Find out how the Jaguar, Jazzmaster and Mustang offset-body guitars became synonymous with alternative rock and shoegaze, and check our guide to help you choosing from all the different versions available today!
The recent announcement of the new Squier Ryan Jarman signature guitar got a lot of people excited, and it probably had less to do with the fact it was the first ever The Cribs signature instrument, than the fact it's a new offset design, inspired by the Fender Jaguar and Mustang guitars. To put it simply - it's just so cool!
Yes, the new Ryan Jarman guitar may be "cool", but it's not for everyone. Most guitarists interested in more conventional styles such as classic rock, metal, or blues tend to gravitate to classic designs like the Les Paul, Stratocaster and Telecaster or, in the case of metal players, guitars specifically designed for the style, by brands such as Ibanez or Schecter. And that was precisely the problem with Fender's innovative offset guitars when they were first released, in the Sixties: the musical styles that would eventually make them popular didn't exist yet!
In The Sixities: Surf's Up!
The Jazzmaster was the first guitar with "offset-waist" body made by Fender, but despite its name, it didn't become popular with Jazz players. It perhaps looked too futuristic, and wasn't as straight-forward as the guitars Jazz musicians were used to play, with its innovative bridge, "soapbar" pickups and new dual-circuit. However, the Jazzmaster was quickly adopted by some surf-rock bands like The Ventures, and even The Beach Boys.
For this reason, when Fender released the Jaguar, which was designed as an "improved" Jazzmaster, the promotional images were all beach-themed!
Of course, once the surf-music craze was over, at the end of the decade, the sales of both the Jazzmaster and Jaguar guitars declined. Few artists outside of the surf genre could be seen playing this type of guitar, the most notable one was a pre-fame Jimi Hendrix. But as prices went down, a new generation of guitarists would soon rediscover these instruments...
Television, Sonic Youth & My Bloody Valentine
New York band Televison were the first of a new breed of artists who chose to play Jazzmasters and Jaguars, in the mid-Seventies. As cash-strapped punk musicians, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd bought those models simply because they were cheaper back then. For this same reason, Elvis Costello also bought a Jazzmaster back in the seventies, which became his main guitar for many years.
Here's a rare apperance of Television... on television!
But the greatest advocates of Jazzmasters and Jaguars were another New York band, Sonic Youth, who used these models from 1980 up until their split in 2013, influencing many alt-rock bands who followed, such as Dinosaur Jr. and Nirvana. Thanks to Kurt Cobain, a much wider audience discovered the Fender Jaguar.
Across the pond, My Bloody Valentine were the most influential UK band who'd almost exclusively use Jaguars and Jazzmasters.
Thanks to those artists, it's no wonder that today the Jazzmaster and Jaguar are synonymous with noisy, alternative rock, shoegaze and grunge.
Jazzmaster vs. Jaguar: which one is better?
This is an argument that'll probably never have a final answer, as several internet discussion forums attest. "Which one is better? Wich one is better for surf music?" Well, the fact is that both guitars are great and even though they don't sound the same, many players who like one model also like the other (as was the case with Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine).
The Jazzmaster has a fuller and warmer tone, but the Jaguar can sound more crisp and punchier (and also quite darker when you use its rhythm circuit.) The Jaguar also has a shorter scale neck, which some people prefer, and others don't. Broadly speaking, many players feel that the Jazzmaster takes distortion better than the Jaguar, while the Jaguar is great clean - unless you do like Kurt Cobain and choose a humbucker-equipped version, in which case the Jaguar will sound even meatier than the Jazzmaster! In other words - you'll never know which one is the best for you, until you try both!
And as for surf music... let's just say some great tracks were made using a Mosrite! So that's settled, then...
How does the Jazzmaster / Jaguar dual-circuit work?
The cool thing about these guitars is that their dual-circuit designs means it's almost like you get 2 guitars for the price of one, giving you more tonal versatility than most other guitar designs such as Les Pauls or Strats. Here's how the dual-circuit works.
With the Jazzmaster, the dual circuit is fairly simple: Just a up-or-down switch. When it's down, it means you're using the Lead Circuit, with the traditional controls on the lower bout of the guitar: master volume, master tone, and 3-way switch to select the pickups, just like in a Telecaster.
When the flicker switch is "up", however, you select the darker Rhythm Circuit, with separate volume and tone controls, on the upper bout. The lower bout controls don't work in this mode. Also, whn you select the Rhythm Circuit, the bridge pickup is inactive, and only the neck pickup works - but with a different sound than if you selected just the same pickup on Lead Circuit, because both circuits use different potentiometers and different electrical values.
The Jaguar works in a similar way: Top switch selects between Rhythm (neck pickup only) and Lead (neck/bridge/both) circuit. The top rollers are tone and volume controls for the rhythm circuit, just like the Jazzmaster. The main difference are the 3 bottom switches:
These switches are for Neck pickup (on/off), Bridge pickup (on/off) and Bass Cut (on/off). Finally, the bottom knobs are master tone and volume for the Lead circuit, only.
Best Jazzmasters For Sale*
Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster Electric Guitar Vintage White £445
Squier Vintage Modified Jazzmaster Electric Guitar in Sonic Blue £330
Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster Special Guitar in 3-Colour Sunburst £834
Fender HH Jazzmaster in Ghost Silver £507
Fender Jim Root Jazzmaster Electric Guitar in Flat Black £1314
Best Jaguars For Sale*
Fender Kurt Cobain Jaguar Electric Guitar 3-Color Sunburst NOS £1083
Fender Classic Player Jaguar Special HH in Olympic White £805
Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar Electric Guitar in Surf Green £330
Fender Johnny Marr Signature Jaguar Electric Guitar in Olympic White £1583
In praise of... the Mustang
The Mustang was another offset-waist guitar that Fender produced, and which got quite a few fans. Players include David Byrne, Andrew Bellew, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine... and Kurt Cobain. It was his favourite guitar, alongside the Jaguar, and when Fender approached him to design a new signature model, he decided to blend both models in a single instrument, the Fender Jag-Stang:
The Jag-Stang is not available anymore, but the new Squier Ryan Jarman signature guitar also takes inspiration from both the Jaguar and the Mustang, and is a worthy - if not even better - addition to this great "offset family"!
*Guitars in stock and online prices correct as of 10/03/16