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Leo Fender

On 10/08/1909: Leo Fender was born. He was born in Anaheim, California and his full birth name was Clarence Leonidas Fender. He had an interest in electronics from an early age. When he was 13, his uncle sent him a box filled with discarded car radio parts, and a battery from his automotive-electric shop. When Leo visited the shop the next year, he was fascinated by a radio his uncle had built from spare parts. Soon after he began repairing radios in a small shop set up at his parents house. In 1928 Leo graduated from Fullerton Union High School, and entered Fullerton Junior College to study accounting. Whilst at college he would continue learning and tinkering with electronics. After college he worked as a delivery man and later a bookkepper for Consolidated Ice and Cold Storage Company in Anaheim. Around this time a local band leader approached Leo and asked him to build a PA system for them. He was contracted to make 6 PA systems. In 1933 he met Esther Klosky and married her the next year. Around that time he took a job as an accountant with the California Highway Department in San Luis Obispo. In a depression government change, his lost his job, and he then joined the accounting department of a tire company. After six months there he and the other accountants at the company lost their jobs. In 1938 he borrowed $600 and Leo and Esther moved Fullerton. In Fullerton, Leo started his own radio repair shop called Fender Radio Service. Musicians began to come to him asking for PA systems, which he built, rented and sold. They would also visit asking for amplification for amplified acoustic guitars and lap steel guitars. During World War II, Leo met Clayton Orr "Doc" Kauffman, an inventor and lap steel player who had worked for Rickenbacker. Rickenbacker had been building and selling lap steel guitars for a decade. Kauffman had invented the Vibrola tailpiece, a precursor to the later vibrato tailpiece. They formed the K & F Manufacturing Corporation, designing and building amplified Hawaiian guitars and amplifiers. In 1944, Leo and Doc patented a lap steel guitar with an electric pickup that Fender had patented earlier. In 1945, they began selling the guitar, in a kit with an amplifier designed by Fender. By the late 1940s, solidbody electric guitars began to rise in popularity and Leo saw potential in an electric guitar that was easy to hold, tune, and play, and would not feed back at dance hall volumes. In 1949, Leo finished the prototype of a thin solid-body electric. It was first released in 1950 as the Fender Esquire, and renamed first Broadcaster and then Telecaster (with two pickups) the year after.The Telecaster would become one of the most popular electric guitars in history. In 1951 the Precision Bass was released to provide a smaller and louder alternative to the acoustic double bass. Fender also introduced a bass amplifier, the Fender Bassman. In late 1953 Fender, assisted by draftsman Freddie Tavares, began designing the Stratocaster. It included a rounder, less "club-like" neck and a double cutaway for easier reach to the upper notes. The Stratocaster would become arguably even more popular and well known than the Telecaster. In 1960 the Jazz Bass was released. It was a sleeker, updated bass with a slimmer neck, and offset waist body and two single coil pickups. In 1965 Leo sold the Fender company to CBS. His health had suffered in the 1950s due to a streptococcal sinus infection and given him impetus to reduce his work. It was only shortly after selling the company that he was cured of his illness. Leo remained a consultant with Fender for a while. In 1971 Forrest White and Tom Walker formed the Tri-Sonix company. They approached Leo for funding. The company changed name to Music Man, which Fender had preferred over the name, Tri-Sonix. In 1975, after a lot of funding, Leo Fender became the company's president. The StingRay bass was an innovative early instrument, being the first production bass with active electronics. In 1979, Leo Fender joined old friends George Fullerton and Dale Hyatt to form a new company called G&L (George & Leo) Musical Products. G&L guitar designs tended to lean heavily upon the looks of Fender's original guitars. In 1979, Fender's wife Esther died of cancer. He remarried in 1980 to Phyllis Fender. On March 21, 1991, he died, having long suffered from Parkinson's disease. In 2009 he was posthumously awarded a Technical Grammy Award.

The Music History Calendar is written by the Blues Rock artist Marshland Pete
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