Finding family in Fender

Phyllis Fender's book dives into the other side of her husband’s fame


While you might not know the man, you know his legacy. Often credited with the invention of the solid body electric guitar, the late Leo Fender’s influence on the world stretches far beyond his world-famous Fender guitar brand and the sound of rock and roll. Fender is most widely known for his contributions to music, yet not much was known about his personal life. However, his wife, Phyllis Fender, has come forward with the truth of the family man he was to become late in his life.

Soon to be releasing her book, co-written by Randall Bell, Phyllis Fender is ready to show the world a little glimpse into the personal life of the godfather of music as we know it. “Leo Fender: The Quiet Giant Heard Around the World” is due out Nov. 1 in stores. Writing it has been a fun and sporadic journey for the authors.

“It was one of those things that really just popped into happening,” said Phyllis Fender. “It was not planned, it was not even dreamed about. Nobody knew anything about him, other than he was famous.”

Gathering her memories with co-author Bell, Phyllis Fender began talking with Bell and found out his father had worked for Fender earlier in life and the two began talking about the book in detail. While the masses remain fixed on Fender’s guitars, which he sold the rights to in 1965, little was actually known as to what got him to the level of fame he is celebrated for.

Married in September of 1980, Phyllis Fender was Leo Fender’s second wife and introduced him to possibly the most important thing in any workaholic’s life: a family. Having no children prior, the guitar inventor was exposed to all the trimmings of family via his wife’s, such as holidays, weddings, birthday parties and even newborns, to which he took an extreme liking toward the end of his life. Always at work in some way or another, Phyllis Fender said Leo Fender was finally learning to slow down with her family, which was much larger than anything he had experienced before.

“He had a very tender part that didn’t come out for a long time, and it was wonderful for me to see him be assimilated by my big, fat family that hugs and kisses,” said Phyllis Fender as she laughed. “He became a full person.”

The book will focus on the Fender family experience, as well as the later years of Leo Fender’s life as a family man who enjoyed sailing, home-cooked steamed veggies and vacations with his wife. The biography serves as a relic to those who remember him, not by museum standards, but as a friend and a kind and gentle spirit.

Of course, throughout their marriage, Phyllis Fender said her late husband was always working and trying to stay busy. Work often consumed his life. He could often be seen working on new guitar concepts – even on vacations. This did not stop Phyllis Fender from including him in her life and making sure that he made time to settle down and focus on his family.

“I didn’t realize how famous he was,” said Phyllis Fender. “I didn’t know anything about the [guitar] industry or his part in the industry. I just knew he was a nice guy. It was quite an amazement, but I didn’t really realize until after he was gone how famous he was.”

Known as an avid worker, Leo Fender is known for his electric guitars, the Telecaster and the Stratocaster, which brought music from small acoustic dance halls to the stadiums of classic rock. He was continuously working on perfecting his craft, moving from Fender to creating Music Man and finally G & L Guitars in 1979. The man who reinvented the guitar never learned to play the instrument, but instead appreciated every sound musicians made with it, according to his wife.

Leo Fender continued to design guitars until the day he died in 1991. Innovations such as the Precision bass and the advancements made in musical amplification are just a taste of the lasting impressions the Fender name has left on the world. Responsible for the iconic look of the now-ubiquitous electric guitar, Leo Fender’s life work will now be immortalized in music history, as well as family history.

“He lived as a happy man, and just before he passed away, he said, ‘You know what? I finished what I was supposed to do,’” Phyllis Fender said.

The book is currently available online for preorder. Phyllis Fender has been signing copies of it in her spare time. Ready to share Leo Fender’s story with the world, Phyllis Fender and Bell are excited to bring the book to shelves across the country to add to the ever-growing history of rock and roll.