Vintage Fender guitars for sale in a vintage guitar store
Fender, or the Fender Electric Instrument Manufacturing Company, as it was properly known, was started in 1946, in Fullerton, California, by Leo Fender. The early designs effectively wrote the book on the solid body guitar manufacture; his approach of simple guitars using quality parts, easily assembled (most specifically the replaceable neck) proved an immediate sucess. Guitars like the Fender Stratocaster, Telecaster, Jaguar and Precision bass have barely changed since their very first inception; Fender simply got it right first time round.
Along with Gibson, Fender was probably one of the best known guitar manufacturers in the world. They were right at the forefront of the guitar boom of the 1950s and 60s, and have managed to maintain aleading positions ever since.
However, these two companies were not always in as direct competition as might be assumed; yes they both made guitars, basses and amplifiers, but both tended to play to their strengths; Gibson's expertise was it's luthierie; they stuck to high end electric-acoustics, semi-acoustics and skillfully made solid bodies, whilst Fender excelled at electronics; they made amplifiers and easily built solid body basses and guitars.
Gibson did not take Fender too seriously at first; Fender were just an amplifier company that made a few guitars. They didn't regard the solid-body Broadcaster launched in 1950 as a serious musical instrument, lacking the depth of tone of a Gibson electric-acoustic. But music was changing, guitarists wanted different sounds, and music was getting louder. Fenders instruments proved to be more appropriate for the emerging musical scenes. Over the next decade Fender created a number of solid-body guitars that defined genres. Guitars like the Stratocaster, Telecaster and Precision and Jazz basses proved to be exceptionally popular and have stayed in production ever since.
You could argue that it was the Stratocaster weilding Jimi Hendrix that was the biggest advertisement for Fender guitars; after seeing, and hearing one in the hands of Jimi, a lot of guitarists, including Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton swapped to a strat!
Fender invented the solid body electric bass, and have made a variety of different models. Like the guitars they were exceptionally simple; typically an ash body, with a bolt-on maple neck and single coil pickups. Simple, but very well-done simple. Read more about Fender bass guitars here.
Older Fender amplifiers have a great reputation and still have a lot of users today. Vintage Fender valve amps like the Fender Bassman, Fender Deluxe and Fender Twin Reverb are really highly regarded guitar amplifiers, offering rich vintage tones that modern amps can't easily replicate, both for live and studio use.