Guitar Highlights: Fender’s 1950 Dual Pickup Esquire Prototype
It’s hard to picture the guitar market before Fender’s iconic Broadcaster/Telecaster formally entered the scene. So, imagine our sheer awe when we opened an original thermometer case to view one of Fender’s earliest prototypes – an authentic piece of music history. Pinning down an exact timeline can be difficult, especially when a guitar has passed through a few hands. Upon receiving this legendary instrument, we have done our best to properly document the stories and folklore passed down to us, as it is essential to preserve this guitar’s history.
This one-of-a-kind 1950 Fender prototype sports the serial number #0009 and is likely within the first six instruments made in their earliest days. Its rich history begins with Charlie Aldrich, a country musician and close friend of Leo Fender, who was photographed with the guitar in its original state at the newly built Fender factory. Aldrich was this guitar’s original owner, as Fender gifted the guitar to him sometime during the summer of 1950. At this time, you can see the guitar began as an Esquire. While Aldrich loved this guitar, he itched for a two-pickup version. He talked to Fender, who confirmed that a two-pickup model was in the works, and in the meantime, Fender installed a second pickup in the neck position of Aldrich’s Esquire. As a result, this guitar may well be Fender’s first dual-pickup guitar.
After receiving a 1950 Broadcaster from Fender, Aldrich later gifted this prototype to his friend Kay Francis of “Arliss McMinn and the California Playboys,” a band who often opened for Aldrich. This band is widely known as being the first “Fenderized” teen band. Since Francis played a Fender Dual Eight lap steel, the guitar was played heavily by the group’s guitarist and Francis’ husband, Harold Courtright. In some of the band’s promo photos, Courtright was photographed with this guitar.
The guitar remained with Francis and Courtright for years after the California Playboys disbanded. During this time, their son refinished the guitar with a red primer and sparkle fleck. Though we cannot confirm that Francis and Courtwright are the ones who directly sold it, sometime in the late ‘80s, the guitar was purchased through a local newspaper ad in La Habra, California. It ended up in the hands of Sam Hutton, a former Fender employee who did amp and cabinet work in the 1960s. After his passing, Hutton’s son, Bart, sold this guitar to our friend Dan Courtenay at Chelsea Guitars in New York City, where we were lucky enough to purchase it. For a few years after this, it resided at the Songbirds Guitar Museum before its closure in 2020.
This guitar does not have a truss rod and features a “pancake” style pine body that can also be seen on other non-truss rod guitars of the time. The original pickguard, which is sadly no longer present on the instrument, only had four pickguard screws. These are the original pickguard screws and the original frets. The decal on the headstock does not denote the model’s name, and while it has been speculated that it was a Lap Steel decal, the “Esquire” portion can be very faintly seen in old photos of the guitar with Aldrich.
The electronics are made using both Esquire parts and lap steel parts, as this early neck pickup features a fiber base plate from a lap steel pickup and a fiber top plate from a standard Broadcaster/Telecaster pickup. This pickup is exposed and mounted significantly closer to the neck than standard Broadcaster/Telecaster neck pickups were. Originally, the control cavity was shorter, housing an organ button plate similar to that of the iconic Lamp Button Esquire prototype. The hardware looks to be from late 1951/early 1952, so it is very possible that the electronics may have been upgraded at that time in the Fender factory before the guitar was photographed with the California Playboys.
As if this rich history wasn’t enough, we also have a letter enclosed inside the case written by George Fullerton in 1998, describing this instrument in great detail, where it mentions a rough estimated value of $60,000-$75,000… even back then!
To provide quite a bit of provenance, we are fortunate to have early photos of #0009 with Charlie Aldrich and the California Playboys. This guitar has also been well-documented in numerous formats, including a December 2013 issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine and “The Pinecaster” book (by Nacho Baños, Lynn Wheelwright, and Billy F. Gibbons).
We are honored to present this incredible piece of history to you. It is available now; call us at 516.221.0563 for additional details—serious inquiries only, please.
Cowritten by Kaitlyn Crisp