The world occasionally produces one of those rare thinkers whose name becomes iconic. Thomas Edison lit up the world; Albert Einstein altered the study of physics; Walt Disney reimagined entertainment; and Leo Fender designed the Telecaster and the Strat. Need we say more?
In a new book, Leo's wife, Phyllis Fender, provides a memory-packed look into the world of this quiet genius. Leo Fender: The Quiet Giant Heard Around the World was co-written by Randall Bell, who grew up in Fender's neighborhood and whose father was the head of the R&D department at Fender's company.
"This short yet captivating book is required reading for any true Fender aficionado," says Vintage Guitar Magazine's Vaughn Skow. "While much has been written about the work of Clarence Leonidas 'Leo' Fender, precious little has been written about Leo Fender the man. This book is a game changer.”
Fender grew up in Fullerton, California, where his interest in electronics lead him to open a radio repair shop in 1938. It wasn't long before musicians and band leaders turned to him for help in repairing their equipment. And the rest, as they say, is history. Fender's revolutionary guitar, the Stratocaster, has been the preference of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Eric Johnson, Jimmie Vaughan, Rory Gallagher and Jeff Beck, to name just a handful.
Fender was a shy, unassuming inventor who was nearly deaf and had one glass eye. In 1946 he founded Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company—the launch pad for his most iconic designs—and later on, G&L Musical Instruments.
Fender's game-changing contributions to the music world have been widely recognized. He was presented with the Country Music Association Pioneer Award in 1981; was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock Walk of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His accomplishments were also acknowledged with a Technical Grammy Award in 2009. Fender died in 1991.
"When other companies made electric guitars, that is all they did," says the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards. "Leo had the whole concept in mind. He made an amplifier to match. It is, after all electric. This left the other guys with half an egg. So simple, so complete whether you prefer a Stratocaster or a Telecaster. If you used a Fender amp, you had the whole deal. Sturdy, reliable and beautifully made, they remain the standard that others strived to reach, let alone the bass!"
Phyllis Fender volunteers at the Fullerton Museum, where she shares with visitors stories about her life with Leo. She also serves as Honorary Chairman of G&L. Twenty-two years ago, two different doctors told Phyllis she had six months to live. Today, both of those doctors are dead, and she's here to tell this remarkable story.