Clas­sic Gear

Guitarist - - Contents -

The Fen­der Esquire rep­re­sents a his­toric turn­ing point in gui­tar evo­lu­tion. Es­sen­tially a sin­gle pickup vari­ant of the Tele­caster (al­though some very rare, early dual-pickup Esquires have been doc­u­mented) it first ap­peared in cat­a­logues in the spring of 1950 and pre­ceded the au­tumn 1950 an­nounce­ment of the Broad­caster – which was later re­named the Tele­caster due to Gretsch’s cease and de­sist let­ter – by sev­eral months.

The Esquire and Broad­caster/Tele­caster were the first solid­body elec­tric gui­tars to en­ter mass pro­duc­tion, and 67 years later re­mark­ably lit­tle has changed in terms of their core de­sign. To this day they re­main pop­u­lar in­stru­ments, tes­ta­ment to prac­ti­cal but for­ward-think­ing fea­tures that have stood the test of time in­cred­i­bly well.

Leo Fen­der set out to de­sign an ‘elec­tric Span­ish’ style gui­tar that was less prone to feed­back than semi-acous­tic de­signs and also easy to main­tain and ser­vice. He achieved this by means of simple yet ef­fec­tive in­no­va­tions start­ing with a solid body, a bolt-on neck, fully ad­justable bridge and in­di­vid­ual pickup pole­pieces. His Fen­der col­league Ge­orge Fuller­ton de­signed the now iconic body shape and the fledg­ling in­stru­ment was proudly un­veiled at the 49th NAMM trade show in July 1950, priced at $139.50.

For a short pe­riod of time, from Septem­ber 1950 to Jan­uary 1951, Fen­der ceased pro­duc­tion of Esquires as they ramped up pro­duc­tion of the Broad­caster. When the Esquire resur­faced, it was of­fered at $149.50 as a less ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tive to the $189.50 dual-pickup Broad­caster/ Tele­caster. Al­though both gui­tar mod­els were routed for two pick­ups and sported a three-way switch, the sin­gle-pickup Esquire fea­tured a unique wiring sys­tem that en­abled se­lec­tion of three modes (as op­posed to switch­ing be­tween pick­ups): high-end cut, tone con­trol en­gaged and tone con­trol by­passed in the for­ward, mid­dle and rear po­si­tions re­spec­tively.

Al­though some of the very ear­li­est ex­am­ples of the Esquire were as­sem­bled with a pine body and painted black in or­der to dis­guise the com­par­a­tively unattrac­tive nat­u­ral fig­ur­ing of the wood, later reg­u­lar pro­duc­tion mod­els were typ­i­cally con­structed with an ash body and a hard/ rock maple neck. The nat­u­ral acous­tic prop­er­ties of these tonewoods, cou­pled

Leo Fen­der’s con­cept for the Esquire was to en­gi­neer an elec­tric Span­ish style gui­tar that solved a va­ri­ety of prob­lems

with Fen­der’s unique sin­gle coil pick­ups, gave the gui­tar an in­her­ently bright, per­cus­sive tone with a sharp at­tack and many Esquire own­ers will tell you that they have a more ag­gres­sive and chunky tonal char­ac­ter than their sib­ling, the Tele­caster.

Along with the Broad­caster/Tele­caster, these early ash body but­ter­scotch blonde fin­ish Esquire gui­tars are widely con­sid­ered to be some of the finest Fend­ers ever built, which means they are also highly col­lectable. But by 1954 the fin­ish was light­ened to a creamier, more off-white colour and the black bake­lite pick­guard changed to a white ABS ma­te­rial, mark­ing the end of the clas­sic ‘black­guard’ era of pro­duc­tion.

Due to its sim­plic­ity and ver­sa­til­ity, the Esquire has found its way into the hands of many great play­ers over the years, in­clud­ing Bruce Spring­steen, Pink Floyd’s Syd Bar­rett, Jeff Beck and The Ea­gles’ Joe Walsh. Far from be­ing a poor re­la­tion to the Tele­caster, it’s a son­i­cally dis­tinct clas­sic in its own right. Try one, if you haven’t al­ready. [RB]

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