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Today (August 10) Leo Fender was born in 1909. He was an inventor and manufacturer of electronic musical instruments, including the first solid-body electric guitar, the Fender Broadcaster, in 1946. The guitar he is most famous for, the Fender Stratocaster, came along in 1954, and became the favorite for many rock musicians including Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.

Fender grew up in Southern California and enjoyed working with electronics at an early age. He initially trained as an accountant but continued to work with electronics on the side designing and building public address (PA) systems for local bands. After a few Depression-era lay-offs from accounting jobs, he eventually set up a radio repair shop where he also rented and sold PA systems. As music tastes shifted from the big bands to boogie-woogie and rhythm and blues, musicians needed a guitar that was durable, louder and cheaper. Fender’s new solid-body, amplified guitars fit the need and became iconic.

A year after his death in 1991, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and in 2009, he was awarded a Technical Grammy Award in recognition of his “contributions of outstanding technical significance to the recording field.”

In honor of Leo Fender, pluck a few of your own “strings” and explore some simple sound vibrations with this activity from our book Family Science!

Strumming

What you’ll need:

  • Rubber band (various sizes)
  • Small mug or cup

What you do:

  • Stretch a rubber band vertically around a mug, crossing the opening of the mug.
  • Holding the bottom of the mug against your ear, pluck the rubber band.
  • Add different sizes of rubber bands, and then pluck the rubber bands one at a time. Try strumming across all of the bands.
  • Describe the sounds you hear to a friend or family member.
  • What would you do to the rubber bands if you wanted to change their sounds?

What’s happening?

Sounds are produced when objects vibrate. You can produce different sounds by varying the tightness of the rubber bands. When stretched the same amount, a thin rubber band produces a higher pitch than a thick rubber band.

Have fun!