Fender Instruments has inspired generations of musicians to take up the electric guitar or bass. In fact, no other guitar-maker has contributed as much to the creation and proliferation of the solidbody electric guitar as Leo Fender.
Leo Fender was born in 1909 in the Los Angeles area, not far from what would become his future company’s headquarters. While a young man, he studied and worked in accountancy, but was always interested in electronics. As a sideline and still in his 20s, he designed and made his first PA systems and amplifiers for local public events.
When he lost work as an accountant during the depression of the ‘30s he decided to pursue his passion for electronics and music. He opened The Fender Radio Service in Fullerton, California at first just selling radios and records. From this vantage point, Leo observed the popularity of the lap-steel guitar and was intrigued by early attempts to make it electric.
By the mid ‘40s, he was building his own electric lap-steels and amps and in 1947 changed his company’s name to the Fender Electric Instrument Co. He began work 1949 on what would become the Telecaster. Naming at first his new guitar the Esquire, and then the Broadcaster, he took it into production in 1950.
The Telecaster was the perfect solution to feedback problems that had frustrated dancehall guitarists who were using electrified hollowbody guitars. It not only solved their feedback problems, the soldibody guitar helped make possible and usher in a whole new style of music—Rock n’ Roll.
By the end of the ‘50s, the Fender instrument line had broadened to include the Stratocaster, the Precision bass, the high-end Jazzmaster and the Musicmaster, a short-scale electric guitar. The ‘60s saw a continued expansion of the Fender line with the debut of the Jazz bass in 1960 and Fender’s most expensive guitar to date, the Jaguar of 1963. More models and iterations were to come, including acoustic guitars and hollowbody electrics.
Coinciding with the launch of these guitars and basses was a full complement of stage amplifiers. Originally covered in tweed, then in various styles of tolex with different nameplates and control faces, these amps evolved to meet the needs of the day. They had evocative names such as the Princeton, Champ, Twin Reverb, Deluxe, and Vibrasonic, to cite a few. These amplifiers were available in various sizes including guitar combos, and amp heads to suit the needs of both the hobbyist and pro musician alike.
Leo sold his share of the company in 1965 for health reasons, remaining as a consultant for several years. His legacy and designs live on and thrive today thanks to the passion and commitment of Fender’s current team of amp engineers and instrument makers. The brand also includes Fender Custom Shop that specializes in exciting recreations and unique versions of some of Fender’s most time-honored guitars.