Fender definitely got a "leg up" on Gibson when it came to offshore production and marketing. While Gibson held their name above the low end market, Fender slapped their logo right up there on every headstock. You saw the name Fender first and it required further scrutiny to determine where it was made. The other thing is that a beginner could start off with the same name on his guitar as his favorite player. Gibson, as a brand, remained out of reach for the beginner. When you walked into a SA or GC you generally saw a huge display of Fenders that you could pick up and try out and maybe buy...the Gibsons were held in a controlled area and are not directly accessible. I can understand what they were thinking but I also believe that they missed the boat.
As a Gibson owner and observer for many years, the downfall of the company has been quite predictable. Gibson's quality control has been in the toilet for a long, long time. I can't even begin to tell you how many brand new Gibson guitars I have held in my hands with paint issues, crooked volume and tone controls, etc. Gibson has also stopped listening to their customers/consumers about what we want in our guitars. They have also priced themselves out of the market. And I say this as a Gibson fan. I own an SG Standard and a Les Paul Gold Top.
Meanwhile, Fender has been able to put out quality guitars for a lot less money than a Gibson. Last year, I bought a brand new Fender Telecaster (made in Mexico) for $500. This guitar has a fantastic maple neck that is very easy to play. The action is great and the guitar sounds fantastic. This Fender Telecaster sounds every bit as good as the $1,400 American made model.
Yes, I have heard the same thing re: quality control. I have a buddy who is a guitar tech, also works in a pretty good sized independent music store.
As a long time Gibson player he tells me he is really disappointed at how their quality has slipped in recent years. Whenever the store gets new guitars in he has to really inspect them and correct things in order to set them up properly. On the other hand when the Epiphones, often, scorned as the off-shore Gibson knock off, come in they are usually in good shape to begin with, requiring much less work.
He has brought this up to them and they have acknowledged the QC issues and have vowed to step up their game, but the current stat of things certainly isn’t helping them move more of them.
Fender poised itself as the 'Ford' to Gibson's 'Cadillac' at the early days of the electric guitar age. That was a big part of Leo's original concept.