Fender Guitars and amplifiers revolutionized the music industry. Many guitar players dream of playing a Fender Stratocaster (or Strat) and many musicians, famous and not famous, do play them. Some well-known guitar players who play or have played Fenders include John Lennon and George Harrison of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Mike Einziger of Incubus, Tom De Longe of Blink 182, Rivers Cuomo and Brian Bell of Weezer, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, and John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Fender guitars made a serious impact on music, defining many styles of music like jazz, rock, and metal.
It all started in the early 1940’s. Clarence Leo Fender, a Californian inventor, looked at the designs of early electric guitars, and knew he could improve them. He began to make prototype solid-body electric guitars. Leo made the first instrument amplifiers with built-in tone controls. In 1951, he produced the Broadcaster, with George Fullerton. It was a prototype solid-body guitar that would later be renamed as the legendary Telecaster© (or Tele).
The Telecaster was the first solid-body electric Spanish style (six-string) guitar to go into commercial mass production. Leo Fender became the Henry Ford of musical instruments because of his many advances in the manufacturing of his guitars and amps[iv]. After the Tele, Leo created the Precision Bass© guitar in 1951. “For the first time ever, bass players were able to amplify their playing, [while] before, they were limited to the natural abilities of their acoustic instrument.” Fender created the first electric bass, which is now widely used for all kinds of music. He later invented the Jazz Bass©, which was just as popular as the Precision Bass©. Both instruments are still very popular today.
In 1954, Leo Fender invented the Fender Stratocaster©. “The Strat is Fender’s most well-known guitar, and is a symbol of rock n’ roll. The Strat was created in collaboration with professional musicians and Fender’s awesome design team[viii]. Several things about the Strat made it as successful as it was. First, it had three single-coil pickups to achieve a wide range of tones, instead of having one or two like most other electrics at the time[ix]. The body shape was designed to be lighter, more comfortable to musicians playing it, and easier to play on the higher frets[x]. The largest change was the addition of the first ever vibrato, or tremolo, bridge[xi]. A vibrato bridge allows the guitarist to bend the strings to make them sound like a steel pedal guitar, which were popular among country musicians of the time[xii]. The Stratocaster wasn’t restricted to country, though. Strats are very versatile instruments that have been successfully used to play many different music genres.
By 1965, Leo Fender was in poor health. He decided to sell his company to CBS. After selling it, Leo took a break. He came back in 1971 designing amps for Music Man and guitars for G L.; On March 21, 1991, thirty-seven years after the creation of his legendary Stratocaster©, Leo Fender died. He died in Fullerton, California, from complications caused by Parkinson’s disease. Fender was buried in Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana, California.
Fender grew enormously and prospered under CBS for the next twenty years. While CBS knew how to manage a business, they didn’t have many people who knew how to cater to what the musicians wanted. So, in 1981, they acquired a new group of people to manage Fender[xv]. William Schultz, the president, developed a plan with the others on the team to greatly improve the quality of the instruments and products and develop new things in the music field. In 1985, CBS decided to get out of the music industry so Schultz and a group of employees and investors promptly bought Fender© Musical Instruments Corporation.
After making the purchase, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation© improved greatly. Fender bought out other guitar companies, expanded its facilities, and even went overseas[xvi]. Fender’s current U.S. facilities are in Scottsdale, Arizona; Corona, California; Nashville, Tennessee; New York City, New York; and Westerly, Rhode Island. Fender has international facilities in Ensenada, in Baja California, Mexico; London, England; Düsseldorf, Germany; Suresnes, France; and Brussels, Belgium; as well as factories in Japan, Korea, and China. Fender improved after coming into the hands of people who knew and cared about music, and strived to create better instruments.
Fender made a serious impact on music and changed the image of the electric guitar forever. Jim Washburn, a writer in the 1970’s, said, “Fender guitars did more to weaken the Iron Curtain than cruise missiles did.” That’s how much influence Fender had/has on music and the world. Most likely, they will have more new and exciting innovations in the music industry to come. Leo Fender’s dreams came true. The year 2004 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster© and a milestone for one of the greatest guitar makers of all time.