Fender Oddities: Unusual, Collectable and Unusual Fenders Throughout History

Published on 14 May 2024

 

Fender have made the world’s most famous guitars, such as the Stratocaster, the Telecaster, the Jazzmaster and the Precision bass. Stone-cold classics, massively influential and used by the majority of the world’s greatest artists, these are the guitars on which Fender have founded their empire.

But there are other Fenders, too. Today’s blog is about those Fenders. Limited edition runs, one-off special pieces, even lines that were successful for their time but look somewhat odd today: there are loads of less ‘Fendery’ Fenders out there in the world. Some are awesome - so much so that I’d love to see a reissue or two from this collection - and others are maybe too bizarre or dated to make it now, but what they all have in common is that they are all genuine Fender or Squier models. 

I’ve found these mostly from looking through old Fender catalogues, both online and in print, so what you’re seeing here is direct evidence from Fender’s marketing efforts of the past.

I’ve made the decision to mix up the order of these oddities, so they are not chronological. It just seems fitting to keep things fun and slightly random, giving the nature of the content! Throughout, you’ll see images of the old catalogue covers peppered in between the guitar models. They were just far too cool not to include here: vibe for days!

I hope you enjoy my selections today, and do get in touch via our socials if you have any other Fender Oddities: who knows, yours may end up in an update of this blog!

 

Contents

Fender Dia De Los Muertos Telecaster

Fender Showmaster Standard and FMT

Fender Esprit

Fender 5-String Bass

Squier Venus

Fender 4-Neck Lap Steel

Fender Custom Shop Hot Wheels Flat Head Showmaster

Fender Cyclone, Cyclone II and Cyclone HH

Squier HM Range

Fender Custom Shop Disney Strat

Fender Japan Bullet/Terry

Fender Nylon Strat & Tele 1996

Squier X-155 & Starfire

Fender TC-90

Fender John 5 Acoustic

Heartfield Guitars

Fender Future Classics?

 

Fender Dia De Los Muertos Telecaster

Let me begin my wayward journey through Fender’s oddities with this fantastic Telecaster from the Custom Shop. Kit Carson designed this crazy masterpiece and Chris Fleming built it, using 18 carat gold for the side fret markers and semi-precious stones for the skulls’ eyeballs!

This ode to the Mexican Day of the Dead has decorations on every surface, including a full-on pearl skeleton dancing with a set of maracas! Like some wonderful cross between Dr John and Monkey Island, this guitar has plenty of mojo!

 

Fender Showmaster Standard and FMT

Have you ever seen a Strat with a carved top? Well, now you have! The Showmaster was a model that changed elements from year to year but always had an upmarket ‘performance’ vibe without straying too far into the pointy-headstock territory.

You’ll see a few takes of the Showmaster from around 2004 on this image, including a very cool gold-topped Standard model. The flame top FMT guitars have a distinctly ‘Suhr’ look, don’t you think? 

 

Fender Esprit

If Fender are listening out there, THIS is a guitar to reissue! The Esprit is a carved top, double cutaway, set neck bad boy that has hints of the Les Paul Junior about it, but is still very much its own beast.

We hardly ever see these around these days, and they are super cool! Why did Fender stop making this? Robben Ford was/is a big user, and the Esprit was available in a few guises for many years, but certainly not in the last few decades. Time for them to come back? I reckon so! Even with all of the sub brands that Fender owns today, they don’t really have anything that directly locks horns with Gibson’s mighty Les Paul. Could this be it? The Flame (below) was a slightly downsized take on the Esprit.

 

Fender 5-String Bass

Now this is a curiosity! Sat right next to the somewhat better-loved Bass VII (an oddity that caught on, perhaps?) in this old 1950s catalogue is the Fender 5-String bass! The accompanying text states that this bass has an extra higher string (tuned to C), rather than today’s usual use of a Low B. The shorter neck was designed to allow guitarists to transition more easily to bass.

Let’s face it: this is an ugly boy indeed! I can absolutely see why Fender didn’t see fit to carry this one into production for any length of time. Has anyone ever seen one of these in real life? 

 

Squier Venus

Squier are well known for their alternative models these days, but they actually started their iconoclastic takes on guitars back in the mid-90s. The Squier Vista Series produced modern classics like the Supersonic (which has been reissued numerous times), but the most iconic one - certainly in my opinion - was the Venus.

Designed by Coutney Love, this post-grunge axe brought a genuinely fresh look without being extravagantly ‘other’. It’s a curvy offset that owes nothing much to Fender’s other ones (Jazzmaster, Jaguar etc) and even had a 12-string version available for a time. Courtney certainly knew how to be different whilst retaining a common appeal.

 

Fender 4-Neck Lap Steel

Jimmy Page ain’t got nothing on this! A lap steel with no less than FOUR necks?! That’s a full two necks more than his fancy pants SG. This image is from the 1957/58 Fender catalogue, which shows that the worldwide love for Hawaiian lap steel music hadn’t been entirely obliterated by the debut of the Telecaster after all!

I’m no lap steel player but I’m assuming the benefit here is to have tour separate tunings available in the one instrument. The level of excess is most commendable.

 

Fender Custom Shop Hot Wheels Flat Head Showmaster

What better way to celebrate toy cars than by building a fantastically OTT Custom Shop Fender?

This single pickup wonder is not actually a Strat: in fact, it’s a ‘Flat Head’ Showmaster. I spoke about the Showmaster earlier, and this ‘Flat Head’ take refers to a line of very utilitarian Fenders (Slipknot’s Jim Root favoured these and based his signature models on them), though ‘utilitarian’ is not a term I’d use for the gleeful flame graphic on this! Appropriately enough, Hot Wheels artist Larry Wood carried out the art on this one.

 

Fender Cyclone, Cyclone II and Cyclone HH

Is it just me or have I seen this Cyclone a few times before in the past? Does Fender occasionally issue this offset from time to time? These particular examples are from the 2004 Deluxe series, so they would’ve shown up next to the likes of the Nashville Telecaster.

Take your pick from three single coils, an HS configuration or two humbuckers, all with a Strat-style whammy bar and a scale length you don’t normally find on a Fender: 24.75”!

 

Squier HM Range

You’d better believe that the ‘HM’ on this range of rip-roaring Fenders stands for ‘Heavy Metal’! Fender took a little while to wise up on the 80s hair metal scene (particularly when Charvel dominated it so heavily), but they made up for lost time with these sleek Squier HM Strats and basses, which I believe arrived around 1987 or 88.

Check out that crackle finish over on the left! Admire the spear-shaped headstocks! Cower before the Floyd Rose tremolos! I’m almost as into the 80s graffiti background as I am the guitars. 

 

Fender Custom Shop Disney Strat

This is what happens when the world’s biggest guitar brand collaborates with the world’s biggest entertainment company: characters, colours, a star-studded fingerboard and gold aplenty!

This was for Disney’s own 75th Anniversary (so I think that would be 1999), and whilst I’d hardly call it subtle, it has bags of character (sorry) and will delight fans of the Haus of Maus for sure!

 

Fender Japan Bullet/Terry

Guitar companies do tend to recycle names of products, so we’ve all seen the Bullet name on cheap Squier Strats, for example. What I’ve never seen, though, is this wonderfully odd offset from Fender Japan.

Whether it’s known as the Bullet (late 80s I thiiiiink) or the Terry (early 90s), this is a very rare Fender model. Okay, they are actually two models, but I feel like one begat the other, so they're appearing here together!

 I don’t know whether these were ever built outside Japan: I’ve seen a few examples online now and they are all Japanese. Very cool, and slightly reminiscent of the types of boutique builds you see around today, so maybe Fender were ahead of the game with this one?

From what I can gather, ‘Terry’ was Takeshi Terauchi, a sort of Japanese Dick Dale. His signature model had a Jazzmaster-style bridge and vibrato unit, but these other models show the variety that could be had on this cool shape. Another one for the reissuing? Oh, it’s just me?

 

Fender Nylon Strat & Tele 1996

You know how you always wish you had a whammy bar for your nylon string moments? 

Oh, you didn’t? Okay, well that’s maybe why we didn’t see more of these (admittedly pretty interesting) nylon string Strat and Tele models from Fender Japan.

These tasteful oddities were made with Ash bodies, and the pickup system was a 6-saddle Mike Christian piezo number. The world just maybe wasn’t ready for nylon string acoustic divebombs after all…

 

Squier X-155 & Starfire

Semi acoustic Squiers? Check these out! These are more mid-noughties Squiers, and it’s clear that the brand were a testing ground for other releases: that Starfire is quite obviously a Guild model just waiting for re-release, for example!

The blue flames are maybe a sign of the times (you really don’t see too many guitars - or bowling shirts - like this any more) but it’s very cool to see that Squier were putting out consistently interesting stuff back then too.

 

Fender TC-90

What do you get when you cross a Thinline Tele with a Gibson Double Cut Junior?

You might get this TC-90. Not quite a Tele but close enough for association, this TC-90 is yet another oddity that I’d love to see resurrected at some point.

You might say that a double-cut Tele thinline with P90s is an acquired taste: I’d say it’s a blend fit for rock royalty!

 

Fender John 5 Acoustic

Talking of rock royalty, John 5 is a bit of a guitar king. He knows his way around a Telecaster for sure, but around 20 years ago, Fender made him this signature acoustic guitar.

This chunky cutaway acoustic certainly follows John’s darkly gothic look, and echoes the idiosyncratic ‘oversized 12-string’ look that some of his Custom Shop Teles have had.

What’s that? You want more John 5, do you? Why, that’s not a problem at all, click through for our John 5 Interview video!

 

Heartfield Guitars

Heartfield seems to have been a hard-rockin’ sub brand for Fender, in the days before they owned Jackson and Charvel. Heartfields have a good few fansites up online, so they have endured far beyond their shelf life at least! Like the Fender Esprit, these are hardly ever seen ‘in the wild’ these days. Heartfield seem to have existed alongside both the HM guitars and the Showmasters, so perhaps it was a case of too many similar products co-existing at the same time?

 

Fender Future Classics?

It’s hard to tell whether a guitar will become a classic or not. For every Stratocaster, there is an Esprit: it has all the makings of an enduring classic, but for reasons unknown, it doesn’t quite catch on with the public. In another dimension, such a guitar would be an instant hit.

That may not be the same story for the 4 neck lap steel or the 5 string bass with the high C string, but all of the guitars above show at least how bold and experimental Fender can be!

I hope you’ve had as much fun checking this stuff out as I had researching them!

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Ray

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I'm a musician and artist originally from the South West coast of Scotland. I studied Visual Arts and Film Studies at...

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