Tracing the history of Fender's timeless offset.
First introduced to the Fender stable as a top-of-the-line offering in 1962, the Jaguar was always ahead of its time. With its quirky Jazzmaster-inspired offset body, shorter 24″ scale and infamous pickup switching system, the guitar was considered by many to be too adventurous even for the Big F, and despite persistent marketing efforts, the guitar didn’t kick off in surf-rock circles as much as the company thought it would.
After disappointing sales figures carried into the ’70s, Fender discontinued the Jaguar in 1975, and it seemed like it was all over for the big cat. However, the Jaguar experienced an unlikely renaissance with the rise of post-punk and alternative styles in the ’80s, with acts like Television and Sonic Youth copping cheap models from pawn shops in order to obtain the feel of a vintage Fender without coughing up top dollar, often modifying them extensively to create road ready instruments capable of thick, intricate tones.
The Jag revival would carry on into the ’90s through guitarists like John Frusciante, Kevin Shields and Kurt Cobain, and from there, the floodgates had well and truly been opened. Fender restarted the production of the Jaguar in their Japanese plants to keep up with consumer demand, and soon afterwards, the Jaguar was popping up in the hands of players from all over the shop.
With the Jaguar now back and bigger than it’s ever been, we’re turning our critical eye towards the instrument to check out ten of its most iconic players.
Who better to kick off a Jaguar list with than the Grungefather himself, Mr. Kurt Cobain? The iconic Nirvana frontman was a noted Fender fan, but had a particular soft spot for the Jaguar, once noting that it was the one guitar he’d never let fans touch when he’d dive into the moshpit.
Cobain owned a number of left-handed Jaguar models, but the one most associated with his name was a modified 1965 Sunburst model loaded with DiMarzio humbuckers and a trusty Tune-o-matic bridge. This model was favoured by Cobain while touring Nevermind and In Utero, and formed the basis of the popular signature model that Fender would create in the years after his death.
My Bloody Valentine
It goes without saying that Fender offset guitars and My Bloody Valentine go hand-in-hand. Both Kevin Shields and Billinda Butcher make extensive use of the Jazzmaster, Mustang and Jaguar to create the band’s atmospheric sound for studio and stage, and it’s arguable that the group were a pivotal force in the renaissance of these said models throughout the ‘90s.
While Shields’ affinity for the Jazzmaster is well-documented, he can occasionally be spotted wielding a Burgundy Mist Jaguar for live shows, whereas Butcher often plays an Olympic White or Lake Placid Blue Jaguar onstage. Check them out both slinging Jags on this mimed version of their breakthrough ‘You Made Me Realise’ below.
Of course, the Red Hot Chili Peppers sound is typically based off a Stratocaster plugged into a Marshall stack, but John Frusciante was never one to play by the rules. The prodigal guitarist favoured an old Sherwood Green Jaguar for overdubs across the band’s 1991 opus Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and can be seen famously playing one in the introduction for the band’s ‘Under The Bridge’ music video.
Upon rejoining the Chili Peppers after kicking his drug habits in 1998, Frusciante acquired a beaten-up ’62 Candy Apple Red Jaguar for use on Californication, and has been photographed with several other models as well, including one owned by former collaborator and Warpaint guitarist Emily Kokal.
Television are credited with being one of the most influential groups of the 1970s, with their presence on the New York punk scene and the impact of their debut Marquee Moon being rivaled by few of the contemporaries. Drawing influence from avant-garde and jazz, the band performed a brand of energetic yet articulate post-punk that was defined by the twin guitar interplay between frontman Tom Verlaine and fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd.
While he was mainly fond of Jazzmasters, Verlaine also played a number of Jaguars across his career, including one notable example that was loaded with Danelectro-style lipstick tube pickups. Supposedly, it was an image of Verlaine playing this guitar that first inspired John Frusciante to acquire his first Jaguar, and we reckon it’s safe to assume there were plenty of other guitarists in ‘80s who followed suit.
Maybe the greatest indie guitarist of all time, Johnny Marr actually didn’t pick up a Fender Jaguar until much later into his career, with his tenure as The Smiths’ guitarist mainly being associated with a jangly Gretsch or Rickenbacker. It wasn’t until Johnny joined Modest Mouse that he began his obsession with Jaguars, opting for a sticker-speckled ’63 Jag while playing onstage with the group.
Marr would later team up with Fender to envision the Johnny Marr Signature Jaguar, fitted with a custom switching system and available in an array of finishes. These guitars are often considered to be among the best signature Jaguars ever produced by Fender, and honestly, if it’s good enough for Johnny, that’s the only authentication you should really ever need.
Rowland S. Howard
An inimitable Australian guitar anti-hero of the post-punk era, Rowland S. Howard’s playing is simply cataclysmic – the Birthday Party guitarist had an inane fetish for feedback, and would make a habit out of wrangling his Jaguar to create obscene, angular textures to drive the group’s sound.
Howard first acquired his Jaguar, a post-CBS Olympic White model with block inlays, neck binding and a matching headstock, in 1978, and the guitar remained his primary instrument until his death in 2009.
Much like My Bloody Valentine’s relationship with the offset family, New York’s own Sonic Youth were devout fans of Fender’s funkier models, with all three of the band’s guitarists using a Fender Jaguar at some point in the band’s lifespan. However, Sonic Youth would often eviscerate the circuitry of their offsets, simplifying the switching of their guitars and adding customised humbuckers to create their thick tones.
Although Thurston Moore seemed to be the most Jag-savvy member of the Sonic Youth bunch, Kim Gordon also gravitated towards the instrument when she was donning the guitar on various songs – probably tuned to some bizarre alternate tuning, of course.
Arcade Fire’s enigmatic frontman Win Butler is better known for his exuberant songwriting than he is his guitar playing, but that’s no reason to sleep on him. A frequent user of open tunings and abrasive playing techniques, Butler’s energetic playing proved to be vital to Arcade Fire’s early success, and more often than not, he was seen doing it all with a Jaguar.
Over the years, Butler’s been spotted playing a diverse collection of Jaguars, including a 1965 Inca Silver model, an old Sonic Blue guitar and a black version, switching between each guitar throughout various stages of his career.
Although it’s far easier to imagine her with a Gibson Firebird, British alternative powerhouse PJ Harvey has touted a Jaguar at various points throughout her career. While recording and touring Dry, she could be seen playing a vintage 1965 Sunburst model, which was often played by her key collaborator and live guitarist John Parish.
More recently, Harvey was seen playing an Olympic White model with a matching headstock in a live session for her 2016 track ‘The Wheel’.
Since 2011, US singer-songwriter Kurt Vile has been primary associated with a ’64 Sunburst Jaguar, which he modified with a Mastery bridge for superior tuning stability and sustain while on tour. This kicked off an addiction to the offset guitar, with Vile later acquiring several more vintage models for use in the studio and on the road.
Speaking to Fender in 2017, Vile described the Jaguar as ‘ultimate rock ’n roll guitar’ of his era, saying that “I know I definitely look up to people like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., and they often have a Jazzmaster, which looks cool, but this is just a little more … it’s almost it’s like you could spike the notes a lot. It’s just a little tighter. I feel like it cuts through better.”
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