The search for that dream guitar can be an elusive one…
Like many guitar players, I have always strived to find the coolest and most unique guitars with some history attached. One such model was a Fender Esquire. Namely, the 1986 Fender Esquire Custom.
My quest for a Telecaster started a long time ago, I began with a Japanese 1950’s reissue in sunburst which was a great guitar and then was subsequently sold. Later on, I had a Custom Shop 1967 NOS in Olympic White, then moved it on after butchering it with a humbucker, big frets and refinishing it in black. Foolish but had to be done back then.
The journey begins…
My Telecaster quest continued with a Japanese reissue 62’ in Candy Apple Red, which I didn’t like at all as it was in poor condition. I experimented with Mexican Classic ones, AVRI ones (that’s American Vintage Reissue for the uninitiated), and couldn’t get on with them.
I had always dubbed the humble Esquire model as a poor man’s Telecaster but in recent years had wondered what the attraction was, I found a Mexican Classic one that had better pickups in it, that was a fine guitar but not what I really wanted.
For as long as I can recall, I loved double bound, sunburst Telecaster Customs and had an eye out for an older (1986-1990) Japanese model. I own a Stratocaster from 1986 which is as old as me and is the greatest Strat I’ve ever owned. So, I began the hunt for a Telecaster of the same era.
Auctions: Yay or nay?
After seeing an auction in the UK for a job lot of guitars, I spotted a Japanese 50’s reissue Esquire formerly owned by Mick Ralphs of Bad Company fame. I couldn’t believe that they even made Esquires in Japan. On further digging, it turned out that they made a very small run of Esquires in 1986.
I watched as the auction ran up to around £2400 for his specific model.
Following this, a notification came up on Facebook advertising an Esquire Custom from Japan, three-tone sunburst that was built in 1986…
I immediately contacted the seller who wasn’t prepared to ship, didn’t take PayPal, and wouldn’t budge on the price. This was somewhat off-putting as I’d already been a victim of a scam years back on Gumtree. I left well alone as at £1000, I wasn’t going to go for it with those terms.
A glimmer of hope?
Months later, a friend of mine at AMP Guitars in Macclesfield advertised a sunburst, 1986, Telecaster Custom, when I asked about a deal, it was going to be £800 which I felt was reasonable, but I couldn’t get that damned Esquire out of my mind.
On a last-ditch attempt, I contacted the seller of the Esquire again and assured him that the deal could be done if he would post. He then advised me of the guitar’s issues, i.e. electrics, etc. Regardless, we met on a similar price to the Tele’ I’d seen and agreed to post after a phone call.
The guitar arrived at my work and I took it from the box to see this poorly Esquire. It was tired – no strings, parts hanging out of it, etc. I instantly ripped it apart and binned all of the electrics as the pickup wasn’t original and practically fell apart in my hands.
Doing Some Research
I started to research Esquires instantly and found that the original Esquire customs were made from 1959 until about 1962, all sunburst. This then led me onto the Japanese market ones. I contacted an enthusiast on Instagram who advised that he’d only seen and recorded 17 including mine worldwide. He had owned a Candy Apple Red one previously and was keen to learn of another. We added mine to his records and I set about getting parts for mine.
Having scrapped most of the parts, I ordered…
- New Gotoh compensated brass saddles
- A Fender Texas Special Telecaster bridge pickup
- Flat Fender knobs
- Top Hat switch tip
- Full Esquire “Eldred Mod” harness with vitamin Q cap, CTS and CRL parts
Whilst waiting for them to arrive, I dug more into the Japanese model history, it turned out that the Japanese factory did the Esquires as a collectable model, which meant that the only difference between the Esquires and Telecasters were the scratchplate and the decal.
Didn’t matter to me, these things are rare. I would estimate that they only made around 100 units of each.
Back to the build
When I opened up the guitar it was filthy but interestingly had the previous 2 owners names under the guard. This guitar had been on a journey, from Japan to the USA and then to the UK. I worked on the guitar solidly until the parts were in. I had to redrill the control plate to fit the CTS pots.
I noticed a few inaccuracies in the guitar’s build when compared to the original ones, the knobs were domed, the switch tip was round as was the string tree, which is correct for a 50’s model but not a double-bound 60’s model. The reason for the inaccuracies is unclear but I would take a guess that the Japanese Fuji-Gen factory was keeping costs down back in 1986.
However, after some much-needed TLC, the guitar is now in a fully playable and great-looking condition with age-related marks etc.
If anyone has any other information on these guitars, please get in touch.
Can’t find a Fender Esquire…
An alternative is the Squier Classic Vibe Esquire available at Dawsons Music. based on the ever-cool blonde Esquires, these limited-edition models carry the same class as the range that takes hints from the past and makes a very cool, affordable Fender guitar design.
Be quick though, these models won’t be around forever…
Sam Orr has an unhealthy interest in all things guitar-related. He began playing guitar at age 5 and has never stopped. Publishing his first book in 2009 on the Fender Stratocaster, Sam continues to write for Univibes The International Jimi Hendrix Magazine. He also plays guitar in a band named 1968 and has toured various parts of the globe. His encyclopaedic knowledge of guitars, effects and amplifiers is second to none.