Vintage Vault: 1958 Fender Electric Mandolin
Fender’s electric mandolin was endorsed by leading musicians of the day, yet it never achieved the popularity of traditional Gibson acoustic mandos.
In 1956, following the success of the Telecaster, Precision Bass, and Stratocaster, Fender introduced the Electric Mandolin. The tiny solidbody had the same bolt-on neck construction as Fender’s previous offerings, along with tuners mounted on one side of the headstock. It was tuned to the same pitch as a standard mandolin, but used only four single strings, rather than four pairs. Its solitary single-coil pickup was housed in a plastic shell, and the Telecaster-style volume and tone control knobs were mounted on a gold anodized aluminum pickguard. The strings were top-loaded on the bridge plate, going over two adjustable bridge saddles.
Gibson acoustic mandolins.
Fender’s 1958 catalog enthusiastically proclaimed: “The new Fender Electric Mandolin is the most outstanding instrument of its type on today’s musical market. Its true mandolin tone and modern design features are the result of much effort on the part of Fender engineers to provide in this instrument all those features recommended by leading players.” While the electric mandolin was endorsed by Jethro Burns of Homer and Jethro, and Neil LeVang and Buddy Merrill from the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, it never achieved the popularity of traditional Gibson acoustic mandolins. It was eventually discontinued in the 1970s.
This example has one single-coil pickup in a plastic shell and Telecaster-style volume and tone knobs mounted
on a gold anodized aluminum pickguard.
The 1958 Fender Electric Mandolin pictured here has the same 3-color sunburst used by Stratocasters that year, but has an ash body (sunburst Strats had changed to alder by 1956). The body is contoured like a Stratocaster, and its one-piece 24-fret maple neck (rosewood fretboard by 1959) has a headstock also resembling a Strat. The list price when new was $169.50. The current value for this one is $2,000.
Typically Fender, the electric mandolin has a bolt-on neck along with tuners mounted on one side of the headstock.
Behind the mandolin is a 1960 Fender Champ. One 6V6 power tube pushes 5 watts through an 8" CTS speaker. Although the Champ was originally considered an entry-level student amp, high-profile rock stars like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton have found it to be a great recording tool. The amp’s list price when new was $59.50. The current value for the amp is $1,250.
Sources for this article include: Fender: The Sound Heard ’Round the World by Richard R. Smith, Fender: The Golden Age 1946-1970 by Martin Kelly, Terry Foster, and Paul Kelly, and Fender Amps: The First Fifty Years by John Teagle and John Sprung.