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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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