If you play guitar, you know the name Fender. If you don’t play guitar, you probably still know the name, or at least you’ve heard one–Fender makes some of the most famous guitars in the world, the Stratocaster, Telecaster, and basses like the P-Bass and J-Bass that are heard in thousands of modern recordings.
Here’s a look at how the company became so popular, and its major contributions to guitar development.
Starting Out – Fender was started by Leo Fender in the 1940s, but made a real impression when the Telecaster (originally called the “Broadcaster”) and Precision bass (commonly called the P-bass) were introduced in 1951. They were extremely revolutionary instruments because of their solid bodies and good tone, and they caught on with guitarists worldwide fairly quickly. The Stratocaster was introduced three years later, a low cost guitar that provided exceptional and unique tone with a tremolo bar. These instruments caught on with major musicians like the Who, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and thousands of garage bands that made Fender a household name, and the Telecaster and Stratocaster are arguably the most famous guitars in the world.
CBS Buyout And Drop in Quality – In 1965, Fender was bought out by CBS (Fender’s website claims this was due to Leo Fender’s “poor health,” but you can bet that a boat load of money was involved, too). Many guitarists consider the resulting era a dark point in Fender’s history, as CBS gradually dropped the quality of the instrument, leading to some notably cheap guitars in the 1980s that weren’t up to the standards of the earlier models. Early Telecasters, Strats, P-Basses, and Jazz basses are now big collector’s items. In 1985, though, Fender employees bought the company back from CBS, and in the last twenty years they’ve had a string of incredibly cool guitars and reissues of guitars similar to the older models.
As for Leo Fender, he went on to design high end guitars for G&L and Music Man, and these guitars are also considered extremely high quality instruments by collectors.
Today, Fender’s brand is impressive, and even their lower-cost models are of decent quality. The Telecaster and Stratocaster models are, of course, still manufactured, and their “American” series are seen as some of the best commercially manufactured guitars available, with a variety of pickups and woods for pretty much any tone that a guitarist could desire.
Do you have a Fender guitar? Share your thoughts on Fender history in the comments section below.
“Fender History,” Fender.com.