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Fender Jaguar


Article from International Musician & Recording World, October 1986

Dave Burrluck dons swimming trunks and picks up his surfboard to review this reissue of famous sixties favourite, the Fender Jag

For once this is a re-issue that I personally welcome with open arms. It is in fact one of many instruments that are part of a limited edition series all made in Japan.

Certainly this range of instruments covers some of the better moments from Fender's past and one wonders how long these instruments will actually be available for. While re-living the past may be a retrogressive step that Fender have too often fallen into the appearance of, this Jaguar with its Candy Apple Red lacquer was too much to pass over.

The Jaguar was first introduced by Fender in 1961 four years after the same shaped Jazzmaster had been revealed. There were many differences between the two, notably the Jaguar's shorter scale of 24". The electronics department had undergone some changes too with narrower and deeper single coil pickups as opposed to the Jazzmaster's wide and flat units. Whereas the Jazzmaster had a 3-position toggle switch for pickup selection the Jaguar used two small slide switches, on/off for each pickup.

The original '61 Jaguar would have had the slab Rosewood fingerboard which was standard at that time replaced with the characteristic thinner curved Rosewood board in '62. In '65 the position dots were changed from 'clay' to pearloid and white fingerboard binding was added in the later part of that year. In 1966 while England were busy winning the World Cup, Fender where changing the dot markers to 'block' types.

With all this info at hand one presumes that the re-issue Jaguar is a '65 vintage which if I may say is a fine year. I've never liked bound fingerboards much and definitely not block markers — they always seemed rather un-Fender.


Running my fingers over this very beautiful guitar made me wish it was an original. It's very well made and definitely evokes a period in American history long since gone when chopped cherry's and surfin' were national obsessions!

The Jaguar was altogether more upmarket than the Strat with its offset waist introduced to give a more comfortable playing position. Although the Jaguar was introduced after the Strat it somehow seems more old-fashioned in '86, though the body contouring is very Strat-like and is every bit as comfortable.

The four bolt-on neck is a peach. The shorter scale gives it a strangely juvenile feel but the smooth oval contour is fast and comfortable to the touch. There is no back stripe — the truss rod is fitted from the front of the neck and access to its adjustment is at the body end. A rather light brown, thin fingerboard is fitted and although it is nicely finished, the wood colour does give it a cheap appearance. 22 thin square frets are fitted — one more than a Strat — well filed and polished. Despite the short scale fretting is easy at the top of the neck as the small wire allows just enough finger space for comfort.

Initially Fender were at pains to point out the differences between their American and Japanese operations by naming the Oriental versions the 'Squiers'. However this model has no such name — the only indication that it's made in Japan is a transfer at the base of the neck by the serial number (E600260) indicating the country of origin. A white plastic nut is installed in the typical Fender style. Although slightly on the high side there's nothing to worry about. In keeping with the original specification Kluson copies are fitted here. Never my favourite machine heads they perform well with their usual, rather stiff action.

Unlike the famous synchronised Strat trem unit, the one installed here is a lot simpler. It features a separate bridge — the actual trem part is in the tailpiece unit. The bridge features six individual threaded rod section saddles. Each has height and intonation adjustment. These are mounted in a 'U' shaped plate which 'floats' via two posts resting in metal ferrules in the body. Inside the post are small grub screws which have pointed ends, acting as fulcrum points. When the trem arm is depressed the bridge rocks forward and vice versa. (If the bridge were fixed, trem use would undoubtedly result in the strings sticking at the saddles and hindering correct return to pitch.)

The tailpiece trem assembly is simplicity itself. Under the large horseshoe-shaped cover plate is an 'L' shaped plate — to which the strings are anchored — that pivots along the back of the cover. A compression spring provides the action, the tension of which can be adjusted via a cross head screw in the centre of the assembly. On the original Jazzmaster and Jaguar we had a trem lock button which secured the unit, ideal to stop the whole guitar detuning if a string broke. However, although the button is included here it doesn't work! I took the guitar apart to find out more and certainly it seems that the button is included here purely for show — hardly a commendable practice! As far as trem arms go the Jaguar's is a bit strange. Its shape is hardly complementary to modern trem techniques although the actual action of the unit is very smooth and responsive requiring only a light touch. Tuning stability seemed excellent for such a new unit and the usual problem of strings flattening while bending a note wasn't noticeable unless the bend was extreme. Due to this fact and the great action and stability of this unit I was left wondering if the trem hadn't been rather overlooked. As with all the best designs it is simple but effective.


Here too I was amazed at the ingenuity of the Jaguar's wiring set-up. Basically we have two separate circuits on the guitar enabling sounds to be 'pre set'. Let me explain. Two single coil units, similar to the strat unit in shape, are fitted although they're mounted on metal cradles to (presumably) act as shielding. In fact shielding was an important design element of the Jaguar, resulting in brass grounding plates in the three control cavities plus foil under the scratchplate. On top of that all the control plates are chromed metal, providing further screening against hum. The pickups screw directly to the body so the only function of the white-black-white laminate scratchplate is to prevent scratches like the good 'ol Strat.

On the main control panel, by the bridge, we have a master volume and tone as well as the output socket. The three slider switches on the lower horn take care of the two pickups on/off plus a tone switch. These controls route the signal to the main volume and tone. On the control plate at the upper horn we have two roller knobs and another slide switch. These make-up the rhythm circuit. The slide switch here selects either the rhythm or the master circuit. When in rhythm only the neck pickup is activated and can be controlled by its own volume and tone independent of the master circuit. Neat? You betcha!

Once you know what's what the Jaguar is a powerful little beast. The two circuit idea is very useful. Hang on though, the penny's just dropped! Surely the rhythm circuit would sound the same as the master circuit with only the neck pickup on? Wrong. The Jaguar uses different value pots for the controls, the result is that the rhythm circuit is more bassy and Bluesy while the master circuit is clearer and cleaner — much more Fender.

The combination of this (all passive) electronic trickery results in an absolutely classic sound. It's harder than a Strat and possibly without the subtleness of tone but it's a welcome relief from the standard Fender tones that we're all used to. It's Sixties pop, plenty of jangle, bags of bite. The rhythm circuit adds a warmer tone all together which can be used for Jazzy chording or blistering Blues breaks. Bearing in mind the amount of people that want a combination of Fender and Gibson tone from one guitar you'd have thought they should have looked at the Jaguar — it's got a fair degree of both in its standard wiring.

However the playing action on this sample was shocking. Any bends above the 12th fret on the top three strings resulted in choking. The only cure is to reduce the radius of the fingerboard by flattening the upper frets or to raise the action. This spoilt an otherwise excellent instrument and while I don't doubt that Fender have copied the original exactly they must realise that in '86 string gauges, action height and playing techniques make a fatter fingerboard a necessity. This simple 'improvement' to the original design would have made all the difference to the playability of this guitar.

Summing Up

We're left then with a guitar that looks and sounds great but seems a little out of place in '86. For example the tone switch which provides a subtle amount of bass reduction could possibly be a phase switch for the two pickups, and the tremolo arm should really be improved although as I've said the trem itself is good if far from the movement of a Kahler. Fender have waited some 16 years to reissue this guitar. Why was such a good guitar neglected? Even now, as a limited edition Arbiters seem unsure how many will be made. What is obvious though is that fretboard problems aside, this version of the Jaguar is a fine instrument. At £417 it isn't cheap but judging by the interest shown in this instrument many people, myself included, welcome its return. It ain't made in the USA and you could pickup a second hand original for a similar price (probably without such a nice paint job) but the reissue of this Jaguar is an opportunity you mustn't miss — you may not get another chance to play such an endearing instrument.

Fender Jaguar 1986 Re-Issue - RRP £417.30

More info from Arbiters on: (Contact Details)

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Ensoniq ESQ1

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JB Self Lock

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Oct 1986

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

Guitar > Fender > Jaguar

Gear Tags:

Electric Guitar

Review by Dave Burrluck

Previous article in this issue:

> Ensoniq ESQ1

Next article in this issue:

> JB Self Lock

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