Win trivia bets with these little-known events drawn from the annals of Fender history.
In a storied seven-decade run, Fender has been a core ingredient in popular music with its innovative electric guitars, basses and amps. The company’s contributions in the 1950s and ‘60s are considered not just high-water marks in music gear development, but are also central to America’s golden era of design. Here are a handful of Fender facts you may not know.
1. The first major British musician to rock a Strat is largely forgotten today
When the role of Stratocasters among UK rockers comes up, one name is often missing from the list of usual suspects that typically includes the likes of Clapton and Beck. That name would be Hank Marvin—a widely respected guitarist from rock’s earliest days in Britain.
Hugely influential for his vibrato-soaked style, Marvin fronted The Shadows, a major UK pop outfit whose instrumental singles regularly scaled the pop-chart heights. When vocalist Cliff Richard, who The Shadows backed, laid a Fiesta Red Stratocaster on Marvin in 1959, that axe proved to be super influential. Countless British and Canadian rockers would follow in his footsteps, strapping on their own Strats. At one point, Fender even released a signature Hank Marvin Stratocaster model. Marvin, now 75, has lived for decades in Australia and continues to be cited by guitar aces as a major influence.
Fender currently offers a Classic Series 50's Stratocaster, which offers similar specs to the Strats Fender was putting out in the late 50's. It is available in Daphne Blue, Surf Green, 2-Color Sunburst and Fiesta Red (pictured above).
2. The inventor of the Strat and Tele couldn’t play a guitar lick
That’s right! The only thing Leo Fender played with was his soldering iron. An accountant by training and one-time sax player, it was a hobbyist fascination with radios and amps that led to Leo’s involvement with music gear. A lifelong tinkerer, he depended on a network of local Southern California musicians to give him feedback about his revolutionary slab-built guitars. As the company grew bigger and hired workers who could actually play, more research and development moved in-house.
Leo Fender continued to solicit the input of guitarists from the worlds of pop, rock and surf. That same deep connection with pro players continues to this day. Fender Custom Shop luthiers regularly consult and collaborate with some of the biggest names in guitar and bass when creating their handcrafted beauties and signature models.
3. In the 1960s Fender was worth more than the New York Yankees
When CBS bought the company Leo Fender built in 1965, it paid $13 million—about two million more than it had shelled out a couple of years earlier to acquire the fabled New York Yankees. Sadly, the purchase marked a decline in Fender’s fortunes. CBS didn’t really get guitars or the music instrument business in general, and presided over some major changes to Fender's expansive product line which were received less than positively by certain Fender devotees.
The brand was revived to its former glory in the mid-1980s when Fender employees bought the company back from the CBS conglomerate and never looked back. The newly named Fender Musical Instruments Corporation commenced a new era of innovation and went on to become the world’s biggest maker of stringed instruments.
Interestingly, after years of being looked down upon by Fender fans, many of the guitars and, in particular, amps of the CBS-era have risen in popularity in recent years on the used market. Perhaps recognizing that people had developed an affinity for certain models of this era, Fender has reissued a number of them, including the '68 Custom amplifier series, with some modern twists.
The "not quite a reiussue" Fender '68 Custom Princeton Reverb takes the original cosmetics and tonal platform of the '68 Silverface Princeton and offers a modified tone circuit to make it drive a little earlier, provide greater touch sensitivity and play better with pedals.
4. Keith Richards used his Tele in an act of self-defense
During a 1981 show at the Hampton Coliseum in Virginia, an overenthusiastic fan climbed onstage as the Stones cranked out “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Keith Richards quickly began thrusting the headstock of his Fender Telecaster at the hapless fan, driving him from the stage in short order. A longtime Tele player, Richards was likely not too concerned with wrecking his guitar mid-song. Notable for their rugged, bolt on neck joints, Fenders can take a licking that would destroy other guitars.
5. Clapton’s Blackie: design by cannibalization
Up until 1970, Eric Clapton had largely been a Gibson guy. Swayed by Blind Faith bandmate Steve Winwood as well as Jimi Hendrix, he switched to Strats using his first, nicknamed “Brownie”, to record the legendary LP, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Later that year, Clapton scooped up six especially nice ‘50s-era Strats at the Sho-Bud guitar store in Nashville. He then gave one each to Steve Winwood, George Harrison and Pete Townshend. From the remaining three guitars, Clapton had renowned luthier Ted Newman Jones assemble “Blackie,” using the best parts of each. The guitarist would go on to use Blackie pretty much exclusively onstage and in the studio until the mid-1980s. When Blackie was sold at auction in 2004 to benefit Clapton’s rehab charity, Crossroads Center, it set a record, selling for $959,000.
Made to match the exact specs of Eric's personal Stratocaster, the Fender Custom Shop Artist Series Eric Clapton Stratocaster Electric Guitar features a soft V neck shape, Noiseless pickups, active mid-boost circuitry and more. There is also a similarly spec'ed model offered at alower price point.
Looking to add some classic Fender tone to your setup? Call a Musician’s Friend Gear Head at 800-449-9128 for expert, friendly advice.