The 1992 Squier MIK Stratocaster

Bob Leggitt | Tuesday 1 July 2014
If you know this site, you’ll be aware that there’s lots of stuff about the Squier Strats of the ‘80s and ‘90s (if not, you'll find it all via the Guitar Reviews and Retrospectives page), but there are still some missing pieces of the jigsaw. I’ve spoken briefly about the way Squier’s Korean output got progressively worse in the early 1990s, but I haven’t yet featured this inferior standard of gear or discussed it in detail. So in this post, I’m looking at the 1992 Korean Squier Stratocaster. In my opinion, the guitar which, whilst designed to do the opposite, eventually left Fender wide open to attack from rivals, forcing the brand to completely rethink its strategy in the middle of the decade.

Fender Squier Korean Strat in black

I remember seeing one of these re-formulated Korean Squiers when they very first hit the UK shops in spring ’92. I’d just come out of work at 5pm and was passing a music shop on Smallbrook Queensway in Birmingham city centre.

The Strat looked so cheap that it didn’t even register with me as a Squier at first, and I was very surprised to see the logo on the headstock. I assume the finish was supposed to be Lake Placid Blue, but it didn’t look like any rendition of the colour I’d seen before. It was lighter, brighter, and I felt it looked very tacky. It was basically metallic turquoise, and I suppose that feasibly it could have been passed off as Ocean Turquoise, but in truth it looked nothing like that either. The scratchplate was badly fitted, and its misalignment with the edges of the body remains the worst I’ve seen on any Fender-sanctioned guitar to this day. That poor scratchplate alignment was a trait on early '90s Samick-made Squier Strats, but I'd never before seen one that bad. At the time, my rather blunt synopsis was that the instrument looked like it had dropped out of a giant Christmas cracker.

I wasn’t surprised to see the new price point. The £149 figure was a serious step down from the £169 floor which had been held by the Korean Squiers prior to this. I was looking not at an unfortunate, one-off, ‘Friday afternoon special’, but at a completely new model. No Squier Stratocaster had been this cheap before. It was a move into a new ballpark that sought to take out more nagging rivals in the sub-£150 budget heartland.

On closer investigation, it became clear that not only was quality of assembly erratic; the body thickness had been reduced too. Korean Squier bodies had been made of plywood from the word go, but the first ones (circa 1987/8) were virtually indistinguishable from their solid Japanese predecessors in look and weight – even on very close examination. That was definitely no longer the case. From spring 1992, the new Korean Squiers didn’t conform to traditional Fender Strat body dimensions. Not only were you getting plywood – you were getting less of it, and the indications that the body was made of ply were much more apparent than had been the case in ‘87.

It’s easy, of course, to be disparaging about cost-cutting, but before pointing the finger at Fender you have to take into account what was happening in the market. By this time, Fender had suffered for well over a decade with not just copyists passively producing compatible alternatives, but co-ordinated campaigns devised to disable the brand’s effectiveness at targeted points in the market.

In the ‘70s, cheap copies were generally rubbish, bordering on unplayable. But by the early ‘90s it was a different world, and many of the beginners’ electric guitars were highly usable – some even acceptable to professionals. They may have looked a bit basic and/or slapdash, but unlike the mid ‘70s copies, they encouraged novices to play, rather than putting them off for life. If a kid could go into a shop and play a Squier Strat and a Vester copy side by side, and the Vester was at least as good but cheaper, the Squier brand was no longer doing its job and stifling out rivals who were trying to break in from below. To stave off these evermore value-conscious Korean-made rivals, Fender had to keep competing on price, and that’s exactly what prompted the revisions in the 1992 Korean Squier.

It should also be remembered that at this time, Squier had effectively split itself up into sub-divisions. Some production had been restored to Japan, so those who wanted Squier’s classic modest budget offering in the £225 to £250 price range could get a good guitar without breaking the bank. In the light of this, Fender’s Korean output was no longer trying to fill the shoes of the mid ‘80s Squiers. It had shifted down into the melting pot of low budget, outright beginners’ instruments – fighting new battles. Finally, I should stress that not all of the new Squiers were as bad as the ‘turquoise terror’ which first introduced me to the model. The majority I saw were more in keeping with the black example depicted in the original spring 1992 UK ad above. But this was an obvious downgrade, and for me, the corners Fender cut were too obvious.

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering, yes – that £149 did subsequently fall subject to discounting in some shops. Music Village of Chadwell Heath, Barnet and Cambridge took prices of these revised Korean Squiers as low as £129 in 1992. So this was very much the first Squier Strat to really bite at the backside of Encore and other true beginners' Strats. It may rank as a low point in Squier Strat history, and I definitely would not recommend this model of Korean Squier as any kind of vintage investment (if you must have a plywood MIK get an '80s Young Chang). But Fender was old and wise enough to know that when serious copyists are attacking from below, there's no time to mess about. You need to hit them where it hurts, and you need to do it fast. That sums ups the new-for-'92 MIK Squier Stratocaster. It was never idealism. It was return fire.