Clarence Leonidas Fender (10 August 1909 - 21 March 1991) was an American luthier who founded Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, now known as Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, and later founded G&L Musical Products (G&L Guitars).
Born in Fullerton, California, Fender expressed an interest in electrical engineering at a young age. He built and repaired radios as a hobby while in high school. After graduating from high school in 1928, Fender attended Fullerton Junior College, where he majored in accounting.
After working as an accountant for the California Highway Department, Fender started a radio repair business, which he and Clayton "Doc" Kauffman soon expanded into the manufacture of electric steel ('Hawaiian') guitars and amplifiers. After ending business ties with Kauffman, Fender became interested in the idea of a practical, solid-bodied 'Spanish-style' electric guitar. In 1950, he and George Fullerton introduced first the Esquire and then the Broadcaster, the first standard electric guitars produced by the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company. Due to a trademark conflict with another musical instrument company (the Gretsch Broadkaster line of drums), the Broadcaster's name was quickly changed to Telecaster and perhaps the most enduring electric guitar ever was born. In 1951 Fender introduced the Precision Bass, which became the inventor's single most influential instrument. By replacing the unamplified 'stand-up' contrabass, the 'P-Bass' radically changed both the practice and the sound of pop music. This was followed quickly by the introduction in 1954 of the Stratocaster, whose modernistic styling and musical versatility made it a true cultural icon, easily the most recognizable electric guitar ever made.
Ironically Leo Fender never learned to play guitar himself (although he had played saxophone in high school) but he had close ties to the musicians' community in southern California. Therefore he could approach the electric guitar unrestrained by tradition, and bring his own vision of the instrument to the public. His method of building the guitar's neck and body separately, and then bolting them together (in guitar terminology: bolt-on neck) was far less expensive than the usual set-neck approach, and made his guitars more affordable and easier to repair than the competition's (mainly Gibson). In creating innovative and highly effective designs that could be efficiently manufactured, Leo Fender was to musical instruments in the 1950s & 60's, what Henry Ford was to the automobile in the 1920s & 30's.
Fender's business took off in the 1950s, as musicians adopted his Telecaster and Stratocaster electric guitars and the Precision Bass. He continued to design new guitars and basses such as the Jaguar, the Jazzmaster, and the Jazz Bass into the 1960s. In 1965, in ill health, Fender sold his company to CBS for US$13 million.
In the 1970s, Leo Fender made guitars and basses for Music Man. In 1979 he and old friends George Fullerton and Dale Hyatt started a new company called G&L (George & Leo, later Guitars by Leo) Musical Products. Despite suffering several minor strokes, Leo Fender continued to produce guitars and basses, earning many new patents for innovative designs in magnetic pickups, vibrato systems, neck construction, and other areas. He died in 1991 from complications due to Parkinson's disease.