At an early age, Leo Fender began dismantling and repairing radios and, in 1938, opened the Fender Radio Service in Fullerton, California. Soon musicians began coming to Leo in search of improved guitars and amplifiers. In 1943, in association with “Doc” Kauffman (who designed guitars for Rickenbacker and had invented the “Vibrola” tailpiece—a precursor to the later vibrato or “tremolo” tailpiece) they formed K & F Manufacturing.
Going solo in 1946, Leo changed the name to Fender Electric Instrument Company and specialized in lap steel guitars and amplifiers. Leo’s first successful solid body electric guitar was the Broadcaster, in 1951, with one pickup. He then added an additional pickup and renamed it the Telecaster (Tele).
In 1954, Leo introduced the Stratocaster (Strat). It featured what Fender called the Comfort Countour Body and a double cutaway solid body profile that made the high frets more accessible, and, reduced the weight
The definitive Strat sound was produced by a set of three single-coil pickups which were selected by a three-way switch. Dick Dale discovered that by wedging the selector switch between positions, two pickups could be activated at the same time for a whole new versatility in sound production. The introduction of the synchronized tremolo bridge with a “whammy bar” further enhanced the sound options.
Buddy Holly, Dick Dale, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and many other famous and well-respected musicians have used the Strat during their careers, and few would dispute that Jimi Hendrix probably did more to raise consciousness of the Strat than any other person in history.
It is amazing that a guitar invented well over 50 years ago is still one of the most popular and emulated in history. Leo was inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Country Music halls of fame. Not bad for a self-taught radio repairman that, by his own admission, “could not play a note.”