Most well known for it's guitars, amps and pianos, Fender also sold a couple of organs. I think it was probably just an attempt by their marketing department to compete with the other combo organs that were popular at the time. Unfortunately, they came into the game a bit late to capture much of the market.

Contempo Starmaster/Guild


If you know that Fender made an organ, this is probably the one you're thinking of.  I used to think (as most combo-aficionados do) that they were quite rare.  However, over the last few years, I've seen or heard of about two dozen, so they're not any more uncommon than many lesser-known models.  Which isn't to say they're are a ton of them out there, just that they're not such an ultra-rare-bird after all. They were made in the late 60's at the Fender plant, and used many parts made by Pratt-Reed, which also made the Rhodes keyboards.


Each voice rank has three tabs to control volume (f, ff and fff), so each rank (16', 8', 5-1/3', 4') can be mixed in different amounts, similar to the way drawbars are used. The volume switches just cut additional resistors in or out, like the "sectional volume mixer" on the Kustom Kombo.   

With the Normal/Solo switch in "Solo" position, all five octaves run through the Treble voices only.  With the switch in the "Normal" position, the reverse-color bass keys are run through the Bass voice filters. 

The Solo Tremolo is just that - tremolo (amplitude modulation) for the Treble voices only.  It's driven by the Vibrato oscillator, and so is perfectly synchronized with the Vibrato.  Vibrato and Tremolo may be selected independently or together.

The Solo Timbre tab is just a sort of "Brightness" switch.  The Contempo's unusual volume pedal, shown below, can be rotated side-to-side to affect the tone in a similar (but independent) way.  Here are some pictures of the pedal and the legs:

One sharp looking pedal! Showing the side-to-side motion The "InnerWorkings" What holds it all up

The Contempo came with two different case styles.  These are shown below:

One handle on the lid, one on the organ, square bottom front edge, hinges on the back, latches on the front. This seems to be the more common configuration Both handles on the lid, tapered bottom front edge, hinges on the front, latches on the back. (Same pic as above- I don't have a picture of one with the lid closed)

I've never heard a Contempo, but have heard from several owners that it's sound is not cheesy sound like a Vox or Farfisa, but is quite versatile nonetheless, and sounds incredible through a Leslie, actually more "Hammond-ish" than most of it's combo organ brethren.

Thanks to Eric at Boss Guitars for the cool album cover)


This one was possibly intended to be a successor to the Contempo, but at the time, Fender was shifting their keyboard focus to the more popular Rhodes pianos. According to Barry Carson's chapter in "Vintage Synthesizers", the Starmaker(sic) may never have made it into production. The one pictured here may be one of the few in existence. It appeared in a 1968, but never appeared in a catalog. Neither Harold Rhodes(who passed away on 12/17/2000) nor Steve Woodward, both of whom were involved with Fender's keyboard line at the time, had any recollection of it (Steve was quite involved with the Contempo, however). Unlike the Contempo, the Starmaster was made in Italy. It may have been something that they just chose to import and resell under the Fender name, and then decided against it.

A complete Starmaster with original stand and volume pedal (picture courtesy of Frank Stratton)

The one shown above was featured on page 13 of the September, 1998 issue of Keyboard Magazine as their "Keyboard of the Month". (If you search Keyboard Mag's web site, you won't find a reference to it - just order the Sep 98 back issue - it's in there). I've heard from a few sources about it, and all agree that it likely never went into production, or if so, very few were made. I recently had the good fortune to acquire one of these rare birds (thanks, Bill!). I've also corresponded with four other Starmaster owners, and have heard about one more in existence, from a friend who narrowly missed buying it..

Here's what Barry Carson has to say about the history of the Starmaster:

"In the 1968 Fender price list, both the Contempo and Starmaster show up (the Starmaster for $100.00 less), although the Contempo is pictured in that year's catalog (on the beach with the Fender Rhodes Piano, Piano Bass, and Celeste) and the Starmaster is not.  By 1969, the Contempo shows up in both the price list ($795.00) and catalog (Hollywood bowl:  piano and bass - for the first time with black tops - with Vibratone, but no celeste) but there is no mention of the Starmaster.  I have a vague recollection of the Contempo also showing up in the 1967 catalog, but it's been years since I've seen it.  I always figured that Fender, like Baldwin, grabbed a quick Italian combo organ fix while coming up with their own."

The pictures below are of my Starmaster.  The stand it's sitting on is a Yamaha KTB.  This is a fairly recent model designed for lightweight keyboards.  It's kind of cool-looking, but is NOT very heavy duty.  The Starmaster is really a bit heavy for it - I used it only for the pictures.  Yamaha has apparently dropped it from their line - probably because it was so light-duty.

Happy to be out in the yard on it's little "Yamaha KTB 'Z' stand". Rear view - note the absence of any sort of ID plate or connectors
All three cables hard-wired and bundled together What a lovely color combination: dirt-brown bottom and pale-green top - yuck!

The case is made of fiberglass, sort of a clamshell affair. The bottom half is brown, and the top is a real ugly light green - very odd (and it's not just mine, all five that I know of are like this). The power, output and volume pedal cables are hard-wired and come out from between the top and the case in a bundle, and there's no provision for neatly storing them - you just kind of wind them up and set them on the organ and close the lid quickly before they jump out - also very odd. 

A closeup of the control panel.  (This was pieced together from three pictures)


The Voice tabs are divided into two sections, A and B. A is flute voices, and B is Woodwinds, Strings, and three very nice Mixtures. These sections may be selected separately or in combination by using the black A+B and A/B tabs. The "Colors Chorus" tab is a mixture of 2-2/3' and 1-3/5' flute voices. The Bass section is a single fixed voice, controllable only by the "Bass Volume" knob. The "Bass Ext" tab extends the bass section up an octave, for a total of 24 notes. The Bass voice is essentially the same as the Flute 8' voice - switching on only that tab, and adjusting the Bass volume to match the level, you can't hear any change playing notes across the bass and treble sections. The Percussion is most unusual:  With the knob rotated fully clockwise, it adds a bright voice that repeats at about 2-3 hz to add sort of a "strumming" effect. Rotating the Percussion knob counter-clockwise (yes, you read that right) INCREASES the speed of the "strumming" until it becomes a single, continuous sound that can actually be used as an extra organ voice. The Bass Volume knob is also wired "backwards", with the fully counterclockwise setting being the loudest. Go figure.

The Starmaster apparently lived on in another skin. I ran across a promo sheet for a Guild organ, shown here, and it appears nearly identical except for the stand and some cosmetics. Also, the Guild has the "Roto Verb" feature (probably some sort of attempt at a Leslie sound) which the Starmaster lacks.


Guild also made another organ, which I have little info on, except the following description from Barry Carson:

"In September, 1968 Guild published an ad that included the Guild 'Electronic Organ'. It is indeed a boxy, tolex covered thing, but it is very bizarre. It has a regular keyboard (no reverse keys), and above the keys are a few knob - slider things. The actual voice tabs are on a slanted panel that is below and in front of the keys - so you would reach over the tabs to play the keys, and you would have to reach over them quite a distance - weird. The legs of the thing look like the bottom half of a modern 'X' type stand. I remember seeing one like it someplace when I was a kid. The picture I have is b/w, but I remember it having some red and white tabs. By November of 1968, Guild was running pretty much the same ad but with the Guild 'Electric Organ' which is the plastic Fender-like one"


Regarding the "Roto-Verb": effect, I have the following quote from someone who remembers seeing them:

"I never saw a Guild organ,but I remember the Rotoverb well as a "stomp pedal" accessory box that weighed about 9 pounds. It indeed did approximate a Leslie rotating speaker sound but with some particular weirdness to it.  It even had the 2 "speeds".  I was getting really bored with the sounds the Farfisa could make till I saw this thing in the back of the local music store where we hung out all day.  I remember so well that it cost 75 bucks, which was about what our whole band got paid for a gig in those days. My fondest memory of it was that I talked my folks into buying it for me as High School graduation present.  Other kids got cars, but I was much more thrilled with the Rotoverb.   It was a bizarre looking thing, with like modified "bat-wings" and it was colored sort of pumpkin orange with a black face where the foot switches were. Quite cool in 1968. For me, who could only dream about B-3's and Leslies, it changed my whole playing style and the sound of our band, who i think were thinking about kicking me out until I got this thing. Seems odd to reminisce mistily about a 30 year old effects pedal, but I will never forget that orange box"