The first Fender guitar was made in 1949, and Buddy Holly was the first of many musicians to bring the Fender Stratocaster into the mainstream. But did you know, the founder of the iconic electric guitar and bass brand did not know how to play the guitar?
Clarence Leonidas “Leo” Fender, the founder of the iconic guitar brand, was an avid saxophone player. He never actually learned how to play or even tune the instrument. Fender even dabbled in piano for a while.
Who is Leo Fender?
Leo Fender was born on August 10, 1909, in California. His parents were successful orange grove owners. At the age of 8, Fender developed a tumor in his left eye. It had to be surgically removed and replaced with a glass eye. Because of this, he was not eligible to be drafted in World War II.
He played the piano at a young age but found himself more interested in the saxophone. While he did enjoy playing the instrument, his focus did not last long. He preferred to work on electronics. Even at an early age, Fender showed an appreciation for tinkering with all sorts of things. His uncle, who ran an auto repair shop, sent Fender a box filled with an assortment of car radio parts. This truly piqued his interest. He decided to visit his uncle’s shop in Santa Maria, California. There he found a radio his uncle had built from scrap parts. Fender later claimed that this radio made a lasting impression on him. The next thing he knew, he was tinkering with radios at home.
Fender graduated from the Fullerton Union Highschool in 1928. He then took up accountancy at the Fullerton Junior College. While he was studying, he continued to tinker with electronics and other electrical items. After college, he worked as a delivery man for the Consolidated Ice and Cold Storage Company in Anaheim.
By 1938, Fender started his own radio repair shop and called it Fender Radio Service. Musicians and band leaders began coming to him for PA systems which he built, sold, and rented out. (Source: Fender)
How Did The Guitars Start?
Fender met Clayton Orr Kauffman during World War II. Kauffman, who was an invention and a lap steel player, was experienced in building and selling lap steel guitars. He used to work for Rickenbacker for ten years before meeting Fender. He invented the Vibrola tailpiece.
Fender convinced Kauffman to team up with him. They started the K&F Manufacturing Corporation to design and build guitars and amplifiers. By 1944, the duo patented a lap steel guitar with an electric pickup. By 1945, they started selling the guitar in a kit with an amplifier.
Kauffman pulled out of K&F, and Fender revised the company name and called it Fender Manufacturing instead. Even though the company made guitars, Fender was not a guitarist himself. He could not even tune one if he wanted to. (Source: Fender)
The Birth of the Stratocaster
Instead of modifying the Telecaster, Fender decided to create a new design after receiving feedback from customers. Shortly after, the Stratocaster was born. The design included the use of three pickups wired to three different voicings, two of which can be tailored by the player.
Jeff Beck, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Blackmore, David Gilmour, Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Eric Clapton are just some of the big names who patronized the Fender brand. (Source: Fender)