The Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, of Scottsdale, Arizona, USA, is famous for making stringed instruments, such as solid-body electric guitars, including the Stratocaster and Telecaster. Leo Fender also designed one of the most, if not the first, commercially successful solid-body electric bass, which is now standard in rock, jazz, country, funk, and all other types of popular music. The company makes instruments such as acoustic guitars, electric basses, mandolins, banjos, and violins, as well as guitar amplifiers, bass amplifiers, and PA (public address) equipment. Other Fender brands include Guild (acoustic and electric guitars), Rodriguez (classical guitars), Benedetto (jazz guitars), SWR (bass amplification) and Squier (entry level/budget). The company is a privately held corporation, with the controlling majority of its stock owned by a group of its own company officers and managers. Its Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer is William (Bill) Mendello, its President and Chief Operating Officer is Matthew Janopaul, and its Chief Financial Officer is Richard Kerley
The company, initially named the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, was founded in Fullerton, California, by Clarence Leonidas Fender in 1946. Fender is particularly important because of its role in bringing solid body electric guitars to the masses with its low-cost, manufacturing-oriented bolt-together designs. Fender offered the first mass-produced solid-body Spanish-style electric guitar, the Telecaster (originally named the 'Broadcaster', 'Esquire' is a single pickup version); the first mass-produced electric bass, the Precision Bass (P-Bass); and the enormously popular Stratocaster (Strat) guitar. While Fender was not the first to manufacture electric guitars, as other companies and luthiers had produced electric guitars since the late 1920s, none were as commercially successful as Fender's. Furthermore, while nearly all other electric guitars then were either hollow-body guitars or more specialized instruments such as Rickenbacker's solid-body Hawaiian guitars, Fender had created versatile solid body electric guitars. These guitars were and still are popular for musicians in a variety of genres.
Other popular and/or notable Fender instruments include the Mustang, Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Starcaster, Duosonic, and Bronco guitars; basses such as the Jazz Bass, the 'Telecaster Bass' reissue of the original 1950s Precision Bass; a line of lap steels; three models of electric violin, and the Fender Rhodes electric piano.
Its headquarters are in Scottsdale, Arizona, with manufacturing facilities in Corona (United States of America), Ensenada (Mexico), Korea and Japan.
The company began as Fender's Radio Service in late 1938 in Fullerton, California, USA. As a qualified electronics technician, Leo was asked to repair not only radios, but phonograph players, home audio amplifiers, public address systems and musical instrument amplifiers. (Technical note: at the time, most of the above were simply variations on a few simple vacuum-tube circuits). All designs were based on the research developed and released to the public domain by Western Electric in the 30s, and used vacuum tubes for amplification. The business also sidelined in carrying records for sale and the rental of self-designed-and-built PA systems. He became intrigued by design flaws in current musical instrument amplifiers, and he began custom-building a few amplifiers based on his own designs or modifications to designs.
By the early 1940s, he had partnered with another local electronics enthusiast named Clayton Orr (Doc) Kauffman, and they formed a company named K & F Manufacturing Corp. to design, manufacture, and sell electric instruments and amplifiers. Production began in 1945 with Hawaiian lap steel guitars (incorporating a patented pickup) and amplifiers, which were sold as sets. By the end of the year, Fender had become convinced that manufacturing was more profitable than repair, and he decided to concentrate on that business. Kauffman remained unconvinced, however, and they had amicably parted ways by early 1946. At that point Leo renamed the company the Fender Electric Instrument Company. The service shop remained open until 1951, although Leo Fender did not personally supervise it after 1947. The first big series of amplifiers were built in 1948. These were known as tweed amps because they were covered in the same kind of cloth used for luggage at the time. These amps varied in output from 3 watts to 75 watts.
Fender moved to Tolex coverings for the amps in 1960 with the exception of the Champ which kept its tweed until 1964. Fender also began using Oxford, Utah and CTS speakers interchangeably with the Jensens; generally the speaker that could be supplied most economically would be used. Jensens and Oxfords remained the most common during this period. By 1963 Fender amplifiers had a black Tolex covering, silver grille cloth, and black forward-facing control panel. The tremolo was changed to a simpler circuit based on an optical coupler and requiring only one tube. The amps still spanned the spectrum from 4 watts to 85, but the difference in volume was even larger due to the improved clean tone of the 85w Twin.
Sale to CBS
In early 1965, Leo Fender sold his companies to the Columbia Broadcasting System, or CBS for $13 million. CBS entered the musical instruments field by acquiring the Fender companies (Fender Sales, Inc., Fender Electric Instrument Company, Inc., Fender Acoustic Instrument Company, Inc., Fender-Rhodes, Inc., Terrafen, Inc., Clef-Tronix, Inc., Randall Publishing Co., Inc., and V.C. Squier Company), as well as Electro-Music Inc. (Leslie speakers), Rogers drums, Steinway pianos, Gemeinhardt flutes, Lyon & Healy harps, Rodgers (institutional) organs, and Gulbransen home organs.
This had far-reaching implications. At first, the sale was taken as a positive development, considering CBS's ability to bring in money and personnel. However, on hindsight, the sale is now looked back upon unfavorably, due to the reduction of the quality of Fender's guitars while under the management of cost-conscious CBS. In the early 1970s, the usual four-bolt neck joint was changed in favor of using only three. This change was said to have been made in an effort to save money, but actually suited the new 'improved' micro-tilt adjustment of the neck (previously requiring neck removal and shimming), but it also resulted in a greater propensity toward mechanical failure in the guitars. The culmination of this "cost-cutting" occurred in 1983, when the Fender Stratocaster received a short-lived redesign without a second tone control and a bare-bones output jack (Dan Smith model) as well as three special-design single-coil pickups with an internal dummy coil for hum cancellation and an active circuit featuring a TBX treble/bass expander, a 12dB MDX midrange booster and three push-push buttons for pickup selection (Elite Series). In addition, previous models such as the Swinger (also known as Musiclander) and Custom (also known as Maverick) had been little more than attempts to squeeze profits out of factory stock.  The so-called "Pre-CBS cult" refers to the popularity of Fenders made before the sale.
After selling the Fender company, Leo Fender founded Music Man in 1975, and later founded the G&L company which manufactures electric guitars and basses based on his latest designs.
In 1985, in a campaign initiated by then CBS Musical Instruments division president William Schultz (1926-2006), the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company was bought from CBS by its own employees, and renamed Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.
Behind the Fender name, the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has continued to grow, retaining Fender's older models along with newer designs and concepts.
While Fender maintains extensive production facilities across the world, its highest quality models are manufactured in the factory in Corona, California, United States of America. From around the world, it owns manufacturing facilities in Japan, Ensenada (Mexico), China, Indonesia (under Cort) and Korea (under Cort), such that most novice guitarists will be able to afford a new guitar with the Fender brand name. The older and American-built guitars are by far the most favoured, but pre-1990 Japan-made Fender guitars are now highly regarded as well. Fenders built in Ensenada, Mexico took over the role of the Japanese factory to produce the majority of Fender's guitars, while Japanese Fenders are now meant for the Japanese market and with only a small number marked for export.
Squier was a string manufacturer subsequently acquired by Fender. The Squier brand has been used by Fender since 1982 to market inexpensive variants of Fender guitars intended to compete with the rise of Stratocaster copies, as the Stratocaster was slowly becoming ever more popular. Production facilities were moved to India (for a short time) and then Korea. The name adorns many inexpensive guitars based on Fender designs but with generally cheaper materials and hardware. Many Squiers made from 1987 through the mid-1990s featured plywood bodies irrespective of where they were made.
Early Japanese and Korean Fender, or 'Flender' and Squier Stratocasters are well-regarded (and where the model is the same except for the decal), and are now traded on the used-guitar market as JV, which stands for 'Japanese Vintage', and equates to the prefix of the serial numbers of some of the 1982-84 Squier guitars. The earliest 1982 Squiers had the big Fender logo with 'Squier Series' written in script on the ball of the headstock, which was changed by the end of 1982 to the big Squier logo. However, the 'big Fender, little Squier Series' decal has featured on some 1990s Korean and Mexican (usually using up superseded parts, or seconds) guitars.
The core of its instrument line, the Telecaster, Stratocaster, Precision Bass, and Jazz Bass, remains largely unchanged from the 1950s and 1960s originals. On nearly every stage in the country, small or large, featuring blues, country and western or rock and roll, it is common to see a Fender guitar or bass in the hands of one or more of the musicians, plugged into a Fender amplifier. Fender instruments have been the main choice for many noted artists including: Ritchie Blackmore, James Burton, Eric Clapton, Kurt Cobain, Albert Collins, David Gilmour, Larry Graham, Merle Haggard, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Bruce Springsteen, James Jamerson, Waylon Jennings, Carol Kaye, Albert Lee, Geddy Lee, Hank Marvin, Marcus Miller, Jaco Pastorius, Mark Knopfler, Keith Richards, Yngwie Malmsteen, Andy Summers, Luther Perkins, John Frusciante, Rory Gallagher and Stevie Ray Vaughan. In addition, at least two artists, Freddy Fender and The Fendermen, have named themselves after the company.
In recent years, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation has branched out into making and selling steel-string acoustic guitars, and has purchased a number of other instrument firms, including the Guild Guitar Company, the Sunn Amplifier Company, and other brands such as SWR Sound Corporation. In early 2003, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation made a deal with Gretsch and began manufacturing and distributing new Gretsch guitars. Fender also owns: Jackson, Charvel, Olympia, Orpheum, Tacoma Guitars (based in Seattle, WA), Squier and Brand X amps.
In February 2007 Fender announced that it would produce an illustrated product guide in place of its traditional annual Frontline magazine. This change was made in large part due to the costs associated with paying royalties in both print and the internet. With the new illustrated product guide, this removed print issues. The new guide contains its entire range of instruments and amplifiers along with color pictures and basic specifications. The New Fender Frontline In-Home will be produced during the year keeping customers up to date with new products, these will be available through Guitar publications and will be directly mailed to customers that sign up to the Fender website. As well as these printed formats, Fender Frontline Live was launched at the winter NAMM show in January 2007 as a new online reference point, containing information on new products and live footage from the show.
For a full list of products made by Fender see: Fender Musical Instrument Corporation product list
- Fender Custom Shop
- Fender Musical Instrument Corporation product list
- Gibson Guitar Corporation
- Fender Japan
- Rhodes piano
- 3rd Bridge
- Tacoma Guitars