The Fender Jaguar
The jag is a notorious guitar in the surf, alternative and shoegaze genres. Famed because of its unique looks, versatility and unique sound.
Developed originally by fender as the “upgrade” to the stratocaster, to have an innovate floating tremolo system and controls unlike any guitar prior to it. Unfortunately it never sold too well and was eventually discontinued in the mid 70s. Then reissued in the late 90s followed by a steadily growing interest in the guitar.
What do the switches do?
The jag is designed to be very versatile, lots of sounds are available from this guitar, and after a while the switches all make perfect sense.
Firstly the guitar has 2 circuits you can use. A lead circuit which allows you to use either/both pickups and all the controls on the bottom of the guitar. This circuit uses 1meg pots for the tone/volume control and as a result is much brighter than your standard strat sounds. You can swap these pots out, add resistors in parallel or simply turn the pot down to get a sound closer to that of a strat.
And a rhythm circuit which only allows use for the neck pickup and bypasses all the controls at the bottom, using its own tone/volume control rollers at the top. As a result you can use this to switch to a totally different sound mid song, for example you could roll the volume down on this circuit and keep it on full on the lead circuit. When playing with distortion you could switch to the rhythm circuit for a cleaner sound. This circuit uses a 50k tone control along with a 1meg volume pot, allowing for a much warmer sound and an overall resistance much closer to that of a strat.
The controls are pretty standard really besides the “Strangle” switch, this just puts a cap in series with the signal to cut the low end. If you’re going for a no-fi sound with fuzz it could be quite usefull, otherwise the guitar is bright enough without it and it tends to end up pretty useless. There are plenty of things you can do with this switch, such as series/parallell wiring for the pickups, put in a different value cap to cut the high end, use it as a kill switch, maybe even put in an active circuit like a boost or such.
How do all these combinations sound?
Here’s a short demo of the pickup variations in the following order, all clean, stock 2004 62 CIJ RI jaguar -> amp (+reverb) -> mic -> soundcard.
1 Bridge Pup (lead)
2 Bridge pup + strangle (lead)
3 Both pups (lead)
4 Both pups + strangle (lead)
5 Neck pup (lead)
6 Neck pup + strangle (lead)
7 Neck pup (rhythm)
8 Neck pup (lead)
9 Bridge Pup (lead)
10 Both pups (lead)
I’ve heard the Jag has problems with XX..?
Let me guess, bridge, trem, radius, scale length, feedback?
These can be an issue, but all of which can be sorted out.
We’ll start with the main one, the bridge isn’t the issue. Its the bridge saddles, originally fender designed the saddles to have lots of individual grooves to allow players to adjust there own string spacing, for whatever reason you’d want to do that. This is more of an issue with the Japanese jags, as the groves arent cut deep enough, strings pop out of the saddles, the height adjustment screws tend to buzz and fall out because of the vibrations and blah blah blah. There are all kinds of solutions to this, using threadlock/nail varnish to hold the screws in (Which will need to be redone every time you adjust the saddles after it hardens), angling the saddles so the the strings dont pop out, using heavy gauge (12’s+) strings, (I’ve tried all of the above, with okay results) and the ugly addition of a buzz stop.
IMO, the best solution is just to buy some new saddles, people reccomend the Fender Mustang saddles, theyre easy to aqquire, a direct replacement, not too expensive and dont have any of the above issues since theres one (Properly cut) grove and no screws for height adjustment, a bit limiting, but you can still adjust height from the bridge assey itself.
Personally i picked up some Graphtech Mustang/Jaguar/Jazzmaster String Saver saddles. Which have screws for adjustment. There are some “boutique” options you can go for (Mastery Bridge). But for my purposes the graphtechs worked perfectly.
There’s also the Adjust-o-matic (AOM) bridge which fender have introduced on the new MIM models, a worthwhile consideration, I do reccomend against replacing the bridge for a TOM (tune-o-matic) as qutie a few people have done, although it will fit in directly, it doesnt allow much room for adjustment to work with the 7.5″ radius, so the action is quite uncomfortable.
The tremolo system IMO is a fantastic design, its a floating system, the bridge will rock back and forth with movement of the trem to minimize wear on the strings created by friction, and mechanically it’s very similar to the bigsby vibrato (It uses one spring to push the arm/plate the strings sit into place.), i’ve heard people complain of tuning stability issues, but frankly i’ve found the trem to be capable of taking alot of abuse. If you’re having issues prehaps it’s worth replacing the spring inside.
Though it is free floating, dont expect divebombs, the range is limited to subtle vibrato akin to the bigsby, but there is a screw (Central, just left of the socket for the arm) that will allow you to adjust the range of the trem, so you can set it from just pulling upwards/downwards and all points inbetween.
There’s also a locking feature that will allow you to lock the plate the strings sit on into place to block the tremolo off, incase you break a string mid song and it knocks you out of tune. This requires a precise set up of the trem to use though, I personally don’t bother, but if you want to know how the best option would be to take the trem itself off the guitar and have a look inside while you play with the range of the trem.
The only real issue with the trem is the arm has a tendancy to fall out, the AV models have a lip to hold the arm in the “teeth” in the arm socket. The CIJ/MIJ jags just have a straight bar. You can correct this by wrapping some tape around the trem arm under the trem where it sits in the cavity, or by gently closing the teeth around the socket with some pliers.
The low 7.5″ radius with the CIJ/MIJ/AV models can present an issue without a proper set up, as with all guitars with this radius. Notes tend to choke off when bent higher up the fretboard, the only real solution is to set asside a few hours to intonate, check the truss rod for a decent amount of bow and set the action correctly. You should be able to minimize the choke off to only a few frets and still keep the strings at a comfortable height. The radius is low to make it more comfortable for detailed chord work, so maybe stop trying to shred on your jaguar and get a guitar with a flatter fingerboard. 🙂
Scale length isn’t an issue in itself, providing a) You don’t have big hands and b) You understand the design concept behind the jaguar. The jag is designed to work with heavy strings, flatwounds with a wound G string in particular to give it a fatter sound. The break angle of the strings over the bridge is really low and the “short scale” (Really its only .75″ shorter than a les paul scale) length means your standard 9 gauge strings are gunna be really floppy, causing more issues with the bridge down to lack of tension.
“This is all fine and good but maybe i dont want to use .11+ flatwounds.”
Me neither, I used .12s for a good period of time with my jag, even that felt tight to bend, it isn’t just about the tension on the strings, more mass is still going to make it more difficult to bend, especially true of flatwounds. I use .10-52 gauge strings now, which i really reccomend, light enough for solos, but thick enough on the bass strings to keep it from feeling floppy.
You can also try increasing the break angle over the bridge a bit by shimming the neck (putting a peice of card in the neck pocket) and raising the bridge a bit. If that still isn’t good enough for you the buzz stop will dramatically increase the break angle of the strings, allowing you to use your wimpy standard 9/10 gauge strings if you must.
I do hear complaints that a 24″ scale guitar will not intonate properly. I don’t have intonation problems with my jag, and am more than happy to dismiss these claims down to “Eric Johnson” syndrome untill somebody provides me scientific evidence. If you want to prove me wrong, be my guest.
As for feedback and noise related issues we must understand that this is a very bright sounding guitar with (none wax potted) single coil pickups. That right there is a recipe for hum and squeeling like nothing else. Generally its reccomended to avoid using alot of gain with the jag, but we’re all cool and rebelious. Personally, i dont have much noise issues with my jag, with absoloutely no modification to prevent any. It feedbacks on the bridge pup with high gain and volume. But thats to be expected. But it would be ignorant for me to dismiss this as its a common issue.
CIJ/MIJ jags are more subseptible to noise due to cheaper electronics. Rewiring the guitar with better quality wiring and pots, sheilding the cavities and underside of the pickguard with sheilding tape, wax potting the pickups will all go a long way towards reducing any issues. There are all kinds of guides available on the net with a quick google. It’d also be a good idea to swap out that cheap nasally bridge pickup (I find the neck pickup fine personally.) for something better quality with a bit less treble response, and if you dont mind losing the bright sound some lower resistance pots in the lead circuit will darken the guitar out and help remove some of those troublesome frequencies.
I’d also like to point out that it took me 6months of owning the jag to notice this but the grounding wire that was supposed to be attatched to one of the screws in the trem was not attatched, maybe its worth checking out if you’re getting ground hum that isnt disapearing when you touch the strings but does dissapear when you touch the metal control plates.
Which one should you buy?
There’s currently all kinds of models of the jag on the go.
The places of current manufacturing are
American (AV 62 RI, Thin Skin FSR)
Japanese (62 RI,, 66, 66B (block inlay) RI, HH Special)
Mexico (Classic player, CP HH)
I cant give you a run down of the MIM models, ive never tried the classic player, specs wise it isnt as close to “vintage” specs as the American or Japanese re-issues, but more of a modern interpretation of the jag, more player friendly with an adjusto-matic bridge, the trem being pushed forward for a lower break angle, hotter pickups and a 9.5″ radius so a flatter neck for soloing, ive heard good things, and wouldn’t say no to recommending one to someone who’s looking for the jag look but not quite the same sound or feel.
My experience with the American 62 RI is somewhat limited, I’ve played it in store once or twice and my opinion is that it doesn’t offer anything substantially better than the Japanese re-issues do, and for a lot more money, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Other than the mute switch, better quality electronics, better cut saddles and a slightly smoother feeling trem IMO it’s not worth it, still a nice guitar, but when there are very similar options available for way cheaper it wouldn’t be my choice.
The CIJ/MIJ is always what i recommend when somebodies looking for a Jag. Great construction and attention to detail as with all Japanese Fenders. The trem is solid, the neck is like butter, the body wood resonates louder than my other guitars. Though I do find the finish dings pretty easily, the bridge pickup is pretty lacklustre and the bridge has its issues. But its a substantial guitar and i hope to always have mine in my collection.
Really the only issue with japanese made fenders is availability, not so much over here in the UK/Europe but in the states Fender Japan are limited to how many guitars they can import, Fender Japan and US/Mexico are run by separate companies, as soon as FMIC noticed the quality:price ratio being much better on MIJ/CIJ fenders they were pretty shocked and had to do something before the rest of the states noticed. In UK/Europe japanese fenders are a dime a dozen on eBay, in the states they’re pretty rare and prices get jacked up, so in the end, you may be better off getting a used American Re-issue unless you can find someone to directly import you one for cheap or find one on eBay for cheap.
And no, there are no differences between the 62/66 RIs (other than the 66b having block inlay). The CIJ (Crafted in Japan) and MIJ (Made In Japan) labels provide no indication of differences in quality, they just provide a general idea for dating. Older jaguars had basswood bodies and better quality electronics with shielding, while the newer reissues dont. But i cant give you an accurate time for the change.
I’d also like to point out my vendetta against the black HH special jaguar, i seem to generally dislike HH fenders (not an elitism thing, i just havent bonded with any), and this one is no exception, terrible thin sounding dragster pickups, cloudy cheap looking hardware, the neck is not even near comparible to the quality and sleek butteryness of the 62/66 CIJ RI’s, very “clunky” and cheap feeling. I expect better from the new MIMs. I’ll let you know if i get 5 minutes alone with one.
Is it any different from the Jazzmaster?
Bit of yes, and a bit of no. The hardware is the same (minus the mute), as is the shape and wood used. But the jazzmaster has a 25.5″ standard fender scale length, giving it a different feel, specially designed pickups (Though i should point out the MIJ/CIJ jazzys have the same pickups as the jags under a bigger covering), theyre P90-ish sounding (the proper ones), but they arent really P90s, they arent the same size/shape/design. Circuit wise they are pretty similar, still using the same values for the pots and same lead/ryhtm circuit design, just replacing the 3 switches on the jaguar with a 3 way switch getting rid of the strangle switch, the jazz is a bit mellower and was designed more for well, jazz. You should probably just buy both anyway.