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History of Fender Guitars

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation is famous for making the first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar- the Telecaster (Tele), and one of the most successful guitars of any sort to ever be made – the iconic Stratocaster, or Strat for short. The company was founded by Leo Fender (1909-1991) in 1946, in his Fullerton, California workplace where he started work on the prototypes for a solid electric guitar. He wanted to make a guitar which would eliminate the large amounts of feedback usually made by a semi-acoustic guitar.

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Fender’s dreams of a guitar with hugely less feedback had become reality by 1950 when it was launched to the world as the Broadcaster. Although not the first solid electric guitar (there were various prototypes for solid-bodies in the 1930s and ‘40s, including the Rickenbacker Frying Pan) it was the first to be truly successful, and had a radical shape at the time, when all successful guitars had large bodies of basically the same shape. The Broadcaster, although not as loud unamplified as the semi-acoustic guitars of the day like the Gibson ES-150, eliminated feedback just as Leo Fender had wanted, and had a unique sound from its two singlecoil pickups.

The Broadcaster was a huge success virtually from the start, although in 1951 fellow musical instrument company Gretsch sued Fender for using the Broadcaster name when it had registered it for a range of drum kits. The Broadcaster was renamed the Telecaster, and is still called that today. However, a small number (fifty or so) were made in between the name changes and have no “Broadcaster” or “Telecaster” logos on the headstock, and are known as Nocasters.

In 1954 another iconic and revolutionary design came out of Fender’s workshops: the Stratocaster. This guitar came with another new Fender invention- the use of paint on a guitar. Up until 1954 all guitars had natural and sunburst finishes, but the Strat used colours never seen on guitars before. It was similar to the Telecaster in shape but with an extra offset cutaway. Compared to many of Gibson’s designs in 1954 the two Fender shapes were startlingly modern. The Strat is probably the most emulated and copied guitar in history.

In 1984 Fender made some new Japanese-made guitars to try and rival those made for heavy metal music, and these were quite unsuccessful. There was the Performer, a Strat-like shape, but smaller and with pointed “horns”, and the offset V-shape Katana. The company closed Fender Japan down in 1985.

Leo Fender also founded the Music Man company in 1975. They make guitars and basses mostly similar to the Stratocaster, but with different pickups and a slightly altered shape. They also make one of the signature guitars used by Eddie Van Halen. The Music Man company was sold to Ernie Ball, a corporation best known for making guitar strings. They are still owned by Ernie Ball.

Later in his life, in around the mid-1980s Leo Fender and George Fullerton set up a company called G & L (George and Leo) and made guitars based on Fender designs. Leo Fender died in 1991, but his company is still running and is as successful as ever.

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