Born Clarence Leonidas Fender, 10 August 1909, Fullerton, California
Died 21 March 1991, Fullerton, California Fender will be remembered as the inventor who revolutionised the electric guitar. At thirteen, Fender took up electronics as a hobby, after visiting an uncle who had a homemade radio. The loud music from that speaker made a lasting impression on the lad from Fullerton. He began building and repairing radios in his shop at home for fellow students. Leo graduated from High School in 1928, entered Fullerton Junior College that fall, and majored in accounting. Contrary to several published stories and the impressions of some close associates, Leo received no formal training in electrical engineering. He mastered the subject on his own while studying to become an accountant.

After attending junior college, Fender worked as a delivery man for the Consolidated Ice and Cold Storage Company in Anaheim, then as the bookkeeper. He continued doing radio repair work at home. In 1932 he became aquainted with an orchestra leader sponsoring dances in Hollywood. He contracted Fender to build the first of several public address systems he assembled in the 1930s. About this time the young accountant-cum-radio tech. met a girl named Esther Klosky. Leo and Esther married in 1934. He landed a job as an accountant for the State of California Highway Department in San Louis Obispo where they lived until 1938. Six months later, in a shakeup of the accounting department, Leo lost his job. With six hundred dollars that he borrowed, Leo returned to Fullerton and set up a full-scale radio repair shop. The Fender Radio Service led Leo into a life of guitars and amplifiers. He saw his opportunity to build a better guitar starting where Electro String, Vivi-Tone, and other manufacturers left off. Fender invented an improved electric guitar and capitalized on a turning point in music history, the decline of the Big Band Era at the beginning of the post- World War II economic expansion. Hiring chief assistant and engineer George Fullerton, Fender launched a guitar line in the late Forties, the first Fender instrument played by country guitarist Jimmy Bryant while backing Little Jimmy Dickens. The single-cutaway Fender "Broadcaster", renamed the Telecaster in 1950, was the first mass market solid bodied electric guitar and a great improvement over existing models. But it was the "Stratocaster", introduced in 1954, which revolutionized the modern electric guitar. Nicknamed "The Strat", the instrument eliminated problems such as feedback and access to the upper frets, and sold for under $ 100. Constructed of modern components in a sleek, sexy shape, the Strat was embraced by a number of emerging rock 'n' rollers, most notably Buddy Holly. Fender employed 600 workers by the mid-Sixties and was an unpretentious, hands-on employer who demanded perfection. He sold his company to CBS for $ 13 million in January 1965. Since then, pre-1965 instruments have continued to command high prices in the collectors' market. But Fender continued to work on inventions. Even in old age after suffering several small strokes and progressive degeneration from Parkinson's disease, Leo Fender was dedicated to the point of obsession. He continued working everyday he was able, sometimes seven days a week. Once asked in the 1980s why he did not retire and enjoy the fruits of his success, he replied, I owe it to musicians to make better instruments. Leo Fender personified the American spirit of invention. He went to work the day before he died, Thursday March 21, 1991.

Adapted from http://www.rockabillyhall.com/LeoFender.html

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