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Fender headstock: the Croatian connection

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by design, Feb 20, 2014.

  1. This is my first thread, and I want to raise two points:
    (1) the Fender Broadcaster headstock.
    So I've read that Leo Fender saw the Merle Travis/Paul Bigsby guitar on several occasions in the late '40s. According to Martin Kelly's book "Fender: the Golden Age" Fender's own Don Randall wrote in 1950 that this was "the one Leo copied".

    The Bigsby headstock sure looks like the later Strat headstock, but not so much like the broadcaster. Leo later claimed a Croatian connection. Here is a quote from Leo Fender in an interview in Guitar Player magazine September 1971:
    "Just one last question, whose idea was it to have the tuning gears located on one side of the peghead?
    Well, that's a very old idea that has been around for thousands of years. The Croatians, near Poland, have several instruments with tuning pegs located on one side of the guitar and they invented this years ago."

    From the reading I've been doing on the internet it would appear this "scroll" headstock can be attributed to the early 19th century Austrian luthier Johann Georg Stauffer, based in Vienna. This "Stauffer style" headstock is still used on some Classical Guitars, came over from vienna to the US with C.F. Martin, was carried on in Vienna by Stauffer's son, and spread throughout Central Europe to other guitar and lute related instruments.
    In Croatia, and other Central European countries, there are ensembles of Tamburica (or Tamburitza) with a family of 5, 6, 7 instruments. These are string bands, like a mandolin orchestra. Croats emigrated to the US, Canada, Australia etc. There are photos of large Tamburica ensembles in California in the early 20th century. Check out their Stauffer headstocks! Leo could have seen a group like these. These groups are still playing in the US (and Croatia) and luthiers are still making Tamburica.

    (2) the Precision Bass as the big brother to the Broadcaster.
    OK. So if we allow that Leo may have been influenced in his headstock design by Stauffer style headstocks on Croatian tamburica. Consider that the Tamburica are traditionally played in an ensemble comprising a FAMILY of instruments, like a string quartet. Small mandolin-like lutes, medium-sized guitar-like instruments, and a relative of the Double Bass.
    There's one called a Brac or Basprim, looks like an acoustic guitar. The next size up is called Celo, often with four strings, sometimes now tuned EADG. Hmm...
    There is often discussion about the precedence of other instrument makers who tried to electrify the Double Bass, but what of the consideration that, like in a string quartet, or a tamburica ensemble, Leo was making the big brother of the Broadcaster.

    Thanks for listening.
  2. garp


    Feb 7, 2009
    Connecticut USA
    Interesting points.

    And given Croatia’s relative proximity to Greece, it would come as no surprise to me that Clarence Leonidas Fender’s designs might’ve been consciously or subconsciously influenced by instruments of European origin.
    design likes this.
  3. MarkoYYZ

    MarkoYYZ Commercial User

    Jan 31, 2012
    Hammersmith Music
    Is this supposed to make up for Croatians having invented the much hated necktie???
    JakobT and design like this.
  4. Fredde


    Oct 21, 2010
    Helsinki, Finland

    SwitchGear and design like this.
  5. Looks like Ovation copied the mandos, too!

    Edit: Come to think of it, not just the headstock, but the rounded body backs, as well.
    design likes this.
  6. lpdeluxe

    lpdeluxe Still rockin'

    Nov 22, 2004
    Deep E Texas
    When Leo Fender and George Fullerton designed the Broadcaster and Precision, they were careful to make them easily manufactured by semi-skilled workers with a minimum of wasted material. There are very few points of similarity between the Bigsby/Travis guitar and the Broadcaster, other than the 6-on-a-side tuners. As already noted, that feature was hardly unique to Bigsby.

    When Freddie Tavares was hired on, the new instruments gained a lot in attractiveness, which included the Stratocaster's and the second-generation Precision's Bigsby-like headstock.

    I'm reasonably certain that Leo showed Freddie a photo of the Bigsby and said, "Let's do something like that." By that time, Paul Bigsby was no longer building guitars, having turned his attention to the Bigsby vibrato.

    How did Leo get a photograph of the Bigsby? Merle Travis has said that he loaned the guitar to Fender, and we know that Fender was in the habit of thoroughly checking out everything that fell into his hands, and he was an avid photographer.

    I'm basing this conclusion on what I have read in a number of books about Paul Bigsby and the early days of Fender.
    design, Willicious and Coolhandjjl like this.
  7. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    They were also trying for a head that would fit in a smaller mailing tube to sell replacement necks. The Fender neck was intended to be disposable and user-replaceable.

    But Bigsby's head design really does look proto-Strat.
    design likes this.
  8. The Bass Clef

    The Bass Clef “the brian” Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2010
    Southern California
    I always thought Fender designed his headstocks to look like the profile of a traditional violin/cello/double bass' scroll (when you look at it from the side).
  9. Duplo42


    Jan 23, 2007
    Confirming the tamburica headstock - they are widely used since forever in my country just north of Croatia - they are traditional instruments dating way before mentioned Vienna connection. I guess it was bigsby who copied them lol
    design likes this.
  10. The Stauffer-style headstock has been variously described as a scroll, a snail, and a Persian slipper!

    And yes, I thought the same about Ovation borrowing their headstock design too. I like that Ovation headstock.
  11. lpdeluxe

    lpdeluxe Still rockin'

    Nov 22, 2004
    Deep E Texas
    Good point -- that explains the minimal headstock width.

    Leo had the idea that the necks didn't need truss rods, and as you noted, that when one needed refretting or had some other fault, Fender could mail a new neck in a tube. It didn't take long for Don Randall to show Fender how quickly the truss-rod-less necks warped, and by the time the Strat was in the works, the idea of necks in mailing tubes was history.

    Personally, I find the early Broadcaster/Telecaster/Precision instruments to be very attractive, offering as they do a window into the thinking of Leo Fender. I have a reissue '51 and a Classic '50s as well as an AVRI '57. I love 'em all.:D


    (This pic was taken before I donated the fretless to a benefit for a local musician and before I got the AVRI '57.)
    design likes this.
  12. vmabus


    Nov 1, 2013
    They got that part right!
    kodiakblair likes this.
  13. EmuBass


    Jan 24, 2018
    Vienna, Austria
    Haha! Leo Fender: "The Croatians, near Poland, ..." and furthermore "Croatias relative proximity to Greece" (garp). This is what European geography looks like from California. Well, seeing "Vienna north of Croatia" (Duplo42) is not that wrong - in comparison. But all of Europe is a kind of Disneyland, I know ...
  14. Energy


    Jun 20, 2006
    The points you make are all correct, but ... is it worth digging out a 4 year old thread just for an unpolite rant?
  15. EmuBass


    Jan 24, 2018
    Vienna, Austria
    Is it unpolite? I just stumbled across this. The thread is quite interesting, besides geography.
  16. Energy


    Jun 20, 2006
    Yes it is. :thumbsup:
    design likes this.
  17. So...Energy and EmuBass, have either of you seen any Guitars actually made by Stauffer? Instrument museums in Austria, Germany, etc?
  18. EmuBass


    Jan 24, 2018
    Vienna, Austria
    Sorry. No. I didn't. I am a bass player! :thumbsup:
  19. S.F.Sorrow


    Dec 6, 2014
    I didn't find it unpolite at all. Just funny. Ok, so Croatia wasn't an independent country back then but it would still be comparable to saying something like "The Texans, near Guatemala".

    And yeah, very interesting thread!
    DirtDog likes this.
  20. Tvrtko


    Dec 27, 2002
    South of the USA
    Croatia was kingdom in the years around 900 (not 1900, just about 1000 years earlier). But, that's for some other TalkHistory board...
    S.F.Sorrow likes this.

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