How the Jaguar Became Fender’s New Model for 1962

In 1962, the bosses at Fender changed the game with the introduction of the classic Jaguar. Joining its lineup of the more traditionally shaped and popular Stratocasters and Telecasters, one look at the Jag was all it took to recognize that this was a model more in line with the revolutionary Jazzmaster that came just a few years before it.

The Jaguar had an exaggerated offset-waist body shape (which Fender had first used for the Jazzmaster), and in that earlier model’s utility patent, it was clear from the illustrations that the company thought the shape’s main advantage would be for a seated player. The clue was in the model name: the Jazzmaster was aimed at the (seated) jazz guitarist. The offset design, said Fender, put the body’s bass-side depression "between three and six inches nearer" to the headstock than the treble-side depression, and it had "a novel combination of recesses and beveled portions, thereby promoting ease and facility of playing with minimum discomfort to the guitarist."

Offset Patent Illustration

The earlier Jazzmaster had also been the model where Fender first had the idea to add a higher-priced model to its line. Again, the jazz connection seems to have been the motivation.

The ambitious Fender team likely looked enviously at Gibson’s list of electrics, where the most expensive models—a natural-finish Super 400 CES was pitched at $700—were luxurious hollowbodies aimed at (and mostly played by) top jazz guitarists. Fender decided it was time to create a new solidbody to attract the well-off jazzman, and the result was the firm’s top-of-the-line, $325.50 Fender Jazzmaster.

The Jaguar was launched four years later in 1962 and was listed in its sunburst finish at $379.50, a notch above the Jazzmaster. One of Fender’s gleaming custom color finishes—say, Fiesta Red or Olympic White—would take a Jag up to $398.49. That’s correct: just an extra $18.99. How many would you like to order?

The new Jaguar had a separate bridge and vibrato unit, and it offered a spring-loaded string mute at the bridge. Fender rather optimistically figured players might prefer a mechanical string mute to the regular method of muting with the edge of the picking hand. Gretsch had promoted something similar a few years earlier, and the gadget enjoyed a similarly apathetic reception.

The Jaguar was offered from the start in four different neck widths, one a size narrower and two wider than normal (coded A, B, C, or D, from narrowest to widest, with "normal" B the most common). These width options were offered from 1962 on the Jazzmaster and the Strat as well. The Jag had distinctive chrome-finish control panels, and it was the first Fender with 22 frets rather than 21. Also, its 24-inch scale (which Fender said was "faster, more comfortable") was shorter than the company’s standard of 25 1/2" and closer to Gibson’s 24 3/4", adding to the Jag’s easier playing feel compared to other Fenders.

I asked George Fullerton, who worked at Fender from the earliest days, if he could recall a reason for the shorter scale on the Jag. "A lot of guitar players had smaller hands," he said, "and it was hard for them to reach those notes. Like Roy Lanham of the Sons Of The Pioneers: he always used a Jaguar because of its short neck." And Fender’s factory boss, Forrest White, liked this feature. "I have a Jaguar at home," he told me in an early ’90s interview, "and that was my favorite instrument because the scale was 24 inches, and I have small hands."

The pickups on the Jaguar were similar to a Strat's, but they sat in a metal cradle, visible as a toothed metal panel on each side and aimed to focus the magnetic field. Fender’s patent for the design, applied for in 1962 and not granted until ’66, said another of the pickup’s aims was to render it "relatively insensitive to extraneous electro-magnetic fields so that the amount of noise generated in the pickup and associated circuitry is minimized."

The Jag’s controls were elaborate (and, to some, confusing). The set on the lower body was for the lead circuit: a volume and tone knob, plus a panel with a trio of slide-switches, two for selecting the pickups and one for engaging a "strangle" low-cut filter. There was a set of three further controls on the upper body: two small wheels for rhythm circuit tone and volume, and a slide-switch to choose between the lead circuit or rhythm circuit.

The dual-circuit idea was adapted from a layout that Fender’s factory boss Forrest White had devised back in the '40s, when he built guitars as a hobby. "I saw Alvino Rey at the Paramount Theater in Akron, Ohio, and he had to keep fiddling with his guitar when he wanted to change from rhythm to lead," White told me. "I thought well, there’s no reason he should have to do that. Later, I said to Leo, what you need is a guitar where you can preset the rhythm and lead. Leo didn’t play guitar—he couldn’t even tune a guitar—so he didn’t think this was important.

Rey came in the plant one day, and I said how would you like not to have to mess around with the controls, just flip a switch? He says, can that be done? I says well sure, I already did it. So Leo brought the Jazzmaster out, and that guitar was the first where you could switch between rhythm and lead, and then a little later the Jaguar."

The Jaguar was the first with a new headstock logo, designed by Bob Perine at Fender’s advertising agency, Perine-Jacoby. It had turned up first in promo material around 1960, and Fender gradually applied it to headstock decals. Now we call it the transition logo, because it leads from the original thin "spaghetti" style to a bolder black one that came in at the end of the ‘60s.

Perine, a keen amateur guitarist, was also responsible for Fender’s now famous series of ads with the tagline "You won’t part with yours either," with guitars, amps, or both pictured in unlikely settings. Suddenly, the ads and catalogues published by Gibson and the rest of the guitar establishment began to look old-fashioned and rather dull.

And what of the name Jaguar itself? There might well be an allusion to the powerful feline, or perhaps to the revered British auto brand. I can’t recall ever seeing Marc Bolan with a Jaguar—he was more of a stripped-Les Paul man—but in T.Rex’s "Jeepster" (even if he had something more tangibly feminine in mind), he summed up well the Fender’s alluring looks: "Just like a car / You're pleasing to behold / I’ll call you Jaguar if I may be so bold."

About the Author Tony Bacon writes about musical instruments, musicians, and music. He is a co-founder of Backbeat UK and Jawbone Press. His books include The Ultimate Guitar Book, Electric Guitars: The Illustrated Encyclopedia, and The Fender Electric Guitar Book. His latest is Electric Guitars: Design And Invention (Backbeat). Tony lives in Bristol, England. More info at tonybacon.co.uk


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