Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Fender Mustang

I was thirteen years old when my friend Greg had just bought a beautiful white Fender Mustang. I had no idea how much different it was compared to my old ’57 Stratocaster (aka the one that got away), except it had two pickups and my guitar had three pickups. Greg's guitar came in a shiney brand new case and all I had was this old tweed case (aka known as the one that got away – part two).
At thirteen I really didn’t know Steve Belew but I knew about the Denems, which was a band based out of the Covington/Erlanger Kentucky area. I had seen them a number of times around town and I knew one of the other guys in the band, but not Steve. He was their drummer. Later on Steve Belew learned to play guitar and changed his name to Adrian and notably played customized Fender Mustangs. More on him later.

The unique features of the Mustang make it a unique guitar.

In 1964 Fender introduced a new student model guitar called The Mustang. The Mustangs body style and pickup design were based on Fender’s two previous short scale student models, The Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic. Production of the Mustang lasted until 1982. It was revived in 1990. There are several factors that make this a unique instrument.

22.5" scale
The original Mustang had a 22.5” scale neck which was designed for smaller hands. The neck scale measures the length from the nut to the bridge saddle. In comparison a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster has a 25.5” scale neck. Although the Mustang was not considered a Jazz guitar, a similar short scale neck of 23.5” was used on Gibson’s Byrdland. The necks purpose on the Byrdland was to make it easier for Jazzers reach those complex chords and single note runs.

1965 Fender Mustang with a 24" scale

In late 1964 or early 1965 the neck scale of 24” was offered. This was still short by Fender standards and comparable to the Fender Jaguar. In fact some of the features on the Mustang took their queue from the Fender Jaguar.

The Mustang features two single coil pickups with an unusual switching configuration, and a unique tremolo system. Though the body shape is similar to the Musicmaster/Duo-sonic. By 1969 the body shape changes from a slab to an offset and contoured style.

The twin pickup Mustang was first introduced in Red, White or Blue. The red and blue models came with a fancy white pearl (mother of toilet seat) scratch plate and black slider style pickup controls.

The white model came with a tortoise shell pickguard and featured white covers on its slider switches. The bodies were either poplar or mahogany. The necks headstock was larger than the one found on Stratocasters of this era. The Kluson tuning keys featured white ovular knobs. There was one string guide on the headstock. The guitar had a chrome control plate for the volume and tone potentiometers and cord input.

The guitars unique pickups did not have exposed magnetic polepieces like those found on most other Fender guitars. They had a plastic covering. They also were slightly larger than those found on a Strat or Jaguar and included a brass shielding plate. The pickup controls were ahead of their time. In 1964 most of us had no idea what pickup phasing was.

The Mustangs slider control could just be off or on or the phase (or magnetic flow) of the pickup could be reversed. This would not just create a unique sound, but could get rid of that pesky 60 cycle hum since one pickups signal was inverted from the other.

Aside from the pickups, the other unique feature found on the Mustang was its unusual tremolo system called the Dynamic Vibrato system. The design was different than any other Fender vibrato. The key to the bridge/vibrato was a heavy chrome plate.

Attached to the plate is a chrome cylinder that holds the tremolo arm which sat behind the adjustable bridge. Screwed into the bottom of the cylinder are two large bolts which are notched in the center.

These bolts are attached to two heavy metal springs that create the vibrato tension. The springs can be attached to different holes in the plate to tighten or loosen the tension. As on most Fenders too much pull can cause the guitar to go out of tune.

By 1967 the guitar was offered in a variety of colors and the competition model was introduced. The competition model had a racing stripe across the lower bout. The competition model was discontinued in 1972.

By 1984 interest was waning in this guitar and production halted.

The Mustang experienced a revival in the 1990’s when Grunge bands picked up old Mustangs, Jaguars and Jazzmasters.

Kurt Cobain asked Fender to design a unique Mustang with a body shape that combined features of the Mustang and the Jaguar. This was offered for sale by Fender for a few years and called the Jag-stang.


Fender also offered a Mustang Bass. This was produced in 1966 as a companion to the Mustang. It featured a 30” short scale neck. Just like the larger Precision bass, this guitar came with one staggered split pickup in the center of the body.

The Mustang Bass pickups were of a different shape than those found on the P-bass and came with rounded corners. Some of the other features were similar to the Mustang. Originally the body only came in only red or white. By 1969 it was offered in a variety of colors and competition models were produced.

The original models came with a string mute. Most players removed these. So Fender quit offering the mutes on later models.

The Mustang Bass was offered until 1981. It was replaced by some other Fender products including the Squier Musicmaster bass and the Bronco bass.

Other than Cobain, the guitarist most noted for his use of the Mustang is Adrian Belew. As I have already eluded, Adrian grew up near the area of the country where I live. As a teenager he was known as Steve Belew and played drums for a local garage band called The Denems. They played Beatle covers at high school dances. I recall seeing him back in the day.

One year when he became ill and confined to bed for several months, he asked one of his band buddies to lend him a guitar. By the time he was well he became more proficient on the guitar than his friend. Steve changed his name and has gone on to be a guitar legend as a player for King Crimson, Zappa, David Bowie and others.

Belew asked Fender to design a customized Mustang for him. He had three of them built. They have three pickups with different colored covers that were made by Don Lace. The control switch is on the upper bout. The guitar also features a built in Roland GK-2 synth pickup with separate controls. The design on all three is different. Belew states he likes the Mustang because of its short neck.
©UniqueGuitar Publications


led signs said...

Hey thats so beautiful. The white model came with a tortoise shell pick guard and featured white covers on its slider switches.

revfish said...

The Mustang was the first electric guitar I wanted. In those days it cost $125.00. Instead my parents bought me a used Harmony electric from my cousin for $30.00. A year ago I saw an old Mustang for sale in a guitar shop near our place in Michigan. The store wanted considerable more than $125.00.

Dál Riata said...

Hi! I'm still pretty new to guitar but at the stage where I want to trade my squier jag in for a more serious life model.

I'm looking at a 1974 fender mustang for 1400 and while some signs are telling me it's a great guitar, there's a lot of hate out there for mustangs.

I'd be really interested in your take!

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Admin said...

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