Process Improvement and Rock & Roll

In 1967 Eric Clapton bought a ten-year-old Fender Stratocaster in London for £150. He nicknamed it “Brownie.”

3 years later Brownie was used to record “Leyla”. Even if you hate Rock and Roll you will have heard “Leyla.”

At the close of the 20th century “Brownie” was sold at auction by Christies in New York for $450,000. That is a lot of money for a guitar, particularly a rather old and beaten up guitar, even if it did have a bucket full of provenance.

What’s so special about the Stratocaster?

When most people hear the words “electric guitar” the first name that flashes through their minds is Fender Stratocaster. It is to rock and roll what Stradivarius is to classical music. Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend all played them.

Why did they all play the Stratocaster?

The guitar was developed Leo Fender after the Second World War. Leo wasn’t a guitarist, but he realised that the way to make a great guitar was to listen to guitarists and understand what they wanted.

  • The Stratocaster has a curved body so it is comfortable to play and doesn’t dig into the musician’s ribs.
  • The Stratocaster’s electric chord plugs into the front of the guitar, not the bottom so it is easy to connect to an amp.
  • The Stratocaster has 6 tuning pegs in line on the head stock rather than three on the top and three on the bottom, making it easy to tune.

But Leo didn’t just focus on the needs of the guitarist; the Stratocaster also has a modular design so it is easy for people to repair. Given the efforts Leo went to, to design the world’s most user-friendly guitar, it is hardly surprising that it went on to become a huge commercial success and a rock and roll legend.

“My first wife said, ‘It’s either that guitar (Strat) or me’, you know – and I give you three guesses which one went” ~ Jeff Beck

What can Leo Fender teach you?

The Stratocaster works because Leo listened to his customers and repairers problems and then solved them. He made it easy for them.

Do you design your processes with the same focus, giving customers what they want and making things easy? If you don’t, what could you change?

About the Author

James Lawther gets upset by operations that don’t work and apoplectic about poor customer service. Visit his web site “The Squawk Point” to find out more about process improvement.

Photo Credit: 1


  1. Robert Drescher

    September 14, 2012 - 1:40 pm

    Thanks for sharing James idea with all of us.

    Great companies find ways to listen to the consumers of their products, something more companies should do. It surprises me that many western companies keep getting it wrong when you have plenty of examples of both Korean and Japanese companies that can really get an understanding for their customers wants and needs.

    Just look at the TV and appliance industry over the last two decades we have seen how some of these foreign manufactures have out grown their North American competition simply because they are doing a better job of actually listening to the consumer and building a product that meets the needs of the majority of consumers instead of a vocal few.

  2. Mark Davis

    September 17, 2012 - 8:46 am

    Very informative piece, James. I’ve played around with guitars since I was a kid (I hate to do the math on how long), but I had no clue about this history of the Stratocaster. My favorite feature? The ergonomically shaped body that doesn’t dig into your ribs. He definitely hit one of my CTQ’s with that one. If only the designer of my Yamaha acoustic had been so intuitive. Keep up the great work!

  3. James Lawther

    September 18, 2012 - 11:50 pm

    Thank you for reading and the comments guys.

    I am always amazed when I buy something new how little the designers take customers needs nto account

    I guess that is why Apple make so much money


  4. Ron @ New EDMs

    September 28, 2012 - 9:04 am

    James, Apple doesn’t listen to their customers at all. But that’s another discussion. Domino’s pizza however, is a good example. They were about bankrupt when they finally listened and realized that everyone hated their pizza, so they fixed it and are doing much better now.

    • James Lawther

      October 1, 2012 - 11:04 pm

      You may well be right Ron, I’ve never worked there

      Thanks for the Domino’s example

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *