Clarence Leonidas Fender, popularly known as Leo Fender, was an American inventor who founded the ‘Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company’. He was born in US to a family of successful orange grove owners. He developed his interest in musical goods at an early age after his uncle built a radio from spare parts. The loud music of the radio also left an impact on him, and he began repairing radios on his own. He finished his schooling from Fullerton Union High School and later entered Fullerton Junior College. A few years after finishing college, he started his own radio repair show which he named ‘Fender Radio Service.’ With the show’s success, he found many customers to build public address systems for. After some years, he founded the ‘Fender Musical Instruments Corporation’, a manufacturer of amplifiers and stringed musical instruments. Later on, he sold off the company to CBS and founded two more musical companies named ‘Music Man’ and ‘G&L Musical Instruments’. He passed away at the age of 81, in Fullerton, California. A year after, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame owing to his unique achievement of making a successful career working with music despite never having learned to play a single instrument.
Childhood & Early Life
Clarence Leonidas Fender was born on 10th August 1909, in Anaheim, California, in US. His father was Clarence Monte Fender and his mother was Harriet Elvira Wood.
From his early years, Fender showed keen interest in electronic goods. At the age of 13, he saw his uncle build a radio from spare parts, which made him even more curious to explore electronics. He was also fascinated by the loud music from the radio’s speaker and it left an impression on him. He soon started repairing radios in a shop in his parents’ home.
He graduated from Fullerton Union High School in 1928 and began attending Fullerton Junior College as an accounting major. He also continued to learn about electronics, though he never took any professional course in the subject.
After finishing college, he worked as a delivery man for a company in Anaheim named ‘Consolidated Ice and Cold Storage Company’. Later, he was promoted to a bookkeeper.
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In 1938, along with his wife Esther, Leo Fender started ‘Fender Radio Service’, his own radio repairing shop. He was visited by several musicians and band leaders, who came to him for public address systems, which he used to build, rent and also sell.
He was also visited for the amplified acoustic guitar which was gaining popularity in the music scene in southern California.
As he used to experiment with different sound products, he felt that he would be able to design his own steel guitar as well as amplifier lines. During the time of the Second World War, he convinced an inventor named Clayton Orr Kauffman to collaborate with him and start ‘K & F Manufacturing Corporation’, which was founded in 1945.
Along with George Fullerton, Leo Fender worked on developing the first solid-body electric guitar to be produced on a mass scale in 1948. It was named the Fender Broadcaster and later renamed as the Telecaster in 1950. It was produced under his Fender Electric Instruments Company.
His first electric bass guitar was eventually unveiled in 1951; it was named ‘The Fender Precision Bass.’ In 1954, the Fender Stratocaster also came to the market.
The Stratocaster was more sophisticated than the Telecaster, and it was also the first guitar ever that featured three electric pickups rather than two. It gathered a large following among guitarists and became the signature instrument of many musicians such as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.
When his health started deteriorating, he sold his company to CBS Corporation in 1965. However, the employees bought back the company in 1985, after which they renamed it as Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.
When Leo Fender’s physical condition improved, he returned to the company to work as a design consultant. It is today the world’s number one manufacturer of stringed instruments and has annual sales of nearly $ 200 million.
Forrest White and Tom Walker formed their Tri-Sonix company in 1971; it was based in Santa Ana, California. They approached Leo Fender to help them in financing their company. The company eventually became known as ‘Music Man’, a name which Fender preferred more. Fender became its president in 1975.
He started a new company with George Fullerton and Dale Hyatt in 1979. It was named George & Leo Musical Products.
Family & Personal Life
Leo Fender’s first wife was Esther Klosky, whom he met in 1933 and married in 1934. In 1979, Esther died of cancer.
He got married to Phyllis Fender in 1980. She was made an honorary chairman at his ‘George & Leo Musical Products’.
On 21st March 1991, Leo Fender passed away. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for quite a long time. He was buried at Fairhaven Memorial Park, located in Santa Ana in California, US.