Fender Introduces the Broadcaster Guitar

With the introduction of the first commercially manufactured, solid-body electric guitar, the Broadcaster (renamed the Telecaster two years later), Leo Fender revolutionized the guitar industry and changed the face of popular music.

Summary of Event

Between 1931 and 1937, approximately twenty-seven hundred electric guitars and amplifiers were sold in the United States. The Electro String Instrument Company Electro String Instrument Company , run by Adolph Rickenbacker Rickenbacker, Adolph and his designer partners, George Beauchamp Beauchamp, George and Paul Barth Barth, Paul , produced two of the first commercially manufactured electric guitars—the Rickenbacker A-22 and A-25—in 1931. The Rickenbacker models were what are known as “lap steel,” or Hawaiian, guitars. A Hawaiian guitar is played with the instrument laying flat across a guitarist’s knees. By the mid-1930’s, the Gibson company Gibson company had introduced an electric Spanish guitar, the ES-150. Legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Christian made this model famous while playing for Benny Goodman’s orchestra. Guitars, electric
Telecaster guitar
Music;electrified instruments
Broadcaster guitar
Fender Electric Instruments Company
[kw]Fender Introduces the Broadcaster Guitar (1948)
[kw]Broadcaster Guitar, Fender Introduces the (1948)
[kw]Guitar, Fender Introduces the Broadcaster (1948)
Guitars, electric
Telecaster guitar
Music;electrified instruments
Broadcaster guitar
Fender Electric Instruments Company
[g]North America;1948: Fender Introduces the Broadcaster Guitar[02220]
[g]United States;1948: Fender Introduces the Broadcaster Guitar[02220]
[c]Music;1948: Fender Introduces the Broadcaster Guitar[02220]
[c]Science and technology;1948: Fender Introduces the Broadcaster Guitar[02220]
[c]Manufacturing and industry;1948: Fender Introduces the Broadcaster Guitar[02220]
Fender, Leo
Paul, Les
Christian, Charlie
Walker, T-Bone

Christian was the first electric guitarist to be heard by a large American audience. He became an inspiration for future electric guitarists, because he proved that the electric guitar could have its own unique solo sound. Along with Christian, the other electric-guitar figures who put the instrument on the musical map were blues guitarist T-Bone Walker, guitarist and inventor Les Paul, and engineer and inventor Leo Fender.

The first electrical pickups used on a guitar can be traced back to the 1920’s and the efforts of Lloyd Loar Loar, Lloyd , but there was not yet strong interest on the part of the American public for the guitar to be amplified. The public did not become intrigued until the 1930’s. Christian’s electric guitar performances in Goodman’s band woke up the public to the potential of this new and exciting sound. It was not until the 1950’s, though, that the electric guitar became firmly established. Leo Fender would turn out to be the right man in the right place at the right time. He could not have known that his Fender guitars would help usher in a whole new musical landscape.

Early electric guitars were really no more than acoustic guitars with one or more pickups, which convert string vibrations to electrical signals that can be played through a speaker. That is, they were standard, hollow-bodied guitars with built-in devices for amplifying acoustically produced sounds. Amplification of a guitar made it a more assertive musical instrument. The electrification of the guitar ultimately would make it more flexible, giving it a more prominent role in popular music.

Les Paul, always a compulsive inventor, began experimenting with ways of producing an electric solid-body guitar in the late 1930’s. A solid-body guitar makes almost no sound independent of electrical power: It uses strings as a means of input into an electrical sound-producing system, rather than simply amplifying pre-existing sound produced by the acoustic body of the guitar. In 1929, at the age of thirteen, Paul had amplified his first acoustic guitar. Another influential inventor of the 1940’s, Paul Bigsby, built a prototype solid-body guitar for country music star Merle Travis in 1947. It was Leo Fender, however, who revolutionized the electric guitar industry by producing the first commercially viable, solid-body electric guitar, the Broadcaster, in 1948.

Leo Fender was born in the Anaheim, California, area in 1909. As a teenager, he began to build and repair guitars. By the 1930’s, Fender was building and renting out public-address systems for group gatherings. In 1937, after short tenures of employment with the Division of Highways and the U.S. Tire Company, he opened a radio repair company in Fullerton, California. Always looking to expand and invent new and exciting electrical gadgets, Fender and Clayton Orr “Doc” Kauffman Kauffman, Clayton Orr started the K & F Company K & F Company[K and F Company] in 1944. Kauffman was a musician and a former employee of the Electro String Instrument Company. The K & F Company lasted until 1946 and produced steel guitars and amplifiers. After that partnership ended, Fender founded the Fender Electric Instruments Company.

With the help of George Fullerton, who joined the company in 1948, Fender developed the Fender Broadcaster. The body of the Broadcaster was made of a solid plank of ash wood. The corners of the ash body were rounded, and it was joined to a solid maple neck. There was a cutaway located under the joint with the neck, making it easier for the guitarist to access the higher frets. The neck was bolted to the body of the guitar, which was unusual, since most guitar necks prior to the Broadcaster had been glued to the body. Frets were positioned directly into designed cuts made in the maple of the neck. The guitar had two pickups.

The Fender Electric Instruments Company made fewer than one thousand Broadcasters. In 1950, the name of the guitar was changed from the Broadcaster to the Telecaster, as the Gretsch company had already registered the name Broadcaster for some of its drums and banjos. Fender decided not to fight in court over use of the name.

Fender has been called the Henry Ford of the solid-body electric guitar, and the Telecaster became known as the Model T of the industry. The early Telecasters sold for $189.50. Besides being relatively inexpensive, the Telecaster was a very durable instrument. Basically, the Telecaster was a continuation of the Broadcaster. Fender filed for a patent on its unique bridge pickup on January 13, 1950, and he filed for a patent on the Telecaster’s unique body shape on April 3, 1951.

In the music industry during the late 1940’s, it was important for a company to unveil new instruments at trade shows. At this time, there was only one important trade show, sponsored by the National Association of Music Merchants. The Broadcaster was first shown to the industry at the 1948 trade show in Chicago. The industry had seen nothing like this guitar before. The new guitar was the first that existed only to be amplified; it was not merely an acoustic guitar with amplification added.


The Telecaster, as it would be called after 1950, remained in continuous production for more years than any other guitar of its type and was one of the industry’s best sellers. From the beginning, it looked and sounded unique. Electrified acoustic guitars had a mellow woody tone, whereas the Telecaster had a clean twangy tone. This tone made it popular with country and blues guitarists. The Telecaster could also be played at a higher volume than previous electric guitars.

Because Leo Fender attempted something revolutionary by introducing an electric solid-body guitar, there was no guarantee that his business venture would succeed. Fender Electric Instruments Company had fifteen employees in 1947. At times during the early years of the company, it looked as though Fender’s dreams would not come to fruition, but the company persevered and grew. Between 1948 and 1955, with an increase of employees, the company was able to produce ten thousand Broadcaster/Telecaster guitars. Fender had taken a big risk, but it paid off enormously. Between 1958 and the mid-1970’s, Fender produced more than 250,000 Telecasters. Other guitar manufacturers were placed in the position of having to catch up. Fender had succeeded in developing a process by which electric solid-body guitars could be manufactured profitably on a large scale.

Since the electric guitar was the newest member of the family of guitars, it took some time for musical audiences to appreciate fully what it could do. The electric solid-body guitar has been called a dangerous, uncivilized instrument. The youth culture of the 1950’s found in this new guitar a voice for their rebellion. Fender unleashed a revolution not only in the construction of a guitar but also in the way popular music would be approached henceforth.

Always interested in finding new ways of designing a more nearly perfect guitar, Leo Fender again came up with a remarkable guitar in 1954, with the Stratocaster Stratocaster guitar . There was talk in the guitar industry that Fender had gone too far with the introduction of the Stratocaster, but it became a huge success because of its versatility. It was the first commercial solid-body electric guitar to have three pickups and a vibrato bar. It was also easier to play than the Telecaster because of its double cutaway, contoured body and scooped back. The Stratocaster sold for $249.50. The Stratocaster has undergone some minor changes, but Fender and his staff basically got it right the first time: It has remained popular since its introduction.

In 1951, Leo Fender introduced another revolutionary guitar, the Precision bass Precision bass guitar . At a cost of $195.50, the first electric bass would go on to dominate the market. The Fender company has manufactured numerous guitar models over the years, but the three that stand above all others in the field are the Telecaster, the Precision bass, and the Stratocaster. The Telecaster is considered to be more of a workhorse, whereas the Stratocaster is thought of as the thoroughbred of electric guitars. The Precision bass was in its own right a revolutionary guitar. With a styling that had been copied from the Telecaster, the Precision freed musicians from bulky oversized acoustic basses, which were prone to feedback. The name Precision had meaning. Fender’s electric bass made possible, with its frets, the precise playing of notes; many acoustic basses were fretless.

The marriage between rock music and solid-body electric guitars was initiated by the Fender guitars. The Telecaster, Precision bass, and Stratocaster become synonymous with the explosive character of rock and roll music. The multi-billion-dollar music business can point to Fender as the pragmatic visionary who put the solid-body electric guitar at the forefront of the musical scene. His innovative guitars have been used by some of the most important guitarists of the rock era, including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck. Fender guitars have also remained best sellers with the public worldwide. Amateur musicians purchased them by the thousands for their own entertainment. A large market for sheet music from rock artists also developed, partly as a result of the availability of affordable electric instruments such as Fender’s.

In 1992, Fender was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is one of the few nonmusicians ever to be inducted. The sound of an electric guitar is the sound of exuberance, and since the Broadcaster was first unveiled in 1948, that sound has grown to be pervasive and enormously profitable. Guitars, electric
Telecaster guitar
Music;electrified instruments
Broadcaster guitar
Fender Electric Instruments Company

Further Reading

  • Bacon, Tony. “Electric Guitar.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, edited by Stanley Sadie. New York: Grove’s Dictionaries of Music, 1984. A concise yet thorough discussion of the technology and the history of the electric guitar. Bacon is definitely an expert on the subject, and anyone wanting a solid starting point would be hard pressed to find anything better than this article. A short bibliography is included.
  • Bacon, Tony, and Paul Day. The Fender Book. San Francisco: GPI Books, 1992. A one-of-a-kind book that tells the complete history of Fender’s electric guitars. In addition to a chapter on the history of the Fender company and the life of Leo Fender, the book includes a reference listing of all electric models up to 1992, a chronology of models, and a directory of guitars. Lavishly illustrated with pictures of all guitar models produced by Fender. The production dates of certain models, such as the Broadcaster, differ from what the majority of other secondary sources state, but on the whole this is an indispensable source.
  • Brosnac, Donald, ed. Guitars Made by the Fender Company. Westport, Conn.: Bold Strummer, 1986. More a pamphlet than a book, this source is a detailed history of the Fender guitars. This source will probably be found only in academic music libraries, but anyone willing to search it out will not be disappointed.
  • Evans, Tom, and Mary Anne Evans. “The Electric Guitar.” In Guitars: Music, History, Construction, and the Players from the Renaissance to Rock. New York: Facts on File, 1977. A splendid historical overview of the electric guitar from the pre-rock era through to its prominence in 1960’s and 1970’s rock music. Filled with wonderful photographs of numerous guitars and the guitarists who played them.
  • Murray, Charles Shaar. “Electrifying Music.” In The Marshall Cavendish History of Popular Music. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1990. A fine overview of how the electric guitar changed popular music and Leo Fender’s role in those changes.
  • Roberts, Jim. How the Fender Bass Changed the World. San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2001. Study of the Fender Precision Bass and its contribution to the evolution of rock, jazz, and other popular electical music. Bibliographic references and index.
  • Smith, Richard R. Fender: The Sound Heard ’Round the World. Milwaukee, Wis.: H. Leonard, 2003. Comprehensive, illustrated study of Fender’s guitars, their design, history, and effects upon popular music. Index.
  • Wheeler, Tom. American Guitars: An Illustrated History. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. All the major guitar companies are included. The section on Fender is complete and includes an interview with Leo Fender. One of the best sources of its kind.
  • _______. “Electric Guitars.” In The Guitar Book: A Handbook for Electric and Acoustic Guitarists. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. A solid source that is good at explaining the early years of both Fender and Gibson guitars.

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