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Fender Jaguar - An underapreciated model

The Fender Jaguar was introduced in 1962, and was pretty much the company's top-of-the-line model. It was packed with nice features, including an unique pickup circuit design, stable vibrato unit, short scale length and a gorgeous body shape, covered in chrome Razz Despite being a high end instrument, it never quite took off in popularity, never coming close to the sales of the Stratocaster or Telecaster. As such, production ceased in 1974. The very features that made it stand out, also likely led to its demise. It was also designed as something of a niche instrument, with surf/spy musicians of the period in mind (and country as well), where their established designs were more broad-ranging in nature. There have been reissues of the Jaguar produced, primarily by Fender Japan, but a Classic Player model from Fender Mexico and an American '62 Vintage Reissue model from Fender USA.

The Jaguar (and Jazzmaster) had two pickup circuits, a rhythm and a lead circuit, designed to allow for rapid switching between different pickup/volume/tone settings within a song. The rhythm circuit used only the neck pickup, and had volume and tone controls (via 50k roller pots) on the upper bout; when engaged, it had a warm, dark tone. The lead circuit integrated switching to use the neck pickup, bridge pickup, or both, and used the standard volume an tone pots on the lower bout, but with substantially brighter pot values (1Meg) than most guitars (250k for most single coils, 500k for most humbuckers), and a unique third switch that toggles a low-pass filter, or "strangle switch" designed to cut out bass frequencies. Many also complained about the floating vibrato unit. With its many moving parts, many players found it complicated and unstable, but, if some time is spent to familiarize how it works, it is a very stable design, allowing for subtle vibrato; it is a poor design for "dive bombs" and the like, however. Some also found the multiple chrome plates to be a little over the top.

Personally, I've always loved the design, and it's been a dream model of mine since the mid-90s. Many alternative bands from the 80s and 90s gravitated towards oddball instruments like the Jaguar, as they were readily available at reasonable prices in pawn shops. This build popularity within the mainstream and their prices have leapt, generally costing >$1000 these days for a modern reissue, several thousand for vintage models. I finally found one (Fender Japan; '66 Classic Jaguar) at a good price about 2 years ago and absolutely love it. The body balances nicely when playing, and it lets me finally produce some bright, jangly tones I've been trying to accomplish with other guitars and failing.

My Jaguar:

3 blog comments below

Sweet Jaguar!
standready on Fri Nov 18, 2011 10:38 pm
Thanks. I do plan to upgrade the pickups to the '62 American Reissues to make it even better Smile
Ankhanu on Sat Nov 19, 2011 2:17 am
Five years later, I finally bought and installed those better pickups Razz
I bought the '62 American Reissue pickups (last set available through my retailer in the country, a new model's been released since) earlier this year in the spring, but put off making the change... mostly due to my own fears regarding my lack of soldering experience. In early August I decided to bite the bullet and get under way. I grabbed the guitar, some solder, a 40W pencil-tipped soldering iron, a screwdriver, and got to work.

I pulled the plates off of the guitar, found a schematic and figured out what I needed to disconnect, and where, seeing where the hot wires connect to the switches, and where the ground wires are attached (the main volume pot). From there, I disconnected the hot wires (I also disconnected another wire from the upper selector switch accidentally, but it went back on easy enough).

While these were easy enough, small joins on non-delicate components, disconnecting the ground wires from the volume pot was more of a challenge.

As you can see, there's a larger glob of solder to deal with, and it's on a more delicate piece of hardware that could be ruined by too much heat. The 40W soldering iron seemed to do nothing to this big blob of solder, and I had to resort to using it a bit like a chisel to work the wires out of the solder. With some effort and time, being careful not to put too much heat into the pot, I eventually got the old pickups disconnected, and began the swap.

It went together well enough, and I used some new solder to connect the new grounds to the volume pot... it wasn't neat, but it worked.

I put it all together and tested it out. The bridge pickup was working fine, but the neck pickup wasn't giving me anything. Turned out I didn't leave enough slack on the lead going to the upper plate, and the wore broke when I put the plate back in place. I pulled it apart, got a little more slack on the wire, and put it back together... and it plays!

I've got a bit of noise, a grounding issue somewhere that I'll have to fix later, but, the pickups work and they sound quite a bit better than the thin import pickups that the guitar came with stock. Japanese Fenders have great build quality and quality consistency, but, their pickups are generally a bit lacking. Swapping the lacking Japanese for the American pickups really livens the thing up, and made the bridge pickup much nicer to use on its own to boot!

I've gotta get in and shield/ground it better to get rid of the buzz that can be heard when I'm not touching the strings, but overall, I had success!
Ankhanu on Sun Sep 04, 2016 6:50 pm

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