Most players with a penchant for Fender find themselves in one of two camps. The first favouring Leo's original designs – the utilitarian, straight-ahead classics of the Stratocaster and Telecaster. Others, however, yearn for something different. Something that stands out from the pack; an instrument that's loveably idiosyncratic and provides a platform for experimentation or creative playing. Enter one of Fender's most underrated instruments: the Jaguar.
With Fender's new American Original line, the company is taking the most sought-after incarnations from their flagship guitars – spanning multiple decades. And while the Stratocaster and Telecaster may have their archetypal glory days in the '50s, the Jag was a mainstay of the '60s. Originally adopted for surf music, over the years it found favour amongst iconic punk and grunge players who picked them up at pawn shops on the cheap. While those genres may be its primary association these days, it's easy to forget just how versatile an instrument the Jag is.
Fender has done an excellent job of retaining the historical elements of the guitar. Namely, the vintage-voiced pickups are spot on. Not as hot as you might expect, they lend themselves to crystalline picking styles and a generous supply of reverb. Full bodied and bright, in actuality they have more of a hi-fi sound that what you might usually expect from a genuine vintage guitar. For players that want to embrace the Jag's legendary snarl, bite and twang without sacrificing too much low end – these will go down a treat. The fact that they're wax-potted is a satisfying nod to the instrument's past too.
A common criticism of Jaguars is that they lack resonance. However, the solid alder body of this model makes for a weighty guitar that's loaded with a very workable amount of sustain. Pair that with a fuzz pedal - a classic counterpart for any Jaguar - and you're in for a good time. The American Original Jag lends itself to lead playing, and you'll find yourself wanting to use this guitar with an amp pushed hard regularly.
Continuing in the vein of vintage amendments, the guitar comes in a nitrocellulose finish. The review model is a jaw-dropping shade of surf green, which would be our pick of the bunch. The classic sunburst is also available, as well as a vibrant candy apple red. The advantages of a nitrocellulose finish are two-fold. First, they'll allow your instrument to age and wear with you – just like a vintage instrument would. If you plan on taking your Jag out on the road, it'll be looking like a closet classic in a few years of constant playing. On the other hand, a nitro finish allows the instrument to breathe as opposed to a poly finish – which in some critics' opinions strangle the guitar's natural tone. It's a subtle improvement on the sound, but one that makes this Jag of a higher quality than most on the market today.
As for the modern amendments, the modern 9.5" radius makes for an extremely playable neck. While some vintage puritans may show disdain towards this update, it's best thought of as more of a contemporary refinement that makes an already great instrument less cumbersome for today's player.
Hardware and build quality throughout is of the highest degree, as you'd expect from a guitar at this price point. While the Jaguar's infamous six-saddle floating tremolo arm is often cited as a bugbear for some, this model showed no signs of intonation issues. The arm was well and truly put through its paces, and for the most part, the Jag stayed well in tune. Although some players like to swap out the saddle on their Jags, you'd certainly be able to keep all parts stock on the American Original without running into any difficulties in a live setting.
The Jag tremolo sound is in a league of its own. In fact, it's part of the reason that makes this guitar so appealing to add to your arsenal. It allows for a subtle warble – like a singer's vibrato – but also lets you bend chords dramatically out of shape. A hard strum of a minor chord in the first position will going in deep on the tremolo arm puts you in surf-rock nirvana. It's a must-try for any player interested in vintage styles.
Fender's American Original line is bound to be a success. With vintage-correct specs and modern capabilities combined, this may be one of their most popular incarnations of the Jaguar yet. Highly recommended for both players who want to get into offsets and long-term Jag fans alike.
Hits and Misses
Workable tremolo arm