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VINTAGE, RARE GUITAR.IT ALL BEGAN WITH THE                                                                                                 STRATOCASTER.     THE REVOLUTION BEGINS. THE PROTOTYPE  This guitar is for sale. Interested parties may contact me at jerryjmproduct@aol.com

  In early 1953 Leo Fender began designing the Stratocaster. He had already been talking to some musicians and probably had some ideas in his head about what he wanted to accomplish with the new guitar. He and others in the company believed the new guitar would make the Telecaster obsolete but they didn’t perceive that the new guitar would set a mark in guitar history that would establish a standard by which all other guitars would be judged. The new guitar would have a tremolo and Leo thought he had the perfect idea for one and designed and built the guitar with it. The first guitar off the line was set up and tested and to the surprise of everyone it sounded like "A damn cheap Banjo". It was determined that the tremolo that was very much like the later Jazzmaster tremolo was the problem and the entire guitar was trashed including many parts that had been fabricated for the guitar. A few more months were spent trying to get the tremolo to work correctly but then Leo gave up on that idea and started thinking about a new design.

  The new design had a tremolo almost exactly as we know it today but had only three springs and the routed section on the back of the guitar was only wide enough for three springs. This guitar was said to been finished in late 1953. There are no pictures or information about any other three spring tremolo guitars in any of Leo’s files or records. It appears that Leo considered this guitar to be important enough to photograph, something he didn’t do with every prototype he built.

 Leo was an amateur photographer and took many pictures in and around the shop and some of those pictures were used in Fender’s promotional material for many years. Leo set the new prototype guitar on a stool and took pictures of the front and the back. They were not fancy pictures as some of the other pictures he took but never the less he saved those pictures in his file. The pictures show a black, phenolite pick guard, chrome dome knobs, and a top hat, Telecaster type switch tip. The 3 spring tremolo had thicker handle than production models and the pick ups had no covers. The neck had a dark lacquer finish but the highly figured ash body had none, typical of Leo’s test guitars.

  Richard Smith is an author, a musician, and a historian and was a long time friend of Leo Fender. Richard told Leo he was going to write a book about Fender and Leo gave him full and complete access to all his files and old company ledgers. Leo and Richard went over all the old photographs and Leo explained to him about why he took some of them and when they were shot. Although Leo’s memory was beginning to fail him, Richard was able to back up {or correct} most of what he said with facts and documentation from old inventory sheets and dated photos. Two of the photographs Richard decided to use in his Book were the front and back of the three spring tremolo Stratocaster and he published those on pages 127 and 132 of his book "Fender, The Sound Heard Around The World"

 The back photo showing  the unique "Narrow route" and unmistakable highly figured grain and the mineral deposits in the wood. This guitar had no  finish on it as was the case with most of Leo’s prototypes. The  3 springs are held on with wood screws at the looped end. I guess the"Spring claw" hadn’t  been invented yet. There  are reports  that there are  other early  Strats  with the narrow route and three spring tremolo  but no other photographs or descriptions have ever  surfaced. Photo  reproduced  from page 132 of  Richard  Smith’s book "Fender". Leo Fender  told  Richard Smith that he took these photos in late 1953 and that would make sense. If the pictures were taken in 1954 or later, then I  would ask why he would be taking pictures of last years obsolete prototype when he would  have had fully finished "production guitars" to photograph.

The front of the guitar in the picture Leo took in 1953. The pick guard was said to be the same "phenolite" type material the Telecaster pick guards were made of and Telecaster knobs were used. Again the  unmistakable grain patterns and mineral deposits in the three- piece body.

Photo reproduced from page 127 of Richard Smith’s book "Fender" Richard Smith has access to the original photos.

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The full size photo shows the dark finish on the neck. I don’t believe that is same neck that my dad and his friend put on it that day in 1954. The photo of the Telecaster with the Strat neck on it does not look the same. No one has an answer for what the masking  tape on the headstock was for or if it has something printed on it.

 One of the keys to being able to say these two guitars are one in the same is by comparing the grain patterns and mineral deposits in the wood. The grain patterns and mineral deposits {Those are the little spots in the wood that look like knots} in the wood are like a fingerprint and no two are alike. Then you add in the fact that the body is 3 pieces you multiply the impossibility by 3. The grain, the knots, all match 100% between the two guitar bodies. The possibility of finding that match again in nature is probably a billion to one.

No one knows where the guitar was for about a year until one day my dad who was musician and guitar player came home with a friend of his that worked at Fender. They sat down that day in 1954 and put together a Stratocaster from a box  full of parts. I recall them heating up the old fashioned soldering iron on the kitchen stove and putting the parts together to make a guitar. I don’t know how many of the original parts of the guitar were the same as what was in the photo Leo took except for the body and the bridge. The neck was probably not the same neck as in Leo’s photo but was an early neck without a decal or penciled dates. Richards research found no Stratocaster decals on the December 1953 inventory sheets.

The saddles are a curious mix of three plated ones and three un plated ones. At the time they assembled it the pick guard was a white single ply 1954 and it had the early 1954 short skirt knobs. It had no pick up covers. The 3 way switch, pups and wiring may have been 1954 production parts or could have been the original prototype parts, we just don’t know. The body didn’t have any penciled in dates or  names which would have been consistent with the practice for prototypes. The penciled in intials and names on the bodies and necks were used for quality control and payroll tracking purposes and were not necessary on prototype guitars.

My father used the guitar until his untimely death in 1957 and I became custodian of it. Back then the guitar was considered just a factory mule, a test guitar and had no particular value, it was just a factory cast-off. I had begun playing the guitar by then and it became the guitar that I used for several years.

In 1960 I took the guitar to my high school wood shop and refinished it {I say refinished but originally it had no finish on it} to a red see through finish. Again in about 1960 I took the guitar to the Fender factory for some work and that must be when the pots were changed out to ones that are coded 1958. I have no other explanation for the code on the pots unless the code actually reads 1948. At the same time the neck pickup was replaced. About the same time an additional pickup switch was added that required the body to be routed a little and the pick guard cut.

 I used the guitar until about 1962 when I bought a Telecaster  that was more suited to the music I wanted to play . However I did like that neck on the Strat so I switched necks on the guitars.

 The 62 Tele with the prototype Strat neck on it. Note the lack of any decal.
 

Photo taken about 1966.

1966, things were heating up in Vietnam and I got my draft notice and I had already quit the band so I sold most of my gear, the Tele included with the Strat neck on it, never to be seen again. I have searched for that guitar with no results. The old Strat sat in the back of the closet until  about 1980 when I refinished it again because I resumed  playing. That was when I realized the neck pup had gone bad and replaced it with a Duncan.

2005, the year I decided to return the old guitar back to the way it was when my father got it. I stripped off  the finish and tried to find some of the old parts that had been replaced but some how that stash of old parts had disappeared over the years. I could find an old neck to put on it but it wouldn’t have been the original neck so I didn’t see the point. I put a reproduction 54 neck and tuners on it that were as new so as not to look like I was trying to fool any one. I began looking at guitar websites to see if I could find any information on the guitar and happened upon FDP, a Fender discussion page.   After loading pictures of my guitar on the forum a guy from England said he had seen the guitar before. I thought, not likely as the guitar was not famous. He pointed me to pages 127 and 132 of Richard Smiths book "Fender" and there were pictures of my guitar, it was famous after all.

I then bought every copy of  all the books that  featured the Stratocaster and its history and read every page, looking for clues or answers about the history of my guitar. All of them had some information but Richard’s book was by far the most exacting and authoritive on the subject.

  I had been in contact with Alex Nicholas at the Fender Custom Shop in regards to finding a suitable neck and he asked me to visit the custom shop for a show and tell. Several of the custom shop people looked at the guitar and  all agreed that it was the same body and bridge that was shown in Leo’s old pictures. "Fender" would not provide me with any written verification of their observations because of possible legal ramifications and I understand this as it is not their business to authenticate guitars.

 I had discussed the restoration of the guitar with a few people and decided to restore the guitar to the way it looked when Leo took the pictures in 1953.  In many instances antiques and  artifacts are restored the way they looked in the most famous or public images . The pictures Leo took are the only and most famous images of the guitar. I had Bill Callaham {Callaham Vintage Guitars and Parts} make a new pick guard out of the same material that the early Telecasters used and put a slightly worn finish on it. I used Tele knobs from 1953  which is appropriate and set the guitar up with no pick up covers .
 

The guitar as it appears in this picture is an exact match to the guitar in Leo’s pictures.

I spent a lot of time doing research and contacting people whom I thought might give me some insight and talked at length with four people that are curators of guitars and musical instruments. Three of them are with major museums and one is with a major auction house. All four told me without prompting or knowing what the other said told me to present the guitar in a "As found" condition. As found means to show the guitar as it was found or discovered {Meaning as my father got it}. So now the guitar is set up to appear as it was in 1954 when my dad acquired it.

 
 

 The bare body shot . The unmistakable grain and mineral deposits including the botched wiring and switch Relief that was added. There were no identifying penciled initials or dates in the cavities. The penciled in initials and dates were used on regular production guitars to track each part for quality control and payroll purposes, something not necessary on a prototype guitar. Some  residue from an earlier finish is evident. 

 

   

The bridge. No chrome or nickel finish on the plate and most of it appears to hand made, which would have been consistent with a prototype as there wouldn’t have been any production tooling at that time. Saddles are consistent with 1954 production models although 3 of them appear to have no plating on them, perhaps they were some that were pulled from the parts bin before they went to plating. Note the "FENDER, PAT PENDING" on the saddles.  

The back of the guitar as it appears 2010, again the grain and mineral deposits. I always called them knots but was educated by a luthier that they are mineral deposits. You can clearly see the back route and how the springs were anchored. In 1954 the springs got a spring claw that was a 5 spring claw and was cut down to only 3. In this picture the tremolo has been blocked which was not Leo's intention.
 
 

  The back of the bridge shows the holes in the top edge where only 3 springs are attached. Again the metal appears  to be hand worked with only a little machine tool evidence. The bevel where the 6 screws attach appears to be hand made, not by a machine.

 

  This picture shows The additional 5 holes in the inertia block. They are perhaps not that important but seem to be an additional design feature of some kind and not a feature that showed up later in later production guitars. When this bridge and body were designed it was designed for 3 springs as evidenced by the 3 holes in the top edge of the block and the narrow route of the body. Was Leo thinking he might go to 5 springs when he built this, then why not just build a 5 spring tremolo. The holes are threaded with 8-32 threads and go all the way through the block. There does not seem to be any rational explanation for the holes that fits the time line for the evolution of the design. Perhaps they were added later but then again, if they wanted to add more springs all they had to do was drill 2 more holes in the top edge. It has been suggested to me that the 5 threaded holes could be for set screws to lock the end of the springs in the holes. Probably a good idea but that still does not explain why there are five holes when it had only 3 springs.
 

  This picture of an 8/54 Strat shows no extra 5 holes and I have never seen an old Strat with those extra 5 holes.

 

  The top of the bridge. The slotted head screws are typical of Leo’s work at that time. Save money where it doesn’t show. Experts tell me that the 6 Phillips head screws that hold the bridge to the body are case hardened screws on a typical production guitar. These screws are not case hardened although they are identical to the production screws. Just screws Leo selected  to use before he saw the need for case hardened ones, I don’t know.
 
  Pot codes show 304825 which is probably 1958. I haven’t been able to find any one that can tell me if its possible the code could be 1948. Most people say that split shaft knobs were not available or popular in 1948, but history tells us that Leo was a frugal man and may have used what ever was laying around to build this guitar. All 3 pots show the same code. I am inclined to believe that the pots are coded 1948 and not something that was replaced.
 
 
  The claw. It was a 5 spring claw cut down to 3 in 1954.
 
  The 54 pick guard with the switch cut out on the lower horn. The switch copied what the 5 way  switch does today by giving you additional pick up selections.
 

    Wiring. All the wires are original to at least 54 except for the front and back pup wiring.

 

   The cap. The capacitor is not what would have been used in 1954 and I was told that it probably is a type that was used in amplifiers back then. It still has what appears to be the  original solder joints on it.
 
 
The 3 way switch with the CRL1452 code.Most switches from 1954 are described as having 3 patent numbers on the reverse side. This one has 4.  {nearly impossible to photograph} Another one of thoses curious facts about this guitar.
 
 The Strat as it appeared in the early eighties with the red finish and the Tele neck  that was on it for many years. Please don’t comment on the "Magnum P.I " blue shorts. They were popular at the time.

  Bill Carson was a well known professional guitarist working with the many  famous country & western bands in 1953 and was Leo's favorite guinea pig when it came to testing the new guitars. Many of the design features of the new Strat were said to be ideas that Bill had, that he would like to see incorporated into the new guitar. Bill used many of the prototypes on live gigs and in the recording studio and the late 1953 prototype shown here was probably used on some famous recording at the time. Probably, because there is no record or pictures to support this just the memories Bill wrote in his book.

  The prototype Strat was used on an album cut in about 1962. My band at the time was the Rhythm Crusaders and we were hired at that time to do some fill cuts for an album featuring Dick Dale. We did the session, got paid and when the album came out we were billed as the Hollywood Surfers. Not uncommon then for a producer to bring in hired guns and make up a name to sell albums.
 

  The album was produced then as a bargain bin filler so we really never expected much from it and as it turns out today the album is searched out by surf music buffs for its raw energy and innovative music. Who knew.

 

  The Rhythm Crusaders about 1962. The guitar on the far right with its red finish, not played by me.
 

 Perhaps not a great picture but one that Richard included in his book. Leo told Richard that this is the same Guitar in late 1953 used by an unknown guitarist at a live performance.  You can barely see the knobs have been now changed to the white styrene knobs later used on the production guitars in early 1954. Leo took this picture in late 1953.

  It is not my intention to rewrite Richard Smith’s book "Fender, the sound heard around the world" with this web site. I have used his book extensively to find information in my search to get all the facts about this old guitar. Other books have been helpful in some ways but this book is so full of documented facts  that most of the other authors quote Richard  as being the source for their information.

  The guitar does not have a written certificate of authenticity by any one that is accepted by the Vintage guitar world as being an authority. I have tried to find someone that is recognized as an authority to get the specifications in writing but as yet I have found no one that is qualified or willing to do so. Because the guitar is so rare and we have only the pictures Leo took on that day in 1953 to use as any kind of evidence, many people are hesitant to put their name on a document.

  My thinking is that all you have to do is look at the photographs and compare the grain in the wood and the very unique mineral deposits to make an exact match of the body and the rest of the hardware can easly be be authinicated.

  When Leo built this guitar it was a mule, a "Breadboard" model to test his theories and designs of the new tremolo .  In Richard’s book it is described as having different pick guards tried on it and new pick ups installed for testing.  As evidenced by the failed 3 spring design, the pick guard and the Tele knobs it appears that only a few things about the new guitar designs were set in stone. This guitar was not a production guitar and as such had no sunburst finish and no penciled in marking or initials in the body that are the some of the clues that most vintage guitar experts use to verify a guitar. It was put together with various parts, perhaps just some that were lying around the shop and had no pretenses of being any thing but a mule.

   Now, we have only the photo Leo took on that day, perhaps at that hour  to refer to to make any kind a comparison between the two guitars. As noted above it wasn’t long after the pictures were taken that the knobs were changed. In  Richard's book the guitar was described as first having a black pick guard with Tele knobs, then changed to an aluminum pick guard, then changed again to a white pick guard.

 What was this prototype? It was an assembly of various parts on any given day and again we have only the picture Leo took to use as a reference. The guitar was a parts-o-caster and as such should not be judged by the typical  specifications used to judge a assembly line, production guitar.
 The guitar was featured in the April 2008 issue of Vintage Guitar magazine.
 
 
 
 
  

Here is a list of all the parts.

 The neck and tuners are reproduction parts
 
The neck mounting plate is original to 1954. No serial number.

The  neck mounting plate screws are machine screws. The original have been saved.

The body is original to 1953, sanded down and refinished twice.

The bridge and inertia block are original to 1953.

The bridge mounting screws and assembly screws {Slotted head} are original to 1953.

The saddles are original to 1954. The height adjust screws have been replaced. The originals have been saved.

The pick guard is original to 1954 {with hole for added switch}

The knobs and pick up covers are reproduction.

The neck pick up was replaced in 1960, original screws.

The bridge pick up was replaced in 1980, original screws.

The middle pick up is original to 1954.

 The pots are coded  304825 {all 3} , could be 1948 or 1958.

The wiring except for the 2 pups is original to 1954.

The 3 way switch is coded CLR with 4 patent numbers, original screws.

The pick guard screws are reproduction.

The jack, faceplate and screws are original to 1954.

The strap buttons are original to 1954, including screws.

The modified spring claw is original to 1954.

The springs are original to 1954.

The back spring cover and screws are reproduction.

The strings are not original {changed a few times}.

 The thicker than production tremolo arm is long lost.
 

I want to give a big thanks to Richard Smith without whose Book "Fender, the sound heard around the world" none of this would have been possible. Richard worked hard to find all the facts and information, verify them and check them again against known truths to come to the conclusions in his book. When someone would tell him something he would check it against the inventory sheets from that year, check it against the city building records for that year or find another source to either verify the statement or discredit it due to old age, failed memories or in a few cases just people that wanted to seem important.

 I have read every chapter a dozen times and I am still amazed at the dedication to accuracy Richard had in his attitude to getting the book right.

Also a big thanks to guy I only know as Richard64. Richard is from Great Britton and a frequent visitor to the web site forum known as the FDP. He is the one that noticed that the picture of my guitar and the one in Richard Smith’s book were one in the same and helped me to find most of the answers I was looking for. Before Richard64's observation I knew all along the guitar was a factory prototype but untill I saw the pictures Leo took of the guitar I had no idea it was quite possibly the first Strat ever to have the tremolo as we know it today.

 Also my gratitude to Alex Nicholas, Mike Eldred and the fine folks at the Fender Custom Shop. They held my guitar, photographed it, measured it and without actually putting it in writing, verified the question about the origins of my guitar and in spite of my  objections sent me a very nice guitar for my trouble.{note: Fender is not in the business of authicating guitars and could face serious legal problems in doing so}

There is one other question I would like to clear up. Bill Carson said in his book that some prototype guitars were stolen from a storage space in 1957. A few people think my guitar could be one of those stolen guitars. I have questioned my family repeatedly about the time line and there is no question that my father got the guitar in 1954 so it could not have been one of the missing guitars Bill referred to.

 Other books used for research. All available from Amazon.com
Fender, the sound heard around the world  By Richard Smith

The Fender Stratocaster                               By A.R. Duchossir

Guitar Legends                                             By George Fullerton

Bill Carson , My Life and Times                    By Bill Carson / Willie Moseley.

The Stratocaster Chronicles                         By Tom Wheeler      
 
 If you have any questions or comments please contact me at  jerryjmproduct@aol.com