March 21, 1991 – Clarence Leonidas “Leo” Fender was a Greek-American inventor, born on August 10th 1909. He founded Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, now known as Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, and later founded MusicMan and G&L Musical Products (G&L Guitars). His guitar, bass, and amplifier designs from the 1950s continue to dominate popular music more than half a century later.
When designing “The Strat”, he asked his customers what new features they would want on the Telecaster. The large number of replies, along with the continued popularity of the Telecaster, caused him to leave the Telecaster as it was and to design a new, upscale solid body guitar to be sold alongside the basic Telecaster instead.
Western swing guitarist Bill Carson was one of the chief critics of the Telecaster, stating that the new design should have individually adjustable bridge saddles, four or five pickups, a vibrato unit that could be used in either direction and return to proper tuning, and a contoured body for enhanced comfort over the slab-body Telecaster’s harsh edges.
Leo and draughtsman Freddie Tavares began designing the new guitar in late 1953, which would address most of Carson’s ideas and would also include a rounder, less “club-like” neck and a double cutaway for easier reach to the upper registers. Released in 1954, the Stratocaster has been in continuous production ever since.
The Electric Bass: Leo also conceived an instrument that would prove to be essential to the evolution of popular music with the Precision Bass (or “P-Bass”), released in 1951.
Up until this time, bassists had been left to playing acoustically resonating double basses/upright basses. Unlike double basses, the Telecaster-based Precision Bass was small and portable, and its solid body construction and four magnet, single coil electronic pickup allowed it to be amplified at higher volumes without the feedback issues normally associated with acoustic instruments. Along with the Precision Bass, so named because its fretted neck allowed bassists to play with ‘precision’. The P-Bass and its accompanying amplifier were the first widely-produced of their kind, and it was the first bass to be fretted like a guitar; arguably, it remains one of the most popular basses in music today.
1960 saw the release of the Jazz Bass, a sleeker, updated bass with a slimmer neck, and offset waist body and two single coil pickups, as opposed to the Precision Bass and its split-humbucking pickup that had been introduced in 1957. Like its predecessor, the Jazz Bass/”J-Bass” was an instant hit and has remained popular to this day, and early models are highly sought after by collectors.
Later products, produced for the less expensive market are Squire Stratocaster, based on the Stratocaster design features.
Fender sadly died from complications of Parkinson’s disease on March 21, 1991 at age 81.