The Fender Telecaster, otherwise referred to as the Tele, is the world’s first commercially successful solid-body electric guitar. Its simple yet effective design and revolutionary sound broke ground and set trends in electric guitar manufacturing and popular music.
So it’s hard to believe, looking at this primitive instrument, that the world’s largest guitar company started with such a crude prototype. The guitar pictured here is Leo Fender’s 1943 “log”—and although it doesn’t look like it, it’s one of the most historically significant guitars in the entire world.
Leo Fender’s 1943 Prototype Electric Guitar
While it resembles one of Leo’s early lap steels, this is a standard Spanish-style guitar with a round neck. Ergonomically, it’s a nightmare. The small body is uncomfortable to hold, and the pickup—with its string-through- magnet design—makes picking difficult and palm muting impossible. The neck itself is crudely shaped, and the intonation seems to be an afterthought. Despite all this, what would become the Fender Musical Instrument Company began right here.
Fender Esquire 1st prototype in 1949 at Fender Guitar Factory museum
Seven years after Leo handcrafted his “log,” the Fender Company came out with their Esquire guitar in 1950. The pine-bodied Esquire was a major leap forward in design, both ergonomically and sonically.
This hand-built, anonymous white prototype guitar, had most of the features and aesthetic design that would become the Telecaster. It was designed in the spirit of the solid-body Hawaiian guitars manufactured by Rickenbacker.