The Full Story of the Squier MIJ 'Hank Marvin' Signature Stratocaster

Bob Leggitt | Friday, 29 May 2020 |


"Don't touch it Mr Di Bergi... And don't point... No, don't even look at it!..."

You may be surprised, given my shameless interest in Squier Strats of the 'eighties and 'nineties, that I've never previously retro-reviewed the well-praised Hank Marvin signature model. Part of the reason why is that the 'Hank' was barely any different from the Silver Series - which I have retro-reviewed - and I also included the Squier Hank Marvin's original ad in the Hank Marvin Precursor post.

But given the recent interest in this specific model, I thought it was about time I dug into the annals of time for a proper look at its pedigree and origins.

THE COMMERCIAL BACKDROP


The commercial side of the story began in the first half of 1991, with communications between Hank, Fender, and Fender's UK distributor, Arbiter. Communications that primarily concerned the progress of a Fender USA Hank Marvin signature Strat.

The USA model - intended for the high end of the market - was at the prototype stage, and had already been allotted a deep-contoured '58 body styling, a bird's-eye maple neck, gold-plated metalwork, and the obligatory Fiesta Red nitro finish.

Hank had trialled the prototype, but was not wholly convinced by the pickup arrangement. The guitar had initially, in 1990, been fitted with three Fender Lace Sensors (Red). This was confirmed by The Guitar Magazine (Jan '91), when it was still part of International Musician & Recording World. Then in '91 the USA sig prototype had come close to settling on three custom wound Seymour Duncans - within the vintage ballpark spec-wise, but on the hot side. The problem? The bridge unit didn't have enough body to deliver the legandary Shadows lead tone. So, the decision was made to keep the neck and middle Duncans, and swap the bridge pickup for a DiMarzio FS1 'Fat Strat', which had previously been a preferred lead solution for Monsieur Marvin.

In the throes of all this, Hank had also been fronting a guitar tutor book for youngsters taking their first steps on the instrument. And as an aside, he asked if it would be possible to additionally produce an inexpensive guitar of decent quality, that he could recommend for the kids using the tutor. There would be an endorsement deal built in, which would benefit everyone.

Arbiter took this request seriously enough to get a costing for a bespoke instrument, but such a product could not compete economically with Fender's existing Squier guitars. The bespoke plan was thus rapidly dumped, but the idea of Hank actually endorsing an existing Squier Strat was of great interest to Fender. The Lead Shad duly gave a Korean Squier a good old twanging and was happy to recommend it.

Initially, in summer '91, Marvin began endorsing the bog standard Korean Squier, which was not a great match, since it wasn't available in his trademark colour of Fiesta Red. The initial Hank Marvin ads actually tied in the guitar tutor book with the Korean Strat, and Hank's signature appeared on the page. But the '91 Korean Squier itself never carried a Marvin signature, or any inference of an endorsement.

Meanwhile, however, Fender had been gearing up to take some select Squier production back to the well-respected FujiGen Gakki factory in Japan, for the first time since the Squier operation moved to Korea in 1987.

There wasn't any marketing gameplan for the new Japanese Squiers at that stage, and the Silver Series identity was yet to be dreamed up. So what better way to kick off the new MIJ Squier production run than with a fully signed, Hank Marvin signature Strat in Fiesta Red? It was an easy adaptation of the planned product. All it really required, apart from the signature, was a one-piece maple neck, a Fiesta Red finish, and a single-ply white scratchplate.

THE PRODUCTION ROOTS OF THE SQUIER MARVIN


So that's where the guitar came from as a marketing concept. But in production terms it had a descendency traceable back to 1983, when the SST-30 model was born - at that time available only on the Japanese domestic market.

The SST-30 spec had then essentially gone global in late 1984, after Fender opted to drop their spectacularly well-featured Squier JV and SQ series Strats as prohibitively expensive to produce. The SST-30 provided a template for the replacement Squier model, which was standardised into a vague '50s format with maple neck, and a vague '60s format with rosewood fingerboard. The basic aura of this model only casually evolved between 1983 and late 1991, when the second wave of MIJ Squiers launched. What did change more noticeably was its branding, and briefly, also its country of origin.

It was a Squier Standard Strat from late 1984 up until 1987, produced at FujiGen in Japan. Then it became the Fender (not Squier) Special Series Strat, with Korean manufacture for a very brief period. It was called "Special Series" to differentiate it from the '87 MIJ Fender Standard Strats, which many retailers still had in stock.

Some time before April '88, production moved back to FujiGen Gakki, and once all of the '87 Fender MIJ Standards were clear of the shops, the former Squier Standard simply became the Fender Standard Strat (not to be confused with the Fender USA Standard Strat).

Incidentally, the main differences between the '87 Fender MIJ Standard and the '88 Fender MIJ Standard (i.e. the former Squier), lay in the pickups, and the necks - which were of original MIJ 'Contemporary' spec on the '87 Standard. One of the constant hallmarks of the old SST-30-derived Squier Standard which eventually evolved into the Squier Marvin, was its ceramic pickups with non-magnetic poles and a bar magnet stuck to the base. It had carried this pickup type from the start - even as early as 1983. In contrast, the pre-1987 Fender MIJ Standard Strat had alnico 5 pickups with magnetised poles.

At the point where manufacture transferred to Korea, the vaguely vintage neck on the SST-30 derivative (that's the Marvin's ancestor) was revised. The truss was reversed so that adjustments could be made on the headstock, and the headstock profile shifted slightly away from the classic vintage dimensions. Even after the shift back to Japan, this neck type was retained, and it would be a feature when the Marvins appeared over four years later.

WHAT DID CHANGE ON THE MARVIN AS COMPARED WITH THE 1988 FENDER STANDARD?


Setting aside aesthetics and the 'down-branding' from Fender to Squier, the only particularly noticeable change was a switch from full-sized pots to minis. Beyond that, the Squier Marvin was virtually identical to a late '80s / early '90s MIJ Fender Standard Stratocaster - which was an '83 MIJ SST-30 derivative with an '87-style neck. Strat genealogy lesson over.

For the Squier Marvin's main construction details, see the Silver Series article, as the appointments were exactly the same. The Marvin was just signed, and restricted to the Fiesta Red finish, single-ply white plate, and maple neck only. The aesthetics and spec of the Squier Marvin were meant to give an impression of Hank's first Stratocaster - a 1959 "Flamingo Pink" custom colour job. Although any attempt to mimic a top-line '50s USA model for well under £300 in 1991 was obviously going to result in an approximation rather than a replica.

SO WAS THE SQUIER MIJ HANK MARVIN STRAT PART OF THE SILVER SERIES?


Semantically, no. In its day it was never described as a Silver Series Strat. Its broad appointments were the same as those of the Silver Series Strats, but apart from the pots and one or two minor details, that would also be true of many Squier and Fender Japan Stratocasters which appeared between 1983 and 1995. The Squier Hank Marvin is best thought of as a progression in a long-running model of Strat based on the SST-30, which was good enough to carry the full Fender Japan brand, and indeed did carry the full Fender Japan brand for a number of years.

WHAT WAS THE PRICE?


The official full UK retail price at launch was £275. Arbiter then sanctioned £249 for their full page ads, after early discounting had set a real world figure.

INDUSTRY REACTION


The industry reaction to the Squier MIJ Hank Marvin Strat was very positive, and there were probably many insiders who couldn't quite believe Fender had delivered a brand new, high quality, Japanese-made Squier Strat for a retail price that was no different from that of the last '87 MIJ Squiers. This model marked the start of a bright new dawn for Squier, and it was widely applauded from the off. In their March 1992 issue, on sale from 10th Feb, Guitarist's review concluded...

"...It's a fine guitar which everyone here has gained immense enjoyment from playing."

WHEN WAS THE MODEL DELETED?


The Squier Marvin did not last as long in production as the regular Silver Series Strats. It was showing as "in stock" with the fast-turnover UK retailers until summer 1994. Taking into account lead times and publication dates for the UK magazines, it would have been a non-current item by around August that year - maybe a little earlier.

After the Marvin was discontinued, the remaining Fiesta Red bodies were used up on regular Squier Silver Series Strats, which had not come in that colour previously.

Deletion of the model was probably enacted earlier than the Silver Series due to the non-severability of having an artist's signature on a guitar headstock at the point of sale. The endorsement deal itself remained intact, but Hank reverted to endorsing Squier Strats more generally in the summer of 1994. Production costs were probably an issue too by that time, although they wouldn't have been the primary one, because Silver Series production continued.

DID THE SST-30 TEMPLATE SURVIVE?


The MIJ build template which had culminated in the Squier Hank Marvin and its sisters the Silver Series, was nearing the end of its road by the mid 1990s. The real problem with the template was that at its expected price point, all of its profitability headroom had now gone. And there were no longer any inherent savings to be made on it without either relocating production away from FujiGen Gakki or downgrading critical materials/components. In fact, that had been the case for years, hence the experiments with Korean manufacture and full Fender branding (to justify a slightly higher price point). The Hank endorsement had revitalised the market for the guitar as a Squier MIJ product, but margins must have been incredibly tight at £249 or lower in 1994.

The last gasp step Fender took in 1995 was to dump the '87 necks and replace them with the '50s or '60s MIJ Vintage Reissue necks. This resulted in an effective SST-30 / Vintage Reissue hybrid that was basically passed off as a Vintage Reissue, priced a lot higher than the Marvin and Silver Series, and sold with full Fender spag logos. Not a good move, as it tainted the integrity of the brand, and the idea was binned in 1996. The Strat template which had been almost a licence for Fender/Squier to print money in 1985, had finally had its day.

The Squier Hank Marvin signature Stratocaster perhaps stands as the ultimate reminder of that fairly humble but highly likeable and usable template. It was the moment when the longtime "Standard" MIJ Strat burst out of the wallflower files and became a celebrity. And all it took was a striking paint job and a small, if rather weighty, signature.

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