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Francis Hall; Helped Fender, Rickenbacker Guitar Firms

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Francis C. Hall, who helped popularize electric guitars although he never learned to play one, has died at age 90.

Hall, who teamed with Leo Fender in Fender Guitars and later headed Rickenbacker Guitars, died Wednesday of heart failure in Laguna Beach.

More businessman than musician, Hall became intrigued with guitars and with Fender when he noticed that Fender’s Fullerton radio repair shop was ordering so many parts from his own Radio and Television Equipment Co.

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Hall sent a salesman, Don Randall, to see what was going on, and soon learned that Fender was building electric guitars and amplifiers. Hall wanted a piece of the action.

“Radio and Television Equipment Co. was a wholesaler in a very price-competitive business,” Randall told Music Trades in 1996. “The idea of getting involved in a product where we controlled the brand name seemed exciting.”

Fender, who had started building the electric guitars in 1945 with professional guitar player Clayton “Doc” Kaufman as K&F; Guitars, was on his own and cash-starved by the time Hall found him in 1948. The two formed a partnership as Fender Guitars, with the manufacturing arm owned by Fender and the distribution arm owned by Hall.

Hall’s infusion of capital enabled expansion of production, creation of a catalog and moving Fender out of his little firetrap factory into two new 30-by-40-foot corrugated steel buildings.

Hall and Fender had personality differences from the start, and after five years of a stormy partnership, Hall left Fender Guitars in 1953.

He did not leave the guitar manufacturing business, however. He joined Rickenbacker Guitars, the company generally recognized as the inventor of the electric guitar, and became its chief executive.

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Hall, a quiet man, befriended many of the musicians who played the guitars he built, including the Beatles.

Hall’s son, John, who now runs Rickenbacker Guitars, said his father helped make Orange County a major production center for the electric guitar.

Hall is survived by his son and his wife, Lydia.

A crypt-side service is scheduled today at 10:30 a.m. at Fairhaven Memorial Park & Mortuary in Santa Ana.

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