nuts for it. We’ve done mashups of different styles over the years like a Jazzmaster Plus and a Tele, but Meteora was one of those few things that was truly a new design.”
The Meteora was designed to inspire the next generation of players. Early fans already included Japanese Breakfast singer and guitarist Michelle Zauner, rapper Teezo Touchdown, Ghostemane, and Portugal. The Man, who will use the Meteora on tour.
The entirety of the design took two and a half to three years to solidify from the R&D engineer sketching the guitar. “With all those mashup series, unlimited rare guitars, this one got an outside reaction from people,” he said. “We spent a couple of years with the body… all the electronics, the finishes, and everything that went along with it was all informed by this silhouette. We just colored in the lines.”
Crafted in Ensenada, Mexico, Meteora features a more comfortable Modern “C” Neck with rolled edges, and a 12-inch radius fretboard for a flatter playing surface and aggressive bending without “choking out.” Medium jumbo frets also allow players to fret and bend notes easier for high-speed playing, while the Fireball humbucking pickups produce a thicker tone with a reduction in hum. Other features include advanced switching options for easy shift in tone, more precise tremolo, and locking tuners.
Everything down to the pickguard was meticulously designed to capture the unique sound of the Meteora. “We wanted it to be feature-rich but we wanted it, at its essence, to do what it’s supposed to do,” says Norvell. “At one point, it was two-volume, two-tone and it went down to one-volume, two-tone, and the push-pull went away. We wanted it to be mega versatile, and we spent a lot of time with the pickguard shape. There’s a ton of shapes that could work but shaving even the smallest bit can affect how it works.”
Even the colors of the Meteora—3-Color Sunburst, Belaire Blue, Cosmic Jade, Silverburst, Tequila Sunrise, and Opal Spark—evoke the newer era of the guitar.
“This is a more contemporary youthful design for someone that is not as tied to the entire history of ‘how did this screw was moved from here to here,’” says Norvell. “I’m not saying that in a derogatory way. I respect Fender’s history, but this is for someone who wants something a little different, a little more aggressive, a little heavier.”
He adds, “A lot of the younger players spend way more time recording, and to have humbucking pickups in there is great, sonically.”
In all its nuances from previous Fender guitars, the Meteora is a “different flavor” for players, says Norvell. “It’s not a metal guitar,” he says. “It’s heavy but it can be anything. In the way the Jazzmaster came out in ’62, it finds its audience and it’s a new audience. It’s not people who run from the Tele to the Strat or run from the Jazzmaster to the Strat. It will find its owner.”
Still open to new designs, Fender is dedicated to managing its core guitars, which now include Meteora, but is open to some future experimentation. “It’s just being true to the idea of not being complacent,” says Norvell. “We very easily could do a ’54 Strat, a ’57 Strat, and it’s great but there’s a little risk in putting these [Meteora] out there. What new shapes or designs can we create where we’re not resting on any laurels? We always want to have new stuff… and we’ll always have the Strat and the Telecaster.”
Just like the Telecaster tied to guitarists like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and the Strat remained strapped to Hendrix, time will tell the legacy of the Meteora.
“We always say the instruments are great but the musical body of work created on them really defines them, whether it’s The Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen or Kurt Cobain,” says Norvell. “That reflection of that type of music drives an audience to it, so we’re excited to see who’s going to gravitate towards Meteora to make their own music.”