1984 Fender Marble AKA “Bowling Ball” Stratocasters and Telecasters

Welcome back Troglodytes to Would You Rock or Not – Fender Friday Edition  Ep. 161

Don’t forget to vote on the poll at the end of the article!

Today we are going to dive in to a chapter of Dan Smith era Fender History when an interesting finish concept that later changed history was first toyed with. This is the Marble Finish – aka “The Bowling Ball” or the “Swirl.”

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Red, Gold and Blue Marble Stratocasters

The concept was first tried on 225 Stratocasters and 75 Telecasters (some sources also state 250/50) making for a grand total of 300 now highly-collectible guitars. However, Fender did not actually come up with this idea on their own or even paint these rarities themselves. They outsourced this project to a company out of Long Island, New York ran by Darren Johansen of About Time Designs (ATD.)

Fender first saw his prototype swirl design at the Summer NAMM show and knew right away that they would like to get on board with this. Fender shipped him 300 unfinished bodies from Fullerton, CA to be painted and then sent back. Once received, Fender would then finish the guitars themselves by putting a clear coat over the swirl finish and completing the final assembly.

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The “First” Swirled Guitar

Three colors were produced. Red Marble, Blue Marble and the rare Gold Marble. Due to the random nature of the finishing process, each example is unique and because of that some look a lot better than others. Essentially, the instrument’s body is coated in a primer and then dipped into a large ,slowly swirling vat of a water/soap solution that has paint droplets spread across the surface. As the guitar is slowly being dipped, the colored finish then adheres to the guitar’s body in the unique swirling pattern. Stakes are high though – you only get one shot to get it right.

Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder for many of these examples, but they are still rather valuable guitars fetching anywhere between $3,000-$4,500. Is there an underlying reason for this? Yes! This was the birth of the Swirl design that was later used by Ibanez that took the world by storm. In fact, Darren Johansen is the same guy that did the work for Ibanez. This makes Fender’s Marble Strats and Teles historical ‘prototypes’ to the ever-so-popular swirled Steve Vai JEMs. Fun fact there is a really ‘strange’ JEM I discovered while researching that we will have to cover in a separate episode.

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Marble Strat with Swirled Ibanez JEMs

But why try such a strange and new design in the first place? The reason for Fender trying something so out there was to emulate other exotic finishes on 80s guitars such as Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstrat that he painted in 1979 – though using a very different technique. This was their attempt at modernizing the Stratocaster and Telecaster.

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Van Halen’s Frankenstrat Design

Besides the swirled finish though, there are a few other interesting characteristics about these instruments due to the time period in which were birthed. It was dark time for Fender. These were one of the last models produced at the original Fullerton, CA plant that had been used since the 1940s. CBS sold Fender and everything was then moved to the Corona, CA plant by January of 1985. Since CBS was on hard times prior to the sale due to trying to compete with other cheaper import models, the 1983 and 1984 Stratocasters had some cost cutting features that helped lower the retail prices. Some of those features included:

  • Free Flyte Trem System with Snap in Tremolo Bar instead of Screwed in
  • Master Volume + Master Control 2 Knob Set Up instead of 3 Knobs
  • Output Placed on Pickguard Instead of Being Recessed into the Body
  • Top Loading Bridge instead of String Through Design


Note the Master Volume, Master Tone setup with the output jack on the pickguard.

Despite these cost-saving features that make purists turn up their noses, there was one premium add-on with this limited run. A sweet matching T-shirt! The owner simply had to fill out and mail in the order form that came with the instrument so Fender could send them the correct size. All the best swag always seems to come in the form of mail in orders – just look at the 25/50 Anniversary Les Paul Belt Buckles!

These strats and teles sport maple necks with either a rosewood or maple fretboard option. The bodies are made of Alder and they have white pickguards loaded with the usual pickups. Personally, I believe these would have looked much better with a transparent or painted pickguard similar to the Paisley Teles, but Ibanez later improved on the design.

A reissue of these instruments was also done in 1987. Fender partnered up with Darren once again and had 20 additional guitars made. Unfortunately, dealers didn’t really take to the idea so it was scraped and the 20 finished instruments were then sold to employees. This makes the reissues even more rare and harder to find than the original run, but it wasn’t long until Ibanez then came to take over that market.

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One of the 1987 Prototypes for the Scrapped 2nd Run

Now that we know a little bit about the history of these interesting Fenders, let’s go ahead and hear how one sounds.

The only question left – Would You Rock a Bowling Ball Strat/Tele or Not? Leave your answer down in the comments section below, leave a like if you enjoyed this video and place your vote on the official Rock or Not pole at troglysguitarshow.com. Thank you for watching and we will see you on the next episode. Take Care


4 responses to “1984 Fender Marble AKA “Bowling Ball” Stratocasters and Telecasters”

  1. I have a Telecaster which I bought new in 1984, I didn’t like the body so I had a new body made by Fretco Guitars in Adelaide. I found the body in a box in my garage and have decided to put it back together. Penguin Vintage guitars was able to supply me with a neck and machine heads. I found the original pickups and pot/3 way switch. It seems to be a Gold marble finish.

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