The one that started it all

14th November 2019

An American icon, Fender was founded in Southern California and has established a worldwide influence that extends from the studio to the stage—and beyond. Nearly seven decades since founder Leo Fender built his first electric guitar, we look back to when two of the most iconic guitars conquered the music scene.

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This Fender Broadcaster guitar was made in 1950 – a year as mid-century as it gets, during which the Korean War ignited, Shirley Temple retired and TS Eliot spoke out against the new medium of television. The Cold War was at its chilliest, but the world of popular music was about to hot up with the emergence of this, the world’s first commercially successful, solid-body electric guitar – solid, because electricity had taken over from the soundboard in the role of amplifying sound. And how. For as black Americans had migrated from the rural South – taking the Blues with them – to northern cities, the big, noisy, urban music venues they found there demanded sound amplification. In 1950, Leo Fender would ride to the rescue. But as the Seven Decades pop-up at this year’s Revival made clear, this guitar was just the beginning of the story.

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This Fender Stratocaster guitar was made in 1959 – the year Che and his rebel army marched into Havana, and the Daytona International Speedway was completed. It was also known as “the year that rock ’n’ roll died”, explains collector and music aficionado Phillip Hylander. The basis for that extraordinary claim? Well, in 1959 Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, Elvis was sequestered in the US Army and Little Richard got religion (for a while at least). But this was also the year that American electric guitars – long embargoed as Britain sought to manage the balance of payments – were first imported to Britain. Hank Marvin owned one much like this, in “fiesta red”. And in just three years’ time, British bands like The Beatles would begin exporting rock ’n’ roll back to the land of its birth. Rock ’n’ roll hadn’t died, it had migrated.

This article was taken from the Autumn 2019 edition of the Goodwood Magazine.

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