Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Fender Jazzmaster and Jaguar - Two of Fender's Most Unique Guitars

1958 Jazzmaster Ad and 1962 Jaguar Ad
Leo Fender had already made his mark in the world of guitars with the Fender Telecaster and the Fender Precision bass in 1951. Then in 1954 he designed the Fender Stratocaster, which was the first guitar to feature a contoured waist design for the comfort of the player, This same contour was applied the bodies of the 1953-54 Precision bass.

By 1958 Fender had come up with a whole new concept that Leo Fender thought would replace the Stratocaster. In his ever improving style, Leo Fender had created an offset body design for the Fender Jazzmaster and it could be a rhythm instrument or a lead instrument by merely flipping a switch.

This guitar came with a back contour similar to the Stratocaster, but the offset body design he applied to the Jazzmaster meant that the upper and lower halves of the body are offset from each other to provide added comfort for the player.

Essentially, the body of the instrument leans forward.  The Jazzmaster featured an offset body and waist.

Prototypes of the Jazzmaster existed as early as 1957, but the guitar was finally offered to the public by August of the following year.

The initial models had aluminum anodized gold pickguards as shielding. That idea was scrapped in 1959 in favor of faux tortoiseshell nitrate celluloid pickguards.

The Jazzmaster was equipped with newly designed pickups that were wide and flat and covered in a larger rectangular housing.

Jazzmaster prototype 
7 pole-piece pickups
The intent was to pick up a wider area of the string thus producing a larger and mellower sound. Who knows? Perhaps a secondary intent was to offer pickups that resembled Gibson’s P-90, which were popular at the time of the Jazzmasters introduction, although the design of this pickup is nothing like the P-90.

The hope was to attract jazz players to use a Fender guitar.

Another prototype

The Jazzmaster was the first of the Fender guitar to come equipped with a rosewood fretboard.

However some early production and prototype examples came with a one-piece maple neck, others with an ebony fingerboard and/or a black painted aluminum pickguard.

George Fullerton's Prototype Jazzmaster
Longtime Fender associate George Fullerton owned a 1957 Fiesta Red pre-production body coupled with an unusual and experimental fretboard which was manufactured in 1961 using vulcanised rubber - reportedly only one of two ever made.

1959 Jazzmaster 2 tone sunburst
Eventually rosewood became a standard fretboard material for the Jazzmaster and a year later on other Fender models. By 1959 the pickguard became faux tortoise shell nitrate celluloid.

1965 Jazzmaster
Neck binding was added to the Jazzmaster fretboard in 1965.

1966 Jazzmaster
And in 1966 the dot markings were replaced by pearloid blocks. An optional maple fingerboard with black binding and block inlays was briefly offered in the mid-1970s. The Jazzmaster has always had a 25 1/2” scale. This was the same size as the Stratocaster and Telecaster.

1965 Blond Jazzmaster
The Jazzmaster bodies have been constructed from ash, alder, and basswood over the years. Fender has a history of using whatever wood was readily available at the time of construction.

Originally the Jazzmaster colours were offered in Fiesta Red, Blond, Metallic Gold, San Marino Blue, and some of the other 1950’s custom colours. You can bank on the fact that Blond Jazzmasters always has ash bodies.

1958 vs 1959 routing
The earliest versions had slightly thicker bodies than later ones. This was due to the necessary routing on the anodized pickguard versions. When the celluloid pickguards became standard the routing on the upper bout was changed and the bodies were made thinner to cut down on the instruments weight.

1957 Fender Jazzmaster
The electronic switching on the Jazzmaster was more complex compared to what had been offered in the past on the Telecaster or the Stratocaster. Leo had a policy of lending instruments to working musicians and then listening to their suggestions for improving his products. He discovered that guitar players, in the 1950’s, were looking for a smooth and clean rhythm sound, like one would expect from an acoustic guitar, and a bright, loud and clean lead sound for their solos.

So he decided the Jazzmaster would have two separate circuits for rhythm and lead work, so that the player could preset the tone and volume for rhythm work and with the flip of a switch instantly change the sound colour and volume of the guitar to loud and bright for lead solos work.

The Rhythm Circuit
Some players found this confusing, since the rhythm circuit only works on the neck pickup. The controls for this circuit are housed on the upper bout and feature an on/off slider switch and two rotary dial potentiometers or thumbwheels; one for volume and one for tone.

The Lead Circuit
When placed in the up or neck position the rhythm circuit is engaged. In the down position, the rhythm circuit is turned off and this activates the lead circuit which operates in the manner that most of us are accustomed to.

The 3-way throw toggle switch on the lower bout activates the neck pickup, both pickups or the bridge pickup alone. Tone and volume are controlled for both pickups through the more conventional potentiometers housed on the bottom lower bout.

As I already stated, the Jazzmaster comes with single coil pickups, which are encased in a brass shielded cavity and the bottom of the pickguard has an aluminum coating. This helps to cut down on hum, plus the two pickups have mirrored wiring which makes them hum-cancelling when both are turned on.

Despite the guitars name, it was never popular with jazz players.

Leo Fender also designed a new vibrato system for the Jazzmaster that he called a floating tremolo and bridge. This vibrato system include a locking mechanism or Trem-lock as it is called. The systerm worked by attaching the strings and the tremolo arm to a metal plate.

The inner workings are housed underneath in a routed out area within the guitars body. There is a screw in the middle of the plate to adjust the tension of the spring that is underneath the plate. The bridge that came with the Jazzmaster was designed to rock back and forth.

When the arm is moved up and down theoretically the string should stay in tune, but that is not always the case.

Remember this is the Jazzmaster and was designed for jazz players that were used to using medium to heavy gauge flat-wound strings. The instruction book that comes with the guitar suggest using .11 gauge strings. This size and tension of string seems to stabilize the tremolo better to maintain tonality.

Floating Tremolo
The tremolo system is called a “floating vibrato” for its ability to vary pitch up and down since there is nothing resting against the body, like the block in the Stratocaster. Because of the dependence on the strings, if a string breaks it could effect tonality of the other strings. To avoid this the Trem-lock can be engaged by sliding it into place. Though it does lock your tremolo from raising the pitch, it also restores tuning.

I am told that tremolos on vintage Jazzmasters work better since they have stronger springs than current models.

The Jazzmaster was offered in the Fender line up through 1980. It was reintroduced four years later at a time when Fender had no production facility in the United States. The “62” Jazzmaster was made in Japan in 1984. The American Series Jazzmaster was made available in 1999.

1962 Jaguar
In 1962 Fender introduced the Fender Jaguar. The appearance of this guitar is similar to the Jazzmaster,having and offset waist and it had separate rhythm and lead circuits just like the Jazzmaster, however the Jaguar is a much different beast.

1962 Jaguar
For one thing, this guitar had a 24” medium scale neck and the pickups were more along the lines of Stratocaster single coil pickups that were stronger and brighter than the dark sounding Jazzmaster pickups. The body shape is slightly different since the lower bout is less pronounced.

Shielding in body
The body cavity was shielded in the same manner as the Jazzmaster, but the pickups were also encase in a notched metal covering, sometimes called “the claw.” This unique covering gave an additional layer of shielding to prevent 60 cycle hum from electronics and lighting. This was a common complaint with the Jazzmaster.

Rhythm Circuit
Both the Jazzmaster and the Jaguar were Fender’s high end guitars of the day. The electronic scheme was similar for the rhythm circuit; two thumb-wheel potentiometers to control tone and volume plus an on/off switch. When switched in the on position, toward the neck, this controlled only the neck pickup.

Instead of the controls being mounted directly on the pickguard, they were mounted on a chromed face plate. When disengaged, the lead circuit was activated.

Lead Circuit
The controls for this circuit were mounted on a metal plate on the lower bout of the instrument. They were activated through the use of three slider switches. The one closest to the neck activated the neck pickup.

The center switch activated the bridge pickup and the third switch engaged an extra capacitor that cut the bass response. This gave the guitar a brighter tone for lead lines. Additionally the usual volume and tone knobs were mounted on a chrome plate below the instruments bridge.

String Mute
The Fender Jaguar included a string mute right in front of the bridge saddle. There was a lever on the treble side of the bridge that could be flipped up to engage the mute. This was similar to ones found on some Gretsch guitars. Most players had little use for the mute and removed it.

Jaguar with bridge cover
Both the Jaguar and Jazzmaster came with chrome bridge covers that were also generally removed.

The tremolo system was spot-on the Jazzmasters system. The 1962 model was offered with a two tone sunburst finish. The 1962 model was actually introduced as early as December of 1960.

Most vintage guitar authorities date the introduction to 1962 when Fender ran an advertisement featuring a Jaguar automobile in the background announcing that Fender had introduced a new Jaguar.

The early ads for the Jaguar featured bikini clad young girls on sandy beaches. Perhaps this underscored the guitars appeal to surf music. It probably helped that Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys was provided with a white Jaguar, which showed up in promotional photos, concerts and on television shows.

1963 Jaguar with mute intact
The Jaguar never enjoyed the popularity of its Stratocaster and Telecaster siblings. 1964 was the year that CBS purchased the Fender Corporation and changes started to happen.

1965 Jaguar
Under Leo’s control the position markers were made of clay, these were switched to pearloid markers by 1965.

1965 Jaguar - 3 layer pickguard
Instead of a single layer nitrate celluloid pickguard it was changed to a 3 layer pickguard with a white bottom layer. By 1966 the tuners were Kluson F-style models. By this year the sunburst finish was now a three tone finish and the custom colours offered were patterned after the paints used on GM cars of that era. By

1966 Jaguar - bound neck/dot markers
In the middle of 1965 the neck was upgraded to a bound neck with pearloid block inlays replacing the dot markers on earlier models.

1966 Jaguar - trapezoidal markers
Later models featured trapezoidal position markers. Additionally the headstock was now painted to match the body colour.

By 1968 the company had switched from using the more expensive nitrocellulose finishes to polyester finishes.

1969 Custom Colours

By 1969 Fender was seeing a decline in sales of the Jazzmaster and Jaguar and an up-tic in Stratocaster sales. Much of this could be attributed to the popularity of Jimmy Hendrix.

1974 Jaguar
By 1973 the Jaguar was on its last legs. The neck was offered with a maple cap fretboard that had dark position markers instead of rosewood with white markers. By 1975 the Jaguar was discontinued.

This allowed the desirability to equally diminish, so used instruments could be purchased at bargain prices in the 1980’s and early’90’s. Punk and Indie band members saw these as way to buy a nice guitar on the cheap.

1987 MIJ Fender Jaguar

As the popularity swung back around, Fender saw the light and reissued the Jaguar as early as 1986/87 for the Japanese market. The body was unusual since it was not as contoured.

1999 MIJ '62 Jag

In 1999 the Fender Jaguar was being made in Japan for export to the US market. As I have mentioned in the past, Fender did not have a United States based factory at the time Bill Schultz and his associates purchased (rescued) the company from CBS. The first model produced was a 1962 version without the string mute.

'66 MIJ Jaguar reissue

Enventually a '66 MIJ model was introduced with a bound fret board and trapezoidal position markers

2007 Fender USA Jaguar
As of 2007 Fender was building United States models at their Corona, California factory as well is in Japan and other Asian nations. The biggest difference between Japanese and American models is the electronics.

American models use higher quality chrome rather than stainless steel parts and have brass shielding plates installed in the cavities.

Though Japanese guitars made before 1996-97 do also come with brass shielding. Additionally American Jaguars use nitrocellulose lacquer instead of polyester finishes.

Current USA Model
The standard US made Jaguars do not sport matching headstocks unlike their vintage counterparts as do many Japanese models. Some Japanese models  offer some custom colors not found on American models.

Squier Vintage Modified
Fender’s budget company, Squier offers the Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar that features twin Seymour Duncan designed humbuckers.

The  body is made of basswood, and it comes with stacked concentric controls.
Squier VM Jaguar
Another model offered in 2012 known as the Squier VM Jaguar bore moer similarities to the standard Jaguar.

Kurt Cobain Jaguar
Fender also has recently offered variations on the Jaguar including the Made in Mexico Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar, which is a replica of the 1965 model that Cobain modified and used.

It features DiMarzio humbucking pickups, Gotoh tuners and a Tune-O-Matic bridge plus a modified wiring combination. It is offered as either a left or right handed model.

Johnny Marr Jaguar
The Fender Johnny Marr model is made in the USA and includes wiring modifications that he did on his personal Jaguar, including a four-way pickup selector that allows single pickups, both pickups or both in series or parallel.

Johnny Marr Jaguar
There are dual strangle switches (capacitors) on the upper control plate. This guitar uses Bare Knuckle pickups. The body has an extra deep belly cut. It also uses Fender Mustang saddles in the bridge.

(Many guitarists use a Mustang bridge and saddle as it provides better tonality on a Jaguar or a Jazzmaster than the standard bridge/saddle unit.) This model uses a modified Stay-trem vibrato arm that holds the bar in one place. This model forgoes the standard lead circuit wiring in favor of a 3 way toggle switch similar to the one on a Telecaster.

50th Anniversary Models
On the 50th Anniversary of the Fender Jaguar, Fender issued a Special Edition Jaguar Thinline model, which was a semi-hollow version. It has an Ash top and back and vintage Fender single coil pickups.

2007  J. Macics Jazzmaster
Oh yes, Fender is making the Jazzmaster once again. In 2007 Fender released the J. Macics signature Jazzmaster which was based on the instrument the Dinosaur Jr. Guitarist was playing. The biggest difference was Fender’s version of the Tune-O-Matic bridge (which they call Adjust-o-matic) and the purple sparkle finish with matching headstock. A Fender American Vintage Reissue model was also introduced that same year.

2008 Elvis Costello Jag
In 2008 Fender introduced the Elvis Costello model, which was made at the Corona California factory.

2009 Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo Jazzmasters
Several models were unveiled in 2009, including the Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore signature Jazzmasters. The Sonic Youth guitarists models These models are stripped down versions of the Jazzmaster with different pickups.

2014 Jim Root Jazzmaster
In 2014 Fender debuted two signature models; The Jim Root Jazzmaster, which came with only a volume control, twin high-output humbucking pickups a Stratocaster hardtail bridge, a compound radius fretboard and a squarer body without contours.

Troy Leeuwen Jazzmaster
The Troy Van Leeuwen Jazzmaster has block fretboard inlays, an oxblood finish on the body and headstock, a Mustang bridge and bound neck.

As of 2015 Fender offers a hardtail model of the Jazzmaster.

Squier offers several models including the J. Mascis signature Jazzmaster and the Vintage Modified Jazzmaster.

Additionally Squier offers a Vintage Modified Baritone version of the Jazzmaster with block inlays a bound neck and no tremolo.

Squire of Japan offers a version of the Jazzmaster, named for Mami Saazaki of the Japanese band, Scandal.

In 2012 Fender offered a limited edition Thinline Jaguar in black or sunburst.