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.
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.
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!
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.