1981 Fender Bullet

CRAVE Guitars says…

Thumbs up: Fantastic condition and originality, great neck, quirky styling, vintage market price

Thumbs down: Plywood body, far eastern hardware, low output pickups, not a Tele, low collectability

Decree: If you fancy something different form the usual classics, this is a lovely example of another ‘forgotten Fender’ designed by a Fender legend. Don’t be put off by its construction. It feels more like a modern guitar which may or may not appeal.

Model Description:

It is fair to say that Fender was struggling in the early 1980s. In an attempt to update their image and regain market share, they replaced the longstanding offset ‘student’ Mustang and Musicmaster with the Bullet and Lead ranges. The Bullet was designed by renowned designer John Page of Fender’s R&D department who went on to co‑found and head the Fender Custom Shop, and has since set up his own successful custom guitar business. There were two incarnations of the American Fender Bullet – series 1 (1981‑1982) was based on the Telecaster body and neck, while series 2 (1982-1984) was based on the Stratocaster body but retaining the Tele neck. Early examples of the Bullet were shipped from Korea but didn’t meet quality standards, so manufacture and assembly took place in America. To keep costs down, early bodies were made out of plywood (later changed to solid wood) and the scratchplate was made of powder‑coated steel, bent at the rear to form the tailpiece – very clever, quite unique and patented. The Bullet Deluxe had a plastic scratchplate and hardtail bridge/tailpiece and a Bullet bass was also produced. The Bullet’s body is slightly smaller and thinner than an equivalent standard Telecaster or Stratocaster and the proportions look slightly odd in direct comparison. The dual single coil pickups were the same as the outgoing Mustang and the switching was Stratocaster‑like with 3 positions. Colours were simple red or ivory with combinations of black and/or white accessories, seemingly whatever was to hand at the time. Necks came with either maple or rosewood fingerboards. The USA Bullet was not hugely successful, although the name and off‑shore production continued under the then newly reformed Squier brand used by Fender Japan from 1984.

Guitar Description:

Well… what do we have here? It’s a very cool single cutaway series 1 1981 Fender Bullet in gorgeously vibrant red and white (and black). CRAVE Guitars is keen on Fender’s budget ‘student’ models and wanted to explore whether the Bullet is a credible low‑cost vintage guitar. I am not alone in thinking that there is merit here; Bullets have a very strong following, even including an owners’ club dedicated to the model. The necks in particular are well-regarded – this one is quite chunky with some lovely subtle flame maple, a lovely dark, relatively flat rosewood fingerboard and 25½” scale that feels very modern.  I am not fazed by the innovative construction techniques used. In fact, it is because of its idiosyncrasies that the Bullet sounds unique, and is therefore all the more interesting.  Some commentators disregard the Bullet as a crude anomaly of a troubled and desperate corporation but I take no heed of such cynicism and I suggest that the guitar speaks for itself. This example is in exceptional unmolested, all‑original condition complete with its paperwork and dedicated case (specially designed for the model). Despite the heavy Telecaster influence, the tones on offer are distinctly un‑Tele like and much more akin to the Mustang. The pickups are quite low‑powered, so it is not a high‑gain axe for metal heads; it is probably better suited to jangly, clean indie, funk or country styles. Currently, American Bullets are relatively numerous and largely overlooked, so they represent a relatively risk-free and good-value entry to vintage guitars. Despite the inconclusive debates over origin, I reckon that the early ‘Made in U.S.A.’ Fender Bullet is on the verge of becoming trendy and collectable. Why not ‘lock ‘n’ load’ and take a shot (sic!)?


  • Made in U.S.A. in 1981
  • Telecaster‑style plywood slab body with gloss red finish
  • Telecaster‑style maple bolt-on neck
  • Original Kluson Deluxe tuners
  • Rosewood fingerboard with 21 medium frets and dot markers
  • Nut width – 15/8” (41.5mm)
  • Scale length 25½” (647mm)
  • Original chrome hardware
  • Original white powder‑coated steel scratchplate with bridge/tailpiece assembly
  • Original dual covered single coil pickups
  • Original 3‑way switch, pots, knobs and jack socket
  • Original moulded ABS Fender USA hard shell case
  • Original documentation including owner’s manual, hang tag and warranty card
  • Weight: 8lb (3.6kg)


Luthier John Page explains the silver star surrounding the number ‘1’ on the Fender Bullet headstock decal: “When I designed the Bullet I was still giggin’ a lot and still reading the trades… like Billboard. The Billboard charts always had a silver star around the number of singles/albums that were shooting up the charts quickly. They were usually the ‘hits’ So I thought that the phrase ‘Number one with a bullet’ which was a classic DJ/industry phrase, would be a great advertising campaign for it. Fender marketing chose not to go with it… so the decal never made any sense.”

Detail Gallery:

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