Fender Guitars: The Complete History

By | March 30, 2014

Fender Guitars: The Complete History

The Fender Musical Instruments Corporation is the world’s single largest and foremost manufacturer of acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass guitars, amplifiers and related equipment.

Fender Guitars: The Complete History

Fender’s history dates back to 1946. Because of this long history, Fender has grown music worldwide and in nearly every genre.

  • rock ‘n’ roll
  • country and western
  • jazz
  • rhythm and blues
  • …and many others

Everyone from beginners and hobbyists to the world’s most brilliant and acknowledged guitarists, artists and performers have used Fender instruments and amps. From legendary Fender instruments such as the Telecaster and Stratocaster guitars to Precision and Jazz bass guitars are universally acclaimed as design classics.

Fender Guitars’ Early Beginnings

In the 1940s, southern California inventor Leo Fender realized that he could improve on the amplified hollow-body instruments. By using an innovative and yet simple solid-body electric guitar design, he could create a true musical masterpiece. Further, he realized that he could stream-line the entire process of building them.

In 1951, Leo Fender introduced a prototype of this solid body instrument that would eventually be called the Telecaster guitar. The Tele was the first solid body electric guitar (Spanish-style) to be commercially mass-produced.

The Birth of the Precision Bass Guitar

That same year, Leo Fender introduced a new invention into the hands of musicians; the Precision Bass guitar. This bass was played just like a guitar and had frets so that it could be played with “precision”. It could also be amplified, thus liberating bassists from unwieldy and increasingly difficult-to-hear acoustic basses.

These two historic instruments laid the foundation for a new kind of group and a revolution in popular music. This industry-changing metamorphosis is what we know today as the modern rock combo. As opposed to the big bands and saturated sounds of the era, electric Fender instruments made it possible for smaller groups of musicians to get together and be heard.

The Stratocaster Guitar makes it’s debut

The Stratocaster first appeared in 1954. This new electric guitar incorporated many design innovations based on feedback from professional musicians, Fender staff and Leo Fender himself! There were three main areas of the Stratocaster that made guitarists worldwide fall in love with it.

  • more tonal possibilities from the third single-coil pickup
  • sleek contoured body made it more comfortable
  • access to upper registers made much easier from double cut-away design

Most important, however, was the addition of the new Fender vibrato bridge (or tremolo bridge). this was an innovation originally intended to let guitarists bend strings and notes, thus achieving the pedal steel-like sound so popular among country music artists at the time.

Nobody could have foreseen then how the Stratocaster would go on to revolutionize pop music, country, R&B and rock. Essentially unchanged since its debut in 1954, it’s the most popular and influential electric guitar ever made. Guitarists at all levels, ages and in all genres continue to rely on its playability, sound & versatility.

Leo Fender himself remained an immensely creative force over the next decade. He introduced many classic amplifier and instrument designs to the world, including the following:

  • The Jazz Bass guitar
  • The Jaguar guitar
  • The Jazzmaster guitar
  • The Twin Reverb amplifier

Leo Fender sold Fender off to CBS in 1965 due to health issues. Fender Musical Instruments experienced tremendous growth over the next 20 years. With that being said, a lack of commitment and real understanding of music, musicians and especially guitarists by CBS gradually became apparent.

Fender Guitars: Re-Invented

To reinvent Fender, CBS recruited new management in 1981. Supported by associate William Mendello, William Schultz became the new Fender president. Their 5-year business plan was based on increasing Fender’s marketplace presence while improving on quality. Also, their focus would be on greater commitment to research and development.

When CBS sold out it’s non-broadcast media businesses in the 80s, a group of employees and investors led by William Schultz bought Fender from CBS. This 1985 sale put the Fender name back into the hands of a small group of dedicated people committed to creating the best guitars and amplifiers in the world.

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) had little to start with. They owned no buildings or machinery, as they weren’t included in the sale. Among other things, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation purchased the name, intellectual properties and any leftover parts of the old company. Schultz and his colleagues set out to rebuild an American icon, supported by a core group of loyal employees, dealers and suppliers; some had been with the company since Leo Fender founded it!

Changes in Fender

This new version of Fender initially imported its guitars from offshore manufacturers. The main reasons was their proven ability to produce affordable and viable instruments. In 1985, Fender’s flagship U.S. factory was built in Corona, California to increase a greater quality control. A second manufacturing facility opened soon-after in Ensenada, Mexico in 1987.

The same year the manufacturing facility in Ensenada was opened, the renowned Fender Custom Shop opened at the Corona facility. This created a perfect home for instruments for professional guitarists and guitar enthusiasts. Fender has recognized the importance of an “open-door policy” for professional musicians. This usually meant accommodating their requests for specific features on an per musician basis. The “Fender Custom Shop” has since become known globally and industry-wide as the pinnacle of craftsmanship.

In 1991, Fender moved its corporate headquarters from Corona to Scottsdale, Arizona. From there, Fender co-ordinates its full operations in the United States as well as its international facilities in Germany, Mexico, France, England, Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands and Spain.

Schultz Retires, Fender is still strong

In 2005, Schultz retired and Mendello became CEO of Fender Musical Instruments Corportion (FMIC).

Since the FMIC’s founding, it has grown to be one of the world’s leading marketers, manufacturers and distributors of instruments. It distributes and manufactures everything guitarists and bassists need.

  • Instruments
  • Amplifiers
  • Professional Audio Products
  • Strings
  • Accessories
  • Everything in between

Fender has become the “de facto” brand of guitars, basses and other musical instruments worldwide. In the coming years, Fender looks to stay at the top, by combining quality, economics and a commitment to their customers.