My first Esquire. Could not afford the second pickup! So the story goes.
The Esquire was introduced in 1950 and many say “Leo got it right the first time.” Simply functional and elegant.
The Fender Custom Shop built Billy Gibbons a Fender Esquire with Duncan BG-1400 stacked pickup which is actually a hum-cancelling beast and Mike Eldred Esquire modded circuit. I loved the sound, but wanted a more traditional looking Esquire like Luther Perkins played. So this was my concept for this project.
I always loved the guitar work and twang of Luther Perkins. He was huge part of the Johnny Cash’s “boom-chicka-boom” sound with his iconic whiteguard Fender Esquire. Luther influenced so many guitars players in country and rock-a-bility.
Like many, I didn’t “get” the Fender Esquire. I originally thought it was nothing more than a one pickup Telecaster. Now I know the Esquire has its own personality. It’s own vibe, that includes a stated simplicity of “one” pickup with its own versatility that will surprise you. You quickly learn how elaborate a tone circuit the Esquire has.
To see the entire build process and some history of the Esquire go here.
One issue (like the early Telecaster) was the bassy setting in position 3 (switch toward neck). Before Leo Fender invented and created the Precision Bass, the first electric bass guitar, the idea was the guitar player may play bass lines on the electric guitar. So position 3 was originally muddy sounding to mimic a “doghouse” upright bass. Today only a few players find this setting useful.
Mike Eldred, Manager of the Fender Custom Shop came up with an Esquire mod that replaces the very bassy sound that the traditional Esquire with what is now known as the “cocked-wah” sound in the 3rd position. Named because it sounds a bit like if the guitar was plugged into a wah pedal that is “cocked” half way. This wiring scheme greatly improves the Esquire making it more versatile while keeping with the simplicity of the single pickup.
Mike Eldred Esquire Wiring Positions:
- Position #1. Same as standard Esquire. The pickup is routed through the volume control only, bypassing the tone control for a hotter, louder lead sound with extra highs.
- Position #2. Same as standard Esquire, with the pickup routed through the volume and tone controls. Sounds a bit warmer than position #1.
- Position #3. Pickup is routed through a single, small capacitor and volume control with the tone control bypassed. Some call this the “cocked-wah” sound. Standard Esquire would have a very bassy sound most players find unusable today.
The capacitors I used are .0033 Poly Film (position 3) and RS GuitarWorks GuitarCap .047 – 100v – 5% Tolerance (used with tone control). Cloth covered vintage wiring. The pickup is Seymour Duncan BG-1400 pickup used in Fender’s Custom Shop Esquire that was made originally for Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
This guitar is super quiet with no hum as the Duncan pickup is a stacked humbucker, but still sounds like a hot single coil.
The ONE piece swamp ash body is from MJT Custom Aged Guitars. Mark and Matt Jenny do amazing work and are also a total pleasure to deal with. Their old school “vintage nitro” finishes are awesome. Matt Jenny also did the finishing on the licensed neck from Musikraft built from my specs. The QuarterSawn flamed neck is 21 fret vintage style with a 9.5 radius and a back V profiled .85 X .95, bone nut and 6105 fret wire.
No expense was spared on the parts used for this project. Callaham supplied the “whiteguard” pickguard, custom serial number neck plate, screws, strap buttons, round string tree, enhanced vintage compensated steel saddles (for modern intonation) and degreased and the spring tension reduced 250K pots. The string ferrules, control plate, knobs, top hat tip and switch are genuine Fender parts. The bridge plate is also Fender part, but modified cut and polished notches added. Kluson “no-line” tuners like the ones used in the early 1950s.
The finish is a very light relic that should age nicely over time. The light body and nitro finish make this guitar pretty resonant. Sound good without plugging it in.
The “ashtray” bridge cover real does not stay on this guitar due to the notched Fender bridge plate. No issue as I would never use it anyway. Just wanted to see what it looked like as this is how Fender would have shipped the Esquire back in the day.
Love the simplicity of the Fender Esquire
I very much like the Fender Custom Shop Esquire (shown in video below), but wanted a more traditional looking Esquire. So I opted to build a “tribute” 1955 Esquire guitar like Luther Perkins played with the similar electronics and pickup as used in the Fender Custom Shop model.
Billy Gibbons playing at Fender NAMM 2008 Gala with the Esquire. Features GE Smith (with GE Smith Tele), Jimmy Vaughan and Cindy Cashdollar on Lap Steel
George Gruhn on Fender Esquire and Telecaster