September 3, 2015 in Blog, Historic Fenders

Bill Carson – Mr. Stratocaster

17973318_117181275623In 1951, Fender began working closely with a Texas swing guitarist named Bill Carson. This Oklahoma-born, California-raised picker worked with artists such as Lefty Frizzell and Hank Thompson, and he soon started a close friendship with a certain guitar-builder named Leo Fender.  A working relationship with his company was born, as Carson became a field tester and was shipped the newly remodeled Fender Broadcaster, now known as the Telecaster.  Bill began his testing and research of the design, but quickly found the Telecaster wasn’t suited for him and shared his findings with Fender.  Carson noted that the body shape of the Telecaster pressed against his rib-cage during gigs, and often caused bruising from an extended set or recording session.

This discovery led to his famous comment of wanting a guitar that “fits like a well-tailored shirt,” and Fender listened. Soon the company produced a cutaway guitar design that Carson spent ample time testing and suggested further refinements.  From the 1 7/16” nut width, to the shallow depth of the neck itself.  The dual cutaway body style and contoured body shape made the guitar more comfortable to hold while sitting or standing, and as each of Carson’s specific demands were met, a guitar design was taking shape that would soon take the world by storm – the historic Fender Stratocaster that we know and love today.

By 1957, Carson was employed with Fender full-time, working in the assembly line and becoming a supervisor and plant manager. The guitar design that he helped create was already taking the world by storm, and in many ways Carson was at the helm.  In a few short years Carson’s signature Strat had become a 1959 design with a fiery Fiesta Red finish, and his custom model featured a matching painted headstock and custom-wound pickups.  Carson also pushed to feature a rosewood fingerboard on the Stratocaster, as he preferred the warmer tone compared to the bright tone coming from the maple fingerboard of the Telecaster.

Carson soon became the artist relations director and was featured in most of Fender’s advertising at the time. He was usually featured in black and white photos wearing authentic cowboy attire, complete with a Stratocaster in his hands and a booted foot on an amp (usually a Fender Twin).  The image of Carson holding the Fender Stratocaster became the figure that most people associated with the instrument and the company, along with high-profile artists of the time, such as Buddy Holly.

Bill Carson retired from Fender in 2004 and eventually passed away in 2007, but his legacy with working at Fender and the importance of his refinements with improving the Stratocaster during its infancy cannot be ignored or denied.  In 2006, Carson’s 1959 Fiesta Red Stratocaster sold for $66,000 in an auction at Christie’s.  While his name may not be as familiar as Hendrix, Clapton, or Stevie Ray Vaughn, there’s a place in guitar history for Bill Carson, and we should thank him for his dedication and hard work.

Here’s to you Bill Carson – Rest In Peace

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