Hal Leonard Books is proud to announce The Fender Archives by Tom Wheeler. In his introduction, Tom describes this unique book which looks at the company from the inside out. Featuring handwritten letters, production totals, personal logbooks, in-house memos, and much more, The Fender Archives tells the Fender story like never before.
At the Heart of American Music
Welcome to The Fender Archives. You are invited along on a research expedition, a sort of archeological dig through several sites: well-organized file folders in Fender’s Scottsdale, Arizona, headquarters; the family archives of Don Randall; author/curator Richard Smith’s extensive collections at the Fullerton Museum Center and Fullerton Public Library; the photo galleries of John Peden and Fretted Americana; jammed-to-the-brim metal cabinets in a sweltering Fender warehouse near the Corona factory; and the sunny, art-filled home of the late Bob Perine in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, just blocks from the beach where he and Ned Jacoby took now-iconic photos of clean-cut high-school kids, surfboards, palm trees, and chrome-clad rocketship guitars in Shoreline Gold and Daphne Blue and Candy Apple Red.
This book is part history, part archive, part scrapbook, and for some of us, part treasure chest. In a few cases I offer reconsiderations of familiar topics—the origin of the Telecaster, the iconic imagery of Fender’s mid-’60s promo literature, the dark age of CBS, etc.—but for the most part I resisted the temptation to launch into explanations of facts and perceptions I’ve already shared, and others have shared, in numerous books and magazines. I wrote many articles about Fender during my fourteen years at Guitar Player (the Stratocaster alone received a three-installment series and a mult-part cover story, as well as columns by Robb Lawrence, George Gruhn, and others). I had already written extensively about the Fullerton company in The Guitar Book and American Guitars before tackling lengthy hardcover books devoted exclusively to Fender: The Stratocaster Chronicles (280 pages, 225 photos); The Soul of Tone: Celebrating 60 Years of Fender Amps (512 pages, 430 photos), and The Dream Factory: Fender Custom Shop (592 pages, 600 photos).
So the aim here is not to introduce Fender but rather to revisit it, to go behind now-familiar facts, images, and assumptions and shed new light on the inspirations for these revolutionary instruments and amplifiers, their sometimes difficult births and growing pains, the environment into which they were unleashed upon the world, and the motivations and personalities of key players.
Aside from celebrating the amps and guitars that separated the company from its rivals, The Fender Archives looks at the company from the inside out. Leo Fender’s drawing-board sketches and his penciled notations analyzing the costs of his guitars’ every screw and string ferrule, Don Randall’s revealing handwritten letters imploring Leo to evolve prototypes into production models, Freddie Tavares’ hyper-detailed personal logbooks, in-house memos, and financial reports—such documents are freed here from long confinement in steel-gray filing cabinets and nearly forgotten cardboard boxes, dusted off, and promoted from background to spotlight.
Other items include historic patents, memos debating marketing strategies and product design, a 1946 contract setting up Leo Fender’s first distributorship, and a 1964 report from investment consultants to CBS recommending that while the famed guitar company would be a promising acquisition, Leo Fender himself should be nudged aside in favor of a new breed of buttoned-down corporate managers. Never intended to see the light of day, these documents provide new frames of reference. Several are supplemented with excerpts from my interviews with past and current Fender employees and also with Doc Kauffman, Merle Travis, Ted McCarty, and others.
As Fender CEO Larry Thomas says in these pages: “Fender, it’s not about the guitar. It’s about the music. The guitar helps you to get there; it’s about the emotional connection. Fender is at the heart of American music.” Indeed, Fender is more than a brand. The name conjures an edgy, fuel-injected attitude toward creating and performing music that was born in the late 1940s in small-town Fullerton, California, a place of orange groves and oil wells where Hawaiian music met country, and Western met swing.
In the surrounding metro community, America’s post-war economy was being invigorated by the roll-up-your-sleeves, can-do attitudes of returning World War II G.I.s; the mechanical intuition of suburban toolshed tinkerers; and the brainy enthusiasm of aerospace engineers in horn-rims and short- sleeved shirts communing with their slide rules and looking toward the moon. It was the site of America’s first commercial drag strip, and a place where Detroit auto designers came to tap into the hotrod/speedway esthetic when dreaming up what came to be called muscle cars. Like other American cities, Fullerton felt the comfort of “I Like Ike” and Father Knows Best morphing into the zing and zest of Camelot and Carnaby Street; it felt the rock-ribbed red, white, and blue traditions of thrift and economy merging with the fashion and futurism of a Jet Age rapidly
evolving into a Space Age. It was Southern California, a state of mind as much as a geographical location, home to Hollywood, West Coast Cool, the Magic Kingdom, and Tomorrowland. The sun, surf, and tire-smoking hotrod vibe fueled its own twist on a nationwide phenomenon, as pop met a feisty blend of roadhouse blues and hillbilly bop soon to be dubbed “rock and roll.”
Thrown together by the fates, aspects of these seemingly random, combustible elements would tangle and mingle at the Fender flashpoint, ultimately igniting new musical styles, new attitudes, and new cultures across Orange County, across America, across the world. It all happened in ways no one could have predicted.
History, chronicle, scrapbook—perhaps in some way The Fender Archives is also part memoir. While readers of any of my books will get a hint of my perspectives and tastes, this one is more intimate. It reflects more of my personal experience with Fender instruments, a reimagining of musical possibilities during my own formative years, and my scores of conversations with the people who founded the company, resurrected it, and carry it forward.
Many of my tastes and viewpoints are shared by the global guitar community, of course—we revere our Telecasters and Deluxe Reverbs—but the emphasis here on, say, early and mid-’60s Fender lore admittedly reflects one impressionable teenager’s fascination with a world of gleaming, swoop-body guitars and a distant Southern California as evoked by visionary marketers and an arty photographer with photogenic daughters, a bitchin’ T-Bird convertible, and ready access to the beach.
I approached my previous books the way any historian works, sifting and prioritizing facts and attempting to provide context. I’ve done the same here, while also acting as a sort of museum curator—selecting and arranging artifacts so as to let them speak for themselves, sometimes emphatically. In addition to text and photos, dozens of artifacts are embraced here in envelopes and sleeves, some chosen for historical value, others for dazzle, nostalgia, or sheer fun. A note on organization: the Table of Contents is merely a listing of major topics; dozens of subtopics are scattered throughout in scrapbook fashion.
I believe that taken together, these bits and pieces reveal new insights into what Leo Fender and his colleagues and descendants contributed and continue to contribute to guitar, to music, and to world culture. Putting this book together revealed many new insights for me while evoking a flood of memories. Perhaps it will do the same for you.