Doc Kauffman

When Dan came home from school today, I noticed he was wearing a Fender Since 1946 tee-shirt. This triggered a memory I hadn’t thought about in years.

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In the early 1940’s, two men formed an Orange County partnership called Kauffman & Fender. Leo Fender and Clayton “Doc” Kauffman initially made Hawaiian lap steel guitars and later experimented with solid body prototype electrics of the Broadcaster (Telecaster) and Precision Bass. Kauffman left the company and Leo renamed it Fender Electric Instrument Company.

When I was growing up in Orange County (circa 68-71), I would bring my 1958 Fender Stratocaster to Doc for “tune-ups”. In reality, my guitar didn’t need a tune-up. I just enjoyed hanging out with him. He had stories about electric instruments dating back to the 1920s, designing guitars for Rickenbacker in the 1930’s, and so much more. He never failed to remind me that the tremolo arm on my Strat was his patented design.

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Doc (1975 photo above by Rob Cusuman in Doc’s living room) would take me into his garage and walk me through all the steps of setting up a Stratocaster on his workbench – which I already knew. It was the only way I could hear more stories. One day, probably the last time I visited him, he grabbed on old piece of plastic — I think it was one of the newer (at that time) plastic milk cartons. He cut out a piece of plastic in the shape of a guitar pick.

Then, with a conductors hole punch, he punched three small holes in the shape of a triangle. He handed it to me and said, “this is the Doc Kauffman pick”. Daniel’s tee-shirt reminded me about the Doc Kauffman pick. I remember years ago putting it in my Yamaha 12-string electric case, along with a broken Kluson low-E tuning machine from the 58 Strat. A moment ago, I dug into my case stack – and found it!

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Clay “Doc” Kauffman was the technical guru behind the first Fender guitars, some of which remain in production today (P-bass, Tele). I think it’s just too cool that, as a kid, I had a chance to hang with inventor of many of today’s most popular electric instruments.

Wikipedia lists Doc’s passing in 1990. Apparently (I’ve not seen it) Doc has a section devoted to him in (Microsoft founder) Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project under the Space Needle in Seattle.

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16 thoughts on “Doc Kauffman

  1. Hi, Doc was my grandfather. Great story, where can I order a T Shirt??
    Looks like the photo was in his living room in the old Parton St Santa Ana home.
    Thanks! Obtw: I have his “old yeller” personal guitar and an original
    K&F laptop..

    • Jeff, I have one of 10 Flotars that your grandfather made. I have the orginal reciept with his business stamp on it. I just pulled the file out, it is one of 12 that was made.
      C O Kauffman
      1238 South Parton
      Santa Ana, CA 92707. I would like to talk to you. My Ph. is (928) 759-0817
      Thank You
      Cheri Leary

    • Hi,

      I am a guitar historian and proud owner of one of Doc’s earliest known guitars from around 1942. I was wondering if you or the family might have any info. or pictures about Doc from the period of 1938-42. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

      Thanks
      Lynn

  2. Hey Jeff! Thanks for writing. Great to hear from Doc’s grandson. Yes, that’s where i visited with Doc – in their home in old Santa Ana. Sorry, no t-shirts – but if you ever make some, do an extra one for me. The “old yeller” guitar is a treasure. If you send me a photo, I’ll put it in the blog.

    • I refinished guitars, mandolins, etc in OC from 1974-1976. I had the distinct pleasure of doing an old blond Gibson for Doc (which he graciously entrusted to me, an unknown!) I loved his stories and his workshop out back. He showed me his ‘toilet seat (guitar?)’ and many clever things he was working on. He was funny and brilliant. He also had a patent for the record changer system! I felt honored to have met him.
      TW

  3. I had the pleasure of meeting Doc Kauffman in the spring of ’74.
    Friends from work were musicians and Doc would come up in conversation from time to time. They grew up in his neighborhood and mentioned his work with Leo Fender and that he performed guitar repairs. I contacted Doc and he invited me to his house as I needed a repair on an old Gibson SG Junior.

    A nicer man there never was. Doc was kind, funny, interesting, and more. He showed me pictures of himself and Leo proudly holding lap steels and amps with their upside-down tube arrangement.
    I had no sense of his genius until just recently (thank you Jeanne). He said a few words about the lap steel and the amp, but that was it.
    I wish I could have told him the Precision Bass was (and still is) without equal and that I would sketch them when I should have been listening to my teachers. The world needs to better understand Doc’s contributions to modern music.

    It was an honor to have met him.

  4. I was only Eleven when I met Doc. I had an old Key arch top Yellow I had cracked. I guy I knew said he knew this guy that could fix it. I went to see Doc and there he was just three blocks from my home on Parton Street. Doc like so many others had a lot of stories but what I found was he didn’t just talk he had a real interest. He helped me design a stereo guitar and was very interested. I had some good fun talking to Doc in his workshop next to the garage. Doc taught me how to wind pickups and set up the proper resistance. I was just a kid in the area. He had this five neck guiitar he was taking it to Las Vegas for a show he asked me too get my picture standing just behind it. I did and Doc was delieghted. I always wondered what became of the guitar and my picture? I last saw Doc in the mid seventies in his workshop there on Parton. I will never forget the kind ol’ guy in the workshop who made guitars.

    • HI,

      I would like to converse with you about Doc, and get some biographical info, etc.
      I have an associate that knew Doc. I met him back a long time ago and may have some interesting info.

      I’m interested in the Flotar!

      Thank you,
      David

      • David, I bought the Flotar from Clayt Nordin who knew “Doc”. That was in 1992. I use to get a call fro a couple of years from a woman who said that she had someone that wanted to buy one of “Doc’s” Flotars. Only 10 were made. I have the original reciept.
        I would like to know more myself. I’m the only musician left in my family, I would like the Flotar to go to someone who would really appreciate it. My Ph. (928) 759-0817Give me a call.

  5. I previously replied, perhaps you did not receive. If you are interested, please send me you a phone number to call you on.

  6. Hi Jeff,
    I just found your site here & noticed my pic that I took of Doc in his living room.
    I Just wanted to say great job on his Bio and the link for me is broken..you might want to try linking it again to my website. Thanks & Blessings to you!

  7. Anyone remember Doc’s love of ‘the newlywed game’ and his habit of eating a fresh (red) onion with his lunch?

    I visited Doc many times at his Santa Ana home — trying to learn about guitar repair.

    Great guy, funny guy — but his love of that dumb TV show — and the sliced onions (he always offered me some — I declined) really stick in my memory.

    • Doc always had fresh raw garlic cloves in his pocket, that’s what I recall him offering. He insisted they kept him in good health and generously handed them out to anyone who accepted.

  8. I remember doc taking me for a ride in that cool yellow one seat cart with flowers on it he pulled behind a bicycle. He also had a sweet collection of toys the John deer farm equipment was the best!

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