Billy Pirie of Fender Musical Instruments speaks with Guitar.com
Fender is arguably the most widely known guitar brand in the world. I’ve seen Fender T-shirts, sweatshirts and other logo wear in clothing stores that are far removed from any musical instrument store. And they’re known for more than just guitars. Their accessory line includes picks, pickups, straps, EFX pedals, and now slides and capos. We recently caught up with Billy Pirie, Accessories Product Manager for Fender, to talk about the brand, his impact on it, and what goes on inside that complicated world of The Tone Chain!
Guitar.com: Hi Billy, thanks for being here. Your title is Accessories Product Manager; can you tell us more about what you do?
Bill Pirie: As Product Manager’s we wear a lot of hats. Planning, forecasting, research, analysis, dreaming, visualizing, designing and anything else you can think of in between. We partner with our multiple sales channels around the world to bring the very best products at the very best prices and at the very best value to market for our customers.
Guitar.com: Sounds like a very cool job. How did you get it?
Pirie: When I was working in the retail channel on the sales floor, I made a great friendship with my Fender Rep at the time, Dean Herman. After a bunch of years in retail, I made the change to go to work in the financial industry --- a “real” job, right?! Shortly thereafter, realizing this wasn’t for me, I got in touch with Dean and asked him if by any chance Fender was hiring and he said yes. I sent my resume and the rest is now history. Spent the first year of on the road as a Product Specialist then a year after, got the call to come inside to Scottsdale to help run the Accessories Department. Pretty lucky and in hindsight, I guess the timing was right.
Guitar.com: Often taken for granted is the Guitar Pick. Does a pick affect tone?
Pirie: Yes, absolutely. There is a reason why we have different materials in multiple thicknesses in our line. Celluloid is clearly our #1 pick material and is by far the most responsive and dynamic of all the materials available. Celluloid picks have been a integral part of the Fender Accessories line since the 1950’s. We also have our California Clears Pick line which are more value priced in a tough plastic material in cool, see-through iconic Fender Colors. Our newest addition to the line have been our Rock-On Touring Picks which are a matte-finish, non-slip style material made from an extruded plastic material in partnership with an iconic American Plastics Material manufacturer. Each of our pick lines come in many shapes, sizes and thicknesses so our customers can have a wide array of choices which suit their playing styles accordingly. Each material sounds a little bit different from each other, so go out and try them all. You may be surprised at how differently each one reacts to “your” style of playing.
Guitar.com: What makes Fender picks different from all the other picks out there?
Pirie: That’s a great question. Our picks are made to very exacting standards and have been since they were added into the line in the 1950’s. Our 351 shaped pick is iconic, in its own right, as the standard by which all other picks are judged. Our 351 Tortoise Shell Medium pick is arguably the World’s #1 guitar pick.
Guitar.com: Fender has a lot of different pickups. Why so many?
Pirie: Why not would be my answer to start with. Each iconic instrument Fender makes, in the hands of the player, all feel and sound different. There is no difference with the pickups. We offer MANY different flavors which allow our customers the option to change their sound easily without changing the feel of the instrument. Some pickups set sounds are glassy, some are thumpy, some are hot and some are not hot. However, in the hands of the player each responds differently to how the person plays. This option may be the key to getting “that sound/ your sound” that players search for their whole lives. Also, one of the greatest facets to the genius of Leo Fender is the concept of interchangeable parts. It’s easy to change pickups out and no where near as expensive as replacing an entire guitar. For the dealers, this is an amazing way to keep customer’s coming in to try new things and build a great rapport with music stores. Pretty cool all around, I think. Everyone likes options. We have some of the best out there.
Guitar.com: Working at Fender, you get to see all the pickups that come through your doors, certainly an eviable position. So you must have a favorite pickup? Tell us which ones and why?
Pirie: Yes, I’m a bass player first and my favorite pickup is the Original Precision Bass Pickup. This is the split/ humbucking version that came into play in 1957. As far as I’m concerned, this is the quintessential bass pickup with no match. Its sound is smooth, consistent and superbly balanced. Really, in my opinion, this pickup and it’s placement on the bass is as near to bass tone perfection as you can get, period.
Guitar.com: What makes Fender pickups different from all the other brands of aftermarket pickups out there?
Pirie: Our process is absolutely amazing. We manufacture more pickups a day than anyone and our factory floor, R&D department and marketing channels are always looking to continuously improve our processes, try new things and ultimately, make sure that all the pickups that go out are the very best they can be. We also have amazing people like Abigail Ybarra, who has been winding pickups for Fender for over 50 years. Her attention to detail, experience and expertise are unmatched when it comes to pickups. Our Custom Shop has builder’s with the ultimate ear for tone and wind pickups for some of the greatest musicians on Earth everyday. Our team who builds and winds in standard production are true experts on consistency, quality and bring ideas to the table all the time.
Fender’s original designs are the basis by which all other pickups are judged --- even anything new we dream up has months and months of play testing behind it benchmarked against some of the greatest sounding pickups ever made. Not to take anything away from the AMAZING pickup manufacturers/ friends out there in the market like: Seymour Duncan, Lindy Fralin, Kinman, Lollar, EMG, DiMarzio, Barden, etc ---- most of those companies are founded on Leo Fender’s designs and principles of simplicity/ interchangeable parts each with their own killer style and great sound. All these different flavors in the market add to the playing experience and choices on the table for players. I love that part of this industry – we’re all united in the concept of giving player’s the best choices that personalize “your” performance --- at whatever level. I put our Fender Pickups up against the competition every day and I love what I hear and what I get from our pickups and am proud to stand behind them as true-tone-destination-products.
Guitar.com: Do you have any insight for anyone in a quest to find great tone?
Pirie: Seek out your voice. Everyone plays differently and “your” sound is unique. Tone is SO subjective and there are millions of choices out there to personalize “your” sound. For quick example, I’m a HUGE David Gilmour fan and wish I could hold out one big solo note with the prowess and purity that he has. I could get his rig, his guitar, his picks, his cables, his pedals, etc., I still wouldn’t sound like David Gilmour. Each one of the options we’ve discussed contribute to the discovery of “your” sound. Use your influences to inspire “your” sound and have fun in the process. Fender Accessories will continue to be great fuel to this quest and I look forward to this spirit of discovery myself as I help bring products to market. I’m not done yet on my personal tone quest. I’m having way too much fun to stop now.
Guitar.com: Thanks as always, Billy, we appreciate your time. For more information on Fender products, be sure to visit with at them: Fender.com