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Leo Fender 100th Birthday Anniversary

Leo Fender
Clarence Leonidas Fender (August 10, 1909 – March 21, 1991), was a Greek-American inventor who founded Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, now known as Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. After selling Fender Instrument in 1965 to the CBS Corporation, he later founded MusicMan and G&L Musical Products (G&L Guitars). His guitar, bass, and amplifier designs from the 1950s continue to dominate popular music more than half a century later. Many other guitar and amplifier companies have used Fender instruments as the foundation of their products.

Leo Fender is often cited as one of the most influential figures in the development of electric instruments in the 20th century. August 10, 2009 is the 100th anniversary of his birth. He died in 1991 and is survived by his second wife, Phyllis Fender.

Leo Fender’s enormous effect on music worldwide is simple to describe — music simply would not sound the way it does today without him. His revered classics of design; the Telecaster®, Stratocaster®, Precision Bass® and Jazz Bass® guitars changed the way that music was performed and recorded by the entire world.

It’s difficult to overstate Mr. Fender’s impact on the music industry. Leo altered the look, the sound, and the personality of music around the world. Yet, it would be hard to imagine a man of more common appearance or one more modest and unassuming. Long time Fender employee, the late Freddie Tavares said, “He never wore any kind of clothes that you’d expect a person in his position to wear. People didn’t have the slightest idea he was any kind of a wheel. I would have to point him out to someone who didn’t know him. ‘See that man over there? He owns everything.”

Leo Fender never drank nor smoked and, outside of his work, had few close friends. He had no children. “His guitars and amps, those were his kids” one associate is quoted as saying about him. He was described by more than one person as something of a recluse. While he dabbled in photography, liked to play pinochle, and owned an expensive boat, his only true hobby, perhaps his obsession, was his work. He was a man of few words. He did not play guitar.

Yet the world of guitars owes everything to the contributions of one man, Leo Fender. Happy 100th Birthday Mr. Fender. We all celebrate your life and will for another 100 years to come.

Intro to DIY Amp Building 101

champ-chartLike most TDPRI members I have learned a ton of stuff here (I’ve even learned how to fend off zombie attacks, believe it or not). However, one of the most valuable things I have learned from the forum is how to build my own amps. 

No matter our playing level, we all appreciate the electric guitar—especially Telecasters—and at the end of the day we like to plug into something that makes them sound great. As with all guitar gear, our decisions usually fall into two categories. The first is; will it give me that elusive tone I’m looking for and the second; can I save a few bucks and still get that sound? 

One of the best ways you can save money and still own a customized, hand wired tube amp is to build it yourself. I know what you’re thinking; Whoa, schematics look like Chinese take-out menus to me! Well, my answer is: if a numskull like myself can build my own amps, then ANYONE can.

Some TDPRI members are electrical engineers, some are amp repairmen, and some are untrained but have lifelong experience with amp building. The rest of us, including myself, are none of the above. When I stumbled across TDPRI I didn’t know much and still don’t. But, like most guitar players, I am obsessed with guitar gear. One week I was posting about an old ’70s Fender Champ Amp I just bought and how it needed some servicing. As the week progressed many TDPers gave me the confidence, knowledge, and internet resources to repair the amp myself to save money. As I considered replacing aging capacitors and looked at a few old hand drawn Fender Champ amp layouts—since I couldn’t read schematics, I thought “I bet I could just build one of these for half the price of buying one!”

Naturally, for a guy without any amp repair/building experience, the hardest part was just jumping in and doing it. And, the experienced guys on the forum constantly reminded me that amps have high voltages, even when turned off or unplugged and can shock or even kill. This, of course, scared the hell out of me. This is not to say they discouraged my desire to build my own amp. But, with a great deal of patience and kindness, fellow TDPRI members helped educate me on the basics of safety and amp building.

Fast forward several years, and here I am – sitting in my home studio with over a dozen amps and speaker cabinets I built for myself. I still don’t have an electrical engineering degree, I am awful at woodworking, I’m still not the sharpest tool in the shed, and I have had some speed bumps in the learning process. The one thing I do have (other than too many amps and too little room to store them) is proof that it can be done by anyone.

It is my hope that with this and future articles I can give you some confidence and motivation to start down the road to building your own great homemade amp (or amps).

In future articles I will be discussing safety concerns and a few of the basics, later articles may discuss footswitching relays and other atypical aspects of amp building.  In the meantime, visit the Shock Brother’s DIY Amps forum here on TDPRI to get a feel for the subject at hand.

Until next time: keep soldering!

Recording The Sound of Yesterday Today!

My first experience in a studio was at my Dad’s place in Farmington N.H. back in 1972. I knew I  liked recording from a very early age. Things were pretty cool back in them days for a 13 year old guitarist. Dick Wagner was slamming out guitar licks on Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out” and Richie Blackmore was laying down the quintessential guitar players anthem “Smoke On The Water.”

The 70’s had some ground breaking music indeed and that was a great time to be learning guitar. That trip to Dad’s studio left a big impression on this kid. I wanted…  I needed to own a studio someday. I started thinking of the importance of writing original music and the desire to hear it on tape.

I bought some studio time at Tom Rowe’s studio in Auburn, ME. Tom was the bassist for the internationally acclaimed “Schooner Fare” and he had a sweet little 8 track facility in his shed. That was where I recorded the first version of  my first original song “Better Years” when I was 16. I recall Tom suggesting a solo on acoustic before the big lead solo. Very seventy’s indeed and it was a great idea.

In 1979 while living in Kennewick, WA I recorded at the legendary Kaye Smith recording studio in Seattle. The two room studio had a pair of API consoles and a Studor 24 track tape machine. Heart recorded “Barracuda” on the same console we used in studio B. That was my first taste of the big time recording machines. The sound we got was incredible. The Ampex 2 inch tape was expensive as hell and we barely had enough money to record the 2 songs we wrote.

In the 80’s like most other musicians I had various 4 track cassette recorders. I spent endless hours noodling away with my guitar and my brain’s third hemisphere that old tape machine. I went through a lot of girlfriends back then they didn’t appreciate the competition for my time I guess?

1985 I signed a recording contract with Brighton Road Productions a small artist management company run by my good friend Russell Whitaker. Russell built a studio in Austin Texas and later moved it up to Dallas. He named it The “Dallas Sound Lab” and it is still there. The name has changed to “Media Tech Institute” and the facility doubles as a school for the recording arts and sciences.

Russell and I became great friends over the years and I recorded several albums at his studio. Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Pantera have all recorded there and the list goes on and on. Tim Kimsey engineered a lot of my music and his skill behind that SSL SL6056E console was an inspiration to me. In 1997 Russell asked me to come work as an engineer at the lab. How could I refuse what I had considered a dream come true. To work at a world class facility.

While working there I had the opportunity to do some fantastic and tough engineering jobs. Half time commentary with Pat Sommerall and me engineering in Dallas, producers in N.Y. and the game was in L. A. all live on a ISDN lines! Whether it was Reverend Horton Heat in studio A or Tiger Woods dad in studio D it was always something big. I remember Russ calling me after I had just left the studio and a long day of editing and saying “Get your ass back down here U2 will be here in 1 hour and your assistant engineer! Then there was the time we did ADR for a movie called Titanic.

Family obligations sent me packing and I had to move back to Maine. So I thought maybe it’s time to spend some money on a home studio? A real one that would be sonically and economically feasible. Bought a Mac G5 and Pro Tools. One of the best investments I have ever made. Been laying down tracks ever since and getting a decent sound like the big rooms.

Recording songs like “Oasis” and Waylon Jennings  “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” has been a blast. Add the fact that I can do it on my own time at home and relatively cheap. I have even had all my old 2 inch 24 track analog tapes and 24 track digital stuff converted to DVD’s so I can load em up in PT and have a modern go at them. A good example of this would be “The Cowboy Song” an old tune by The Amazing Rhythm Aces we recorded in Dallas. I used drums from 1987 and laid guitar and vocals in 2007 at home.

It’s fun recording the sound of yesterday today!

George Fullerton Part of Fender DNA

Hilton John W A Morning in Spring George and Leo

George Fullerton wasn’t a household name, but he contributed as much to modern music as just about anybody. With the massive media coverage surrounding a slew of celebrity deaths, the mainstream media overlooked the news that George Fullerton died on July 4 at age 86. But as one of those who helped put the twang in country music, it would be a travesty to overlook his passing.

Many would say that George Fullerton was an essential part of the Fender Company’s DNA. Fullerton was Leo Fender’s right-hand man during the key years of the Fender guitar company in the ’50s and ’60s. Leo Fender came up with the basic ideas for the guitar designs, but Fullerton helped refine them and figured out how to manufacture the instruments as a product most musicians could afford. If they had done nothing else, their place in music history would be sealed by creating two iconic electric guitars — the Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster models.

But George’s impact didn’t stop there. When CBS bought the company from Leo Fender it was George that helped guide them through the transition and showed them what a real Fender was. And, when Leo started up a new guitar company later it was George and Leo that made the G & L Brand (hint: George & Leo = G & L) of guitar the next great thing from Leo Fender.

George was involved in everything. But perhaps he’s best known for his impact on the design and production of the Fender Stratocaster — Leo’s iconic Rock Guitar as a follow-up to his Telecaster "Country" guitar. A guitar played by Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and many other rock legends.

It is more than amazing to think that Fender and Fullerton dreamed up those guitars and that their designs from more than 50 years ago are still embraced by so many musicians and is really the pinnacle of guitar design for going on 60 years now.

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