Squier Stratocaster SQ Series 1980s

Japan Built SQ Series Squier Circa 1984 – Oh My…

Oh my indeed, the Squier SQ Series Stratocaster has been a firm favourite of mine for many reasons, and its a love affair I’m yet to abandon, especially in the configuration featured here – Black with a maple neck and big headstock. So much so I’ve owned three of these beauties, one back in the early 1990s and two up until just a couple of years ago. I’m afraid I may bore you with why I love these so much, but strap in, and you’ll find out not just about my appreciation, by why they’re continuing to gain in value as time goes on.

A 1980s Black and Maple Squier SQ Strat
A previously owned 1980s Black and Maple Squier SQ Strat

To start with, this was my first electric guitar, bought for me by my more knowledgeable father. He told me it was a great guitar for the money but as a clueless mid-teen with delusions of musical grandeur, I didn’t take too much notice of it. My focus was being the singer in the band, I didn’t play it enough to get any good.

In fact, when we had gigs or rehearsals, it was typically lent to our rhythm guitarist to use as she only had an acoustic guitar (we were all young and broke…) Not long after the band imploded, and we all went our merry ways. I handed the guitar back to my dad (and his disappointed look) and told him to sell it on.

This would have been circa 1989-1991, and at that time I think I paid £80 for it second hand, and got about the same back for it. I say I paid it, it probably came from the bank of mum and dad. But that’s what it cost, £80, a smashing price for Squier Strat back then.

Time went on, and I’d not touched a guitar for the best part of a decade. However, the itch had always been there, and I returned to the guitar and learnt just about enough to indulge myself in a short period of recording and song-writing circa 2000. By then my guitar was cheap and had cost the around the same price new that my old Squier had done second-hand, and, most importantly, it was nowhere near as well-built as that old Squier was.

I found myself pining for a black Strat with a maple neck, it felt like an old friend I had missed. To this day this is my preferred colour and neck for my favourite guitar, the Stratocaster – all black and maple, big head-stock, yummy. At the time I first had that Squier, the other Strats I mainly saw were sunburst or white, red and blue bodied. Nice in their own ways, but that all black floated my boat above all others, and still does!

Headstock of previously owned SQ Squier Strat
Headstock of previously owned SQ Squier Strat

I don’t know why the big head-stock appeals as much either, it just does. I’ve owned a couple of black and maple Strats (including a Fender rather than a Squier) as well, but they had the smaller headstock. As amazing as they were, there was always that little pine there for the 1970s style big ends. I know it makes no difference to the guitar and how it sounds or handles, but for me, how it looks is always going to be 90% of the equation.

Around 2000 the internet was taking off, and I started following a few different guitar sites and forums, and whenever the SQ Strats (and more-so the prior JV series) were mentioned, it was in glowing and reverent terms. The prices were also way up there, at that point three to four times the amount I had paid for mine back in 1989. Something was afoot. What had my dad known about the quality of these guitars that I hadn’t at the time? Well, let’s take a trip back to the early 1980s and set the scene…

Fender Guitars were looking to launch a budget range via the Squier brand, which they originally bought back in 1965. Fender guitars at the point were primarily being made in the US of A. However, after the CBS buy-out they began falling out of favour, with guitarists being unimpressed with cost-cutting in the construction of the guitars, such as the 3 screw neck plate that replaced the 4 screw square one. With their budget brand, Fender hoped to expand their market and reach new, money conscious players without diminishing their main flagship brand. It was also in response to the number of cheap copies coming out of the Asian countries.

To achieve this, they looked to Japan to make the guitars under the Squier brand (or Squier by Fender as it was known). Japan had form with cut-price guitar production, with a number of big factories churning out copies of popular guitars and their own distinct brands. With that know-how Squier guitars started rolling out the factories around 1982, the first of which were called the JV series, denoted by a JV at the start of the serial number on the neck plate. Copies of earlier classics from the pre-CBS days, the JV guitars were built from excess parts from the USA factories and Japanese built components, and put together so well that they stood up against the big brand guitars with aplomb.

I’ve heard it said that when the American company stakeholders got their hands on the first of those Japanese Squiers, they were moved to tears by the quality of them compared to their own fully branded Fender guitars. It might be fanciful, but it certainly paints a picture of how well-made these earliest guitars were.

The JV series ran from 1982 to 1984 and was exclusively copies of the most popular Stratocaster models, typically with a classic Sunburst finish. After a successful first year for the JVs, the SQ series launched in 1983, this time concentrating on the post-CBS models, with solid colour finishes, the bigger headstock and the dreaded 3 screw neck plate. Like the JV, these guitars were built with excess parts sent over from the USA factories alongside the purpose built Japanese bodies and components. The SQ models were built from 1983 to 1984.

Neck Plate of my old SQ Squier Strat - Notice the Fender branding
Neck Plate of my old SQ Squier Strat – Notice the Fender branding

Both the JV and SQ series Strats had components that were stamped with the Fender brand, such as the tuners and bridge, despite them being Squier guitars. This in part points to the perceived quality of these guitars, alongside the expertise and attention to detail that the Japanese makers bought to the process.

Both the JV and SQ serial guitars stopped production in 1984, and from there Squiers from Japan switched to an alphabetical serial numbering, with the A beginning in 1985. They also widened out the selection of guitars that they made, with a wider range of finishes and gear. Alongside Squiers built in Japan, production moved to other countries where the budget aspect could further be profitable. Japanese production on the Squier series of guitars ended in 1997.

I’ve owned a couple of other Japanese built Squiers from the later 1980s, early 1990s and have to say, the quality was never as good as those SQs. The necks felt a bit less solid and polished, the finish wasn’t as good, the components felt a bit cheaper and didn’t have the Fender branding. They just didn’t have that special something that my SQs had. Don’t get me wrong, for budget guitars they were pretty awesome, and more than up to the job. But, you know, something was missing, a certain solidness of build and detailing that just wasn’t quite there in those later models.

The Japanese Squiers that followed have also held their value well, with it hard to come by one for less than £350. However, the JVs are the ones people are willing to pay for, with models going for £800+ in recent years. You can expect to pay around the £500 mark for an SQ these days, and prices continue to rise as they become rarer.

I was lucky enough to buy an SQ black and maple that was pretty much brand new and had been stored under in a case in cupboard somewhere as it was immaculate, still having the cellophane on the back-plate. That was a later SQ as it had a single ply back-plate. The earlier ones had the three-ply back-plates the same as their big brother Fender variants. Finding one in this condition is rare, believe me.

My 2nd Black and Maple Squier SQ Series Stratocaster
My 2nd Black and Maple Squier SQ Series Stratocaster

The one I’d bought prior to that came with no back-plate. I bought a 3-ply Fender one to put on, so it had that feel of the one I’d originally owned. It had come from the states in 2 parts and was not in good condition. The finish was chipped in places, the neck had some wear, but you know – that’s all part of the mojo. People pay extra for that kind of finish these days!

Even with the import duties on the one from America, I sold both of these Squier SQs at profit, after having held on to them for a good few years. These later two were bought online at ebay, around 2012-2014, both around the £350 mark. You’d be hard pressed to find one that cheap these days!

I was sad to let them go, but, as I no longer play with any regularity, it seemed a shame to just have them there gathering dust. They deserve to be played, and I hope they are getting a good thrashing now, as is my first ever one, out there in guitar land.

Maybe one day I’ll get lucky again and find myself another one. To be honest, the chase is always more of the fun. My daily emails from ebay always a moment of pleasure during the day, and even if I’m not buying, I can still admire the ones being listed, and wince at the inflated prices. Listed below are collected SQ and JV Squiers Strats and Teles listed for sale at this moment if you fancy joining me in a window shop!

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