Born Clarence Leo Fender, August 10, 1909, in Buena Park, CA; died after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's Disease, March 21, 1991, in Fullerton, CA; married in 1934; attended junior college. Worked as bookkeeper and accountant, late 1920s, and as guitar repairman, early 1930s; obtained patent on record-changing device, 1945; founded Fender Electric Instruments Inc., 1946; invented first mass-produced solidbody electric guitar, 1948; produced first solidbody bass guitar, 1951; introduced Stratocaster, 1954; sold Fender Electric Instruments to CBS, 1965, remained as consultant, 1965-70; founded CLF Research, 1965; designer and silent partner, Music Man, beginning in 1972; founded G & L Musical Products and G & L Music Sales, 1980.

"I never had time to do anything but build guitars and listen to 'em," Leo Fender, father of the electric guitar, admitted in Rolling Stone. "If I could play 'em as good as some people, I'd do it for hours a day." Fender revolutionized contemporary music with his electric guitar designs. Although no one knows who invented the first electric solidbody guitar, Fender was the first to design and produce one on a large scale. His company, Fender Electric Instruments, Inc., remained on the cutting edge for years, producing such enduring Fender designs as the Telecaster, the Stratocaster, and the Precision Bass. Fender's innovations improved the range, durability, and affordability of the electric guitar, and his company set the standard of quality for the industry.

Fender's vast success as an inventor and businessman belies his modest beginnings. He was born in his family's barn in 1909, and, as most children of farmers do, he helped out on the family farm. More interested in the tools and machinery than the actual farming, Fender began his long career in musical-instrument design when he built an acoustic guitar at the age of 16. Although he worked as a bookkeeper through junior college and as an accountant for several years thereafter, he began repairing electric guitars as a sideline in the early 1930s. Responding to customer complaints about their instruments, he decided to design his own.

In 1945 Fender used the proceeds from a record-changer patent to start producing instruments with Doc Kauffman. Worried about the additional investments the resultant company would need, Kauffman sold his share to Fender the following year. The company, Fender Electric Instruments, had its first major success when it introduced the Broadcaster, Fender's design for a mass-produced solidbody guitar. Soon renamed the Telecaster, the guitar, with its characteristic twang and durability, became a mainstay of country and blues musicians, including James Burton, Albert Lee, and Roy Buchanan.

In 1951 Fender introduced the Precision Bass, the first electric bass ever made. His invention significantly changed popular music by allowing the bassist to move up to the mike to sing. Perhaps even more influential than the electric bass, though, was Fender's Stratocaster, used by such rock and roll greats as Buddy Holly, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix. According to Tom Wheeler of Guitar Player, "Rock and rollers liked the Stratocaster because compared to traditional 'guit-boxes' it was curvacious and sensual, its vibrato was cool and functional, and the sound was hot and jangly; plus it had three pickups and looked like it came from Mars." Singer-songwriter-guitarist Lou Reed concurred, explaining in People, "Contemporary music would be unthinkable without a Stratocaster. Every musician's inner ear has been shaped by the genius of Leo Fender's instruments."

The lab methods Fender developed early on would serve him throughout his career; he depended on himself rather than technology, using his ear, for example, rather than relying on a spectrum analyzer. He also kept no comprehensive written record of his experiments, trusting in his memory most of the time.

Fender also invented new and better designs for a variety of music electronics. In addition to his innovations for the guitar, such as his multi-spring vibrato, he developed amplifier designs. His tube amplifier, for instance, sold extremely well and set standards that are still followed by the industry. He also developed piggy-back amps, the forerunners of the stack. Guitar Player's Wheeler testified to the enduring nature of Fender's amplifiers, reporting, "To this day, even metal-head Marshall [amp] maniacs rave about the tonal hugeness of a small Fender amp cranked to tube meltdown."

Fender's design abilities extended even to the equipment used to manufacture his company's products. Don Randall, president of Fender sales for years, told Wheeler, "Leo designed all the equipment, and he was a genius for figuring out the manufacturing process." Combined with his ability to develop better musical instruments, Fender's manufacturing savvy helped make Fender Electric Instruments one of the most prosperous manufacturers in the industry.

The success of Fender's company induced CBS to buy it in 1965 when a ten-year fight with strep throat forced Fender to retire. Fender's retirement lasted about two months; once his health improved, he was unable to give up his work. He started his own design company, CLF research, and also returned to his old company as a design consultant. Still, without Fender at the helm, Fender Electric Instruments lost its sterling reputation. Hartley Peavey, owner of another guitar manufacturing business, explained to the Los Angeles Times, "[Fender] cared about his product, his employees and his dealers, and when he left, the company was still there but the catalyst who made it work was gone.... The corporate guys got it, and they ran it into the ground."

Fender's contract with CBS expired in 1970, but before he left he counted among his new patents a 12-string bridge, an acoustic guitar bridge, and a vibrato tailpiece for acoustic-electrics. In 1972 Fender became a silent partner and major stockholder in Music Man, founded by two former Fender employees. Fender's designs for Music Man forged a new path, particularly in his pickup and preamp blueprints. The Sting Ray and the Sabre, two novel guitar designs, sported unusual features but were only modestly received because they lacked a vibrato. But the Sabre bass, with its two humbucking pickups, die-cast bridge, and standard active electronics, was very popular.

In 1980 Fender created G & L and G & L Music Sales to handle a new line of guitars and basses too extensive to fit into Music Man's marketing strategy. Fender radically changed his pickup designs, abandoning his successful nonadjustable Alnico polepieces for fully adjustable soft-iron polepieces and improving the output of the coils. The tone spectrum, now remarkably wide and flexible, is what Fender said he had been trying to achieve for years.

Fender continued to produce archetypal designs throughout the 1980s, including his non-vibrato bridge, finely tunable vibratos, and new neck designs. At the time of his death, in 1991 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease, he held roughly 75 patents. More significantly, Fender's innovations had forever transformed the sound, look, and character of American music.


Leo Fender's Career

Leo Fender's Awards

Country Music Association Pioneer Award, 1981; inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame and Rock Walk of Fame.

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 15 years ago

I hope everyone realizes he didnt create the first electric bass. He created the first electric bass Guitar, give some credit to Paul Tutmarc who actually created the first electric bass.

over 15 years ago

i wish i had a stratocaster. i got a knock-off, though. xD

over 15 years ago

I own a 1995 G&L ASAT Classic in honeyburst. The neck pickup is ridiculously warm and clear. I replaced the thin sounding bridge PU with a Seymour-Duncan Lil' 59 with a push-pull pot to split it, and this guitar gets a variety of amazing tones. My G&L has been an incredible instrument that makes Fender telecasters sound small, thin, and muddled in comparison. Also this guitar is super resonant and has wonderful sustain. I love it!

over 15 years ago

I own a G&L Superhawk. The CBS Fenders don't compare. Leo Fender was a genuis. It was a pleasure to learn about one of the two men who created rock guitars.

over 15 years ago

seriously he is died he doesnt make crap anymore cuz once again he is dead you retards

over 15 years ago

This is a very well written article and I enjoyed it very much. He makes amazing guitars!!!!

almost 16 years ago

I just bought a new g&l asat classic and I can feel and hear the quality of sound and craftsmanship that leo set out to achieve.Thanks leo

almost 16 years ago

Very nice!! However knowing some of the individuals who worked with Leo Fender, no one was as influential as much as Dick Dale "King of the Surf Guitar" for it was him that was playing to 3000 kids a night at the ballroom in Balboa Beach, California who told Leo he needed more volume and Leo became very curious as to how he was blowing up his amplifiers well Leo decided to go down to see this Dick Dale play. and notice that his sound was being sucked up by all the bodys that were in this concert hall. So he invited Dick down to the factory where Leo built his first Monster The Fender Showman 100 Watt amp, well now we had a weak link the speaker so they went to the James B. Lansing factory and had the voice coils built larger and the cone rubberized around the edge and the frame cast aluminum hence forth the JBL D-130F Now he had a Monster.... With this said Dick Dale, Leo Fender and his team . Where responsible for breaking through the sound barrier of 1950's electronics limitations if any of you have had the chance to stand front row at Dicks shows you'll know what I am talking about. and also you cant find a better product.. I am still playing Surf Music through my 1963 Fender Bandmasters to this Day 45 years later................... THANK YOU LEO FENDER !!!Just Thought I would ad this to this well done Biography! Thank You!!!

about 16 years ago

The infos here are very good. I just don't like the way it has been presented (maybe of personal preference), It is like loads of info placed in paragraphs. It is not like walking through time with the man (since this is a biography). But this very informative. good work

about 16 years ago


over 16 years ago

pritty cool info i'll be sure 2 visit agan peace @(^.^)@