Today’s Catch is a fascinating guitar that combines Leo Fender’s love of country music with his engineering ingenuity, and was built at a time when when country, western and rock and roll were starting to merge into a whole new sound on the west coast.
Leo and the Fender company had deep roots in country music; the earliest Fender instruments (K&F steels) of the 1940’s were certainly aimed at western musicians, and Bob Wills’ guitarist Eldon Shamblin received one of the earliest Stratocasters (a nifty gold painted one, no less) in May of 1954. Even though Fender instruments are known for their twang and treble clarity, that didn’t stop them from taking a massive place well beyond country music- urban blues masters, rockabillies, and rock ‘n’n roll pioneers of all stripes were early to adapt these radical instruments to their guitar of choice.
By the time of this string bending prototype, Leo Fender had sold his company to CBS, although he remained onboard as a consultant until around 1967. Leo was experiencing health problems around the time of the CBS sale, so it’s unclear if this instrument was something he worked on before or after the health scare. It’s also unclear whether Leo’s string bender was designed before or after the Parsons-White B-Bender, which was realized in late ’65. Perhaps Leo was intrigued with the Parsons-White bender (which was installed into a Telecaster) and applied his mind to a variation. Perhaps the corporate mentality of CBS found this design too radical, and realized that Fender’s true bread and butter market was in rock n roll, and that a mechanical twang device wasn’t gonna catch on. It’s interesting to think that, if a mass marketed string bender were easily available, if it would have made an impact on the then-developing country rock scene that was in full bloom by the end of the 1960’s.
Whatever the story, this fascinating instrument is the guitar equivalent of an artist’s sketchbook. Leo’s pencil marks are still visible. It’s also intriguing that the body is that of a short-scale Musicmaster, mated with a long scale Coronado style neck. In all, this is a very unique, one of a kind instrument that was touched by the hands of the master solid body electric designer. If you like to add this guitar to your collection, it is priced at $15,000 at Gruhn Guitars.
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