The Electric Guitar

Clarence was born in 1909 in California. He became blind in one eye when he developed a tumor and had his eye removed. He had an early interest in music but switched his interests to electronics. He became a tinkerer when his uncle sent him a box of discarded electronic parts from his automotive shop. His uncle inspired him to start a radio repair shop in his parents’ home.

While Clarence earned an accounting degree in college, he never stopped tinkering with electronics. It was a local band leader who changed Clarence’s life journey. He was asked to build public address systems to be used in dances. In the meantime, Clarence’s career as an accountant was floundering as he was laid off from two jobs due to the depressions.

Clarence borrowed $600 and started a radio repair shop. But it was public address systems that became the main source of revenue. Musicians also asked him if he could “amp up” the acoustic guitars they were using.

Clarence started dabbling in the amplification of guitars. When music tastes changed, there was a need for louder guitars which were affordable for musicians playing in road houses and dance halls.

Electric guitars had been developed, but were considered a novelty item. The electric guitars at the time were difficult to hold, tune, and play. They also had feedback problems. Clarence decided to design a better guitar. His first electric guitar became an instant hit with country and western musicians and became one of the most popular electric guitars of all times.

Clarence continued to develop electric guitars which gave musicians more options in the music they played. His guitars became the iconic choice of such performers as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Clarence (Leo) Fender died in 1991 from Parkinson’s disease. A year later he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Eighteen years after his death, he was awarded a Grammy for technical achievement. Leo Fender never learned to play the guitars he invented.

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“A guitar is like an old friend that is there with me.”– B. B. King


*Dedicated to Greg and Carla Short: guitar heroes


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