Fender launched two student guitars in 1956, the single pickup Musicmaster and a few months later, the dual pickup Duo-Sonic. These guitars were described as 3/4 size, though the scale length was actually 22 1/2" - a little shorter than the standard 25" of most Fender guitars. The guitars were smaller; great for younger guitarists, and those with smaller hands. But the Duo-Sonic build quality was every bit as good as the more expensive models.
The Duo-Sonic remained in the Fender line for the next 13 years, evolving slightly as time went by; most notably in 1964; at which point a longer 24" scale version became available alongside the 22 1/2" three-quarter size. These post-1964 guitars were designated the Fender Duo-Sonic II.
Due to their comparatively early demise, the Fender Duo-Sonic is one of the least well-known Fender solid body guitars, but they have found favour with many musicians, especially those that appreciate the simplicity and stability of a guitar with simple controls, easy-playing action, and no tremolo.
The first version of the Duo-Sonic was a tan brown 'Desert Sand', with gold scratchplate. This was actually Anodized aluminum, giving the guitar a quite distinct appearance. Controls were simple, but the guitar was well-built effective instrument. Note the bridge, with cover.
The aim of an inexpensive, but high quality student model was always to instill a level of brand loyalty. Today's Duo-Sonic players would be tomorrows Stratocaster players. At launch, the Duo-Sonic was listed in the US at $149.50, compared to $274.50 for the Stratocaster.
There were gradual changes over the first few years of production, including the change from the gold metal pickguard, with white covered pickups to a single ply plastic pickguard with black pickups in 1959. At the same time, rosewood fretboards were also offered, though maple boards do not seem to have been discontinued immediately.
Jimi Hendrix used two late fifties or early sixties Fender Duo-Sonics. The first, shown here with the Isley brothers, was a (most likely) 1959 or 1960 example in light colored (White or Desert Sand) finish - with an aftermarket Maestro tremolo. Later he played an early 1960s example with Curtis Knight. Interestingly, both were 21 fret, short scale (22 1/2") examples. Hendrix certainly didn't have small hands.
1961 Fender Duo Sonic Image Heritage auctions
In late 1964, the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic were re-styled, with the new Mustang having the same body style. All three guitars were available either with a 21 fret, 22 1/2" scale student model, or a larger 22 fret 24" scale. Body colors were now solid Red, White or Blue, with white pearloid scratchplates on Red and Blue instruments, and red tortoiseshell on White instruments. An extra on/off and tone control for each pickup was mounted onto the scratchplate above each pickup. There were also some hardware changes - note the separate control plate holding the master volume and tone controls, and new design bridge without cover.
The final redesign of the Duo-Sonic and Musicmaster was described in the November 1964 edition of Fender newsletter Fender Facts
The Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic have recently undergone changes which we believe their performance and appearance.
The bodies of both instruments are now contoured similar to that of the Mustang. They are available in red, white or blue finishes with either a 22 1/2 or 24 inch neck.
Both guitars have a full range tone control and in addition, the Duo-Sonic is provided with a three-position switch for each pickup. The middle position turns the pickups off and tone changes will be made on either side of the off position. Eight different tone selections are therefor available, plus the normal tone and volume controls.
The Duo-Sonic dual pickup and Musicmaster single pickup 3/4 or regular size guitars are truly outstanding instruments in their price range and will provide top performance and appearance.
The Fender Musicmaster / Duo-Sonic II / Mustang series as shown in the 1966 Fender catalogue. The Mustang and Musicmaster were popular guitars that remained in the Fender line throughout the 1970s. The Duo-Sonic, however, was last included in the May 1969 price list, with a final tag of $189.50.
The Fender Duo-Sonic has been reissued occasionally from the 1980s onwards, in various incarnations, including the rather nice Fender Duo-Sonic HS. The Fender Squier Duo-Sonic or 'Classic Vibe Duo-Sonic' is a great replica of the original 1950s guitar - though with the longer 24" scale of most post-1964 Duo-Sonics.