George Fullerton, 1923-2009
By Jeff Owens
George Fullerton in 2007.
Fender is deeply saddened to learn of the loss of a dear and longtime friend and family member, George Fullerton.
Fullerton, 86, passed away Saturday, July 4, in Fullerton, Calif.
As a lifelong friend and colleague of Leo Fender and one of the first employees of the Fender Electric Instrument Co., Fullerton was an ever-present figure during Fender’s original 1950s-’60s “Leo years,” and was one of the close confidants to whom Leo Fender often turned when designing and producing his guitars and amplifiers.
In particular, Fullerton is often credited with design contributions for Fender’s—and the world’s—first successful solid-body Spanish-style electric guitar, the Esquire® (very quickly renamed the Broadcaster and then Telecaster®).
After leaving Fender around 1970, Fullerton co-founded G&L Musical Instruments with Leo Fender and Dale Hyatt (Fullerton was the “G” in “G&L”). Coming full circle, Fullerton returned to Fender in 2007 with the introduction of the Fender Custom Shop Limited Edition George Fullerton 50th Anniversary Stratocaster® guitar and Relic Tweed Pro Junior™ Amp.
Born George William Fullerton in Hindsville, Ark., on March 7, 1923, he moved to California shortly before World War II. In the late 1940s, as a young man with a keen interest in electronics and considerable artistic talent, Fullerton eyed a career in Southern California’s flourishing post-war aircraft industry. However, when he met and befriended Leo Fender, Leo suggested a different area where George’s aptitude for electronics and art might be put to good use—guitar design. Fullerton at first resisted his friend’s invitations to come and help build steel guitars and amps, as he told Fender in 2007:
“You know, it’s a funny thing,” he said. “I never wanted to build guitars. I never intended to. Leo used to beg me to come over there and work for them. And I said, ‘Leo, I don’t want to build that kind of guitar; I’m studying electronics.’”
But when Fender confided in Fullerton about plans for a new kind of electric guitar, the young student’s interest was piqued, and he reported for work at Fender on Feb. 2, 1948.
“When he designed a solid-body guitar, it really turned me on to them,” Fullerton said in 2007. “Many nights, Leo and I would be down there till 2:00 in the morning still working on designing. My family never did see me in the daytime—I was gone all day and gone half the night.”
Fullerton’s name appears often in accounts of the Fender company’s formative days and early years.
“I think the key to George’s success was his ability, in the shop, to translate Leo’s ideas into products,” said Richard Smith, author of Fender: the Sound Heard ’Round the World and other acclaimed guitar books. “I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that George was a noted artist—he won some painting awards after he retired here in Orange County. He had a real visual sense, and Leo didn’t draw as well as George. So I’m fairly convinced, although this has never really been confirmed, that much of the shape of the Telecaster was George’s interpretation. I think George’s strength was of the hands-on variety in the factory—his ability to use the machines and his talent as a craftsman.”
Further, Smith said, Fullerton was “the kind of guy that everybody liked—very personable, and all the employees liked working with him and for him when he was the shop manager. He genuinely was a nice guy.”
Tom Wheeler, former Guitar Player magazine editor and noted author of books such as The Stratocaster Chronicles and The Soul of Tone: Celebrating 60 Years of Fender Amps, said Fullerton “appreciated the fact that he was an eyewitness to history; that he had an opportunity to contribute to some of the most meaningful and significant musical instruments of the 20th century.”
“And George was always very kind to me,” Wheeler said. “Long before people in our guitar community might have recognized my name from books and so on, he would always take time to speak with me—he would share his memories and his insights, and I remember him for being such a nice man.”
Fullerton was also fondly remembered by those at Fender Musical Instruments Corporation headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“He was one of the guys who paved the way,” said Mike Eldred, Fender Custom Shop director. “He was one of the guys who made it possible for all of us to be here today at Fender.”
Funeral services are planned for 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 25, at Crystal Cathedral Arboretum in Orange, Calif.