K&F, Lap Steel Guitar, 1945


Lap Steel Guitar
The Story Behind

K&F Manufacturing Corporation (Kauffman & Fender) was a company started by Clayton Orr "Doc" Kauffman inventor and lap steel player, who had worked for Adolph Rickenbacher’s Electro String Instrument Corporation and Leo Fender a radio-repairman in 1945. K&F manufactured amplifiers and electric lap steel guitars. Kauffman left the company in February of 1946. The company then became Fender.

Completed around 1943, the first K&F guitar, a lap steel guitar, had a solid oak body and mail-ordered fingerboard, and was originally intended to be played like a Spanish guitar. But Kauffman and Fender's Direct String Pickup, based on early phonograph pickups, proved better suited to the Hawaiian style. They applied for a patent on their pickup in 1944; it was granted four years later, after Kauffman had left the company.

Fender and Kauffman, working out of a shack behind the radio-repair shop, were manufacturing amplifiers and this lap-model Hawaiian steel guitars, which were sold as sets. The earliest examples had painted finishes which were said to have been "baked" in Leo Fender's kitchen oven. Fender wanted to expand the business, taking advantage of the fact that many musical instrument companies had gone out of business during World War II, but Kauffman was worried about going into debt.

Leo Fender told BAM magazine:

"It cost a lot of money to get into large scale production, and the 1930s depression was still fresh in Kauffman's mind, so he didn't want to get involved. He had a ranch or farm in Oklahoma, and he was afraid if we got over-extended on credit he might lose it. He thought he'd better pull out while he had a full skin.”

Kauffman told much the same story to Guitar Player magazine:

"I got scared of the business.... I didn't have much faith in guitars, and I asked Leo to buy out my half of the business.”

Fender agreed to trade Kauffman a small press punch for his share of K&F Manufacturing.

In 1946, Fender renamed the business to Fender Electric Instruments Company. That same year, he signed an agreement with Radio & Television Equipment Company (Radio-Tel) of Santa Ana, California, which had been supplying parts for his repair shop, to be sole distributor for Fender amps and guitars. Fender also turned over operation of his repair shop to Dale Hyatt, so he could concentrate on making musical instruments. By 1949, Fender amps and guitars were firmly entrenched in the country music industry.

K&F represents in this respect the beginning of Fender Guitars. 
This is an early pre Fender K&F Lap Steel Guitar. There were originally only 6 of these made (the first of which is in Roy Acuff's collection at Nashville's Opryland). This fine example is believed to be of the second batch which were made in "Doc's" home kitchen. Per Leo Fender, “the  first examples had no serial numbers and "Pat. Pend." stamped on the top shoe of the pickup”.

It is actually one of the very earliest of Fender-made instruments, and a major historic piece of American guitar history. The K & F line of simple lap steels and amps were Leo Fender's first commercially produced musical instruments and the seed from which the entire Fender legend would grow. These steel guitars were only available locally in southern California for a very limited period between late 1945 and mid-1946, and today are extremely rare. The standard angled slab-sided headstock wass carried over into the early Fender line.

Doc Kauffman himself personally assembled and tested most of these earliest steels (reportedly by playing a tune on each completed example) and this simple, practical and still great sounding lap guitar is a testament to the talent and creative drive shared by himself and Leo Fender during their short but historic collaboration. This guitar is not only a prime example of the root of all Fender guitars, but an excellent player's instrument; a testament to the emerging brilliance of its creators.

If you have any questions, please contact us