Fender Broadcaster

In late 1950, the fledgling Fender Electric Instrument Company introduced the Broadcaster—a simple, but revolutionary guitar that featured a solid ash body, a maple neck attached with four wood screws, and an electronics package consisting of a pair of single-coil pickups, Volume and Tone controls, and a 3-way selector. Retailing for $169.95, the Broadcaster was the first solidbody electric that Fender made and sold in any significant number (far fewer single-pickup Esquires were built during that time), but its name only lasted until early 1951, when Gretsch pointed out its prior use of “Broadkaster” on some of its drum products. Fender initially responded by cutting the Broadcaster part off the headstock decal, leaving only the Fender logo (hence, the famous “No-Caster” series), and, eventually, changed the name to Telecaster, which was coined by the head of Fender sales, Don Randall.

This exquisite Broadcaster (serial number 0680) was completed on November 21, 1950, and is nearly 100 percent original. Its early history is incomplete, but what we do know is this: The guitar was purchased second hand in 1951 at a pawnshop in San Jose, California. The buyer—who paid $150 for it—was told that the guitar had been owned by a local country guitarist who had pawned it to cover a gambling debt. The guitar saw service for decades at family jam sessions, and, in 1979, after discovering how rare and valuable his guitar was, the owner bought a case for it and put it into storage.

The Broadcaster’s new owner says that he first encountered the instrument in 1995, at a jam session at his friend’s father’s house. He got to play it that day, and he also learned that his buddy would eventually inherit the guitar. Long story short: He purchased the Broadcaster from his friend in 2003.

When the Broadcaster arrived at our offices, we were all blown away by what we were seeing. Other than finish aging, little had changed on the guitar since the day it left the Fender factory on Pomona Avenue in Fullerton, California, some 56 years ago. Only the tuners had been replaced, and the originals (one of which had been slightly bent) were neatly packed with the guitar. Even the screws were all the original slot-head types. This relic of Fender’s past had an appropriately worn butterscotch finish, and a nice patina on all its brass, steel, and aluminum parts. The fact that it still had the original frets (as well as a nut with extremely wide slots) didn’t stop it from playing beautifully, too. Plugged into a silverface Fender Twin Reverb and a 1964 Super Reverb, the Broadcaster proved to be a real livewire, courtesy of its lively and very microphonic pickups.

The guitar sounded killer though these amps, and the vintage switching scheme was a trip. It works like this: With the switch all the way back, the Tone pot becomes a blend control for the bridge and neck pickups. Way cool, as there’s always a tiny bit of neck pickup in the mix to smooth off the edges of that insanely bright bridge unit. Move the selector to the middle setting, and you’ve got both pickups teaming up to deliver a broad, full rhythm sound. Move it all the way forward, and now you’ve got the neck pickup with a treble rolloff capacitor engaged. This setting provides the dark, muted “archtop sound” that Leo Fender felt was necessary for his new solidbody to simulate. The Broadcaster was, after all, designed to be able to handle everything from blues and country to big-band jazz.

What a treat to have a close encounter with such a historically important guitar. The Broadcaster changed everything, and to hold and play one now is to time-travel back to an era when American technology was on a rampage. Atomic energy, jet airplanes, space travel—anything seemed possible back then, and the utilitarian Broadcaster, with its lightning playability and seductive, steel-influenced sound, must have seemed almost supernatural to players of the era. No one could have anticipated the effects that such a mass-produced solidbody electric would have on modern music, but those who took the leap to own one of these newfangled things were instantly catapulted into a realm where roadmaps didn’t exist. It took Leo Fender’s pioneering spirit to make a guitar like this

possible, and it took equally forward thinking guitar players like James Burton and Roy Buchanan—and, later, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page—to figure out what to do with it. So the next time you hear some hot chicken pickin’ or some slinky string bending, give a little nod of respect to the Broadcaster. Things just wouldn’t have been the same without it.