Here’s an extract from an interview I did with Don Randall in 1992 during my research for The Fender Book. Don met Leo Fender in the 40s when he worked for Radio Tel, a local radio-parts distributor, and he soon became an important part of the Fender setup. In shorthand, Leo was the introvert designer and Don was the extrovert salesman. It was more complicated than that, of course, but for now, let’s hear from Don.
TB: Who came up with the names for the Fender guitar models?
DR: No one ever speaks about this, but I named every instrument that was made, apart from the Precision Bass. Every one of them. All the amplifiers and all the guitars.
TB: How did you come up with the names?
DR: It wasn’t easy. I tried to maintain a family reference. For instance, we had the Broadcaster, we put it on the market, then we got a wire from the Fred Gretsch company, and they were making a drum set called the Broadkaster. They put us on a notice to cease and desist, which we did. I got to thinking, well, what do we do now? So broadcast … about that time, television was getting big, so telecast, Telecaster. And then when the Stratocaster came along, why, Telecaster, Stratocaster into the stratosphere. With amplifiers we had a student amplifier, and nobody really wants to be known as a student, so I named it the Champ. Then we had another we called the Princeton, and the Deluxe and the Harvard.
TB: What happened with the Precision Bass?
DR: When Leo came out with the bass, it had frets on it, a new type of thing. He was saying oh, Don, it’s right down to hundredths of an inch, a guy plays this he’s going to be perfect. What are we going to call it? I fiddled around with it and I couldn’t come up with anything, so Leo says why don’t we call it the Precision Bass? Because it really is precision. OK Leo, there you go: the Precision Bass. But I must have written out lists of names, 25 names at a crack, trying to fit things together as a family. Doesn’t sound like a chore, but it is: to find something that has a euphonic sound, that is acceptable, that kind of fits into the family of what you’re doing.
TB: At what point did you realise that Fender was going to be successful?
DR: In 1953, when we formed Fender Sales, I was sick and tired of the radio business [that I had been in until then]. We were selling products that everybody else was selling, and they were selling them cheaper than we could. You had what we called wagon-jobbers then, who had a truck full of stuff and they’d just stop at a guy’s place and unload it at his front door. It was hard to compete with that sort of thing. I hated the radio business by that time. I’d spent my life in electronics at that point, and I was a communications chief in the army, and I’d done a lot of design work at that time. So come 1953, when I left Radio Tel, it was decided to form this company, Fender Sales. I could see the potential – we were selling something that nobody else had. The world at that time was kind of hungry for goods and services, because of the war years, and our competition was practically nil. Not that the others didn’t have it, but they didn’t have anything to compete with us. Nothing that stood up to our products. So we turned it on and really started moving it, and it went up and up and up.
TB: Was there ever a time when you felt influenced by what other companies were doing?
DR: Oh, I used to eat my heart out. When I was doing all this, I was spending an awful lot of time out in the territory, working with the salesmen, looking at ideas and everything. And every place I looked I’d see Gibson guitars, Gibson amplifiers, other things that we weren’t selling … where does that come from, what do we do? And when they got to see our stuff … that’s all you’d see, Fender guitars and Fender amplifiers. We’d go down to Nashville and show at the country DJ show, in October, and I worked out a deal down there where we had our guitars and amplifiers in practically every store window on the main streets. We worked it into their display theme, because the country DJ thing was a big item. This was probably in the mid 60s.
TB: Did you ever play an instrument?
DR: Well, like I say, I play guitar, but not enough to hurt anyone.
TB: Were many of the people who worked at Fender players?
DR: Very few. Most musicians are more interested in playing and talking than working, and it was rather hard for us who didn’t know enough about the music to get into arguments. The idea when you went to see a dealer was to sell and get out of there, not to get into an argument over whether this is good or that’s good.
From Tony Bacon’s interview with Don Randall, February 18 1992