Inside an April 1956 Fender Musicmaster

09/10/2002 Copyright 2002 James William Shine, Jr.

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        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.

Here is the original advertisement for the Musicmaster. This guitar appears to have a Telecaster sized decal only saying "Fender". It could have been added after the photo was taken as to make the logo more prominent.

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                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.

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The underside of the pickguard assembly. Note Astron capacitor.

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The paint did not hold up well making anodizing a better solution.

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These early guitars feature bakelite pickup covers.

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The knobs are the garden variety Telecaster flat top knobs.

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The pickup features magnets completely flush with the top of the fiber bobbin.

 

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A distinctive feature is the staggering of the magnets on the bottom of the pickup.

 

        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.

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Note notch to the right. Nail hole can be seen by left most screw hole.

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This notch was made even though the route wasn't used on this model.

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This notch appears to have been started before finishing and deepened after finishing.

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Here you can see the grain of the ash.

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1956 Musicmaster family guitars have non-threaded steel saddles like seen on Telecaster's. The change to threaded coincides with the Telecaster.

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The bridge cover is different from  Stratocaster unit. It is tailored to fit over the pickguard.

       

        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.

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No Name Klusons. Note maple plug lower right hand side.

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"XA" initials are commonly found on necks of this period of time.

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        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.  

 

 

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