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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Electric Guitar Review!
Fender 50th Anniversary Jaguar:
Vintage Jag' Gets Key Upgrades

Price: $2,419 Retail
Like: Killer single coil tones, comfy neck
Dislike: No sunburst color/finish option
More info: 50th Anniversary Fender Jaguar

by Jackson Macinnis

  Although the Fender Jaguar, introduced in 1962, became famous for Surf, Punk and Grunge, the guitar has always been so much more. As I found with the new Custom 50th Anniversary Jaguar, this premium Fender excels on many types of music — from low-rent rock and roll to sophisticated jazz runs.
  The short-scale, 22-fret, wide neck Jaguar is one of the most versatile guitars Fender has ever made. I have seen old 1960s videos of jazz virtuoso Joe Pass playing one, and man does this guitar sing in his hands. Then, of course, members of the Beach Boys and other surf rock bands of the early 60s also took up the Jaguar. It kind of came back for renewed vigor during the late 1970s, and later with Grunge — the late Kurt Cobain as its most prominent player.
  Although the Jaguar was Fender’s premium guitar model when introduced 50 years ago, the anniversary Jaguar model reviewed here is truly the summit of the model’s existence. With extra gain pickups and a few other tweaks that give it more utility, this is the best Jaguar I have ever played. And, with its unorthodox series of switches to adjust the sound, it has the most divergent palette of sounds of any stock Fender.

  The  50th Anniversary Jaguar, priced at $2,419 retail ($1,799 street) is very faithful to the original Jaguar — with a few updates including bigger frets, hotter pickups, deletion of the string mute mechanism of the original (the ‘62 reissue still has it), the addition of neck binding, and a slight neck-angle pocket cut for improved pitch. The 50th Anniversary model also differs from the vintage version with a repositioned tremolo plate for increased bridge break angle that gives it better sustain.
  The 8.2 pound Jaguar sports a 24-inch scale, vintage-spec width maple neck with a 9.5-inch radius, which makes it so comfortable to play. The rosewood fretboard has the classic big inlay blocks and beautiful white binding, flawlessly attached along the neck. The original Jaguar started the Fender trend toward larger headstocks, with its prominent shape that clearly lets you knows it is a Fender. Tuners are vintage slotted and the truss rod is adjusted, a la old school, via the neck end under the pick guard.
 If you like to play smooth jazz lines or easy rhythm, the neck pickup controls allow this guitar to create a cascade of warm tones that would make a hollowbody player envy. The single coil neck PU and tone circuit create a majestic  tone...

  The offset body is made from premium pieces of solid alder and comes in a variety of vintage colors (no sunburst though), including our sample in burgundy mist, which is just awesome looking! The available colors are boldly retro, and offer a nice contrast to the “everything is black” I see on stage these days.
  The vintage paint is finished with nitrocellulose lacquer to give that old school feel and aged hue over time. Several upper-end Fender guitars also have that finish these days, such as the Mark Knophler Strat. I love the feel and look of lacquer — in that it does not seem so shiny and slick as the modern guitar finishes.
  Besides the big frets and wide neck, the the dual single coil pickups are the key to the Jaguar’s sound. These were originally developed to give a punchier tone than Strat and Telecasters, and the newly revised PUs on the 50th Anniversary Jaguar have that vintage character, but with more gain and warmth. Though Jaguar pickups were never noise free, extensive shielding of the pickguard and controls make them much quieter than stock single coil Strats and Teles. Much less extraneous noise. The pickups also have a sawtoothed metal trim on the edges, which are said to be part of the design to concentrate the magnetic field for extra midrange.
  If you aren’t at all familiar with the electronics layout of a Jaguar, (or a Jazzmaster), the bevy of switches may puzzle you. There is way more here than your typical electric guitar volume and tone knobs.

Saw-tooth bevel PU cover enhances midrange.
When the upper bout switch is toggled up, only the neck pickup is active and the player controls the volume and tone with the small thumbwheel controls. This set of controls was designed to be the ‘jazz” mode or for warm rhythm playing.
  The Jaguar electronics are divided into two circuits. On the upper bout, there is a switch that selects either the neck pickup — with direct rotary tone and volume controls — or the lower-bout mounted array of controls that enables one or both pickups and various tonal combinations.
  The more complex and interesting aspect of the electronics is the three lower-bout switches and master tone and volume controls for that circuit. When the upper bout switch is down, you get a whole new control configuration. Switch 1 turns the neck pickup on or off; switch 2 enables the bridge pickup, and the third switch engages a special tone capacitor, which gives the sound a higher frequency timbre. The tone switch is useful if you need to cut through with an especially clean midrangy/trebly sound with reduced bass. The lower bout master volume and tone knobs control the tone and level for one or both pickups.
  While playing and adjusting all these switches and knobs, you can’t help notice the 50th Anniversary Jaguar’s metal switch plates, as opposed to a Telecaster’s and Strat’s plastic ply pickguard/switch panel. Gives the guitar a touch more class.
The Fender 50th Anniversary Jaguar is the best Jaguar I have ever played; its new features, mainly the hotter pickups and repositioned bridge, give it a an upgraded sound.
  The tremolo for the Jaguar and the Jazzmaster were technically upgrades of the simple fulcrum of the Stratocaster. The floating tremolo moves the bridge instead of just stretching the strings, as on the Strat. It can also be locked to change strings without losing overall tune. Unique to the 50th Anniversary Jaguar, the bridge has been moved to give more string break over angle, which enhances sustain, a characteristic that I definitely noticed. The guitar is one of the loudest solid body guitar I have played — when strummed unamplified.
  The 50th Anniversary Jaguar comes in a vintage brown tolex case. Contents include a vintage style 10 ft. cord, strap and an extra set of .50-.011 flat-wound strings for jazz players. The guitar comes with .10-46 round-wound Fender Strings.

The audition
  I played a number of gigs and recorded the 50th Anniversary Jaguar to check out its wide palate of sounds and its amazing playability. Most of my playing was done through a Fender Vibro-King, all-tube amp with three 10-inch alnico speakers.
  If you like to play smooth jazz lines or easy rhythm, the neck pickup controls allow this guitar to create a cascade of warm tones that would make a hollowbody player envy. The single coil neck PU and tone circuit create a majestic warm tone, but being a solid body, the tone gets an added ingredient: a percussive speed and a bit of snap that big hollowbodies don’t exhibit. I can see why Joe Pass loved the Jaguar. It’s easy to play fast, yet the tones are pure and almost woody.
  For the widest selection of sounds, you simply pull the Jag’s upper selector switch down and activate the lower bout controls. When you choose your pickup and tone switch options — combined with the master volume and tone controls — there is a remarkable array of tones available, which I really liked. I was easily able to dial in a dark, clean jazz tone, but then with a few adjustments, and only to the guitar, I could get a full on Surf twang happening. Play around some more, and you can get a dirty character good for Punk, Grunge and hardier edged Rock.
  Because of the Surf guitar persona, you may think this guitar would be brittle or too bright, I found this presumption not to be true. The 50th Anniversary’s hotter pickups have a single coil signature, but the extra gain is broad; no harsh mid or treble edge lashing against the bottom end. The sound adds more girth and smoothness to the sound, especially with the .50-.011 strings. If really cranked, I was able to get very warm and forceful low-end and midrange, but with a unique sound quality — like a cross between a P90 and a crunchy humbucker.

The control plates are metal instead of plastic

  Unlike a Stratocaster that only has the single volume and tone control, having the other tone/volume combination gives you the ability to quickly switch to clean sound — with a touch-sensitive amp. By leaving the tone and volume controls down a bit on the upper/neck circuit, you can go from a roaring lead sound to a quiet clean/warm sound with a flick of the switch. That is just not possible with the circuitry of a standard Stratocaster.
  As for the tremolo I love the way the Jaguar/Jazzmaster tremolo acts like a second bridge where the strings are attached to the body another 5 inches or so past the saddles. That extra area of strings gives it the unique timbre that the Jaguar is primarily known for, but also, in recent years, players like Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth have used that area to create bell like tones which is another bonus of these models.
  The tremolo has a locking feature that is key to its advantage over a Strat. If you break a string on this guitar, you can pull up the tremolo, hit the lock switch and all your non-broken strings will come right back in tune. On a standard Strat tremolo, a broken string means that all the strings go out of tune and requires a major retune when the new string is attached.

The verdict
 The Fender 50th Anniversary Jaguar is the best Jaguar I have ever played; its new features, mainly the hotter pickups and repositioned bridge, give it a an upgraded sound. Playing the wide-fret, short-scale neck is a breeze and the plethora of tone switches give it that 1960s cachet. In my book, the 50th Anniversary model Jaguar has got to be one of the coolest solid body guitars ever made! I give it the Everything Guitar Network Grade-A Award, Maybe I should give it two.
  Jackson Macinnis is a multi-instrumentalist musician and home audio recordist who composes music for TV and film at his home studio. In his spare time, he is chief engineer and director of the Sirius|XM recording studios in Washington, DC. He can be reached via the Everything Audio Network.
  ©All original articles on this site are the intellectual property of the Everything Guitar Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.


  1. Electric Guitar Review! Fender 50th Anniversary Jaguar: Vintage Jag' Gets Key Upgrades. Brevis... eguitarfender.blogspot.com

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