In the course of 1955 Leo Fender designed a 3/4 scale electric solid body guitar aimed at the young, beginning guitarist. Forrest White noted that the first order for these guitars was Purchase Order #402 dated September 26,1955. Fender had yet to complete all the specs of the instrument as well as name it. The first production run was completed in early May 1956. These first run guitars differ from subsequent runs making them unique. Here we will explore one of these special guitars.
The most obvious difference spotted on these guitars is the black pickguard rather than the typical gold anodized. Richard Smith called these pickguards "Gun metal Blue anodized" . That is not really accurate as these are really plain aluminum painted black. The metal also lacks the "graining" seen on gold anodized pickguards.
The body of these early guitars differ in a few ways from the standard production instruments. The wood is ash, not the typical poplar wood. Ash actually is used until mid '56. The wood used on these bodies was also slightly thicker than later guitars. The bodies are still finished in the standard "Desert sand" or "Desert Tan" finish used throughout the first style Musicmaster's run. The routing on these early guitars is very interesting. It appears as if the factory had yet to decide if they were going to be making a two or one pickup guitar during production. The guitars are routed with what appears to be 4 different templates with the 4 different areas joined by a crude notch hand chiseled from the body rather than the cleanly routed joining areas found on standard production bodies. There is a bit of handwork used to join the switch cavity so it is safe to assume they were prepared to build these as two pickup guitars at a moments notice. The first production Duo-Sonics were not made until summer 1956.
The neck is basically the same as later '56 production models as it features the "Soft V" carve and "B" nut width. Notable features to this model is the 4/56 neck date and the "No Name" Kluson tuners. 1956 Musicmaster guitars tend to have a maple plug on the rear of the headstock rather than walnut. This neck is no exception. The first batch of Musicmaster decals arrived at the factory just in time to be applied to the pre-production run of these guitars. There are a couple of pre-production samples made for salesman and for photography that have a Champ steel style "Fender Fullerton, Calif."decal instead of a Musicmaster decal. These obviously were sent out in a hurry, so they didn't wait for the logos to arrive.
This guitar was almost lost forever by being parted out on eBay. I managed to acquire all of the guitar and preserve this small piece of Fender history. The guitar now resides in Japan and is owned by Bluesette. It was featured in issue No.448/2003 of Young Mates Music magazine. I would like to thank Tim Pershing for the various correspondence over the years concerning these elusive guitars. Thank you also to Toshiaki Yagi for giving this guitar the attention it deserves.