Leo Fender was a radio and electronics hobbyist throughout childhood, as an adult he trained and worked in accountancy. The 1930’s came with the Great Depression leaving over 15 million Americans unemployed, including the late, great Leo Fender. His talents would have been abhorrently wasted as an accountant and so it is thankfully, due to the catastrophic economic downturn of the 1930’s Leo opened a small radio repair store in Fullerton, California.
From ’43 – ’46 Leo joined forces with Clayton “Doc” Kauffman, forming K&F Electronics, and together they designed and manufactured Hawaiian lap steels and small matching amps. In those few short years the partnership would lay the groundwork necessary for Fenders revolutionary success including the relationship with Radio-Tel Distribution with Don Randall, who was key to the Fender brand propagating across the states.
Leo started work on his first solid body electric a few years after expanding into his new Santa Fe Avenue factory in late 1949 and it was officially in production in 1950, the Telecaster quickly replaced K&F Lapsteels as the go to guitar for the hugely popular western swing scene which at the time was providing earnest cultural escapism for a nation recovering from a devastating war. Leo was never a guitarist, or a musician. To test his prototypes he had to hire local musicians; coincidentally this was also the case of Laurens Hammond who famously couldn’t play piano but was rather a clock enthusiast, but he invented the world’s first and irrefutably finest synthesizer, the Hammond organ.
A truly excellent example of Western Swing. Jimmy Bryant, arguably one of the finest Telecaster players, the superb lap steel artist Speedy West.
In 1951 Bill Carson, a firm fixture on the dancehall circuit, visited Fender’s factory in search of a telecaster and amp. As well as getting Carson the guitar, Leo convinced him to take a job with the company. Carson would test prototypes at his gigs and report back with his findings. Leo began working on the Strat in ’53 and Carson was heavily involved in the development of the prototype. Carson complained of bruising from his telecaster due to the way it dug into his rib cage whilst he played, and he famously told Leo that a guitar should fit the body “like a well-tailored shirt”. Carson had scooped out the back of his telecaster using a saw and bevelled the front edge, the results were immediately picked up by Leo and applied to the Stratocaster prototype.
It was the quintessential Fender twang that really drew attention to the Stratocaster, this was thanks to Fender’s scrupulous pickup design, he individually adjusted the height of the pole pieces for optimum balance and response, and a third pickup was added making it the most tonally versatile electric instrument to date. Freddie Tavares joined Fender in March ’53 and although it’s main features were already well formed, Tavares helped Leo to refine the strat’s curves and classic body lines which have remained unchanged ever since.
The Stratocaster gained acceptance far more steadily than the Telecaster in its early days. But it was the late 50’s that really saw the global rise of Fenders popularity. Their success was grounded in the sterling reputation of Leo Fenders unrivalled craftsmanship propelled by the ingenious marketing skills of Don Randall. Randall’s charismatic sales approach and creativity paired with photographer and wildly talented designer Bob Perine was the force behind one of the greatest sales campaigns the industry had ever seen. From ’57-’69 the iconic “you wont part with yours either” campaign firmly put Fender on the map. And the rest, as they say, is history.
We are absolutely delighted to have in store a stunning 1954 Stratocaster, the neck on this one is dated September ’54. It’s safe to say this is a pre-production model, official factory production didn’t begin until October ’54. The build is like nothing we’ve seen before, it’s incredibly resonant. During those early days Leo Fender fought against his financial partners who pushed for higher production in the Fender Factory so they could maximise profit gains. Leo refused to compromise the quality of his instruments, something that is so rare in today’s market. So if you’re wondering why particular vintage pieces are priced as they are, we can assure you it isn’t nostalgic, contrived prestige, it’s because guitars like our ’54 Stratocaster are rare, unique instruments. Even at the ripe old age of 60, it’s an absolute dream to play; it’s the real deal.
Our 1954 Stratocaster £19,995