Leo Fender may not have been the first to build a solid body, electric guitar. But he was the first to mass-market one successfully, and now Fender Musical Instruments is the world’s leading manufacturer of guitars, basses, amps and related musical equipment.
It is rare for a musical instrument to change the course of music history, but that is exactly what Fender has done several times. Without the Telecaster, Precision bass and the Stratocaster, rock 'n' roll, rhythm & blues pop, rock, blues and country would probably have sounded very different. Fender guitars and amplifiers are literally setting the tone for the rest of the world to follow.
The history of Fender begins in Southern California, during the forties of the previous century. Leo Fender may be trained as a bookkeeper, but his heart really lies with electronics. At the end of the thirties he is helping musicians struggling with sound reinforcement, by building PAs from his Fender Radio Service shop, and in the mid-1940s he and an associate successfully market electric Hawaii guitars and amplifiers.
A few years later he designs the guitar that we now know as the legendary Telecaster. Intended as an alternative to archtop guitars that are expensive, and prone to feedback when amplified, the first electric Fender guitar from 1950 is the laughing stock of the musical instruments dealers. The 'paddle' as they call the Fender guitar, however, is a very practical instrument – cheap, easy to build, repair and amplify – and quickly becomes popular with musicians.
A year later Fender introduces his alternative to the double bass, the Precision bass, which can be played like a guitar, and shares many advantages with the Telecaster. In 1954, Fender finally releases what is for many guitarists the ultimate guitar, the Stratocaster. The Strat is a hip guitar, much more comfortable to play than the Telecaster, with three pickups and a vibrato system.
It is quite unique, that the original designs of Leo Fender have hardly changed in the past seventy years. Yes, there are countless variations of the Tele, Strat, Jazzmaster and other iconic Fender instruments on the market, but structural improvements have not been necessary.
A Fender for everyone
The Fender company has become much bigger than Leo could ever have anticipated, and numerous guitar legends have played his instruments. Nowadays there is a Fender guitar for everyone, pro or amateur, from the extremely affordable Squiers, to the Fenders built in Mexico, that offer great value for money, and from the professional American instruments, to the incredible guitars created by the Fender Custom Shop.
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