Fender Esprit

I was wandering around Denmark Street the other week when I spotted this Guitar in the Window of Music Ground. Its a Fender Esprit, built in Japan by Fujigen Gakki (Builders of Ibanez guitars) & only made for around a year in 1983-4. It’s on offer for £1400

Back in 1983 and prior to Fender’s Management buyout. Fender’s Dan Smith who was also responsible for the Squier range and Fenders own US Vintage reissues had come up with the idea of a guitar with routed tonal chambers within the guitars body. At the same time Fender were looking to make a range of guitars that could compete with Gibson in terms of their contstruction. St necks, 24.75″ scale lengths etc.

The Fender Master series were the result of Smiths designs. The above guitar is a larger bodied Esprit, designed to compete with the Gibson ES-335, the other guitar known as the Flame had a smaller body, was an attempt to compete with the Les Paul & looks remarkably similar to an Ibanez Artist.

Both guitars have symetrically cutaway tonally carved alder bodies and maple tops, with 1 peice mahogany necks. The humbucking pickups were by Schaller.

The third guitar in the master series was an archtop Jazzer designed by James D’Aquisto.

The range was to come in 3 models, Standard, Elite & Ultra

At the time Fender was in the process of being sold by CBS and ultimately the line was dropped after only a year.

I remember these guitars being sold off on the cheap by music stores as a clearance item in 1987. My brother bought a Flame Standard for £250. Much later on I met an ex Aerosmith Roadie who had bought an Esprit Elite for £300 at around the same time. From all I can see the main differences in spec was pearl inlays and on the Elite, Pearloid buttoned tuning machines. The standard had chrome hardware & standard dot inlays.

The Esprit did resurface as the Robben Ford signature model in the 90′s and the guitars have had a cult following on Ebay since then.

I bought my brothers Flame in 1999 and sold it on for twice the price in 2003. While they are great guitars, the Flame is never likely to take on a Les Paul. Its alder body and bridge pickup sound thin in comparison to the mahogany thickness of a Les Paul’s tone. Although the neck pickup is great for blues. I can see why Robben Ford used them.

However the biggest suprise of the Flame/Esprit is it’s middle positions, by using the guitars retro fitted coil taps it was possible to coax a Rickenbacker style jangle that would make Peter Buck proud.

Flame/Esprit’s are still out there and prices are not too silly yet. If you want an interesting guitar thats a bit different and has a bit of a story behind it. You can’t go far wrong.

In addition Fender have redesigned the guitar and its now part of the Squier Master Series 

4 Responses to “Fender Esprit”

  1. Tom Watson Says:

    I also saw this example of the Esprit while it was on offer, but the price was too much for me. If you can find a good one that is properly set up, I believe they are much better than many (or most) Gibsons that I have tried. An unsung classic, and it baffles me that the later Robben Ford variant has not given these guitars a higher profile. The pickups are very powerful by the way, but clean up very nicely as you back off the volume control. what is not clear from your picture is that the bridge (with roller saddles) and tailpiece are a work of art, and must have been relatively expensive to manufacture.

  2. Gary Koehler Says:

    One correction;
    The necks are not mahogany, they are 3-piece set maple necks.
    Here are 2 sites with additional info;
    http://www.masterseriesguitars.com
    http://www.vintageguitar.com/brands/details.asp?ID=18

  3. Jez Says:

    Thanks Gary.
    on the one I had it was hard too see the construction. My brother has just bought a cherry sunburst flame and you can see the construction clearly. Maple necks/ Alder bodies??? no wonder they never sounded that gibsonish;)

    Excellent site by the way

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