Five of the most notable Fender Mustang players

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Five of the most notable Fender Mustang players

Fender Mustang Players
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

The Fender Mustang has found itself in the hands of some of the most creative musicians to ever pen a melody.

The Fender Mustang has found itself in the hands of some of the most creative musicians to ever pen a melody. Originally released in 1964 as part of a small collection of student guitars, the Mustang is a short scale and smaller-bodied offset electric with two single coil pickups. Alongside the Mustang were the Duo-Sonic and Musicmaster student guitars, the Mustang being produced from 1964 until 1982, in both 22.5” and 24” scale lengths, before being re-issued in 1990.

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The 90s saw a huge crowd of rock and grunge bands adopting the Mustang along with a wave of other Fender offsets rising to popularity, along with their vibrato arms and comfortable body shapes. Probably most notably is Kurt Cobain of Nirvana who floated between Mustang, modified Jaguars and eventually his own creation: the JagStang.

Kurt Cobain

Kurt’s most famous Mustang was played for the Smells Like Teen Spirit video, most likely a 1969: notably because of the blue competition racing stripe offsetting the blue finish and the body contour that you can see in the video. 1969 saw a range of Mustangs with racing stripes across the body, inspired by the Shelby Mustang cars of the late 60s. In additional to this, Kurt played a Daphne Blue Mustang with a contrasting tortoiseshell pickguard, modified with a humbucker in the bridge position instead of the traditional angled single-coil. His JagStang, recently re-issued by Fender was concocted when Kurt cut a photo of a Mustang and Jaguar in half and stuck them together as the first ‘sketch’ of his design. The guitar featured the Mustang’s unique angled pickup in the neck position and an angled humbucker in the bridge with a simple switching system.

Bilinda Butcher – My Bloody Valentine

Continuing on through the 90s saw grunge and rock branch off into shoegaze, none pushing the envelope further than My Bloody Valentine. Bilinda Butcher and Kevin Shields shared front-person duty, Bilinda more often than not with Mustang in hand. The vibrato bar helped shape the band’s modulating, pulsing sound, and coupled with Kevin Shields’ Jazzmaster, the two helped cement the Mustang as a choice weapon for the new wave of shoegaze and alternative rock.

Theresa Wayman – Warpaint – battered Dakota Red ’66 Fender Mustang

Carrying the flag for alternative rock into the present day is Theresa Wayman, guitarist for California-born band Warpaint. Warpaint weave rock, soul, ambience and grunge into an intimate, original and forward-thinking form of rock, and Theresa can often be seen performing with her ‘66 Fender Mustang. This ‘66 is customised with red pickup covers to compliment the Dakota Red finish, and notably without the matching red headstock.

Justin Meldal-Johnsen

It’s important to mention that the Mustang is available in both guitar and bass models, the bass model being used extensively by musician and producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen, colloquially known as JMJ. JMJ has toured and produced extensively, as well as being a member of Beck’s band and Nine Inch Nails as their bass player. JMJ has played his ‘66 Mustang bass so extensively that Fender released an adequately Road Worn signature model in a Faded Daphne Blue and Black finish. As a session musician and producer, JMJ is credited as a musician on records for the likes of Deafheaven, Drab Majesty, Jimmy Eat World, M83 and Garbage to name a few.

Ben Gibbard – Death Cab for Cutie

While on the topic of signature models, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie has a Fender Mustang modelled off his uniquely wired 70’s Mustang. The Fender re-issue is chambered, unlike his originals, but the Tone pot is replaced with a three way rotary switch to toggle between pickups and all other switches and pots are removed for maximum efficiency. The bridge resembles a vibrato bridge aesthetically but is actually a modified hardtail for more consistent, stable tuning. Aesthetics wise, his Mustang is finished in a natural gloss–very 70s.

Special mention must go to players like Pond’s Nicholas Allbrook, who toured with Tame Impala until leaving the band in 2013. Nicholas plays a red Mustang, adorned with coloured stickers and a suitably battered finish. David Byrne played a Mustang in the early days of Talking Heads, pictured multiple times live with his white Mustang along with other Fender electrics. Matt Healy of The 1975 has played multiple Mustangs live and presumably in the studio, all with varying colours and from different eras, owning a ‘65, ‘67, ‘68 and a ’78. At a lower point of the band’s career, Matt says that the purchase of his ‘65 Mustang “changed his life” inspiring him anew.

The Mustang’s comfortable shape that has slowly evolved since its release in 1964 has seen the Mustang as one of the unsung heroes of electric guitar. Many artists jump between multiple shapes and models, but there’s something special about Mustang players. They seemingly fall upon them by accident, by chance or maybe fate, and they rarely deviate. The body shape and comfort inspires something special, as well as the angled single coil pickups and limited tonal options forcing the player to compose their way out of the box rather than rely on effects and unique, phasey sounds. The Mustang has been bought and modified, adopted by a slew of alternative artists pushing boundaries in their own genres, and using the Mustang to do so. The irony is not lost that a guitar released for students in 1964 is now being wielded by masters of the craft.

Check out Fender’s current range of Mustang guitars here.