Rory Gallagher’s 1958/59 Fender Esquire
First photos of Rory playing this guitar that we know of were taken by Richard Zimmermann on October 20, 1971, in Milwaukee, so it is somewhat safe to say that Rory acquired it sometime in summer or early fall 1971. The guitar is an Esquire model, but Gallagher himself often referred to it as a Telecaster since it was fitted with a neck pickup – essentially converting it to a Tele.
The Telecaster is a 1953 Esquire — a guy phoned me up and told me he had one, so I tried it out, and sure enough ~ one of the real McCoys. I had to have new machines on it, and it needs a new scratch plate.“The Rory Story”, Zigzag magazine, issue 23, December 1971
Rory’s dating of this guitar, however, is not necessarily accurate. As he mentioned in one of his later interviews [Guitarist, June 1987 – Rory!], the guitar was a top-loader model meaning that the strings are anchored at bridge instead of going through the body. This version of the Esquire was only made during a brief period from 1958 to 1959, which serves as a pretty good pointer to when Rory’s Esquire was actually made.
When Rory acquired the Esquire it featured a blonde finish and the neck pickup was already installed in it by the previous owner [Guitar – the magazine for all guitarist, September 1978].
The first mod that he did to the Esquire was replacing the tuning machines in 1971, right after he acquired the guitar. The stock tuners on the Esquire models from this era were Kluson “Single Line” Deluxe tuners, and on Rory’s guitar, they were replaced with a new set of Klusons Deluxe [International Musician, April 1977]. Unfortunately, due to lack of photographic evidence, it’s impossible to tell whether he used “Single Line” or “Double Line” models.
The second mod to the guitar happened during a brief period of time after Rory returned to London from the European continental tour in early March 1972, and before he went on his UK tour that started on March 8th, 1972. According to Rory’s nephew, Daniel [Rory’s Glories – Interview w/ Daniel Gallagher] the guitar got ran over at an airport by a luggage trolley. After the incident, Rory took it to Chris Eccleshall, who immediately started working on the repairs.
I have a Telecaster (referring to the Esquire) that once fell off the truck that brings baggage from the plane to the terminal, the wheel of the truck went over the guitar. The case was ruined, and there was some wearing off the side of the guitar, the bridge was broken, and all the strings, but that’s it. I got new bridges, and filed down the bit that was gone, and it was all right. They’re really indestructible.Trans-Oceanic Trouser Press, April / May 1976
During the process of fixing the guitar, Chris replaced the broken threaded thick bridge saddles with the steel grooved saddles that Fender introduced as a new innovation for the 1968/69 season [A.R. Duchossoir, The Fender Telecaster, p. 67]. The new saddles can be seen in the Marquee footage from April 1972. He also replaced the old seven-screw non-laminated black pickguard with artwork with a five-screw non-laminated white pickguard, as was previously requested by Rory. [“The Rory Story”, Zigzag magazine, issue 23, December 1971]
According to a forum post by a user “beeflin” over at RoryGallagher.com, who had a chance to speak with Eccleshall, Chris pieced the body together without any troubles as the parts that were split from the upper bout of the body weren’t crushed, just broken off cleanly.
The guitar at that point required refinishing, but Chris didn’t have the time to do a proper repaint due to Rory leaving for the UK tour within a few days. Since the nitrocellulose lacquer that was originally used by Fender usually takes a long time to dry, Chris’ only option was to finish the guitar in clear polyurethane. Unfortunately, even though there was no color in the lacquer, the guitar ended up looking green when observed from a particular angle.
At this point it is important to note that Rory’s brother Donal was quoted saying on RoryGallagher.com that the guitar that was run over at an airport and was subsequently repainted was the 1966 Fender Telecaster (a factor that played a role in this is the fact that Rory himself often referred to this guitar as a Telecaster, due to reasons explained in the opening paragraph). That is however not the case.
The guitar in question is most certainly the late 50s Fender Esquire. This can be easily proved by comparing the necks and the bodies from the Beat Club footage when the Esquire was still in the condition in which it was when Rory first acquired it, to the guitar from the Marquee footage and Savoy Limerick footage, both of which were recorded after the guitar was repainted by Chris Eccleshall (for photos please refer to this Japanese Rory tribute site). By looking at these, the only conclusion is that they are the one same guitar, contrary to Donal’s statement.
To further prove the point, here’s a quote from Idris Walters who attended Rory’s gig at the Newcastle City Hall:
Electric again, Gallagher switches to a black Esquire with an extra pickup – an EsquireCaster? Once, he had it cleaned and it came back lime green. Now it’s black, looking younger than it really is.Street Life, January 1976
Mod number three occurred sometime in mid to late 1972. As seen on the photos taken by Michael Putland during the “Blueprint” studio sessions in early December 1972, the fretboard on Rory’s Esquire looks almost new, meaning that it was likely sanded/milled. This, of course, required removing the old frets and putting in the new ones, replacing the nut, and some lacquering.
During the process of sanding/milling, the fingerboard radius was also increased from 7.25″ since the nut appears to be higher than usual, but due to lack of any info relating to this whole ordeal, it is impossible to tell by how much. Also, it is unknown whether the new nut was made of bone (like the original one must have been) or ivory, and most importantly – we have no idea on when exactly all this happened. Therefore, if you happen to come across an interview where Rory or someone close to him mentioned anything related to this mod, please be sure to forward it to us!
The Guitar Goes Black
Moving on the fourth mod – due to Rory’s strong dislike of how the guitar ended up looking after Chris put it together and refinished it with clear polyurethane in March 1972, when he returned from the US tour the finish went through a do-over. The painting was done by Rory himself andwas most likely finished by the time Rory set sail to Germany for a short tour that started on January 12th, 1973 [RoryOn – Timeline]. From that point on, Rory’s Esquire styled black finish.
Sometime in spring of 1974, Rory removed the cover of the neck pickup of his white Telecaster, as can be seen on the footage of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. The same mod was applied on his Esquire sometime before May 9, 1975 – which is the date when the Esquire was first seen with this mod during a gig in Marseilles. After this mod proved to produce unsatisfactory results, by November 1975 the old pickup was out and a Stratocaster single-coil pickup took its place.
As to why Rory decided to do this, he did say in several interviews that he liked the sound of the Telecaster neck pickup but thought it was not strong enough and he did not like the sound of the bridge and neck pickups used together. Instead of replacing the neck pickup he first tried the removal of the metal cover to find out whether the sound was somewhat stronger. As that didn’t do the job, the decision was made to have the Tele neck pickup replaced with a Stratocaster pickup in the neck position.
I turned against the rhythm pickup on Teles, years ago [..] That little metal pickup, as I call it, if you get a good one, it’s got a strange little character all to itself. OK, it’s not going to shake the Albert Hall, but it’s a very warm and unusual little sound. It’s the flat pole pieces for a start and, I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think it’s thinner wire than the lead pickup.Guitarist, June 1987, Rory ! by Neville Marten
I got fed up with playing slide mainly on that rhythm position, which is a bit thin. It’s a fine country and western or soul sound but then you’d go into the middle position and it’s a sound I detest.International Musician and recording World, April 1977
I find with Telecasters the sound of the rhythm pickup is never up to much, and I don’t like the sound of the two together. For slide guitar the little metal Tele rhythm pickup just wasn’t strong enoughMusic, UK Magazine, 1981, Rory Gallagher by Max Kay
I thought it [Esquire] had a certain steel guitar type of tone which would work well with slide, but I was frustrated with the rhythm pickup—I thought it was too thin. So I put a Strat pickup there, and it remained that way for a year.Guitar Player magazine, March 1978
Please note that the guitar did not remain that way for a year, but just a few months. By February 1976 the Strat pickup was indeed still in the neck position, but another pickup was added in the middle position. You can read more on that particular mod a few paragraphs below.
Unfortunately, it’s unknown whether this Strat pickup was new old stock, old or a custom rewound model. What we can see from the photos is that it had a hole between the two middle magnets – meaning that it didn’t have a pickup cover, and it had to be attached to the pickguard with two screws. One additional screw was also added to the pickguard just below the neck, likely to help fasten it.
The next few mods happened sometime between October 13, 1975 (last known photo of the guitar with the old pickup) and February 08, 1976 (first known photo with all the mods done), likely at the same time when the Strat pickup was added in the neck position. An out-of-phase switch was added between the volume and tone controls, which allowed Rory to use the two pickups together, with one of them wired in reverse phase relative to the other. Also, the original jack plate was replaced with a slightly bent metal square one, like the ones usually used on Les Pauls.
We’ve got a fellow called Ray Elgy who works in Shepherd’s Bush (West London). I don’t like to fool around with the wiring, but Ray does most of the odd bits of repairs for us. It’s only when you try out things that you find out. It’s like the Telecaster, I’ve got an out of phase switch on that. I had that done in the States and I switched round the bass position pickup to the Strat pickup because the bass one is a bit thin.Interview from International Musician 1976
The exact time period of when the mods happened isn’t necessarily set in stone, nor it is known who did these mods for Rory. The first photo of the Esquire with all mods listed previously dates to February 08, 1976 and was taken at Omni Coliseum in Atlanta – which was during the early 1976 US tour which mostly included central and east coast. There is one gig that might have happened earlier than this showing the guitar with all the mods – the Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert.
Unfortunately, no one seems to know when exactly the Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert with Rory Gallagher was filmed. Michael Ochs who took some photos during the gig notes that they were taken on November 14, 1975, but other sources point to a few different dates, including October 31st. If you happen to know more about the exact date, or which luthier in the US worked on Rory’s guitars, please be sure to contact us.
The next modding of the guitar took place sometime after Rory returned from the US tour in February 1976, and before his German tour started on March 5th, as the first photo of the guitar with the third pickup was taken on March 23, 1976, in The Hague by Bert Dros. The modding included adding a third pickup in the middle position – a strat pickup without a cover, and replacing the three-way toggle switch with a five-way toggle switch.
The treble position is fantastic ‘cos it’s really twangy but it’s sometimes a little too strong for slide, so I stuck a Strat pick-up on the neck position and that was great. But still the middle position sounded a bit James Brown tone, which is fine for James Brown so I said, “Here we go” and I stuck another Strat pick-up in the middle and then I changed the toggle switch so it’s now a Tele with the features of a Strat which is great. I’ve got all five positions, but the out-of-phase between the Tele treble and the middle position is really righteous.International Musician and Recording World, April 1977
Unfortunately, it is unknown whether the two pickup combinations (bridge and middle pickups – middle and neck pickups) were connected in series or parallel. The values of the volume and tone pots and the capacitor are also unknown, as well as whether the middle strat pickup was an old one, new old stock or a custom-wound model. If you happen to have any information about this, please be sure to contact us.
These two mods were possibly done by Chris Eccleshall, who a few years back worked on the Esquire when he first repainted it. Contrary to what was attributed to being said by Chris, the paint job and the addition of a strat pickup was not done at the same time. To remind you, in a post made by a user “beeflin” over at RoryGallagher.com, it is said that Chris added the third pickup when he repainted the guitar in black back in 1972. However, if you followed the Esquire modification chronology so far you’ll find that that cannot be true.
If you look carefully at the two photos above you’ll notice that the out-of-phase switch seems to have disappeared from the control plate, and a rivet or a screw was used to fill up the hole. This was done sometime between March 23, 1976 (pictures by Bert Dros in The Hague) and January 29, 1977 (footage from Hammersmith Odeon pictured above). Since this is a rather wide time gap, if you happen to come across a photo taken sometime between these two dates showing the control plate of the Esquire, please be sure to forward it to us.
Sometime before April 1977, the bridge pickup in the Esquire failed, and Rory replaced it with a vintage Telecaster pickup. Unrelated to this change but also worth noting – the number of pickguard screws went from six to eight between January 29, 1977 (London gig pictured above) and July 23, 1977 (Essen gig).
I was lucky enough to get an old one to replace it. A guy had a ‘56 Tele pick-up which I’m inclined to believe now —it’s a really hot pick-up. I had it dipped in petroleum wax to stop the feedback but I don’t have to do that with the Strat pick-ups because they seem to be OK. So, it’s grown from an Esquire to a Tele to a Tele-Strat.International Musician and Recording World, April 1977
Finally, the last mod that happened before the Enquire was retired from stage use in favor of the Gretsch Corvette was the replacement of the control plate. As we previously mentioned, the out-of-phase switch was added to the plate and then later removed, which obviously left a hole in it. Next to that, the old plate was rather rusty so the replacement was likely done for aesthetic reasons. The new plate can be seen on a photo of Rory with the Esquire and an Oberheim Studio amp, dating back to circa 1978.
In late 1978 or early 1979, the Esquire was retired as a stage instrument in favor of the Gretsch Corvette with a P90 pickup. The Esquire remained unseen until around 1987.
During the period when the guitar was absent from stage use, Rory mentioned it in an interview for Music Magazine [Rory Gallagher – Music Magazine, UK. 1981]. The interview was written by Max Kay, which is a detail of significance if you consider the possibility that was pointed to us by Ingemar P., who is a major contributor to this website and who figured out all the details related to the Esquire mods presented here.
Years ago I went to the music department of the local library and found a book by Ralph Denyer called The Guitar Handbook, published in 1982. On page 179 I found a picture of RG’s Esquire, but the copyrights of this picture were owned by E. F. R. Guitars / Geoff Dann.
I started a little digging on the internet and I found that E. F. R. Guitars was a guitar shop in London between 1978 and 1984 that specialized in trading special guitars. The owner of E. F. R. Guitars turned out to be Max Kay and Geoff Dann turned out to be a photographer. So, it seemed likely that Max Kay hired Geoff Dann to take pictures of the Esquire and that one of them ended up in Ralph Denyer’s book. There can only be one reason that this happened, I thought. Max Kay was an intermediary for RG who wanted to sell his Esquire. Of course, RG changed his mind and kept the Esquire.
In 1987 the Esquire reappeared again around the time album Defender was released. The guitar no longer featured two Strat pickups in the middle and neck position but was reverted back to the condition in which it was when Rory first acquired it. It now styled just a Telecaster pickup in the neck, next to the bridge pickup which was most likely not touched.
I turned against the rhythm pickup on Teles, years ago, and I put two Strat pickups in the middle and rhythm position, but then lately I’ve reverted back to the way they were.Guitarist, June 1987, Rory ! by Neville Marten
The guitar was also fitted with a new back loader bridge plate and six holes were drilled through the body to house the six-string ferrules which now anchored the strings instead of the bridge plate itself. Note that the new back loader bridge plate was the model that Fender introduced in the early sixties and was used until 1983. It has the “FENDER PAT.NO. DES.164,227 2,573,254” stamp near the steel grooved saddles. The original Toploader bridge had the “FENDER PAT. PEND.” stamp near the bridge pickup.
Two more mods were present on the guitar at this time. The old pickguard was replaced with a new five-screw pickguard, and the selector switch was changed from 5-way to 3-way since the guitar no longer had three pickups.
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