G&L Guitars: Leo Fender's Best Work
In 1938, Leo started his own radio repair shop, "Fender Radio Service." Very quickly, musicians and band leaders began commissioning PA systems. The musicians' request expanded to amplification for acoustic guitars that were beginning to emerge in big band and jazz music, and for or lap steel guitars.
Leo met an inventor and lap steel player who'd worked for Rickenbacker, and who'd been building and selling lap steel guitars for a decade. Doc Kauffman's invention, the "Vibrola" tailpiece, so impressed Leo that he asked him to form K&F Manufacturing Corporation with him. By 1945, they were selling a lap steel guitar with a pickup that Leo designed. The guitar sold with an amplifier also designed by Fender.
Small boogie-woogie, rhythm and blues, western swing, and honky-tonk bands began to replace big bands after WWII. These bands needed louder, less expensive, and more durable instruments than the amplified archtop guitars that big bands had used. Rickenbacker and Les Paul' introduced solidbody electric guitars to answer that need. Fender created the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company to make an affordable electric guitar that was easier to hold, tune, and play.
In 1950 Leo marketed the Fender Esquire (renamed Broadcaster), a thin solidbody guitar with one pickup. A year later, he marketed the Telecaster, with two single-coil pickups. In 1954, with input from musicians, Leo introduced a guitar with three single-coil pickups, individually adjustable bridge saddles, a vibrato tailpiece, a more slender neck and a double cutaway: the Stratocaster. He also introduced and later redesigned the Precision Bass and Jazz Bass.
In the 50s, Leo contracted an infection that progressively impaired his health. By 1965, he decided to sell his company to CBS. He sold the rights to his own name and signed a non-compete agreement. Under the new management, Fender moved toward higher production and the quality of theIronically, Leo changed doctors shortly after selling the company and completely recovered from his illness.
Recovered, he wanted to continue designing guitars, but no longer had a guitar company and the non-compete clause he'd signed prevented him from using his own designs as a platform for the improvements he conceived. So, he teamed wth Forrest White and Tom Walker in Tri-Sonix which later became Music Man. In 1975, Leo became president of the company.
George Fullerton, the former production chief at Fender under Leo also moved to Music Man. By 1979, George, Leo and another long-time friend, Dale Hyatt started a new company called G&L (George & Leo) Musical Products. G&L's guitars looked a lot like Teles and Strats, but had much more sophisticated tremolo systems and electronics. The same year he began with G&L, Leo lost his first wife to cancer. In 1980, Leo married Phyllis Fender.
Over the next decade, Leo continued to make innovations on guitars and basses despite suffering several minor strokes and Parkinson's disease. Knowing that his health was deteriorating, Leo and Phyllis began to look for someone who could take over the company and manage it in the same way he would. They began a conversation with John McLaren, the Chairman of BEE Sound. Leo passed away on in March 21, 1991 - the very same day he declared to Phyllis that he had given all he could to the musicians of the world.
Phyllis transferred ownership of G&L to John's company, BBE Sound. Phyllis Fender remains as Honorary Chairman of G&L as a reminder that the spirit and integrity of Leo Fender will continue on in every instrument made at G&L.
John C. McLaren said, "G&L will always be willing to make changes. Leo Fender was a symbol of change and evolution for the benefit of musicians. But for any change that is considered, we must first ask ourselves, 'Would Leo have wanted it this way?' If yes, then we do it. If not, then we will not. We always want to feel that Leo Fender would be proud of today's G&L."