The Fender Esquire is a solid body electric guitar manufactured by Fender, and was the first guitar sold by Fender in 1950. Shortly after its introduction, the two-pickup version of the Esquire was first renamed Broadcaster, and then Telecaster, while the one-pickup version retained the Esquire name. Although the one-pickup Esquire was manufactured first, it is now generally regarded as a variant of the more popular Telecaster.
Over the winter of 1949/50, Fender refined the design. The neck width at the nut was narrowed, and the head modified to accommodate all six tuners on one side. A tone selector switch was added, and the controls were mounted on a plate parallel to the strings. The scratch plate was enlarged. Around the spring of 1950, Fender had completed a neck pickup design, which was smaller than the lead pickup and was encased in a metal shielding cover. However, this last feature was not to make it onto Fender's first commercially introduced guitar, as Fender's distributor, the Radio & Television Equipment Company (RTEC), had decided that it would be easier to sell the single pickup version of the guitar.
Following the renaming of the dual pickup Broadcaster, production and promotion of the single pickup Esquire was briefly discontinued. It was reintroduced with a truss rod in January 1951. The only external differences between these second generation Esquires and the Broadcasters and Telecasters of 1951 are the lack of a neck pickup, and the Esquire label on the head. Although the Esquire had only a single pickup, it retained the three-way switch of the two-pickup guitars. This switch modified the tone of the pickup by making it bassier in the forward position, while enabling use of the tone control knob in the middle position. With the switch in the rear position, these tone controls were bypassed entirely for a "hotter" lead tone.
Like the two-pickup guitar, these Esquires had a routing cavity in the neck pickup position. Thus, with the purchase of a neck pickup and replacement or modification of the scratchplate, players could upgrade their instrument to a guitar identical to the Telecaster in every respect except for the model decal. Bruce Springsteen, for example, has long played an Esquire modified in this way. (Some people may find it worth noting that Bruce Springsteen, in an interview on a DVD that comes with the 30th Anniversary reissue of his 1975 album "Born To Run", has claimed that the guitar he is pictured with on the album cover is, in fact, a hybrid of two guitars. The body, according to Springsteen, came from a Telecaster and the neck came from an Esquire.) These modified Esquires are not to be confused with the first generation two-pickup Esquires, which left the factory with two pickups, and did not have a truss rod.
In 1966, Paul McCartney purchased a 1964 Fender Esquire model with a sunburst finish and rosewood fretboard: McCartney bought this guitar, a right-handed model which he restrung and played "upside-down," during the Revolver sessions, where it was used on the guitar solo of "Taxman." Also used on "Good Morning, Good Morning," "Helter Skelter" and "Maybe I'm Amazed," among other cuts from his solo career.
Syd Barrett, the original leader of Pink Floyd, was another prominent Esquire player. His successor David Gilmour, while not as prominent a user as Barrett, used an Esquire with an added pickup (as Springsteen did) on several songs, including "Dogs", "Run Like Hell" and his work on Paul McCartney's album Run Devil Run. On the single, "Born to Be Wild" by Steppenwolf, guitarist Michael Monarch played a single bridge pickup version of the Fender Esquire.
The initial rationale for reintroducing the single pickup Esquire in 1951 had been to offer a more affordable option for musicians who could not afford the two-pickup guitar. However, with the introduction of cheaper student models such as the Mustang, the more expensive Esquire became a less attractive option, and it was sold in smaller and smaller quantities. Consequently, Fender discontinued the Esquire in 1969.
In 1986 Fender Japan began producing the Esquire, based on the 1954 version. It featured threaded saddles and a white pickguard with a butterscotch blonde finish. Some people report that there was also a blackguard version, and a sunburst was also available. These Esquires were imported to the USA, and were incredible guitars in terms of fit and finish. The necks, in particular, were especially nice. Overall, many players prefer this era Esquire to the more recent Mexican-made reissues.
Fender currently offers several '50s Esquire reproductions in their online catalogue The company considers the Esquire to be a member of the "family of Telecaster guitars." These Esquires are part of the MIM (made in Mexico) series. The Fender Custom Shop also manufactures a 1959 Esquire reproduction as part of its "Time Machine" series, a model distinguished by its top-loading bridge design.