I recently presented a seminar for high school students interested in becoming guitar technicians and luthiers. As you can imagine, these hungry, young minds had all kinds of preconceived
In 1943, a saxophonist named Leo made a guitar out of oak and gave it away to country music star Roy Acuff. A few years before that, Lester Polfus attached a neck to a 4x4 piece of lumber and took it to a gig at a nightclub. He later cut two sides off of an acoustic guitar and attached them to the 4x4, “so it looked like a guitar.” Lester called it “the log.” In 1948, that same man from Waukesha, Wisconsin shattered his arm in a nearly-fatal car accident, but was somehow able to get the doctor to set his arm permanently in a position conducive to guitar playing. In 1950, the saxophonist named Leo demonstrated that if a person could stand on a guitar neck placed between two chairs, it would be strong and durable enough to withstand the tension placed on it by strings.
As crazy as it may sound, these two men ended up producing not only the most popular electric guitars of all time, but in the process, became musical icons who will live throughout history. The Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster – designed by that visionary saxophonist, Leo Fender – and the Gibson Les Paul – the brainchild of Lester Polfus – are beyond what would typically be considered “industry standards.” Every beginning guitarist pines for at least one of these axes and every seasoned pro has owned several examples in his or her lifetime. As evidence of just how symbolic they’ve become, an image of a Strat is carved into Jimi Hendrix’s tombstone and Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” Stratocaster sold for nearly a million dollars at a Christie’s auction in July of 2004.
I wonder if Leo Fender or Les Paul actually thought that the likes of Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend, Robben Ford, Zakk Wylde or Joe Perry would take their creations to such great places in music and world history. So much has been written about the guitars these men produced and endorsed, yet these two inventors were just men following their passion and interest whose ideas influenced generations of guitar makers and players.
They were also good friends. A commonly told story has it that one afternoon in the early 1950s, Leo Fender, an owner of a local radio repair shop, showed up at Les Paul’s house in Los Angeles to talk about his ideas for a solidbody guitar. Leo told Les that they should form a company together, but Les told him he’d been loyal to Gibson all his life, even though Les had tried to convince Gibson to make a solidbody for ten years. Gibson even called him “the guy with the broomstick with the pickups on it.” It was after Fender’s visit that Les Paul contacted Gibson again and in a 30-hour meeting convinced them that “the log” was the future. Just imagine the guitars that would have been made through Leo and Les’ collaboration!
Shortly after their meeting, Leo Fender released the first commercial solidbody and five years later followed with the legendary Stratocaster. The Precision Bass was also released during that time. Gibson answered in 1952 with its first Les Paul model, and history was made. Interestingly enough, a Gibson solidbody with no serial number was most likely made in 1952, as Gibson didn’t use serial numbers that year. Fender had a similar faux pas while the Telecaster name was being considered, as Fender produced guitars with no name on the headstock. The resulting “Nocasters” are now sought-after collector’s items.
For more than half a century, these two men have not only influenced the style and sound of modern music; they have created symbols of human evolution. Yes, they were a bit crazy, as all inventors are, but they were also deep thinkers with fun-loving attitudes and expert craftsmanship. So as you young or inexperienced guitar technicians get started, think about these two masters and their awkward beginnings and let your passion fuel your perseverance. Ultimately, I am glad that the Les Paul model is not a Lester Polfus and that Strats are not made of oak, although the idea of bringing home the latest oak Lester Polfus to show Ma and Pa does have some sort of strange appeal.
Rick Wheeler currently works as Larry Carlton’s guitar tech and front of house engineer. He is also an accomplished jazz guitarist, vocalist, and educator. You can contact Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.
Designed for utmost comfort and performance, the Vertigo Ultra Bass is Mono’s answer to those who seek the ultimate gigging experience.
Complete with a range of game-changing design features, such as the patent-pending attachable FREERIDE Wheel System, premium water-resistant and reflective materials, shockproof shell structure and improved ergonomic features, the Vertigo Ultra Bass takes gear protection to the next level.
The Vertigo Ultra Bass features:
- Patent-pending FREERIDE Wheel System that allows for wheels to be attached on the case in no time, giving you the option to travel with it seamlessly
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- Improved ergonomics and functionality including added back support and load-lifting detachable shoulder straps with side release buckles
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Mojotone will manufacture and market over 60 of their speaker cabinets and amp kits as “Licensed by Fender.”
This partnership marks Fender's recognition of Mojotone’s dedication to its craft, quality of products, and dependability of knowledge. Beginning November 29th and ranging from $327 - $1,016.
Amplifiers were among the first products to wear the official Fender seal. A qualified electronics technician by trade, Leo Fender developed his iconic amplifiers during the mid-1940s putting innovation at the forefront. To this day, Leo’s influence and innovative spirit can still be heard in today’s amps, as that same iconic, clean Fender tone continues to color new music around the world. As a result, the process for completing the exclusive licensing deal required Fender to carefully audit Mojotone’s amplifier kits, wiring diagrams, electronics, hardware, construction methods, and more to ensure this innovation carried on through the partnership. Mojotone’s many years of intense research, quality production, and favorable reputation solidified the deal.
Mojotone has always been determined to provide its customer base with the most sought-after parts with their insider industry-knowledge. They have spent the last 25 years helping musicians recreate what they deem to be the most famous and easily-recognized tones and aesthetics in the music industry. When purchasing Mojotone products, like Fender products, customers can be assured of unmatched quality and craftsmanship.
For more information, please visit mojotone.com.