Part Two

1950 to 1965: the Golden Age
Fender's early instruments were revolutionary, and their introduction contributed to the birth of something now commonplace: the "musical group". Live performances up to this era had relied upon large bands and orchestras to fill concert halls. Now, armed with the proper instruments, bands or groups consisting of only 3 or 4 musicians could perform large venues. The "Big Band" era began to fade as musicians began to discover the electric guitar and Fender bass Guitar

Fender's early guitar design, known first as the "Broadcaster" and then as the Telecaster, was based on friend Merle Travis' design for a solidbody electric guitar, built for Travis by Paul Bigsby with a single row of tuners. Its bolt-on neck joint configuration allowed it to be produced on a much larger scale than the set-neck design of competitors, and it became an almost instant hit.

Though the Telecaster (originally known as The Broadcaster, but the name had to be changed due to Gretsch having already having a model by that name) had remained popular, criticisms of its design and aesthetics had gotten back around to Leo Fender, and in late 1953 he began designing an all new, solid body electric guitar to be sold alongside the Telecaster. It would have a contoured body for enhanced comfort over the slab-body Telecaster's harsh edges. It would have 3 pickups, a rounder, less "club-like" neck (at least for the first year of issue), a double cutaway for easier reach to the upper registers, and a revolutionary vibrato or "tremolo" unit that would allow players to bend strings as they played by wiggling the tremolo arm, or "whammy bar". Released in 1954, Fender named his new creation the Stratocaster to invoke images of the high flying, supersonic jets filling America's skies in the 1950's. The Stratocaster (or "Strat") has been in continuous production ever since, and, along with the Telecaster and the Gibson Les Paul, has helped define the sound of generations of rock, blues, and funk musicians.

Other significant developments of this period include the Jazzmaster and Jaguar, significant departures from the Strat and Tele in their introduction of complex pickup selection switches and volume controls. Although unsuccessful at their introduction (compared to previous Fender guitars), both would become popular with Surf Rock musicians due to their clean, bright, and warm tone.


During this time, Fender also conceived an instrument that would prove to be essential to the evolution of popular music. Up until this time, bassists had been left to playing acoustically resonating double basses, also known as "upright basses". As the size of bands and orchestras grew, bassists found themselves increasingly fighting for volume and presence in the sound spectrum. Apart from their sonic disadvantages, double basses were also large, bulky, and difficult to transport.

With the Precision Bass (or "P-Bass"), released in 1951, Leo Fender addressed both of these issues. 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"), Fender introduced a bass amplifier, the Fender Bassman; a 45 watt amplifier with four 10" speakers. Neither were firsts; Audiovox had begun advertising an "electric bass fiddle" in mid 1930s catalogs, and Ampeg had introduced a 12 watt "Bassamp" in 1949, but the P-Bass and its accompanying amplifier were the first widely-produced of their kind, and arguably, the P-Bass 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 it's predecessor, the Jazz Bass (or simply "J-Bass") was an instant hit and has remained popular to this day, and early models are highly sought after by collectors. Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, was sold to CBS in January 1965 as in 1964 Leo Fender was diagnosed as having a terminal illness and that he only had about 6 months to live, however when about a year passed he obtained a second opinion and was given a clean bill of health. He then went to Music Man as a designer and later founded 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. Marshall and many other amplifier companies have used Fender instruments as the foundation of their products. Fender and inventor Les Paul are often cited as the two most influential figures in the development of electric instruments in the 20th century.

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