Five “Other” Fender Instruments
By Pauline France and Jeff Owens
When you hear “Fender,” you invariably think of the big four instruments: the Stratocaster®, Telecaster®, Precision Bass® and Jazz® Bass guitars. While those certainly are Leo Fender’s four most revolutionary, acclaimed and enduring stringed creations, there have been many other instruments bearing his name that are noteworthy for the distinctiveness of their design if not household-name status.
Many of these other instruments remain in the Fender family today. Here are five of them that, although lesser known by most, nonetheless deserve a little Fender loving care.
1. Fender Electric Violins
To reach a wider audience and round out the larger family of Fender electric instruments he envisioned, Leo Fender introduced an electric violin in 1958. Although a stylishly functional instrument, it didn’t exactly catch fire with violinists and was dropped in a year or so as Leo quickly turned his full attention to updated Telecaster and Esquire models, amps and a certain new deluxe bass guitar model that would debut in 1960.
The Fender electric violin was resurrected in the late 1990s as the FV1 and remains in the lineup today as the FV3 Deluxe model. Today, Fender electric violins can be found onstage and in the studio with artists including the Airborne Toxic Event, Hey Monday and Shinedown.
2. Fender Electric Mandolins
Leo Fender introduced a solid-body electric mandolin in 1956. It had a detachable neck, single pickup and four strings rather than the traditional eight, and it featured a Fender-like body and headstock shape. Although it lacked the natural chorus effect produced by string pairs that make a mandolin sound like, well, a mandolin, Fender’s electric mandolin was a well-built instrument with its own distinctive tone and a convenient feature that most acoustic mandolins lacked—an easily intonated bridge. Marginally successful, it remained in the Fender lineup through the early 1970s.
Like the electric violin, Fender resurrected the electric mandolin in the late 1990s. Older Fender electric mandolins are now sought-after collector’s items, and present-day models can be found in the talented hands of artists such as Robert Schmidt (Flogging Molly), whose signature Fender electric mandolin model appeared earlier this year.
3. Fender Banjos
Fender introduced its own banjos in 1968 with the well-regarded Concert Tone, Artist Series and Allegro models, followed by F series (1969) and “Leo” (mid-1970s) models. Fender discontinued its banjos in the late 1980s but resurrected them a decade later with the late-1990s introduction of the FB series, which remains in the Fender acoustic family today.
Fender now offers several banjos, including four-string, five-string and open back models, and even a starter banjo pack for beginners.
4. Fender Ukuleles
Originally brought to the Hawaiian Islands in 1879 by Portuguese immigrants, the small guitar-like instrument that the Hawaiians soon dubbed the ukulele created a sensation within a decade of its arrival there. That popularity spread to the mainland United States early in the 20th century, and a second ukulele boom took hold in the mid-1940s and the 1950s, when servicemen returned from years of war in the Pacific with a newfound love of island music.
Today, the ukulele is once again enjoying a wave of renewed popularity, and Fender has introduced its own modern line of ukes, which now includes five models for all different tastes and budgets. Some, like the all-laminate Ukulele Hau’oli pictured here, feature the instantly recognizable Telecaster® headstock shape.
5. Fender Basses That Aren’t Precision Bass® and Jazz Bass® Models
From 1961’s seldom-seen Bass VI to 2006’s immensely successful Jaguar Bass and a great many in between, there have been plenty of Fender bass models that don’t have the words “Precision” or “Jazz” on their headstocks. There are so many of them, in fact, that we’ve devoted a lengthy three-part article series to surveying them all. View them here: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.