Fender Champion Lap Steel Electric Guitar (1950)

Fender  Champion Lap Steel Electric Guitar  (1950)
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Item # 9709
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Fender Champion Model Lap Steel Electric Guitar (1950), made in Fullerton, California, serial # 1398, yellow pearloid finish, hardwood body.

This Champion is a fine and very early example of Fender's "bread and butter" lap steel guitar from the 1950s, the instrument that kept the company afloat in the first years. Introduced in 1949 and marketed as a student instrument, the Champion Steel was -- and remains -- a great-sounding lap guitar fully suited to professional use.

The flashy plastic-covered symmetrical two-bout body has a chrome bridge and cover plate, and a metal fingerboard pinned to the body with black paint screening to outline fret positions. The headstock has a metal facing with an integral nut stamped with lighting bolt logo and "Fender Electric Instrument Co. Fullerton, California".

This example has a fairly low serial number 1398 stamped on the bridgeplate. It pre-dates the use of masking tape signature tags in the electronics cavity and the pot dates are soldered over so is not possible to date it exactly, but the serial number places it from mid/late 1950 to very early 1951. The slot-head screws used are also indicators of an early model. The original pickup is from the same period as the first Fender Broadcaster/Nocaster Spanish guitars and although the baseplate is different the coil and windings are the same as those now-legendary primal solidbodies.

The knobs on this particular guitar are unusual…instead of the standard chrome knurled pieces they are radio-style knobs made of cream Bakelite with three deep grooves across the top. At first we assumed they had been changed, BUT they are the exact same pieces used on earlier K&F and some pre-1950 Fender steels. Those are usually brown, but it is certainly possible that a few cream-colored samples were around the factory and were used; Leo and his crew never wasted anything! While we cannot absolutely guarantee these knobs are original to the instrument, they are certainly period and a Fender-used style.

Over the years many Champs have sacrificed their pickups to provide the engine for vintage Telecaster recreations -- especially these earliest models. This one has fortunately avoided that fate, and its Broadcaster-style pickup and wiring are intact. It remains a truly superb sounding steel guitar with a bright, singing tone and a genuine early 1950s Fender instrument at a relatively reasonable price!
Overall length is 29 3/4 in. (75.6 cm.), 7 1/2 in. (19 cm.) wide at lower bout, and 1 3/8 in. (3.5 cm.) in depth, measured at side of rim. Scale length is 22 1/2 in. (572 mm.). Width of nut is 2 1/4 in. (57 mm.).

This is a nicely clean and original Champion, showing just light wear overall. The chrome parts and plastic body covering show some minor wear spots. The blue-painted underside has some loss to the paint; most of the light coat of flocking once applied there is long gone. The only alteration is new buttons on the original Kluson strip tuners, and as noted above POSSIBLY the knobs. The original early-style pickup and electronics are fully intact and sound fantastic. This is a super cool and comparatively rare Champion from the Broadcaster era, a small chip off the Fender grail. Excellent Condition.