Dale Hyatt, the last surviving “original” employee of Leo Fender’s radio and amp shop, died March 28. He was 87. Born December 10, 1925, in Pittsburg, Kansas, Hyatt served as a tail-gunner in a B-17 bomber in the European theater during World War II, with 35 missions flown. After the war, he was stationed at the Santa Ana Air Base and fell in love with the beauty of Southern California as well as the woman who would become his wife. In 1945, he elected to discharge from the military and pursue a new career.
In January of 1946, he began working for Leo Fender, learning all areas of production before being promoted to a shop floor supervisory role within six months. Hyatt convinced Fender to stop outsourcing the amplifier cabinet covering operation and spent time with the vendor to learn the process. He built the steel cutting templates and set up the operations to handle the “tweeding” process in-house. After a full day of work at the factory, Hyatt would take instruments and amplifiers to local clubs for musicians to try out with the intention of generating sales. He essentially became Fender’s first salesman.
Hyatt assumed management of Leo’s original radio/record shop so Leo could focus on the instrument/amplifier business. After the store’s demise in 1950, he became Fender’s first salesman; after a full day of work, he would take instruments and amplifiers to local clubs for musicians to try out with the intention of generating sales.
In 1955, he was hired by Don Randall as a regional sales manager, and he would travel through Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico for weeks on end, carrying inventory in his vehicle. During the day, he called on music stores and studios and in the evenings peddled the goods at night clubs and honkey-tonks.
By ’62, Hyatt moved to Tulsa to run a new distribution center and also continue in a sales function. After the company’s acquisition by CBS, he held high-level positions in sales and marketing, but eventually became disillusioned by management and the declining quality of the products. He resigned from CBS Fender in 1972 to join Don Randall, who had established his own brand of amplifiers. In ’79, he was approached by Leo Fender to become a business partner handling sales and marketing for G&L.
Along with Leo Fender, George Fullerton, and Lloyd Chewning, Hyatt was a founding member of G&L with a minority ownership stake. From 1980 until ’85, Hyatt ran sales and marketing, helping develop instruments. From ’85 until ’91, he managed the manufacturing and marketing after Leo bought Fullerton’s stake, staying heavily involved with the development of product. He also revised various manufacturing processes to reduce scrap and improve quality of the instruments while reducing costs.
Hyatt retired from G&L in November of 1991. He was critical to Leo’s success throughout the decades in a variety of functions. Today, he is revered by musicians around the world for contributing to the development, growth, and distribution of the electric guitar, bass, and amplifier. – Gabe Dellevigne