Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The one that restarted it all: the Squier 51

I actually quit playing guitar and bass for almost 15 years. 

In 2007, I wandered into a local GC, and spotted some really weird black and white guitars on the wall. I dig weird. When I took a closer look, I saw something like a Stratocaster, with a Tele neck and Whaaa??? a 51 P-bass style pickguard !?! These puppies had a humbucker at the bridge, a slanted single coil at the neck, and were labeled Squier on the headstock. Wildest of all was that the dozen or so of them on the wall were all marked $149!

Even though I had not played since 1994, I simply had to try one out. The guitar was lighter than a Strat but not too light, and was well contoured. The neck was like a chunky strat, but it felt good. The frets... well they damned near cut my hand! I put it down and wandered out. This was the last guitar I touched for another 4 years.

In January of 2008, I saw an article online about the Squier 51. Apparently, these were a bit of a cult guitar due to their low cost, and that fact that they were easily modified. I started searching and found an online forum chock full of people who who loved this little crossbred bugger. I found the gang there to be very personable, and knowledgeable. It seems that the odd looks of the guitar, as well as the poorly designed bridge did not make for good sales. Most feel that snobbery amongst guitar salesmen did not help either...

The more I read, the more the love and enthusiasm shown for this much maligned Cheapo guitar got me hooked. I soon started searching for my own 51. When I wandered back into my local GC, and there was a sunburst 51 for $125! For some reason I hesitated. When I went back a few days later it was gone. I started searching everywhere. Sure, they were on eBay, but I wanted one NOW. Plus, I hate to pay shipping.

The following week I stopped back into GC, and there it was: A Butterscotch Blond with a black pickguard! This is exactly the color I was searching for. On examination, the salesman told me that another salesman had just traded it in. I spoke to the original owner, and he told me how he had the bridge replaced, and the bridge pickup replaced with a Carvin. Oh yeah, he had the frets dressed, and the whole guitar setup. Did I care about the 1/4" chip near the jack? No way. All this time, I did not put the guitar down. Why? It was marked $99. Needless to say, this 51 went home with me.

So far, I have made no other modification to my 51. Like many of today's import guitars, it needed a few tweaks, but it I play it just about every day. The guitar has a good feel to it, is not too heavy or too light, and there is quite a tone pallet with the single coil at the neck, and the bucker at the bridge which can be split using the stock push-pull volume knob.

The stock model did have several issues: The bridge and tuners were pretty bad, and both really should be replaced. GFS offers great affordable parts that fit the bill. (I will post more about GFS in an upcoming blog entry.)  The quality of the fret job varies from guitar to guitar, some are OK but some are sharp on the edges, and almost feel unfinished. A fret end filing fixes this. Many also dislike the harshness of the stock ceramic pickups, but again, GFS comes to the rescue with an almost dizzying array of affordable and attractive, good sounding replacements.

Despite the fact that the guitar was discontinued in 2007, there are almost always a few available on eBay, craigslist, or on GC's used section of their website. These days, the going price varies from $125-$200, and although many have been modded, there are still plenty of stock ones if you want to have a go at modding, or just want to own a truly undervalued Cheapo guitar.

Left: A stock Butterscotch Blond Squier 51 with a black pickguard. This is the most desirable color combo.

Below: Limk to the Squier 51 Modder's Forum:

The Squier 51 Modders Forum


  1. that's a cool-looking 51. i like the butterscotch. do you know if it would be possible to put two P90s in a 51?

  2. I believe so. I have seen every pickup imaginable in there. See the link for a pile o' custom 51's: