Saturday, April 30, 2005

From the Minstrel's Closet: The Henry Ford of Musical Instruments

Just about anyone who has any familiarity with the rock, blues, country, or jazz genres of music knows the brand name Fender well. Even today, almost 60 years after inventor Leo Fender first began experimenting with ways to streamline electric guitar design, there are several models of Fender guitar, bass, and amplifier that are considered standards of the electric guitar/bass world. However, even among musicians, not many people can appreciate just how much of an influence Leo Fender had on contemporary music. That is why he is often referred to as the "Henry Ford of musical instruments". His many contributions include:

- the first mass-produced, solid-bodied, electric, Spanish-style guitar (the Broadcaster, later renamed the Telecaster, introduced in 1951)
- the first-ever electric bass (the Precision, also introduced in 1951)
- the first three-pickup guitar, which was also the first with a double-cutaway and a tremolo bar (the Stratocaster, introduced in 1954)
- the first "modern", high-powered amp (the Bassman, actually intended for bass but which came to be a standard among guitarists, introduced in 1958). (Incidentally, in the 60s a certain amp "hotrodder" in Britain named Jim Marshall once produced a special, souped-up version of the Bassman for Pete Townshend of The Who. Pete, being the arsewhoal he's well known to be, refused to use it, but Marshall's design was the genesis of what was to become the principal amp maker in the rock world to this day.)

In the mid 60s, ill health forced Leo Fender to sell his company to CBS (yes, the broadcasting company), who ran the firm (ragged) until the early 90s, when a consortium of employees and shareholders bought it out and put it back in the hands of people in the music business. Now Fender has seen something of a resurgence. Not only that, but it has grown to encompass several other historically important and influential guitar brands, such as Gretsch, Guild, and Tacoma.

All I know is that my home studio wouldn't be the same without my Yamaha Telecaster copy (okay, it's not a Fender, but it is a good copy of one) and my Stratocaster FR Custom (which Paul says isn't a real Strat, but oh, well). As for Jeff's recent album and our recent gig at the Canadian Embassy to promote it (see my Life in the Land of the Rising Sun blog, link at right), neither of them would have been the same without Paul's vintage Fender Deluxe amp and his Strat Classic.

My Line 6 POD guitar processor also includes emulations of a whole bunch of Fender amp models, each of which is unique, and all of which sound good.

Okay...'nuff yappin'. Time to put on some tunes!

'59 Fender Bassman

Here's what my Strat looks like, except mine is bone white:

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