1982 – A day with Leo Fender

Leo Fender

In 1982 I was editing the musical instruments section of “Alta Fedeltà”, a monthly hi-fi magazine of the publishers of “Motociclismo”, which had decided to devote space to played music to gather new readers. Unlike today, in the 1980s information had enough resources to send someone like me around America to gather material and fill pages. I organised a tour across the States, from New York to the West Coast, stopping wherever there was something interesting about guitars, stores, luthiers and manufacturers.

I prearranged the tour by faxing to everyone (fax machines were going big in those days) to make an appointment, including G&L in Fullerton, who sent me a positive reply: they would gladly expect me on such day at such time.

The previous day I had visited the agonizing Fender factory on Valencia Drive, where I had, however, the opportunity to have Freddie Tavares as my guide who the same night wanted to buy me a dinner at a nearby Hawaiian restaurant.

It was a memorable evening with Freddie, a kind guy, but tremendously angry with CBS management, which «was destroying the company» (and he had a point, since Fender would be facing bankruptcy very soon). On the other hand he was delighted with the recent arrival of Bill Schultz and Dan Smith, whom he knew well and regarded as highly valuable figures (and indeed they would prove so in the years to come).

Freddie loved Leo, they talked often in spite being on opposite fronts. When he heard that I would be visiting his factory the next day, he told me in confidence what I already knew: the G&Ls were innovative instruments, vastly better than the Fenders built at the time, so poor in quality and sound that had contributed to the birth of the hunt for the guitars built “when Leo was around.”

Well filled with Loco Moco and Lau Lau I returned to the hotel, where I was advised that someone from G&L had tried to get in touch with me.

When I called the next morning was put through to Dale Hyatt himself, who advised me that I would not be able to visit the factory for liability reasons. He asked if I would be content to trade the factory tour for a chat with Leo Fender.

And so it was, thanks to an unknown insurance company that had prohibited outsiders from entering the facilities, that I had the opportunity to meet a piece of music history that day.

That day I was trembling. When I parked the “Rent a Wreck” Corolla in front of the entrance I almost missed my foot, escaping from excitement and ending up in the window of the low, white building that housed G&L.

Before pushing open the door I tried to pull myself together and went inside. A few minutes after the lady at the front desk had seated me in the waiting room, placing a large cup of American coffee in my hand, that the door opened and out stepped the man without whom music would not be the same today.

Friendly smile, warm handshake, a few words of courtesy, then the legend came straight to the point: «Come let’s go over there and I’ll show you what I’m doing.»

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