Fender are not the only famous make of guitars in the world but they probably are the most famous, and the biggest brand, and there are many reasons for this. Fenders were the first guitars to be a big success commercially, and were played by the stars of the day such as Buddy Guy when they were released in the early fifties.
Leo Fender started off with a radio repair service Fender’s Radio Service in late 1938 in Fullerton, California. His venture into the world of instruments started with customising of amplifiers, and by the early forties he got together with Doc Kauffman to sell their own designed instruments – the relationship didn’t last though, as Kauffman was a bit doubtful about the enterprise, although luckily Fender retained the courage of his convictions.
After building and selling amplifiers, Fender moved on to guitars, and the first Telecaster which was released under the name Broadcaster. There were a few initial problems with the Broadcaster one of them being a lack of truss rod, and another being a patent issue over the name. The truss rod issue was fixed, but it was a while before the guitar took on the name Telecaster.
The Telecaster was taken up by a few players of the era including bluesman Albert Collins, jazz player Ed Bickert. Later country boys took the instrument up, including Buck Owens and Don Rich who with their custom sparkle-finish Telecasters, helped create the distinctive Bakersfield sound of country music in the early 1960s.
Throughout the sixties and seventies and eighties the Tele took a bit of a backseat to the Strat, however it was still used by notable players. These included Jimmy Page of Led Zepellin, Hugh Cornwell of the Stranglers, Bruce Springsteen, and spanning four decades of playing the same four bar chords on his faithful Tele, Francis Rossi of Status Quo (a limited style that was to eventually and inevitably end up in the poor man giving himself repetitive strain injury).
Fender probably made the most money out of Pete Townsend from the Who due to him having to replace his Telecaster after most of his gigs due to his habit of smashing them up at the end of the set. It was always the players who ‘made the guitar’ which is why Fender made tribute or ‘signature models’ for the great players, people like Muddy Waters having deserved such recognition for ‘services to Fender marketing division’.
The Stratocaster was the next model, with more compact pick-ups and which was a more slimline modern version of the Tele. The first generation of well known Strat players included Buddy Guy, and Buddy Holly, it really took off in the 1960s when music took off in a new direction. With the experimentation of the era came a lot of innovative guitar players, most notably Jimi Hendrix, not the first guy to make his guitar talk, but he added a new accent to guitar playing, and probably the first to deliberately set fire to his Strat (other ‘Strat fires’ may have been accidental).
It was also during the sixties that the Fender Jaguar was released, which was a development of the Jazz, and was taken up by the emerging surf bands, and had a resurgence during the nineties when grunge inspired by Nirvana became popular.
It was in the sixties Fender Corporation was sold to CBS, a move that was unpopular with guitar players, as CBS turned Fender into a guitar mass producer, and this was seen as sacrificing quality for quantity. Luckily, despite this lack of confidence Fender have managed to maintain a hold on the market and are still producing new models, although production whilst continuing in the U.S. has also moved to Japan and Mexico.
People are still playing and current current players have include John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, who plays a Jaguar, and Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd has barely put his Strat down since the sixties. Mind you, like Ronnie Wood they can afford the vintage versions. But despite going totally mainstream young guitar players are buying the new models which means that the Fender guitar is probably going to hold onto it’s ‘rock guitar crown’ for some time to come.