A super-rare 1985 Fender Performer has gone up for auction and it looks like something Tosin Abasi would be into

1985 Fender Performer
(Image credit: Guitar Auctions at GH / Instagram)

It’s rare guitar time, folks. A bona-fide unicorn has been unearthed as a one-off Fender Performer in Emerald Mist from 1985 is heading for the auction block at Gardiner Holgate. This electric guitar is so rare it might well be a one off. 

The maple fingerboard is the tell. According to former Fender Custom shop Masterbuilder John Cruz, the Fender Performers that entered production were all fitted with rosewood ‘boards, so this most probably is a prototype. It is quite the guitar.

Not to be confused with the American Performer Series, or really anything before or after the year 1985 – they only made this for one year – the Performer was a double-cutaway solidbody electric that was designed to tap into the demands of metal guitar players of the time, players from the kinds of bands who might get drain a few cans of Aqua Net and God knows what else before getting to the show. 

But really, looking at this now from 21st-century perspective, the Fender Performer  doesn’t really go with the hair metal, nor is it redolent of the nascent thrash metal scene, or NWOBHM. Equip this with heat-treated humbuckers and we could imagine Tosin Abasi playing one, a kitsch retro alternative to his groundbreaking Ernie Ball Music Man Kaizen and Abasi Concepts builds.

Hair metallers? LA sleaze merchants. No. The Performer has the sort of progressive metal build that with a little fine-tuning would surely catch the eye of the technically virtuosic metal players of today.

With that body shape, the almost under-designed quality of the headstock, this could hold an appeal for the type of player whose hard drive is chockfull of guitar VSTs, who counts a Fortin noise-gate as an ever present on the pedalboard – the kind of cat that reaches for the SoundBrennar when boiling an egg. The Neural generation.

Fender was going through changes in the ‘80s. The CBS era was ending. High-performance guitars and pointy headstocks were all the rage. Music was evolving. Guitar playing was getting more technical. The Performer’s design reflects these trends.

Made in Japan, the Performer has a wedge-shaped headstock, pretty much a triangle, a Fender-branded System I floating vibrato that was not going to keep Floyd Rose up at night.

Just look at those pickups. The Performer had a pair of humbuckers in the bridge and middle positions that were set at an angle and, though, Fender-branded, looked as though they were created in a fever dream in which you wake up, come down to breakfast and find that your parents are now Lace Sensor and EMG. 

Under the hood was a TBX circuit, which meant you could coil-tap these suckers, and again this kind of functionality, build and vibe definitely suggests that these were before their time. Fender also made a bass guitar version. 

Fender has brought back some of their other metal-friendly designs of yesteryear, such as the HM Strat, for instance. Maybe the Performer’s day will come. Maybe it is time for the asymmetrical V-shaped Katana of the '80s, the Prodigy of the Fender class of 1991 to '93 to make a lasting comeback. Maybe. Certainly, the Performer seems very 2023. It even has an offset body. Fender should focus-group this ASAP and test the water.

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.