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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Happy Birthday Leo Fender, 100 Years

Aug. 10, 1909: Leo Fender and the Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll | This Day In Tech |

1909: Clarence “Leo” Fender is born.

The designer, engineer and inventor would found the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, the banner under which he created and produced the first wave of commercially successful electric guitars, basses and amplifiers. Fender’s panache for instrument design reached its pinnicle with his work on the Telecaster guitar, the Fender Precision bass and, most famously, the Stratocaster, the musical instrument that was the central force in defining rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s and ’60s, and whose influence continues to dominate every genre of popular music.

Leo Fender didn’t invent the electric guitar. Six-string slingers had been experimenting with rudimentary amplification systems since the early decades of the 20th century. Always itching for more volume, guitarists were eager to be heard above the drums and other loud instruments in the dance bands of the time.

The first real innovations toward electric axes, however, came with the awarding of two patents for magnetic pickups. The first went to Gibson’s Guy Hart for his company’s Hawaiian guitar design on July 13, 1937, and the second went to Rickenbacker’s George Beauchamp for his horseshoe magnet pickup design featured on his company’s lap steel “frying pan” guitars, on August 10, 1937 — coincidentally, Fender’s 28th birthday.

The earliest electric guitars were either of the lap steel or hollow body archtop varieties. It wasn’t until guitarist Les Paul constructed his own prototype solid body electric, nicknamed “The Log,” in 1946 that the stage would be set for the revolution that would define popular music in the second half of the century.

And that’s where Leo Fender comes in.

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