A Brief History of the Fender Guitar Company
Besides the Gibson Les Paul Guitar, there is probably no more renowned Electric Guitar than the Fender. The Fender Stratocaster and Fender Telecaster electrics are the company’s two most famous models and played by “rock gods” the world over (the Telecaster is especially favored by modern Country and Blues musicians, too), although Fender also makes steel string and classical guitars as well as bass guitars.
The Fender company also produces top of the line amplifiers.
Guitar players and makers began experimenting with amplification in the 1920s because the acoustic guitar’s sound in a jazz band was being totally swamped by the rest of the band. Eventually, in the 1940s, Leo Fender, an electronics expert and inventor from California, created the first instrument amplifiers to have built-in tone controls. However, Fender also understood that in order to fit in with modern music the guitar itself was going to need to be given a vastly greater range of tonal colors and sheer power. In 1951, Fender may have saved the guitar from oblivion in widely listened to music when he introduced his Fender Broadcaster, which was the forerunner to the Telecaster. In that same year Fender produced the electric Precision bass guitar.
In 1954, Fender emerged with what would become the most renowned rock ‘n’ roll guitar in history: the Stratocaster.
Unfortunately, in 1965 Leo Fender was in failing health and sold his company to the CBS corporation. Although CBS was able to put its giant marketing and advertising budget behind the Fender line of amps and guitars to make them the premier modern guitar music equipment, CBS also failed to actually comprehend music and musicians, and by 1973 the quality of the newly produced legendary Stratocasters was definitely sinking. Today’s Fender “Strat” collectors and players covet pre-1973 Strats, and even more they prize “pre-CBS” models.
With the Strat known for its exquisite tone, range of colors, and great action, in 1977 CBS added the five-way pickup selector switch to the Strat, giving the possible combination of pickup-use and the resulting tonal coloration even more variety, in hopes of keeping the Strat commercially competitive.
By the early 1980s, CBS/Fender began producing the “Squire” Strat, which is a deliberately second-rate and much less expensive version of the Stratocaster. The Squire was made in response to pricing competition from Japanese guitar makers.
In 1981, CBS took steps to try to re-invent Fender. William Schultz was selected as the new President of Fender and he and his assistants had a five-year business designed to focus heavily on R&D and advertising to take Fender back to the heights of the guitar world. However, by 1985 CBS was getting out of all non-broadcast media industries and with the help of some investors Schultz bought Fender from the giant corporation.
Having nothing but the patent and old Fender guitars in stock, eventually Bill Schultz built two new Fender manufacturing plants in Corona, California and Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. The idea was to keep all manufacturing close to home to control quality and keep shipping costs down to make Fender more affordable. No more would Fenders be made by cheap labor in Japan.
Fender went on to acquire legendary Sunn amplification and its Lake Oswego, Oregon manufacturing plants in 1987, and in 1991 the company moved its headquarters from Corona to Scottsdale, Arizona. In 1995 Fender bought out the renowned Guild Guitar company and acquired its massive manufacturing plant in Westerly, Rhode Island.
Today Fender is back on top in the world of electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitars, and amplifiers. The company has facilities in California, Arizona, Tennessee, New York, Rhode Island, Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico; London, England; Dusseldorf, Germany; Suresnes, France; Brussels, Japan, Korea, and China.
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