The Fender Guitar Legacy | Midwood Guitar Studio
It’s impossible to imagine where the musicians of the world would be without the innovations of the Fender Musical Instruments Company. From the first production solid-body electric to the first 100-watt amplifier (the latter requested by Dick Dale to satisfy a gymnasium full of ecstatic teenagers), Fender guitars are finely woven into the fabric of American culture.
The Origins of the Telecaster
It all started with an unassuming, guitar-shaped hunk of wood that was being used to test the output of magnetic pickups. Leo Fender and his partner Clayton Orr “Doc” Kaufman ran a humble electronics repair business under the name K&F. Electric amplification had been around for some time, but was regarded as somewhat of a necessary evil as the volume of ensembles increased along with crowd sizes. That said, tastes were gradually shifting as a consequence, and local players began asking to borrow the pickup “test-rig” for gigs. The solid-body design cut through beautifully and offered ample sustain.
After Kaufman left, Leo Fender transitioned to building electric-solid-body guitars. In 1946, the Fender Musical Instruments Company was born. Leo's first model, dubbed the Fender Esquire, was conceived of as sort of an oversized, “Spanish”-styled Hawaiian lap-steel. It featured a single pickup in the bridge position and had no truss-rod. After receiving complaints about its stability and versatility, Fender released the double-pickup Fender Broadcaster, and were promptly sued by Gretsch for copyright infringement (they had a “Broadkaster” drum line). During the brief period when Fender was trying to think up a new name for his creation, his employees simply abbreviated the headstock decal so that it just read “Fender”. These interim guitars became known as “nocasters” and are highly sought after by collectors. Eventually, Fender settled on the Fender Telecaster name and it stuck.
The Precision Bass & The Stratocaster
The Fender ”Tele” (as it came to be known) proved a huge success, but the most significant early contribution to the world of music made by Fender was the Precision Bass. Even more so than guitarists, bassists had long been struggling to be heard. The low tones emitted by the acoustic double bass required a massive body and thick strings with a long scale length. Projection was never its strong suit, and it was far from portable. Touring bassists were often forced to have their instruments transported separately by train while they traveled by car. As a consequence, many gigs were compromised due to missed connections. Fender expanded the body of his guitar, added a double-cutaway for upper register access, and fortified it to withstand the tension of four extremely heavy strings. Although some purists resisted this guitaristic makeover, it was embraced by enough significant musicians to quickly make Fender musical instruments a staple in live and recorded music. In many ways, the Fender electric bass guitar was an entirely new instrument, but it was still intuitive for bassists, and more approachable for guitarists.
After weighing the reception of the Fender Tele and the Fender Precision bass, Fender decided to build a new electric guitar that incorporated another pickup and featured the P-bass’ popular double-cutaway design. The Fender Stratocaster went on to become one of the most recognizable musical instruments of all time. Like the classic cars that inspired its many finishes, the Fender “Strat” never seems to go out of style; never ceases to look cool. When rock & roll exploded across the world, it became the instrument of choice for the new royals on the scene. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck all wielded Fender Stratocasters.
More Fender Musical Instruments!
Far from limited to Strats and Teles, Fender has made some other outstanding instruments that have played significant roles in the aesthetics of the modern electric guitar. The off-set Fenders, such as the Fender Jazz Bass, Fender Jazzmaster, and the Fender Jaguar are regarded by many to be the sleekest, most ergonomic body shapes available. Student models such as the Fender Mustang, Fender Musicmaster, Fender Duo-Sonic, and Fender Bullet have all respectively won cult followings. They even have an uncharacteristic semi-hollow model called the Fender Coronado, which initially only lasted from ‘66-72’, but was re-issued in 2013 after proving a perennial favorite with massive bands such as Radiohead and The White Stripes. In fact, the trend of resurrecting arcane models has grown so mainstream that Fender recently released a slew of alternate reality/parallel universe guitars that are mainly hybrids of models drawn from their historic catalogue.
Long attuned to the nuances of what lay on the other end of the quarter-inch cable, Leo Fender had been building amps since the days of K&F. The Amps produced by Fender Musical Instruments in the late 40s and 50s were “tweed”, borrowing an imitation fabric used by suitcases, perhaps to suggest their portability. Many different Fender amp models were made, but most were on the smaller size by today's standards, and tended to break-up and distort at higher volumes (a quality that enchanted some players and alienated others). Throughout the 60s and 70s, Fender expanded and updated their catalogue both sonically and aesthetically. Tolex, which started out brown then switched to black, was chosen as a superior covering, and the front plates switched from black to silver. To this day, Fender amps have the rare distinction of being just as popular as their guitars.
The secret behind Fender’s success is that Leo Fender intuitively understood that the best innovations came from listening carefully to the players when they offered feedback (pun intended). When the young surf guitarist Dick Dale approached him with the complaint that his Fender amps kept blowing up, Leo went out to see Dale’s band live in an attempt to solve the mystery. What he observed was a massive throng of teens churning wildly to reverb-laden, oceanic riffs. Clearly, a new Fender amp with unprecedented volume and clean headroom was necessary, so he set about designing the 100-watt Fender Dual Showman.
Midwood Knows Fender Musical Instruments
Here at Midwood Guitar Studio, we not only carry Fender and Fender Custom shop, but numerous other lines that have drawn no small amount of inspiration from Fender Musical Instruments. Nash, Suhr, and Anderson all make S, T, and J-style guitars, while the mavericks at Novo focus exclusively on offset guitars. As electric guitarists, our very musical identities can be partially defined by that ubiquitous dichotomy: are you a Tele guy or a Strat guy? Even if you mainly pick a Rickenbacker or a Les Paul, a lot can still be deduced about a player based on their preference when questioned about those first two, subtly different instruments. Lastly, bear in mind that we’re all big music listeners here, so if you want to sound like J Mascis, Bonnie Raitt, Yngwie Malmsteen, or Sam Fender (no relation), we know what they played, and how to dial in their tone