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Fenix by Young Chang. Korean.

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by gkkes » Wed Nov 22, 2017 3:04 pm

Hi everybody.

I spotted a Fenix Telecaster on a guitar auction recently, I couldn't make it so my Sis went to bid for me. Nice example Estimate £80, went for £200! Loads of interest.

I wondered what the fuss was about, so I picked up a very cheap Strat which turns out to be surprisingly good. I have a 97 EC Blackie for comparison. For anyone who knows these, I believe it's a 1992-4 Fenix ST10-R in a fetching Aqua Blue. The neck is true, nut is great, the bridge carries 25 years of blood, sweat and tears, the pups look like lace sensors and although the vol pot rotates through 360* the sound is fine. Strat twang, but warm, more woman tone.

I thought I'd research about the maker online, and that's when the problems began.

If you have any horses mouth info I'd like to hear it, but please don't google then post here, as I've found there's so much disinformation out there. 1965-85 was a volatile time in Fender history (CBS years) and any research must include Fender, Fender Squier and Fender Japan.

----******** This may be a long post - Turn back if not interested *******-----

Brief outline: (Updated when verified information is found).

- Young Chang (YC) was started in 1956 after the Korean War by 3 brothers, who imported Yamaha piano parts to assemble locally (thus avoiding import duty on pianos). Jai-Young Kim, Jai-Chang Kim and Jai-Sup Kim.
- Fender (CBS) wanted to fulfil increased Eastern orders for guitars as the $ was weak. US quality had suffered after Leo sold out in 65. Around 82/3 they commissioned some Japanese counterfeiters (like FugiGen Gakki and their own Heartfield) who made guitars to rival the classic US builds. Remember there were very few US built guitars between 85-89 following the management buyout.
- Around 1986/7, Fender commissioned YC and 3 other Korean factories to make their budget Squier range. E serial numbers signified the YC Incheon factory in Seul. Many were so competent they carried the full Fender trade mark, or Squier Silver Standard.
- To meet the "budget" price point, Fender specified cheap laminates and hardware. In 89 Fender moved manufacturing to China and Indonesia to further decrease costs, installing their own people/skills in Chinese factories.
- In order to save the factory, Myung Youn Won of YC decided to build top quality copies based on the Fender jigs from alder, maple and local mahogany, using hardware sourced for the lost Fender/Squier contract.
- These early 1987 Strat and Tele guitars were branded Young Chang, with a Made in Korea decal on the rear headstock. Neck plate stamped with YC and E prefix serial numbers. Provenance of these early guitars is extremely difficult to discover. Serial numbers follow no convention and is the pitfall for most owners, believing they mirror the Squier numbering. This is not the case. Fender "Contempory" models with humbuckers, MIJ at FujiGen Gakki, used E to signify 1984-87. Actual serial numbers themselves are missing (unpublished) pre-91.
- M-Y Won discovered at the Frankfurt Music Fair in 87 that Korean guitars had a poor reputation with European consumers, so the Fenix brand was born at the British Music Fair in 1989, and YC were able to export a full catalogue of 7 guitars and 3 basses.
- The years to 1991 saw an expansion of the brand to include 13 models including Super-strats, Les Pauls and 5 bass models.
-1991 YC open a factory in Tacoma, USA to build Tacoma acoustic guitars.
- Fenix re-branded in 1995/6 with a new logo and extra models including the Mona Lisa (41 models, of electric, bass, electro and full acoustic. There are 4 catalogues here at Vintaxe if you want to view these models).
- 1995 M-Y Won left YC to create World Music Instruments who currently make guitars for B.C. Rich, Chapman, Dean, Gretsch, LTD, Line6, PRS SE, Brian May, Schecter, Gretch Electromatics, Elecra and Fernandez to name a few. Many of these were originally MIJ.
- In 1999 in light of wide Asian competition and decline in their economy Young Chang decided to concentrate more on piano's and stopped production of their electric guitar range. (The Tacoma factory was sold privately in 1999 and was subsequently bought by Fender in 2004).
- A large consignment of these last guitars were imported into the UK by Sound Control in Scotland and PMT in Essex. PMT report quality had been compromised, green wood causing problems, so they slashed these late guitars to £99. Ex Sound Control staff revealed they were pressurised by Fender against selling counterfeits and outed them at £49.

I'd like to draw attention to Bill Shultz. Bill Shultz is often seen as the saviour of Fender. He organised the management buyout from CBS in 1985. He had been in charge at Fender since 1981. From 1971 he had worked for Yamaha (also owned by CBS). I don't think it's a great stretch of the imagination to see a link between Yamaha pianos, the buyout of Japanese counterfeiters to form Fender Japan, Korean production of Squier, and Young Chang.
Last edited by gkkes on Sun Dec 03, 2017 9:28 am, edited 43 times in total.
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by VintAxe » Wed Nov 22, 2017 4:41 pm

Wow gkkes, thanks for the impressive chronology on a poorly understood brand. Your work here will likely become the go to internet source for information concerning Fenix guitars :wink:

Hopefully other Fenix enthusiasts will contribute to your brief outline with their firsthand knowledge of the instruments and the company.

Well done :)
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by gkkes » Wed Nov 22, 2017 11:23 pm


There's a very fine account by Bob Leggitt here:

The fact that Young Chang built many Squier, Contemporary and Silver Standard top end guitars and indeed Fender branded guitars between 1985 and 89 muddies the water.

Serial numbers for very early Young Chang (Fenix) were stamped into the neck plate below a large Y. C. - Continued use of the E prefix signified the Incheon workshop. Many examples begin E7 and some assume this represents 1987 as per Squier numbering (Eighties+7=87). I don't know if this is correct. It may be for 97, but I don't believe any satisfactory number convention continued.

A vast number of guitars carry an E105 prefix, I've heard rumours of production runs totalling 75,000 units.

Each individual guitar needs to be considered in relation to other factors, as many were built using elements from their previous stockpile. It is thought this includes the Fender style pickup with visible pole pieces. Once stocks were exhausted a lane sensor style pickup was used. This was a stacked coil humbucker, and is likely responsible for their unique sound. (Possibly manufactured for them by Cort). Many Frankenstein examples exist today.

In 1990 Fenix changed the colour of the serial number decal and sadly began to reuse the original numbers. This coincides with a subtle redesign of the headstock shape, thought to have been necessary to avoid any legal challenge from Fender themselves. The headstocks were further altered around 1995 incorporating a scalloped lower lip. Other models maintained the Gibson, open book design or mimicked the Charvel/PRS styles. Post 95 examples can be determined by the newer lowercase fenix Logo.

The best examples remain in the hands of savvy collectors, with very few early examples appearing for sale. Bargains may still be found around Europe, if you're lucky.
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