Fender MIJ Esquire from BMF '95

Bob Leggitt | Friday 18 November 2011
Fender Esquire

In 1995, a nearby music shop picked up a number of special guitars from BMF ’95 – that year’s British Music Fair. They were instruments the shop didn’t normally stock, and since this was a big music shop, there wasn’t much they didn’t keep as standard.

One of the products among the purchase was a Fender MIJ Esquire. It was actually the first time I’d seen this particular model of Esquire, and for someone who was in the shop every week whether in a position to buy anything or not, that confirmed the guitar was rare - at least in the UK. I’d always wanted an Esquire, so I got my deposit down, and excitedly picked up the guitar on 25th August 1995, a week or two after first seeing it.

This Esquire is individual in a number of ways, and is distinct from the so-called ’54 reissue - itself not a particularly common sight in the UK shops...

  • Firstly, it has steel bridge saddles, rather than the brass jobs which came on Fender Japan's '50s Teles and Esquires. These are the saddles that were standard on the MIJ '68 Thinline.
  • Secondly, it doesn't have the Blonde finish used on other MIJ '50s Teles and Esquires. It's instead finished in a fully opaque solid colour. It does look Blonde, but Blonde was translucent so it's certainly not a regular MIJ Blonde paint job. Other possibles in the catalogue include Off White Blonde - which looks about right for the colour, but should again be translucent. Or Yellow White, which was an opaque finish meant to simulate a heavily aged Olympic White. It looks too dark for that, so I'm stumped.
  • Thirdly, although the guitar has the '50s standard of single layer scratchplate, it's fixed with eight screws a la the early 1960s, rather than the 1950s allocation of just five.
  • Fourthly, the body is very light in weight. Quite obviously more so than my ash MIJ '50s Tele, and also a bit lighter than my alder MIJ '62 Custom Tele reissue. In fact it's barely any heavier than my '68 Thinline reissue, if indeed it's not the same weight. There are no weight-reducing body cavities visible on the guitar, so my assumption is that it's just a very, very light lump of alder or basswood. The body is definitely not the same as those typical on the standard MIJ '50s Tele family reissues.

Beyond those idiosyncrasies, the guitar conforms to the spec of an MIJ '50s reissue Esquire. And there's an "ESQ-54" stamp in the neck pocket, which suggests it was at least originally meant to be a '50s reissue. The neck is close to bog standard MIJ '50s and is similar to the one on my standard MIJ '50s reissue Tele - except it has a slightly chunkier feel, it says "Esquire" on the headstock, and the serial number is on the back of the neck near the body join, rather than being on the bridge plate. The serial number is in the regular 1990s Japan series, and so does not conform to the early to mid 1990s norm of keeping Tele type guitars in the A-series - which had been established in the first half of the 1980s.

There's no neck date, and there's also no "FENDER" stamp on the neckplate. Two of my MIJ Teles from this period have the neckplate "FENDER" stamp, and the other has a large reverse "F". The Esquire has a blank plate like my MIJ Strats.

Fender Esquire neck pocket
The Esquire's neck pocket shows an ESQ-54 designation, indicating that the body should be standard reissue fare, but the opaque finish and very light weight say otherwise. You can also see, on the exposed wood area in the neck pocket, the lighter off-whitish colour that lies beneath the lacquer top coats.

This is clearly an unusual guitar, whose appointments differ from those of the standard model.


Contrary to what was believed for years (and indeed still is believed in some quarters), the Esquire was Fender’s first production solid guitar, coming before the Broadcaster, and the later Telecaster. Much of the misinformation regarding the timelines (if not all of it) came from the press’s willingness to take as gospel everything key company figures such as George Fullerton and Leo Fender said.

Fullerton and Fender said for years that the Broadcaster first appeared in 1948, and this was relayed to the public without any cross-referencing, in a huge variety of written accounts. However, in the 1980s, the white Fender solid body prototype was studiously examined. This pioneering artefact, which would obviously have predated all Broadcasters and Esquires, featured electric components which were traceable to summer 1949. The components were dated via manufacturing codes, from which their production dates could be ascertained. The new information immediately dispelled any semblance of Broadcasters being built in 1948.

In the light of this, letters, memos, catalogues, price lists and other records were duly revisited, and greater attention was paid to the early guitars themselves. In keeping with the new findings, it was clear that no Broadcasters or Esquires existed before 1950.

The first electric solid to appear in a Fender catalogue was a black Esquire, in spring 1950. It was a single pickup model – and this led to the discovery of incontrovertible evidence that the Esquire came first. After further ferretting through Fender records, it transpired that the dies necessary to manufacture the Broadcaster/Telecaster neck pickup were not even purchased until late June 1950.

From summer 1950 some Esquires appeared with two pickups, and these also pre-dated a name change to ‘Broadcaster’. All of this production was, however, very small scale. Including both single and twin pickup models, it’s thought that total production amounted to somewhere in the region of 20 Esquires before the birth of the Broadcaster in November 1950. Some Esquires were black, with a single layer light greenish nitrate scratchplate, but the greater number were blond with a black plate. The Fender Esquire was the instrument that started it all.


I know that when I first saw a single pickup Esquire, I thought: “What does the selector switch actually select?” Initially I even wondered if there was a second pickup with a horrendously strong magnet underneath the scratchplate or something. Well, if you haven’t previously used or explored the Esquire and you’re thinking along the same lines, you can find full details of the guitar's workings along with a look under the control plate in Why Does a Fender Esquire Have a Pickup Selector Switch?

Fender Esquire and Pro Junior amp


I’ve fitted this maverick mid '90s MIJ Esquire with a Seymour Duncan Vintage Broadcaster pickup, which has tightened up the sound without losing the biting top end and solid lows. It's not enormously different from the Fender Japan Tele lead pickups in character. The Vintage Broadcaster pickup has more windings and a higher resistance which would normally equate to higher output. But because the Duncan magnets are aged (weakened), the output difference is not particularly noticeable. The Duncan pickup is just fuller with a more substantial midrange - and that creates a smoother overdrive, whilst prioritising twang above fidelity.

As I update this post in 2020 - a quarter of a century after the guitar was purchased new - one of the most notable points about its inherent sound is that it hasn't matured as much as that of my other MIJ Teles. It's sill an excellent guitar with a wonderfully usable and versatile tone. But that tone hasn't deepened and mellowed to the same extent that its FujiGen Gakki-made sisters' tone has done.

For anyone concerned about any lack of versatility in a single-pickup guitar, the Esquire is living proof that one great sound can go a lot further than fifteen average ones. What comes out of that edge-mounted jack socket is snappy but full, and sustain is excellent. Country lead breaks with fast picking absolutely blaze along on this guitar. In fact I can’t imagine any other guitar rendering that kind of material more impressively. I’ve had a lot of Telecasters, including a 1990 American Standard, various MIJ reissues, a Thinline, a JV series Squier, an ’88 Squier, a USA ’52 reissue, and high-end non-Fenders such as an early Levinson Blade. This Esquire has more country twang than any Tele I either do own, or have owned. I wouldn’t say it’s got my very favourite Tele sound, but it’s certainly got the sound which most implores a player to fingerpick.


In truth I do prefer this design of guitar to have a neck pickup as well as the bridge unit. But I've never run into another MIJ Esquire like this one, so since it's something a bit different, with a twang to end all twangs, there's no way I'd consider letting it go. I could add a neck pickup I suppose, but then there'd be no point in having an Esquire, and I really like the idea of using the selector switch to engage preset tone registrations with the bridge pickup. That's something you can't do on a standard Telecaster, or a twin pickup Esquire. This has always been a special guitar, and so it will remain. It's not a Telecaster, and in my lifetime, it never will be.

This post was updated in June 2020.

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