IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE, LOOKING AT THIS
primitive instrument, that the world’s largest
guitar company started with such a crude prototype.
The guitar pictured here is Leo Fender’s
1943 “log”—and although it doesn’t look like
it, it’s one of the most historically significant
guitars in the entire world.
While it resembles one of Leo’s early lapsteels,
this is a standard Spanish-style guitar
with a round neck. Ergonomically, it’s a nightmare.
The small body is uncomfortable to hold,
and the pickup—with its string-through- magnet
design—makes picking difficult and palm
muting impossible. The neck itself is crudely
shaped, and the intonation seems to be an afterthought.
Despite all this, what would become
the Fender Musical Instrument Company began
Leo always maintained that this guitar was
not intended to revolutionize the world—he
merely needed an electric guitar to rent out to
Western groups around Fullerton. Fender ran
a radio repair shop, but also rented sound
equipment and other gear for local music events
Even by 1943, there were better-made solidbody
electric guitars. Rickenbacker made their
Bakelite Spanish-style solidbody “frying pan”
as early as 1936, and the wood-bodied Slingerland
Songster debuted in 1939. Leo’s prototype
was similar to these small-bodied guitars,
but much cruder in execution.
Seven years after Leo handcrafted his “log,”
the Fender Company came out with their Esquire
guitar in 1950. The pine-bodied Esquire was a
major leap forward in design, both ergonomically
and sonically. The Esquire would be renamed
the Broadcaster for a short while, eventually
becoming the renowned Telecaster in 1951.
The vaunted Tele design owed a debt to Paul
Bigsby’s solidbody guitar made for Merle Travis.
However, Paul Bigsby made expensive handcrafted
guitars one at a time, and Leo Fender
had his sights set on mass production and
affordable guitars for everybody. In a few short
years, after the company introduced the Precision
Bass and the Stratocaster, Leo Fender
had completely redefined guitar mass production,
selling guitars so quickly that all the other
companies were left in his dust.
We all have to start somewhere, as the saying
goes. This guitar sure isn’t pretty, but it
was the start of the biggest guitar revolution
the world has ever known.