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Clarence Leo Fender

August 10, 1909 – March 21, 1991


Emplyed at Fender: 1938-1965

Leo Fender (August 10, 1909 – March 21, 1991) was born in a barn in Fullerton. The city he was to live his whole life in. After graduating from college he started Fender Radio Shop in Fullerton in 1938. This was the beginning and ground zero of his journey into music instruments of what was to become stuff of legends. Before the Telecaster during WWII, he developed lap Steel guitars and amplifiers with Doc Kauffman Orr which he started a company with called K&F Manufacturing Co. The company did not last long and in 1946, Kauffman pulled out and Leo renamed the company "Fender Manufacturing", and later renamed it to "Fender Electric Instrument Co." in 1947.

The rise of electric guitar was not solely Fender. But Arch-Top guitars was the widely used guitars at the time. Several other company and individuals would start inventing their own solid body guitars like Les Paul. He started working on what would to become the Fender Esquire, the precursor of the Telecaster.

In 1948 he had a prototype ready.

He launched the Esquire in 1950, that was to further develop to the 2-pickup Broadcaster, then Telecaster after a trademark dispute with Gretch.

Fender Fullerton factory would go trough 2 sites. First in Santa Fe Avenue, second he built a new facotry in Pomona Ave. and last, the last location to at 500 South Raymond Avenue where Fender would build Fender Stratocaster and build all their guitars trough Leo and CBS´s ownership.

Leo was an inventor first and a businessman second. He did not know how to play guitar, but was always keen on learning from artists what they need and improvements they wish for.

Leo sold Fender in 1966 to CBS because he thought he was terminally ill, when in fact he was not. He remained a consultant for CBS for a few year developing the micro-tilt system amongst some invention.

After some years, he would become involved with business affairs alongside ex-Fender employe Forrest White and Tom Walker. With them they started what was to become Music Man which Fender became president for in 1975 under his CLF Research company he had founded.

He pulled out a short time after and started G&L with George Fullerton. This was to be the last position Leo worked at where he kept developing on the Stratocaster inspired design.

During his tenure with G&L, Leo got married to Phyllis Fender after his first wife Esther died of cancer in 1979. With Phyllis, Leo took the opportunity to travel a great deal around the world. He was fond of Cruise trips and would visit many countries around the world.

After a couple of minor strokes, Leo Fender passed away in march 1991 of complications from Parkinson disease Phyllis died in 2020.

Great book about Leo i would recommend Leo Fender The Quiet Giant Heard Around The World

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