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Beginning stages of Fender

 

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Old Fender print ad c.1953
 

CBS' manufacturing plant

 

Fender silver-faced amps

History of Fender®

It all started in 1909 with the birth of Clarence Leo Fender. He grew up in the world of vacuum tube electronics and some of the first radio broadcasts to be a self taught electronics buff, eventually opening up his first repair in 1938 named Fender's Repair Service. This also included the rental and sale of home made P.A and musical instruments.

During WWII Leo teamed up with Clayton "Doc" Kauffman to design and manufacture amplifiers and electric lap steel guitars, which would use a pick-up that Leo had designed.

The market for Hawaiian and western swing music was taking off at the time so their company (known as K&F) was ripe to expand into a larger manufacturing facility. Kauffman got cold feet and pulled out and thus Fender Electrical Instrument Co. was born.

Leo struck up a distribution deal for the amps and lap steels in 1946 with Radio and Television Equipment Co. (Radio-Tel). The initial years of this venture were pretty lean for Leo and he still worked days in his original radio shop. By the late 40's more artists were using Fender gear and word about them spread. Business picked up and their equipment was becoming available nationwide. In 1948 Leo sold the radio shop so he could concentrate full time on F.E.I.C. making guitars and amps. By this time Leo had three buildings and 15 people on the payroll (including George Fullerton who became a long time collaborator with Leo. He's the G in G&L).

Fender's tweed-covered, chrome chassis amps developed a solid reputation as being extremely reliable on the road and also having the most power available at the time. The Champion line was off and running. The close of the 1940's saw Fender as a major player in the market and they were highly visible all over the country.

The tweed amp alone wasn't changed much in the early fifties as Leo concentrated on new guitar designs such as the esquire, broadcaster and soon to be Telecaster. In 1951 Fender introduced the P-bass, one of the most important introductions of an instrument in rock n' roll history. He needed an amp designed for the bass, and so the Bassman was born. Ironically, the Bassman became one of the most classic guitar amplifiers in history.

In 1953 Leo had bought out control of distribution with two partners from Radio-Tel to create Fender Sales.

Not long after, a high power proto-type 2x12 combo called the Twin was unveiled. With a new design of guitar called the Stratocaster on the way, Fender was ready to take off even further. As the fifties were finishing, Fender had grown enormously with 10 times the floor-space in manufacturing from a decade ago and employee numbers in triple digits.

By 1964, even though Fender was still expanding, Leo wanted out. His health was poor and he'd been working almost non-stop since the beginning. Overwhelmed and ready for a break, he sold Fender to CBS for $13m. This was a big payout in 1964 but CBS saw even more potential for growth in the company.

In the mid 60's transistors were thought to be the future and CBS believed that transistor (solid state) amps would be the way to go. Luckily they still maintained the classic tube designs like the Super reverbs, Deluxe Reverbs, Twins, Bassmans, etc. But they tried to push to the forefront newer transistor designs. The idea was noble as Fender was based on innovation and constantly upgrading their designs. But, at the time solid state technology just couldn't transfer into a musical sounding guitar amplifier compared to the tubes. They pretty much gave up in the early 70's and introduced different variation of tube amps instead with the famous silver face look (transition from black face to silver face actually started in '68).

In regards to 60's pre and post CBS black face amps. Pre-CBS does have a few things different as far as a few ratings in the electronics which causes "tone differences." Basically anytime you change electronics whether you stick to the same parts or not, you "have" to do "everything" exactly as the model you are trying to emulate or the tone suffers. Now obviously it's only a slight difference and even the first year of the silver face in 1968 still has the basic structure of the black face. You can get a 1968 silver face for around $600 versus a black face for around $1500 and all you need do is have the specs set to pre-CBS black face from a good local "Fender" repair shop that loves old Fender amps.

By 1980 sales of the traditional 70's silver faces Fender amp had dwindled and stiff competition was being had from other manufacturers who also offered channel switching and different sounds from the Fender amps. Paul Rivera came on board in the early eighties and brought back a mid-60's cosmetic to the line and the silver-fced look was discontinued. Solid state amplifiers were introduced again at this time but notable better than earlier efforts.

In 1984 CBS decided to sell off its musical instrument divisions due to lack of profits. This included Fender even though it still made money for them. In early 1985 some head personal at Fender teamed up with a few international distributors and bought the Fender name for about $12.5m from CBS. Fender Musical Instrument Co. is born. Because Fender had to rebuild all manufacturing from the ground up, they relied heavily on old CBS stock and imported guitars and amps.

In late 1985 Fender bought Sunn. A big name in the late 60's and early 70's for guitar and bass amps but at that time known mainly for P.A.'s. After moving the Sunn factory from Tualatin, Oregon to nearby Lake Oswego they used it to start making new Fender amplifiers as well as still making Sunn equipment. The company grew throughout the late 80's and amplifiers such as the Dual Showman, the Twin and the Stage series were introduced. Fender was back.

In 1993 Fender opened up the custom amp shop and soon the modern custom classics such as the Vibro King and the Tonemaster were realized. Later on they opened a new plant in Corona, CA to make solid state amps. It has now become their primary location for all tube amp manufacturing. Fender's solid state amps now are made in a state of the art facility in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.

Fender currently offers an amazing variety of amps in all stages of technology old and new, from jazz and clean country to stingin' blues and metal a-go-go, Fender has, more than ever, a selection to match the ever-broadening scope of music as we know it today. The vision and memory of an incredible music pioneer affectionately known and instantly recognized just by Leo lives on. We think he'd be proud.

 

 
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