Esquire in two-tone sunburst
1950 (original run)|
1951-1969 (second run), with reproductions available later
|Bridge||Proprietary three-saddle string-through|
|Pickup(s)||1 single-coil (some 1950 examples were equipped with 2 pickups)|
Shades of blonde and white|
The Fender Esquire is a solid-body electric guitar manufactured by Fender, the first solid-body guitar sold by Fender, debuting in 1950. Shortly after its introduction, a two-pickup version was introduced and was renamed the Broadcaster a few months later; the single pickup version retained the Esquire name. The Gretsch Company at the time marketed a drum set under the 'Broadkaster' name, and at their request, Fender dropped the Broadcaster name, eventually renaming their guitar the "Telecaster". The more versatile Broadcaster/Telecaster has since become one of Fender's most popular models with dozens of variations produced. Once the Telecaster was introduced, the Esquire became marketed as a lower-cost version. Over the following two decades, the availability of other low-cost models saw the Esquire's sales decline and the model was discontinued in 1969.
The model has since been reissued but remains a relatively "niche" guitar. Esquire users today prefer the model's increased treble over the Telecaster. Although the Esquire was the original model introduced, given the popularity and uninterrupted production of the Telecaster, the limited reissued Esquire models are generally regarded and billed as variants of the Telecaster.
The first prototype for the Esquire (and the later Telecaster) was completed by Leo Fender in the fall of 1949. The prototype shared with these guitars the now-familiar slab body shape with single cutaway to allow easier access to the upper frets. It likewise featured the distinctive combination bridge and pickup assembly, with a slanted pickup with individual pole pieces for each string, and three bridge saddles which allowed adjustment of string length in pairs and individual string height. The neck, like the first Esquires manufactured in 1950, was made from a single piece of maple without a truss rod. The neck was attached to the body with four screws and an anchor plate, unlike in traditional guitar construction, where a tenon on the neck is glued into the body. Unlike the Esquire, the neck was wider at the nut, and the head had 3 tuners on each side. The prototype differed from the later production guitars in several other respects: the body was made of pinewood, it was painted opaque white, its pickguard did not extend above the strings, it lacked a selector switch, and its volume and tone knobs were mounted on a slanted plate. Like the production models, it had a removable pickup cover, but unlike the production models, the cover had straight sides. The prototype had only one pickup, as did Esquires manufactured from 1951 onwards.
Over the winter of 1949/50, Fender refined the design. The neck width at the nut was narrowed, and the head modified to accommodate all six tuners on one side. A tone selector switch was added, and the controls were mounted on a plate parallel to the strings. The scratch plate was enlarged. Around the spring of 1950, Fender had completed a neck pickup design, which was smaller than the lead pickup and was encased in a metal shielding cover. However, this last feature was not to make it onto Fender's first commercially introduced guitar, as Fender's distributor, the Radio & Television Equipment Company (RTEC), had decided that it would be easier to sell the single pickup version of the guitar.
The single pickup guitar was first manufactured in April 1950, and made its commercial debut as the Esquire in RTEC's Spring catalogue of that year. While the guitar pictured in the catalogue was painted black and had a white scratch plate, most of the Esquires produced at the time were painted semi-transparent "butterscotch" blonde and had a black scratch plate. Unlike the pinewood prototype, the bodies (thinner than the Broadcaster's at 1.5", instead of 1.75") were made of solid ash. The dual pickup version was first manufactured in June of that year. Neither version had a truss rod at that time, though in November, the dual pickup version acquired one and was renamed the Broadcaster. Following objections from Gretsch who produced the "Broadkaster" drum kit, this name was dropped, and some guitars were shipped with only the "Fender" logo decal and no model name (commonly referred to these days as the "Nocaster") until the name Telecaster was adopted. The guitar was designed as an electronic instrument with no acoustic manipulation of the tone. Rather the guitar's pickup was designed and placed to transmit the richest signal for later manipulation by the tone switch and other electronics.
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Following the renaming of the dual pickup Broadcaster, production and promotion of the single pickup Esquire was briefly discontinued. It was reintroduced with a truss rod in January 1951. The only external differences between these second generation Esquires and the Broadcasters and Telecasters of 1951 are the lack of a neck pickup, and the Esquire label on the head. Although the Esquire had only a single pickup, it retained the three-way switch of the two-pickup guitars. This switch modified the tone of the pickup by making it bassier in the forward position, while enabling use of the tone control knob in the middle position. With the switch in the rear position, these tone controls were bypassed entirely for a "hotter" lead tone.
Like the two-pickup guitar, these Esquires had a routed cavity in the neck pickup position. Thus, with the purchase of a neck pickup and replacement or modification of the pickguard, players could upgrade their instrument to a guitar identical to the Telecaster in every respect except for the model decal. Bruce Springsteen, for example, has long played an Esquire modified in this way. Springsteen has claimed that the guitar he is pictured with on the Born To Run album cover is, in fact, a hybrid of two guitars, a Telecaster body and Esquire neck. However, it is actually a first-generation Esquire with two pickup routs. The Esquires had Esquire pickguards to cover the neck pickup rout; Springsteen's guitar has a neck pickup installed, but not connected. 
The initial rationale for reintroducing the single pickup Esquire in 1951 had been to offer a more affordable option for musicians who could not afford the two-pickup guitar. However, with the introduction of cheaper student models such as the Mustang, the more expensive Esquire became a less attractive option, and it was sold in smaller and smaller quantities. Consequently, Fender discontinued the Esquire in 1969.
In 1986, Fender Japan began producing the Esquire, based on the 1954 version and under the brand "Squier by Fender". It featured threaded saddles and a white pickguard with either a butterscotch blonde or metallic red finish. Some people report that there was also a blackguard version, as well as a sunburst finish. These Esquires were imported to the USA.
Fender currently offers several '50s Esquire reproductions in their online catalog. The company considers the Esquire to be a member of the "family of Telecaster guitars." These Esquires are part of the MIM (made in Mexico) series. The Fender Custom Shop also manufactures a 1959 Esquire reproduction as part of its "Time Machine" series, a model distinguished by its top-loading bridge design. It is also notable that the Avril Lavigne signature Telecaster sold under the Squier by Fender brand resembles an Esquire since it only has a single pickup. Although the pickup in the Avril Lavigne Telecaster is a humbucker rather than the usual single coil, the guitar also features a 3-way selector switch that allows the player to isolate one coil of the pickup at a time, thus offering single coil tones just like the Esquire or even a normal Telecaster, or both coils at the same time for the intended humbucker sound.
Use of the Fender Esquire by several country musicians is popularly credited for the creation of one of the most distinctive and recognized sounds in American music history. In 1954 Luther Perkins played a slightly modified Esquire, recording the first Johnny Cash songs "Wide Open Road" and "Hey Porter". This guitar can also be heard on all records before "I Walk The Line", for which Perkins played an Esquire. Throughout his career Perkins used various Esquires. With this guitar, Perkins created the legendary "Boom Chicka Boom Sound" that identified Johnny Cash's music.
In 1966, Paul McCartney purchased a 1964 Fender Esquire model with a sunburst finish and rosewood fretboard. Though the guitar was a right-handed model, McCartney restrung it lefty in the style of Jimi Hendrix. During the Sgt. Pepper sessions McCartney used it on "Good Morning, Good Morning," "Helter Skelter."
Jeff Beck used a 1954 Esquire with the Yardbirds to create the famous guitar parts on "Over Under Sideways Down", "Shapes of Things", "I'm a Man," and "Heart Full of Soul". Beck bought it from the Walker Brothers guitarist John Maus while on tour with them. Maus had hand-shaved the body to be contoured like a Stratocaster. This guitar has significant wear and now belongs to pickup designer Seymour Duncan.
Syd Barrett, the original leader of Pink Floyd, was another prominent Esquire player. His successor David Gilmour used an Esquire with an added pickup on several songs, including "Dogs," "Run Like Hell" and his work on Paul McCartney's album Run Devil Run. Gilmour also uses an Esquire on his 2015 solo album, Rattle That Lock, notably on many of the album's guitar solos.