Jazzmaster vs. Jaguar: What's the Difference?Buying Guide

Explore the differences between the iconic Fender models and find the best fit for you.

Fender Jazzmaster vs. Jaguar: What's the Difference?

The Jazzmaster and the Jaguar are Fender’s two most popular offset guitars. The Jazzmaster was introduced in 1958 and, as the name suggests, was aimed at jazz guitarists. Though it never really took off with its intended audience, it did land well with surf-rockers of the early '60s. Four years later, in 1962, Fender introduced the Jaguar, having listened to players’ feedback on the Jazzmaster. Again, surfers took to it, and that body shape became ubiquitous with the genre. Since then, both the Jazzmaster and the Jaguar have been adopted by alt-rock, indie and shoegaze players, amongst some heavy rock guitarists too.

The Jazzmaster and the Jaguar stand out visually amongst the Fender lineup due to their slightly more radical body shape. However, they also sound different to the Strat and Tele too. Because they look similar, and share a lot of common ground in terms of their fanbase, there’s often some confusion about what the differences between the Jaguar and the Jazzmaster are, which is what we will discuss here.

It’s worth noting that there have been a lot of different versions of both guitars, with various pickup configurations and features. For the purposes of this article, we will mostly be talking about the single-coil equipped Jazzmaster and Jaguar, with specs more in line with the originals—like you’d find in the Vintera or American Original range.

Dissecting the Differences

From pickups to sound, control layout, and more.

Pickups & Sound

Let’s start with arguably the most important difference: how the guitars sound. The Jazzmaster and the Jag have different pickups—they’re both single-coils but they have different tonal characteristics. The Jaguar has narrow single-coil pickups that are enclosed in a metal "claw" that help prevent unwanted hum and make them a little more focused and bright. The pickups aren’t too dissimilar to those of a Strat; maybe a little thinner- and brighter-sounding.

The Jazzmaster also has single-coil pickups (not P-90 pickups, as they’re often mistaken for), though they are wound differently, resulting in a fairly dramatically different sound. Jazzmasters tend to sound a little chunkier than Jags, with more body and a stronger bass and mid response, whilst still retaining that top-end single coil clarity. Because the pickups have a physically wider wind, Jazzmasters have a wider frequency response than a Jaguar. They usually have a hotter output too. Whilst the Jag has more of that classic Fender twang and chime, the Jazzmaster has a little more thump and bite, which is probably why they commonly get confused with P-90s.

Both guitars have the Rhythm circuit as well as the standard Lead circuit, so both can achieve a darker, more mellow tone, but the Jaguar is generally brighter than the Jazzmaster. This can help it cut through a band mix really well. Jazzmasters, with their wider dynamic range, can fill a little more sonic space and may be a good option for single guitarists in a group that still want that Fender sound. It’s worth noting too that on both guitars, the middle position on the Lead circuit (or both pickup switches on on the Jag) yields a really unique sound—it’s enough to fall in love with Fender offsets alone.

Control Layout

Both the Fender Jazzmaster and Jaguar have unique control layouts, featuring two very distinct Rhythm and Lead circuits. On both guitars, the Lead circuit is probably the more "regular" circuit—you can choose between either the bridge or the neck pickup, or both combined. The Rhythm circuit engages different circuity underneath the pickguard and only utilizes the neck pickup. The resulting sound is a lot darker and mellower. On both the Jazzmaster and the Jaguar, there is a sliding switch that lets you choose between the two circuits, and two rolling wheel knobs that control the volume and tone on the Rhythm circuit.

It’s the Lead circuit where the two guitars’ layouts differ. The Jaguar has three switches for on/off switch for the neck pickup, on/off for the bridge pickup, and bass-cut/"strangle" switch. As the name suggests, this bass-cut switch acts as a sort of high-pass filter giving you less low-end and a brighter, thinner tone. So, you can set your Lead circuit up so it’s super thin and bright-sounding and your Rhythm circuit really dark sounding, and go between the two at the flick of a switch.

On the Lead circuit, the Jazzmaster has a simple Gibson-style three-way toggle switch to go from bridge, neck, and both pickups.

Scale Length

Another important difference between the Jaguar and the Jazzmaster is the scale length (that is, the distance between the bridge and the nut). The Jazzmaster has the typical Fender 25.5-inch scale length, whereas the Jaguar has a shorter 24-inch scale. This means that the strings on the Jag feel a little looser or slinkier, which can make big string bends a little easier. It also means you can use heavier gauge strings without them feeling too different.

The Jaguar has 22 frets too, as opposed to 21 frets on the Jazzmaster. Twenty-two frets over a 24-inch scale means that big chord extensions that normally require long stretches, are a little easier to fret. A shorter scale length also means that harmonics are more closely packed together. What kind of scale length feels right and comfortable is totally down to personal preference so if possible, try both out and see what works for you.

Aesthetics

The guitars undoubtedly look very similar. They both share the striking offset body shape, and classic Fender headstock. If you analyze the body shapes carefully though, you’ll see that the top horn on the upper bout of the Jazzmaster is slightly bigger than that of the Jaguar, though it’s worth remembering that in the '50s and '60s, these guitars were made by hand, so slight variances would regularly have occurred.

If you put a Jag and a Jazzmaster side by side, you’ll see that the Jazzmaster stands a little taller, due to its longer scale length. There’s also the silver panels surrounding the switches on the Jag; the Jazzmaster incorporates all its switches within the pickguard.

Early Fender Jaguars, or reissues of early models also have a mute between the bridge and the bridge pickup—when activated, this gives a similar sort of effect to palm-muting. All these slight differences add up so that when you see either one, you can differentiate between them.

Conclusion

For two seemingly similar guitars, there are some really key differences between the Fender Jaguar and the Jazzmaster. While both guitars utilize single-coil pickups, they do have different tonal characteristics. The Jazzmaster has a little more body and warmth to the sound, as well as a wider frequency range and slightly hotter output, whereas the Jaguar sounds more focused, brighter, and twangier. The Jag’s bass-cut switch also allows you to get a thinner and even more cutting tone at the flick of a switch.

Both the Jazzmaster and the Jaguar are versatile guitars. As well as being able to use both pickups independently and simultaneously on the Lead circuit (via different control layout designs), you’ve also got the darker, mellower sounding Rhythm circuit for when you need a different tone. The shorter scale length on the Jag also makes for a different playing experience—there’s less tension underneath your fretting hand and it’s fairly noticeable when you compare it directly with a Jazzmaster strung with the same gauge strings.

Both guitars however are definitely going to give you a unique sound—unmistakably Fender, but different enough from a Strat or a Tele. And both the Jaguar and Jazzmaster are available at all price points, so whether you’re just starting out, or you’re looking for the final piece in your collection, you can find one that suits you. You’ll also be able to find vintage pieces, if you’re seeking out a piece of genuine history.

The Current Range

Jazzmasters, Jaguars, and their model families.

Squier Classic Vibe

The Classic Vibe Jazzmaster and Jaguar are great guitars and offer amazing value for money. They’re made in the Far East to a good standard and feature everything you’d expect from the two offsets - classic style pickups, 24 and 25.5” scale lengths, independent circuits and model-specific pickup switching. Used by beginners and pros alike, the Squier Classic Vibe series provides incredible bang for buck.

Fender Player Series

The Mexican-made Player series mixes things up a little—both guitars only feature a Lead circuit. The Fender Player Jaguar has a humbucker in the bridge position and a classic-style Jag neck pickup, though the humbucker can be coil-split to give more single coil like tones. This coil-split switch takes the place of the Rhythm/Lead circuit switch. The Jazzmaster is fitted with two humbuckers, which again can be coil-split via the tone knob.

Fender Vintera

The Vintera series offers players golden-era vintage-spec Fenders at more accessible prices. They’re made in Mexico and boast great build-quality and an impressive feature set. The Jazzmaster and Jaguar are both available with period-correct specs (though the Jag doesn’t have the bridge mute), based on '60s models, but they’re also available as modified versions too. The Modded Jag has two humbuckers, and the Modded Jazzmaster has two higher-output single-coils.

Fender American Performer & American Pro-II

Fender American Original

This series offers US-built guitars, with period-correct specs. Both the Jaguar and Jazzmaster are based on '60s models, and showcase all the classic offset features as well as some really nice '60s-style finishes. If you want a '60s-spec guitar but don’t want to spend Custom Shop or vintage guitar money, then the American Original series is the way to go.

Fender American Ultra

Signature Models

There are numerous different signature Jazzmasters and Jags out there, all with different specs and features. Some popular models include the Johnny Marr Jaguar, Jim Root Jazzmaster, Troy Van Leeuwen Jazzmaster and Squier J. Mascis Jazzmaster.

Fender Custom Shop

There’s a massive range of Custom Shop Jazzmaster and Jaguar models available. Vintage-spec Custom Shops are the nearest you can get to a genuine '50s, '60s or '70s guitar, but there’s also a load of wild and wonderful models out there showcasing some really unique features.

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Editorial content by Richard Blenkinsop

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