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The Fender Lead, the almost forgotten guitar

Lets take a trip back to 1979...

The Clash and Dire Straits started their first American tour, My Sharona hits #1, (This is the first time in over a year that a song hit #1 that is not either a disco song or a ballad), INXS has their first public performance, Pink Flyod releases The Wall, Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols) dies from an overdose, and Fender releases the Lead Series guitars!

Born from Dennis Handa’s idea to have a model of guitar that was cheaper than a strat, attractive and had some alternative pickup options.

At its release, the series consisted of Lead I, Lead II, Lead III and a Lead Bass model, although the Lead Bass never made it to production, the prototype had 2 angled single coil pickups and 34inch scale. 

Fender Lead bass

The Lead Series were produced at Fender’s Fullerton factory in California from 1979 – 1982. It's run was short lived due to Fender Japans established and the release of the Fender Squier Japanese Vintage Series. Musicians being disheartened with Fender US’s direction since the CBS takeover and the Japanese Vintage (JV) series being reminiscent of the golden era of the 50s and 60s, which also fell in that lower price bracket which rendered the Lead series pointless.

Lets take a deeper look into the Lead Series, cause that’s why we are here isn’t it?

Lead I (1979-1982) this model is the single pickup version, with a splitable humbucker at the bridge. With a 3 way pickup switch (single neck coil – both – single bridge coil), series/parallel switch which is only functionable in humbucker mode (middle), Master volume and tone controls.Original Fender Lead series ad

 Lead II (1979-1982) this model is the 2 single coil version (X-1 pickup neck and bridge) this pickup was also used on the “STRAT” and Dan Smith Strat models. Other features were a 3 way pickup switch, 2 position phase switch (in phase, out of phase) which only works when both pickups are selected (middle position), Master volume and tone controls.

Lead III (1982) this model is similar the Lead II but is the 2 humbucker version (neck and bridge). 3 way pickup switch (neck - neck bridge - bridge), 3 position to select coil tap (only use neck side coil of both pickups – both standard humbuckers – only use bridge side coil of both bridge split), Master volume and tone controls.

Fender Lead Series Guitars

The Lead models have touches similar to the Strat and Tele in their design. Similarities coming from the strat include its slightly smaller double cut away body, neck and headstock. The string through body taken from the telecaster.

Did anyone famous use these guitars? YES!

Bono from U2 used a black Lead II during the War Tour in 1983.

Bono Fender Lead II guitar

Eric Clapton donated a Lead II to Isaac Tigrett (hard rock cafe founder). Isaac did not play guitar so Eric suggested he hang it on the wall. This was the first memorabilia to be displayed at a Hard RockCafe and the catalyst for the tradition of the memorabilia on the restaurants walls. Rumor has it the reason he really donated this guitar was to “claim” his favorite seat where it was hung

Eric Clapton Fender Lead II guitar

Elliot Easton from the Cars, used a Lead in the song Touch and Go from the album Panorama.

Steve Morse from the Deep Purple used a Wine Red Transparent Lead II. He was the first endorser of the Fender Lead series and premiered the guitar at Namm. 

Steve Morse Fender Lead II GuitarFender Lead Series Steve Morse Guitar Ad

David Byrne from Talking Heads also used the Wine Red Transparent Lead II.

Arriving to January 2020 Fender US relaunches the Fender Lead II & III at Namm, as part of the Player Series, of course with some modernizations. Lets have a look at the comparison chart


1979 - 1982



Vintage soft C

Modern C


7 ¼ Inch

9.5 Inch


1.60 Inches / 40.64mm

1.65 Inches / 42mm


Heel of neck



21, Medium

22, Medium Jumbo



Synthetic Bone


25 ½ Inch

25 ½ Inch



L2 - Player Series Alnico 5 Strat SingleCoil

L3 - Player Series Alnico 2 Humbucking


Black, Wine Red Transparent, Arctic White, Cherry Sunburst and Sienna Sunburst

Neon Green, Black, Purple Metallic, Crimson Red Transparent, Sienna Sunburst and Olympic White


Ash and Alder



Maple & Rosewood

Maple & Pau Ferro


Fender have issued these models in all the original colours (white is variation) but also added some more our there colours for people who want to be noticed.

When you look back at the Mustang's revival several decades after its release with the punk and grunge movement, the Lead may just follow in its footsteps with the desire these days for something retro yet alternative.

Fender Lead Series guitars 2020