Fender Australia | RRP: AU$2,499
Dinosaur Jr. legend J Mascis has been seen playing so many gorgeous guitars over the years – both signature and vintage – that it’s hard to pick any one as being the J Mascis guitar. But there’s one particular instrument that you’ve probably heard more than the others whether you knew it or not: a 1958 Telecaster refinished in blue metal flake. This is J’s go-to guitar for lead work, which means it’s an integral part of his musical voice – and you can hear its charms clear as day in the unaccompanied opening chords to ‘Start Choppin’. This guitar is the basis for the new Fender J Mascis Telecaster.
Catch up on all the latest music gear reviews here.
It would have been easy for Fender to just chuck a sparkly blue paint job and a mirror pick guard on an existing Telecaster model and called it the new J sig, but that doesn’t fit with the Fender of today where a hell of a lot of thought goes into every piece of hardware for every model – as the new Player Plus series demonstrates. So what we’ve got here is not just a bottle rocket blue flake finish and chrome mirror pick guard designed to replicate J’s guitar: this is basically a custom instrument at a non-custom price point.
For starters, the pickups aren’t just any old Tele singles; they’re voiced to replicate the pickups in J’s original guitar, with, as Fender describes it , ‘the snappy highs and snarly mids that set J’s amp on fire’. Dinosaur Jr. fans know those mids. We like those mids. There’s also a top-loading Telecaster bridge (as opposed to stringing through the body), reflecting an unusual hardware quirk of Fender history when these bridges were briefly used in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Top-loaders are noted for slightly lower string tension, which will help you get those bends over the line when wailing on the vintage-spec, quite round 9.5” fingerboard.
Now, regarding that neck: remember the Road Worn series? It was basically phased out when Fender introduced the Player series, but at the Fender Australia product launch for that series in Sydney a few years ago Fender’s Jason Norvell told me we would still see Road Worn gear from time to time but in a different context. And that’s how this guitar has a Road Worn neck and hardware, aged to reflect decades of wear and tear, but more importantly, aged to feel like a well-loved old guitar. I don’t know if the neck’s subtle dings and dents literally reproduce J’s own guitar or not, but what we’ve got here is a custom neck shape built to J’s specs, finished with a satin finish that feels incredible smooth and natural to play. And that neck is pretty massive, at least for those used to more shred-oriented neck shapes. It’s not quite the famous Jeff Beck baseball bat neck from the first iteration of Jeff’s signature Strat, but it’s beefy enough to give you plenty of grip for those aforementioned bends (which, again, need a bit of help on such a curvy fingerboard). The body is not given the Road Worn treatment though, so you’re free to imagine that you’re picking up a real ’50s Tele that has just been refinished.
The pickups are perfectly voiced to capture that ’50s Tele snarl, although as true single coils there’s gonna be a bit of buzz when you step on that fuzz pedal for a solo. The middle pickup selector switch setting engages both pickups out of phase for a hollow, haunting texture that works great in overdub situations or for ethereal clean tones, while the neck pickup has that full-bodied, kinda dark Tele quality that frankly I don’t think enough players take advantage of even to this day. Tele neck pickups need love too.
But the bridge pickup is the real star of this sparkly show. It’s got the chewy upper mids and bright but not buzzy highs that Tele players crave, capturing all the detail and subtlety of your playing. This is a guitar that loves to be played clean, even though its namesake artist is known for glorious dirt. In terms of playability, it’s a great chording guitar thanks to that rounded fretboard radius, which makes it kind of funny that J loves it so much for lead work. This is definitely a vintage-inspired Tele, not a modern shredder dressed up in an old guitar’s clothes.
This is a forcefully unique guitar. It’ll jump out at you from the wall of the guitar shop whether you’re a Dinosaur Jr. fan or not, and there’s nothing else in the Fender line quite like it, which just goes to reinforce how much consideration has gone into every little element that was selected for this instrument.
Head to Fender’s website for more.