Fender, Broadcaster, 1950 - Steve Howe


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The Story Behind

In the late 1940s, Leo Fender began working on a practical electric Spanish guitar. His design would be simple, and the guitar would be easy to manufacture and repair. It would also be convenient and uncomplicated for the working musician to transport and maintain. Developed in 1949, Leo Fender came up with his first distinctive guitar the Esquire (which was named later Telecaster) by March 1950. This guitar is of very simple construction with a slab shape solid ash body featuring a single cutaway to allow easier access to the upper frets. The neck, a single piece of maple, was attached to the body with four screws. Initially the guitar had only a single pickup embedded into a metal bridge plate presenting the now famous and distinctive combination of bridge and pickup assembly, with a slanted pickup with individual pole pieces for each string, and three bridge saddles which allowed adjustment of string length in pairs and individual string height.

By June 1950, a two pickup version was produced adding a neck pickup encased in a metal shielding cover. Introduced in the fall of 1950, the result was the Broadcaster.

The Broadcaster was a two-pickup solid-body guitar able to reach high stage volumes with none of the feedback problems that plagued hollow-body guitars. The instrument was fitted with an easily replaced bolt-on neck that contained an adjustable truss rod (something earlier prototypes lacked). The instrument’s pickups were meant to give the same bright clarity as Fender’s lap steel guitars. Lastly, a 3-saddle adjustable bridge was included for better (though not perfect) intonation.

In mid-February of 1951, the Gretsch Company contacted Fender to point out that the guitar’s name was very similar to its Broadkaster drum set. Gretsch requested “immediate assurance” that Fender would abandon the name. Fender complied, and the guitar continued to be produced without a name until September of that year, when “Telecaster” began appearing on the decal. The Telecaster name continues to be used on the Broadcaster’s contemporary descendants.

This 1950 Fender Broadcaster was previously owned used by guitarist Steve Howe. As can be seen it has had many changes that Steve made through the years. Steve bought the guitar from George Gruhn in the mid 1970’s.

Steve used it on tour with Yes after the Tormato album and recorded it on “Pleasure Stole the Night” from the Beginnings/solo album and “Release Release” from the Tormato/Yes album and various other recordings.

The guitar is in "The Steve Howe Guitar Collection" Book, published in 1994. The book describes the changes Steve had made at that time. The guitar body had been stripped to natural, bound. and work had been done at the bridge.

The guitar pops up shortly in this video:

Segment from I.R.S. records "Cutting Edge Happy Hour" Guitar Speak special, August 1988.


Steve since filled in the bridge area and re-introduced the traditional bridge plate (albeit not the original which he had trimmed). Steve confirmed that this work was undertaken by Hugh Manson, and as we agreed to a high standard. On the Yesspeak DVD (2003), Steve Howe plays this guitar in its current finish before his interview.

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