I remember even up until the 1960s, many jazz guitarists looked down their noses at these and told us, “When you grow up, you’ll get a real guitar,” meaning something more traditional, like a Gibson archtop.
Yeah, so Doc left and the K&F company was dissolved. Finding pieces from that time period is hard because there’s no record of how many were made and there were no advertisements for them. I do have some pictures from George Fullerton that Doc’s son gave him of the first piece that they put together, which is nothing like the ones that went into production. It’s very beautiful.
Did you get to play that original Tele that was copied for this run of instruments?
Oh, no. The story behind that guitar was that Leo was a huge stickler for not keeping prototypes around. There were two of those – the first one was cut up and the second was thrown in the trash. George pulled it out of the trash. He was young and had just started working with the company; he was a guitar player and this was his creation too! He and Leo went to little bars and shows and listened to players. Without telling them what they were up to, they asked the players what they would want in a guitar, which became the basis for their business and designs: being able to change small parts out easily and being able to easily change the neck on a guitar. There was a bit of a stigma attached to their early instruments because they weren’t craftsman pieces – they were functional instruments.
Yes, they were outside the instrument crafting tradition. This was a modernist piece of design, rather than following classical instrument-building traditions.
Exactly. So when I started researching all the K&Fs, I talked to George who was there just after Doc left, and I got as much information as I could from the closest source. Strangely, though they made guitars and amps in sets, many of the guitars still exist while most of the amps do not. I figure that the guitar is a functional piece and all you have to do is change the strings, but if you have an amp go out, it might have been easier to just go buy another amp.
Was it through the process of reproducing old gear, and speaking with George Fullerton, that you became interested in the 1940s K&F amp?
Yes, that amplifier in particular because it was so simple and because the circuit was kind of the predecessor to the Princeton, but instead of having an 8" speaker like a Princeton, it had a big, large-magnet, alnico 20-30 watt 10" speaker. This was late '44 or early '45, and these amplifiers were made from military surplus parts, so they were all different and had this unique industrial look about them. Design-wise, it wasn't made to be the prettiest thing out there - it was made to be functional.
So it was just "The K&F Amplifier" and they only made the one model?
No, see that's the thing, they made one, and we know the record shows from Doc's writing on the pictures I have, that the first one they made was beautiful! It had wooden sides, a grille cloth that was embroidered with K&F on the front, and a 15" speaker. The photo says, This is the first K&F [lap] steel, and this is the first amplifier in the U.S. with a hanging chassis and hanging tubes." Before that, everything was put on the bottom of the amplifier and the tubes all sat up.
And that amp is gone now?
Yeah, in John Sprung's book, Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years
, he wrote that this amp was made as a custom, one-off piece, and it is likely gone now, since the only pictures we have ever seen of it were the from the 1940s.
That would be a fun one to reproduce, wouldn't it?
Oh, it would be amazing. There was an article in the October 1998 issue of Guitar Player
with a 15" K&F - the style of the K&F that I am reproducing. It was the same cabinet shape, just larger, and it is the only time I have seen a 15 other than that one custom one-off piece.
So what you had was three or four amps, all without names or model numbers which were essentially prototypes
Yes, they were "if this works we will make another just like it" sort of deals. There were two basic models that you see in published pictures. One is the 8"model that looked like a little lunch box. It had one volume knob and one or two inputs, no pilot light, no fuse, and the cord coming straight out - that was it.
The other is the 10" model, which is the one I'm reproducing. It had two inputs, no fuse, no pilot light, one tone control, and either one or two volume controls, and two channels - which was something completely new. Each channel ran on one half of the input tube, which is what Fender did until the blackface era in the '60s.
It's not a large amp at only 5-6 watts. The speaker was an unknown Jensen model that had a large, plug-style alnico magnet instead of the horseshoe magnet. I am sure every example varied because the parts all varied - the knobs, transformers, everything. The transformer on the one I am reproducing was a replacement transformer right out of an Allied catalogue made by some unknown manufacturer.