Kris’s Blog: The Tools of The Trade

They say a bad workman blames his tools, but what about good

workmen? Are they noted on the accomplishments of their tools, or

is the workman praised for his good work? Usually, it is of course

the latter… but let’s stop and think for a moment. Sure, you could

argue that a true artist could create with whatever tools you equip

them with, but it must be noted that a lot of art simply couldn’t

have come into existence without the creation of some incredibly

diverse and revolutionary tools.

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Picture a guitar in your mind, what do you see? Chances are almost

certain that whoever you are; you’re picturing a Fender Stratocaster

– whether you know what that means or not. The Fender Strat is an

icon. It’s genesis. It’s the wheel, Thomas Edison’s light bulb, the

Roman road, the path of popular culture and the undefeated

heavyweight champion of rock and roll.

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Today we remember a legend. This day, March 21st, marks the 25th

anniversary of the passing of inventor, pioneer, and musical

instrument maker, Leo Fender. It’s hard to put into words what the

Fender Strat actually means, to put it as simply as possible – back

in the 50’s the electric guitar was a relatively new and wild concept.

In terms of electric guitar manufacturers, there were only a couple

of kids on the block – Gibson, Rickenbacker, Hofner, and Epiphone.

An instrument is a tool in which we use to create music, and in

these early days, the tools offered by these companies were the

work of true artisans. Gibson for example used the highest quality

of woods for their guitars, were hand put together by no more than

just a couple of people, had beautifully carved arched tops, with

necks set into their bodies, all glued meticulously in place… I could

go on. Basically – they were works of art unto themselves. They

took a lot of work to produce – and therefore fetched a handsome

price tag which many simply could not afford.

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Leo Fender was formally an electrician and repairman, with a

childlike passion and enthusiasm for taking things apart and putting

them back together. He started off with his own company building

radios, and would also repair guitar amps made by Rickenbacker.

His philosophy of “the design of each element should be thought out

in order to be easy to make and easy to repair… if something is

easy to repair – it’s easy to construct” led him on to reinventing the

tools of modern music to be available to the masses.

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The first Fender guitar shape (which today we know as the

Telecaster) was literally a plank of wood cut to shape, a bunch of

components wired together, and a neck bolted on with a few

screws. All of a sudden, rather than a master craftsman being the

one building the guitars, we had low level machine operators

knocking out guitars on a production line in a fraction of the time of

Gibson, at a fraction of the cost, which meant for the consumer – a

brand new guitar for the fraction of the price than anything else on

the market.

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The Fender Stratocaster has been at the forefront of popular music

since it’s inception, with players throughout the decades favouring

the Strat such as Buddy Holly, Dick Dale, Jimi Hendrix, George

Harrison, Eric Clapton, David Gilmore, Mark Knopfler, Eddie Van

Halen, Lindsey Buckingham, John Frusciante… the list is never

ending. The evidence of Leo Fenders legacy echoes on every album,

in every musical genre, of every decade, for over a half a century.

To say that he had a huge impact on popular culture would be an

understatement, think of every big band since the 50’s, every

classic song, every number one hit, every rock star, every timeless

moment in music, the Fender Strat was there, paving the way.

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Thanks Leo for giving us the tools, it’s scary to think of how

different the face of music would be without you… as Winston

Churchill famously said; “give us the tools, and we shall finish the

job.”