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Where did you get the idea to start an amp company?
It was the K&F that got me started. Working at Fender and knowing the entire lineage, including the K&F era, which is kind of separate, it was really intriguing to see what kind of things he came up with. Because it was so rare, the K&F was really appealing to me.
How did you discover this cool original gear while at Fender?
People would come in with things that were not in regular production and would want to have things done and have items reproduced, and people would come in for repairs too. It was a nice influx of cool equipment coming in, and we would turn around and reproduce it to the best of our ability. One of the first pieces we did while I was there was the “snake-head” Tele set, the first regular Fender-style guitar that Leo built.
Doesn’t that predate the Nocaster?
Yes, in fact I think that guitar was a ‘47 or ‘48. It had a four-piece pine Telecaster-style body, two inches thick with a small, black Bakelite pickguard, volume and tone control, and one bridge pickup. The snake-head headstock was the style he was using on his K&F lap steels, so it had three-on-aside tuners, with a solid, fat, maple neck with no trussrod – he hadn’t thought about a trussrod yet! They only made a few of them, and they were made as a set with the woody Pro amp.
So, did you put trussrods in the reproductions?
No, but they are big, round, C-shaped necks, and they’re quartersawn, so they don’t move around too much.
There are actually guys who believe that necks without trussrods sound better.
This guitar is really neat-sounding because we used antique pine. One of my first jobs there was to rough-cut these old pine boards, glue them up, and plug and fill nail holes. Looking at these old-style guitars and amplifiers in comparison to what was being manufactured at the time, I saw a night and day difference. These have a style to them that nobody does any more.
This got me started thinking about K&F. If the circuit for the woody Pro was primitive, then the K&F amp circuit was even more so. The Pro had 6L6s and a push-pull output, and a 15” speaker – a field coil speaker, which we had a lot of problems with. The K&F amps didn’t use field-coils and were permanent-magnet.
Give us a little background on K&F.
It was Doc Kauffman and Leo Fender. The information on K&F varies, so I can’t give a perfect history. They started around late 1944, and ran probably to the end of ‘45 or early ‘46, then they stopped making these in mid-1946. Leo had done some really interesting things – he had designed an automatic jukebox and little P.A. systems, and he was working with his radio company. Then, he had an idea for these guitars. He started making them and it became popular enough that he needed a larger investment; Doc didn’t think he could invest in something that looked like a hillbilly guitar, and at that time, that was the type of music played on them.