“The Jag suited the way I evolved as a guitar player, at the same time, all my old riffs sounded absolutely right on the Jaguar. It covered loads of bases that I used to use other guitars for.” -Johnny Marr
First released in 1962 with its futuristic body style and electronics, riding on the success of the Jazzmaster, the Jaguar was a more expensive, feature-laden and eye-popping alternative to the Stratocaster and Telecaster. During the early 1960’s, Fender and Gibson were taking up difference niches in the guitar market. Fenders were more affordable due to their bolt-on maple necks and ash bodies; Gibson, with their all-mahogany set neck guitars, were geared towards a more expensive market. That changed with the release of the Jaguar. It was marketed as being the top of the line Fender guitar, the shorter scale length would convert some Les Paul lovers, and the two circuit design would be a unique alternative to Gibson’s four-knob one-circuit design. The first run started in 1962 where it found popularity among surf rock players, however due to the ever dominating popularity of the Strat and Tele, Fender discontinued the line in 1975. Once the top of the line Fender, the price of the Jaguar on the used market was comparatively low to the Strat and Tele, and became synonymous with players in the emerging Punk Rock scene.
Upon its release, the Jag was famously used by Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys, and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones could occasionally be seen with a Jaguar, which he later gifted to Jimi Hendrix. After its discontinuation in 1975, the Jaguar was able to be found for relatively little on the used market, and was later coveted by players in the emerging Indie Rock, Alt Pop, Punk, and Shoegaze scenes. It can be seen in the hands of players like Thurston Moore, Kevin Shields, Soren Hanson, Johnny Marr, and even jazz legend Joe Pass.
The Jaguar has an array of features that set the guitar apart from the competition in 1962, and the same can be said in 2018. Most Fenders have a 25.5 inch scale length, while the Jag has a 24 inch scale length, lending to a more relaxed feel and warmer tone. The guitar is equipped with two single-coil pickups that are specially shielded to reduce noise (Fender has since released HS and HH variations), and it has a switching system that to this day is completely unique.
The Jag’s switching system might look intimidating, but its actually very simple. You have two different circuits, lead and rhythm, which are selectable via the toggle switch on the upper horn of the guitar. Flipped up, you’re in the rhythm circuit. Down, and you’re in the lead circuit. The rhythm circuit activates the neck pickup, and has two wheels that control volume and tone. Easy enough. When you flip that switch down, you enter lead mode. The lead circuit on the bottom half of the guitar has three switches, a volume, and a tone knob. The first switch, closest to the lower horn of the guitar, engages the neck pickup, and the middle switch engages the bridge pickup. Like the two pickup Telecaster, you can choose to use the bridge, neck, or both pickups. The difference is that, on a Tele, you have a three-way toggle, and on the Jag, you have two binary switches. The third switch is commonly called a treble boost, which is actually a misconception. In reality the third engages a capacitor that acts as a high-pass filter, meaning that it filters out some of the bottom end and lets the highs pass through, giving the illusion of boosting the treble. This two circuit design allows the player to dial in two unique tones for lead and rhythm playing, and to quickly toggle between them on the fly.
Coming from an audio engineer’s perspective, the high-pass filter is an extremely useful tool in the studio in general, but especially on a mid-range instrument like the guitar. In a band, the bass guitar and kick drum are going to fill in much of the low end in your performance. If you roll the low end off your guitar, it really serves to clean up your sound and keep the guitar in the mid-range where it belongs, not intruding on the bass and drums. This will result in a more cutting guitar tone, and an overall cleaner performance for your band on stage or in the studio.
Since its release in 1962, and the American re-release in 1999, the Jaguar has gone though many iterations. Today, the jag is available in many different flavors. Today you can get them with SS, HS, and HH pickup configurations, you can get them with the original two circuit design, or if you prefer the classic volume-tone-three way selector one circuit design. Ranging from the Squier vintage modified priced at $400, to the $8000 Fender Custom Shop 1960’s Jaguar, made by Masterbuilder Greg Fessler, my personal favorite Jag is the Johnny Marr signature model, with the ability to run the two single-coil’s in series or in parallel, a toggle switch, and two different high pass filters. While the two circuit design might seem intimidating, its actually a simple and innovative way to change your tones on the fly. No matter what your taste or price point, there’s bound to be a Jaguar for you.