Hillman Guitar No. 5
Serial No. 125357

  .  .
The temporary loss of my Gretsch ushered in a Fender era. I previously had used my dad's Marshall Wells Hardware business letterhead to obtain quite a number of wholesale catalogues from music distributors. I had ordered a number of Fender amplifiers, but had always been fascinated by the Telecaster. Years earlier I had briefly played one backstage at a Johnny Cash show  when I had an impromptu lesson from the originator of the famous Tennessee Two muted "chunk chunk" sound that they used on their Sun and Columbia recordings. While other fans were milling around the "man in black," I was huddled on the side of the stage where Luther Perkins patiently coached me in his unique style while I nervously fingered his guitar. It was quite a thrill at the time and the experience had obviously left an impression.  My ensuing call to the West Coast distributor resulted in finding a special on a custom colour charcoal green Telecaster which my parents generously purchased for me. I immediately fell in love with the feel and sound of the instrument.

Sometime earlier I had bought a Fender Super Reverb Amp but had nothing but trouble with its four 10-inch speakers so I soon replaced it with what proved to be a more powerful and durable Fender Twin Reverb. Pursuing my love of the sound of the pedal steel guitar I later bought a Bigsby kit made for the Tele and then put on a home made b-bender - a rather original design improvised from cup hook hinges and a welding rod. Soon after this I added an Echocord tape delay unit and a Fender tone/volume pedal.  I also had been using a Gibson/Maestro Fuzz-Tone distortion pedal and a Vox Wah-Wah for quite sometime.

The bite of the Tele was perfect for cutting through many of the outdoor shows and pub dates that Sue-On and I had started performing and gradually the Gretsches spent more time at home as the Fender took over. The Telecaster was also an excellent recording, TV and radio studio guitar and I used it exclusively on our first five albums and most of our TV shows.

The original colour of the Tele is shown on the cover of our second album but after many years of road wear and outdoor shows it developed unsightly frost and heat cracks in the finish . . . and was badly chipped all over. So sometime in the mid-'70s I stripped it down to its natural wood colour. That's the way it appears on cover of Album Volume 12. The homemade b-bender bar attached to the head and running parallel to the neck is also visible in both photos.

This Tele was a real workhorse and served us well until Sue-On presented me with a new Tele Thinline with Humbucker pickups on Xmas '75. This was to be the guitar we would use on our three tours of England and in our recording sessions in London, Newcastle and Durham.

'71 photo from album no. 2: Bill ~ Sue-On ~ Tele
Vinyl Album No. 2
Bill ~ Sue-On ~ Tele in a Recent photo from CD No. 12
CD Album No. 12


Western Canada Rodeos and Fairs

Television Shows at CKX-TV Studios

Live TV Show: On CameraOur Western Union TV Show in the late 60s
Canada Tour with the Federal Grain Train Troupe
Federal Grain Tour in Western Canada

'74 Promo Shot for our NW USA Tour of Exhibitions and Rodeos
Promo shot for
NW USA Tours
On stage in the late '70s with stripped Tele
On stage in the late '70s 
with stripped Tele
Recording Studio - Tele in background
Tele a Recording
Studio Workhorse
In our Kensington Music Room: Album No. 12
In our Kensington Studio
Album No. 12

Click for full size

Over 50 years ago I created my own B-Bender on my Telecaster guitar. Since then I've installed it on many of my guitars.
* A small hinge is installed on the underside of the guitar head. . .
* a small hole is drilled through the head
* through which a small piece of metal is attached to the "B" string.
* A high hat rod is attached to the bottom end of that metal piece and
* inserted into the hinge and
* bent to run parallel along the guitar neck.
* When my thumb pushes up on the rod it bends the "B" string emulating what a pedal does on a steel guitar.
* Add a Bigsby tremolo unit, a tape delay echo unit and a foot pedal volume unit for sustain and the result is a poor man's imitation steel guitar effect.
* I have an actual steel guitar, but since Sue-On and I have mostly worked as a duo or trio it is pretty hard to front a band while sitting behind a steel guitar.
* I've used this effect in our countless stage appearances and on many of the 100 recorded songs on our 12 albums.

Official Fender Musical Instruments Site
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Official Danny Gatton Site
Bill Hillman's Telecaster Journals
Fender Discussion Page
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Guitar Player Mag Online
Hot Country Rock Guitar Licks & B-Benders
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Bigsby Website
Bigsby B5

7975 North Hayden Road, Suite C-100
Scottsdale, Arizona 85258
Telephone: (480) 596-9690
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Keith Richards - Rolling Stones
  Telecaster (removed E string and tuned to G chord for Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Woman) 
Jimmy Page Telecaster on early Led Zep albums

Andy Summers (The Police)
Bruce Springsteen
Keith Richards - Rolling Stones
Jimmy Page
Freddie Mercury (Queen)
George Harrison Telecaster solid rosewood 
Albert Collins
Eric Clapton with the Yardbirds


Click for full-size promo splash bar

The Twang Heard 'Round the World
A History of Fender's Fabulous Telecaster
From Guitar Player, May '98
By Richard Smith 

   The Archtop Era
  Enter Leo Fender
   The Esquire
  The Broadcaster
    Tele Tweaks
    The Player's Perspective
    The Tele Legacy
    The Whole Story 
For '50s-era guitarists who would soon be playing rock and roll, the Fender Telecaster hit the music industry with the impact of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. Leo Fender's so-called "plank"  ushered in the era of the commercially successful solidbody -- echoing the immense industrial and social impact of Henry Ford's Model T. While Ford was never one of Fender's idols, the car maker bestowed the wonders of the automobile upon the masses by standardizing a sound design, streamlining production techniques, and lowering costs. Likewise, Fender's "Model T" -- initially called the Esquire, then the Broadcaster, and finally the Telecaster -- was a powerful, affordable tool that helped a vast community of working guitarists ignite a cultural revolution. 

    The tumult was so far-reaching that Gibson was compelled to introduce the Les Paul to compete with the Tele -- and Leo himself was inspired to develop the Stratocaster in an attempt o make its older sibling obsolete. These three models are still modern music's most important guitars -- and they all have Leo Fender's 1949 "standard guitar" prototype to thank for kick-starting their enduring glory. 


    As twilight fell on the Big Band era toward the end of World War II, small combos playing boogie-woogie, rhythm and blues, western swing, and honky-tonk formed throughout the United States. Many of these outfits embraced the electric guitar because it could give a few players the power of an entire horn section. Pickup-equipped archtops had reigned in these late-'40s dance bands, but the increasing popularity of roadhouses and dance halls created a growing need for louder, cheaper, and more durable axes. Players also needed faster necks and better intonation to play what the country boys called "take-off lead guitar," and Rickenbacker Bakelites and other '30s-era solidbodies failed to deliver. Custom-made solidbodies such as  Merle Travis' Bigsby -- as well as kitchen-table contraptions like Les Paul's "Log" -- pointed in the right direction, but were beyond the means of the average player. The demand for better electric guitars was as obvious as their reality was elusive. 


    Fender recognized the vast potential for an electric guitar that was easy to hold, easy to tune, and easy to play. He also recognized that players needed guitars that would not feed back at dance hall volumes like the typical archtop. (Many guitarists had to stuff rags into their elegantly crafted guitars to stop the howling.) In addition, Fender sought a tone that would command attention on the bandstand and cut through the noise in a bar. By 1949, he had conceptualized the perfect tone -- a clear, bell-like sound with distinct highs and lows, but devoid of muddled midrange frequencies that Fender considered "fluff" -- and began working in earnest on what would become the first Telecaster at the Fender factory in Fullerton, California.

    Although he never admitted it, Fender seemed to base his practical design on the Rickenbacker Bakelite. One of the Rickenbacker's strong points -- a detachable neck that made it easy to make and service -- was not lost on Fender, who was a master at improving already established designs. (He once said, "It isn't a radically different thing that becomes a success; it is the thing that offers an improvement on an already proven item.") Not surprisingly, his first prototype was a single-pickup guitar with a detachable hard rock maple neck and a pine body painted white (see Encore, page 160). The seeds of revolution were sown. 


    Don Randall, who managed Fender's distributor, the Radio & Television Equipment Company, recognized the commercial possibilities of the new design and made plans to introduce the instrument as the Esquire Model. (Although Randall -- the company's de facto namesmith -- gave the Esquire its moniker, Fender supported the name, saying that it "sounded regal and implied a certain distinction above other guitars.") 

    In April 1950, Radio-Tel started promoting the Esquire -- the first Fender 6-string officially introduced to the public. The company prepared its Catalog No. 2, picturing a black single-pickup Esquire with a tweed form-fit case. Another picture showed Jimmy Wyble of Spade Cooley's band holding a blonde Esquire. These debut models, with a planned retail price of $139.95, exhibited the utilitarian shape of thousands of Fender guitars to come. 

    "The Esquire guitar features a new style of construction which vastly improves the useability of this type of instrument," Randall wrote. The claim was further embellished by stating that the guitar could be played "at extreme volume," and that the fast neck was an aid to easy fretting.

    Randall added, "The neck is also replaceable and can be changed by the owner in approximately ten minutes time. This feature eliminates costly repairs and refretting." Fender believed that the neck was strong enough to resist warping without a trussrod. If a neck did warp, he planned to mail the customer a new one in a shipping tube. 

    Unfortunately, the necks didn't turn out to be as tough as Fender claimed. Randall reported that the necks on his samples had warped badly while traveling to the 1950 summer trade shows, and asked that the new guitars be outfitted with reinforced necks. Initially, Fender had been contentious about the extra effort it would take to design and manufacture reinforced necks, but then a test guitar in his lab suffered the same problem. Faced with mounting evidence that his guitar truly needed a reinforced neck, Fender bought a routing plate to install trussrods on October 3, 1950. 

    Randall's primary marketing ploy was to establish the Esquire in music instruction studios, reasoning that the affordable, practical guitar would be a hot commodity in those circles. In addition, a healthy response for the one-pickup version would prime the market for the more expensive two-pickup model that Fender already had in mind. 

    In fact, Fender's choice of a 3-position lever switch -- which allowed three distinct guitar tones -- probably coincided with his plans to add a rhythm pickup. Fortunately, the Esquire's body design easily lent itself to both one- and two-pickup configurations. Ultimately, all production models had cavities routed for two pickups because Fender wanted players to have the option of adding a pickup in the future. (The one-pickup models hid an empty cavity under the pickguard.) 

    The two-pickup Esquires were manufactured with the second (rhythm) pickup positioned under the strings near the end of the fingerboard. Fender shielded the rhythm pickup with a metal cover to cut high harmonics and to emphasize fundamental tones. A handy blend control knob mixed the rhythm pickup signal with that of the lead pickup when the pickup selector was in its lead position. Putting the selector in the middle position activated the rhythm pickup alone. In the forward position, the rhythm pickup was also selected, but along with a capacitor that rolled off high frequencies. (Fender called this sound "deep rhythm," and reasoned that guitarists could use the position to play bass lines.) Dual-pickup Fender guitars featured these same electronics until 1952. 

    Although the single-pickup guitars used capacitors to mimic the mellow sound of a rhythm pickup, the real thing sounded better. Jimmy Bryant, who epitomized the new wave of postwar electric-guitar wizards, liked the jazzier sound of the dual-pickup guitar, as did Fender himself. 


    The factory finally went into full production in late October or early November 1950. However, as Fender wanted his best guitar in the hands of professionals as soon as possible, the factory produced only dual-pickup Esquires. Fender's decision compromised Radio-Tel's earlier marketing strategy, forcing Randall to hold orders for the single-pickup Esquire and come up with a new name for the two-pickup model. The name Randall chose was "Broadcaster." No one is sure of the exact day he coined the name, but it coincided with the introduction of the trussrod, as no authentic non-trussrod Broadcasters are known to exist. (Dealers who insisted on Esquires had to wait until the single-pickup guitars went into full production in January 1951 and were delivered the following month.) 

    Musical Merchandise magazine carried the first announcement for the Broadcaster in February 1951 with a full-page insert that described it in detail. The guitar had what Randall called a "Modern cut-away body" and a "Modern styled head." And what player could resist the "Adjustable solo-lead pickup" that was "completely adjustable for tone-balance by means of three elevating screws"? 

    Finally the industry had an up-to-date production solidbody. (Fender sold 87 Broadcasters on the guitar's initial release in January 1951.) Many people took note -- including Gretsch, who claimed the Broadcaster name infringed on the company's trademark "Broadkaster." Faced with this fact, Randall wrote a letter to his salespeople on February 21, advising them that Radio-Tel was abandoning the Broadcaster name and requesting suggestions for a new one.

   On February 24, Randall, who had some good ideas of his own, announced that the Broadcaster was renamed the "Telecaster." 

    The Broadcaster-to-Telecaster name change cost Radio-Tel hundreds of dollars, and derailed the initial marketing effort. Brochures and envelope inserts were destroyed, and some unlucky worker had to clip the word "Broadcaster" from hundreds of headstock decals with a pair of scissors. For several months, the new twin-pickup guitars sported nothing but the word  "Fender." Years later, collectors would coin the term "No-caster" for these early-to-mid-'51 uitars. 


    In 1952, Fender replaced the Telecaster's blend control circuit with a conventional tone control. Now the switch's rear position selected the lead pickup, the middle position selected the rhythm pickup, and the front position delivered the "deep rhythm" sound. Teles were equipped this way until the mid-'60s, when the modern switch setup was introduced: the middle position selected both pickups, the front position selected the rhythm pickup, and the rear position selected the lead pickup. 

    One drawback of the 1952 to mid-'60s wiring is obvious today: The wiring made a two-pickup combination impossible unless the player delicately positioned the spring-loaded switch between settings. However, once players learned this trick, they received a tonal surprise: Different models produced different dual-pickup sounds, depending on the rhythm pickup's magnetic polarity. The "between" setting -- which helped define the mystique of vintage Telecasters -- could offer the robust tone provided by both pickups or produce a snarly growl similar to the Stratocaster's half-switch sound. (James Burton, playing his '53 Telecaster, exploited this unique tone on Ricky Nelson's "Travelin' Man.") 

    However, it was the Tele's lead pickup that captured the hearts of most players. Early "level-pole" units offered outstanding tone with significant bass content and non-offensive highs (although manufacturing inconsistencies caused a small number of these pickups to produce an out-of-balance, bass-heavy low-E sound). In mid-1955, Fender staggered the polepiece heights as he had on Strat pickups. The results were mixed. The volume balance from string to string was better, but the Tele's overall sound was harsh. 

    The earliest guitars featured steel bridges that were ground flat on the bottom. By the end of 1950, Broadcasters boasted brass bridges with the same tooling marks as the earlier steel ones. In 1953, the factory began notching the two outer brass bridge pieces under the low E and high E, which allowed a lower adjustment for these strings. By 1954, Telecasters employed steel bridges again, but they were rounded and made from a smaller-diameter stock than the 1950 bridges. By 1958, the bridge pieces were changed yet again to a threaded stock with less mass, and the factory stopped putting the strings through the body. As a result, late-'50s models represent the shrillest-sounding and perhaps the least desirable Telecasters made during the pre-CBS (pre-'65) era. 

    In 1959, Fender introduced the Telecaster Custom and Esquire Custom, fancy versions of the originals with white binding that helped protect the edges from wear. These guitars had Jazzmaster-like rosewood fingerboards, which looked more traditional and wore better thanone-piece maple necks. Some early-'60s, pre-CBS Custom Telecasters had necks capped with maple fingerboards made in the same manner as the necks capped with rosewood. However, at no time during the pre-CBS years did Fender regularly produce Customs with the older-style maple neck. (The only exceptions may have been unlikely special orders.) While the standard Telecasters and Esquires came with blonde finishes, the Customs were offered with sunburst finishes. A few even had more expensive custom colors. Moreover, Fender made some Teles with mahogany bodies in the '60s. 


    In the early 1950s, a broad spectrum of Tele players established themselves in combos -- even young blues legend-to-be B.B. King spanked the plank. With its versatile sound, ease of playing, and reasonable cost, what better guitar to yellow with perspiration and cigarette smoke? Most serious students could afford the $189.50 price, ensuring a new guitar generation would grow up on Fenders. Still, most players preferred top-of-the-line instruments, and almost all professional jazz and pop players employed something other than a Fender. And after Fender introduced the Stratocaster in '54, the Tele wasn't even Fender's top-of-the-line ax. 

    Then an interesting thing happened. By the late '50s, the Telecaster was becoming an integral part of the session player's arsenal. California-based guitarist Howard Roberts endorsed Gibson and Epiphone but also played an old Telecaster on countless rock sessions, as did Tommy Tedesco. These players knew what models recorded best and pleased record producers. The Telecaster and its solidbody cohorts produced the teenage sound that proclaimed a guitar generation gap: old versus new, jazz and pop conformity versus rock rebellion. At the same time, the Tele was heard increasingly on pure country recordings, treading in the big-box domain of Chet Atkins and Hank Garland (who sounded anything but twangy). 

    As the '60s unfolded and rock guitar playing matured, the Telecaster's role, onstage and off, solidified. While the guitar played a small part in the rise and fall of instrumental rock and surf music, Steve Cropper played one with Booker T. and the MGs, as did the Ventures' Nokie Edwards. James Burton and Tele moved from Ricky Nelson's band to TV's Shindogs, all the while chalking up hours as L.A.'s premier session stylist in rock and country. 

    Much of the British Invasion had the look of Rickenbackers and Gretsches, but Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck recorded many of their milestone sides with the Yardbirds on a Telecaster and Esquire, respectively. Mike Bloomfield chose a Tele for his highly influential mid-'60s work with Paul Butterfield and Bob Dylan, and Jimmy Page played one on Led Zeppelin's first album and on the solo of "Stairway to Heaven." 

    As Roy Buchanan told Guitar Player in '76, "The Telecaster sounded a lot like a steel, and I  liked that tone. I like the old Teles because of the wood, the way the pickups are wound, the capacitors, and the whole works." 


    By the late '60s, it was clear the Telecaster had shaken the foundations of the music industry. The Tele -- and the host of solidbody models introduced as a result of its success -- changed the way the world heard, played, and composed music. Ironically, Leo Fender, who worked incessantly after '51 developing new models such as the Strat, Jazzmaster, and Jaguar (and then, in the '70s and '80s, formulating Music Man and G&L models), had a very hard time topping what he accomplished in his first go-round. 

    "Everyone thought his first guitar was his best, but no one would tell him that," said longtime friend and pioneering electric stylist Alvino Rey in the '80s. The Tele was Leo Fender's Model T, but, unlike the old Fords, it didn't go away. For thousands of guitarists, the Telecaster is still state of the art -- an enduring battle ax for rock, country, or anything amplified. 


     For a more comprehensive tome on the history of Fender guitars, check out Richard R. Smith's Fender: The Sound Heard 'Round the World [Garfish Publishing]. In addition to curating the 1993-94 exhibition "Five Decades of Fender" at the Fullerton Museum Center and writing articles for numerous guitar publications, Smith worked with Leo Fender himself, testing the master's late-career prototypes. 

Leo Fender, inventor of Fender Guitars
Clarence Leonidas “Leo” Fender was an American inventor who founded the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, or Fender for short. In January 1965, he sold the company to CBS and later founded two other musical instrument companies, Music Man and G&L Musical Instruments.

From an early age, Fender showed an interest in tinkering with electronics. When he was 13 years old, his uncle, who ran an automotive electric shop, sent him a box filled with discarded car radio parts and a battery. The following year, Leo visited his uncle’s shop in Santa Maria, California, and was fascinated by a radio his uncle had built from spare parts and placed on display in the shop window. Leo later claimed that the loud music coming from the speaker of that radio made a lasting impression on him. Soon after, Leo began repairing radios in a small shop in his parents’ home.

In the spring of 1928, Fender graduated from Fullerton Union High School and entered Fullerton Junior College that fall, as an accounting major. While he was studying to be an accountant, he continued to teach himself electronics, and tinker with radios and other electrical items, but never took any type of electronics course.

After college, Fender took a job as a delivery man for Consolidated Ice and Cold Storage Company in Anaheim, where he was later made the bookkeeper. It was around this time that a local band leader approached Leo, asking him if he could build a public address system for use by the band at dances in Hollywood. Fender was contracted to build six of these PA systems.

In 1933, Fender met Esther Klosky, and they were married in 1934. About that time, he took a job as an accountant for the California Highway Department in San Luis Obispo. Due to the Great Depression, he was dismissed from his government job, and he then took a position in the accounting department of a tire company. After working there for six months, Leo lost his job along with the other accountants at the firm.

In 1938, with a borrowed $600, Leo and Esther returned to Fullerton, and Leo started his own radio repair shop, “Fender Radio Service.” Soon, musicians and band leaders began coming to him for public address systems, which he built, rented, and sold. They also visited his store for amplification for the amplified acoustic guitars that were beginning to show up on the Southern California music scene – in big band and jazz music, and for the electric “Hawaiian” or “lap steel” guitars becoming popular in country music.

During World War II, Leo met Clayton Orr “Doc” Kauffman, an inventor and lap steel player who had worked for Rickenbacker, which had been building and selling lap steel guitars for a decade. While with Rickenbacker, Kauffman had invented the “Vibrola” tailpiece, a precursor to the later vibrato tailpiece. Fender convinced him that they should team up, and they started the “K & F Manufacturing Corporation” to design and build amplified Hawaiian guitars and amplifiers. In 1944, Leo and Doc patented a lap steel guitar with an electric pickup already patented by Fender. In 1945, they began selling the guitar, in a kit with an amplifier designed by Fender.

As the Big Bands fell out of vogue towards the end of World War II, small combos playing boogie-woogie, rhythm and blues, western swing, and honky-tonk formed throughout the United States. Many of these outfits embraced the electric guitar because it could give a few players the power of an entire horn section. Pickup-equipped archtops were the guitars of choice in the dance bands of the late 1940s, but the increasing popularity of roadhouses and dance halls created a growing need for louder, cheaper, and more durable instruments. Players also needed ‘faster’ necks and better intonation to play what the country players called “take-off lead guitar.”

In the late 1940s, solid body electric guitars began to rise in popularity, yet they were still considered novelty items, with the Rickenbacker Spanish Electro guitar being the most commercially available. Les Paul’s one-off home-made “Log” and the Bigsby Travis guitar made for Merle Travis are probably the most visible early examples. Fender recognized the potential for an electric guitar that was easy to hold, tune, and play, and would not feed back at dance hall volumes as the typical archtop would. In 1949, he finished the prototype of a thin solid-body electric; it was first released in 1950 as the Fender Esquire (with a solid body and one pickup), and renamed first Broadcaster and then Telecaster (with two pickups) the year after.

The Telecaster, initially equipped with two single-coil pickups and widely used among country and western players, became one of the most popular electric guitars in history. Instead of updating the Telecaster, Fender decided, based on customer feedback, to leave the Telecaster as it was and design a new, upscale solid-body guitar to sell alongside the basic Telecaster. Western swing guitarist Bill Carson was one of the chief critics of the Telecaster, stating that the new design should have individually adjustable bridge saddles, four or five pickups, a vibrato unit that could be used in either direction and return to proper tuning, and a contoured body for enhanced comfort over the slab-body Telecaster’s harsh edges.

Fender, assisted by draftsman Freddie Tavares, began designing the Stratocaster in late 1953. It included a rounder, less “club-like” neck (at least for the first year of issue) and a double cutaway for easier reach to the higher frets.

During this time, Fender also tackled the problems experienced by players of the acoustic double bass, who could no longer compete for volume with the other musicians. Besides, double basses were also large, bulky, and awkward to transport. With the Precision Bass (or “P-Bass”), released in 1951, Leo Fender addressed both issues: the Telecaster-based Precision Bass was small and portable, and its solid-body construction and four-magnet, single coil pickup let it play at higher volumes without feedback. Along with the Precision Bass (so named because its fretted neck allowed bassists to play with ‘precision’), Fender introduced a bass amplifier, the Fender Bassman, a 25-watt amplifier with one 15-inch speaker (later updated to 45 watts and four 10-inch speakers).

1954 saw an update of the Precision Bass to coincide with the introduction of the Stratocaster. Incorporating some of the body contours of the Stratocaster, the update also included a two-section nickel-plated bridge and a white single-layer pickguard.

In June 1957, Fender announced a redesign of the Precision Bass. The remake included a larger headstock, a new pickguard design, a bridge with four steel saddles that could be individually adjusted and a new split single-coil pickup. This proved to be the final version of the instrument, which has changed little since then. In 1960, rosewood fingerboards, wider color selections, and a three-ply pickguard became available for the P-Bass. 

1960 saw the release of the Jazz Bass, a sleeker, updated bass with a slimmer neck, and offset waist body and two single coil pickups (as opposed to the Precision Bass and its split humbucker pickup that had been introduced in 1957). Like its predecessor, the Jazz Bass (or simply “J-Bass”) was an instant hit and has remained popular to this day, and early models are highly sought after by collectors.

In the 1950s, Leo Fender contracted a streptococcal sinus infection that impaired his health to the point where he decided to wind up his business affairs, selling the Fender company to CBS in 1965. As part of this deal, Leo Fender signed a non-compete clause and remained a consultant with Fender for a while. Shortly after selling the company, he changed doctors and was cured of his illness.

In 1971 Forrest White and Tom Walker formed the Tri-Sonix company (often incorrectly referred to as “Tri-Sonic”), based in Santa Ana, California. Walker and White went to Leo to help finance their company. It evolved into ‘Music Man,’ a name Leo Fender preferred over their name, Tri-Sonix. After considerable investment, in 1975, Leo Fender became its president.

The StingRay bass was an innovative early instrument. Though the body design borrowed heavily from the Precision Bass, the StingRay is widely considered to be the first production bass with active electronics. The StingRay’s two-band active equalizer, high output humbucking pickup, and smooth satin finished neck became a favorite of many influential bassists, including Louis Johnson, John Deacon, and Flea. Later, a three-band active equalizer was introduced on the StingRay. Music Man was active making amplifiers as well, but the HD-130 Reverb, designed to compete with the Twin Reverb, came at a time when the clean sounds of the Twin were going out of fashion.

In 1979, Leo Fender and old friends George Fullerton and Dale Hyatt started a new company called G&L (George & Leo) Musical Products. G&L guitar designs tended to lean heavily upon the looks of Fender’s original guitars such as the Stratocaster and Telecaster, but incorporated innovations such as enhanced tremolo systems and electronics.

Leo Fender's 1943 Prototype Electric Guitar
Guitar Player Magazine ~ March 21, 2015
It’s hard to believe, looking at this primitive instrument, that the world’s largest guitar company started with such a crude prototype. The guitar pictured here is Leo Fender’s 1943 “log”—and although it doesn’t look like it, it’s one of the most historically significant guitars in the entire world.

While it resembles one of Leo’s early lap steels, this is a standard Spanish-style guitar with a round neck. Ergonomically, it’s a nightmare. The small body is uncomfortable to hold, and the pickup—with its string-through- magnet design—makes picking difficult and palm muting impossible. The neck itself is crudely shaped, and the intonation seems to be an afterthought. Despite all this, what would become the Fender Musical Instrument Company began right here.

Leo always maintained that this guitar was not intended to revolutionize the world—he merely needed an electric guitar to rent out to Western groups around Fullerton, California, where his company was based. Fender ran a radio repair shop, but also rented sound equipment and other gear for local music events and concerts.

Even by 1943, there were better-made solidbody electric guitars. Rickenbacker made their Bakelite Spanish-style solidbody “frying pan” as early as 1936, and the wood-bodied Slingerland Songster debuted in 1939. Leo’s prototype was similar to these small-bodied guitars, but much cruder in execution.

Seven years after Leo handcrafted his “log,” the Fender Company came out with their Esquire guitar in 1950. The pine-bodied Esquire was a major leap forward in design, both ergonomically and sonically. The Esquire would be renamed the Broadcaster for a short while, eventually becoming the renowned Telecaster in 1951.

The vaunted Tele design owed a debt to Paul Bigsby’s solidbody guitar made for Merle Travis. However, Paul Bigsby made expensive handcrafted guitars one at a time, and Leo Fender had his sights set on mass production and affordable guitars for everybody. In a few short years, after the company introduced the Precision Bass and the Stratocaster, Leo Fender had completely redefined guitar mass production, selling guitars so quickly that all the other companies were left in his dust.

We all have to start somewhere, as the saying goes. This guitar sure isn’t pretty, but it was the start of the biggest guitar revolution the world has ever known.


This was a huge investment when I bought it in the mid-'60s

After the Echocord was damaged in a road accident I purchased an Echoplex
and later moved on to a Roland Digital Delay Pedal.

Leo Fender's 1951 Telecaster Patent Illustration

Fender Super Rever Amp
Luther Perkins with Fender Jazzmaster
Luther on an earlier show
at Brandon Arena
playing a Fender Jazzmaster
Fender Twin Reverb Amp
Vox Wah Wah Pedal


Click for full size


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