It was 1950. The Korean War had just begun, the comic strip Peanuts was first published by Charles Shultz, there was a failed assassination attempt by two Puerto Rican nationals on President Harry S. Truman’s life, and “Goodnight Irene” by Gordon Jenkins & The Weavers was #1 on the Billboard charts.
At the same time, musicians and guitar builders were wondering about the possibilities of a solid body instrument that would allow for louder playing without the feedback produced by amplifying a hollowbodied guitar. It would also be cheaper to make. In early 1950, Fender began production of such an instrument in a small steel building in Fullerton, CA.
The Fender Broadcaster
By November, the guitar had a truss rod, 2 pickups, and a name: The Fender Broadcaster. Leo Fender’s new solid body guitar, that we now know as the telecaster, was the world’s first commercially successful solid body electric guitar, and it changed the look and sound of modern music as we now know it.
“The design of each element should be thought out in order to be easy to make and easy to repair.”
– Leo Fender
Fender debuted the Broadcaster in Chicago at the at the 1950 NAMM show. It had a single cut body made from a solid slab of ash and came with a bolt on maple neck. Its yellowish color was called “blonde” and it featured a single ply solid black pickguard. While today it’s viewed as one of the most traditional designs of all time, in 1950, it was way ahead of its time and considered to be radical.
In fact, the guitar was so radical that it is reported to have been the laughing stock of the 1950 NAMM show.
A competing guitar maker’s salesmen called it Leo’s “canoe paddle,” claiming it would never catch on with musicians… and boy, were they wrong!
A few months after the broadcaster was introduced, a telegram arrived from the Fred Gretsch Company, informing Fender that they owned a trademark registration for the name “BroadKaster.” This telegram ended Fender’s use of the Broadcaster name.
It is believed that only 250 original broadcaster models were ever produced, which has made them highly collectible in the vintage market.
From Fender Nocaster to Fender Telecaster
That didn’t spell the end for the guitar itself, though. Fender realized that the guitar just needed a new name. In the time it took to find a new name, the word “broadcaster” was simply clipped off the headstock decal. These guitars, dubbed “nocasters” by collectors and historians, are also an important part of broadcaster lore.
In 1951, the guitar was re-named “telecaster” by a man named Don Randall. Don began working with Leo Fender in 1946, and it was he who navigated the urgency of the Broadcaster-to-Telecaster transition and made history in the process.
Don also is credited in the naming of the, stratocaster, bassman, twin reverb, and nearly every guitar and amp of Fender’s early “golden age.” It is his sales and marketing energy that pushed the brand forward and provided the driving “yin” to Leo’s inventive, yet methodical, “yang.”
As they say, the rest is history, and the telecaster is to this day still one of the most-used guitars in all of modern music. Over the years, the telecaster’s design has been relatively unchanged, and no matter how much the music around us changes, it’s still just as relevant as ever. For the past 70 years, it’s been the secret weapon for players and studio engineers of all styles of music., and it’s one of my personal favorite guitars of all time. So from me and all the other tele lovers out there, I want to say thank you fender, and thank you Leo… my world simply wouldn’t be the same without you.