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
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
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 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
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
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.