The Story Of The Fender Jaguar

Here at Reverb, we're no strangers to epic timelines showing slick high-res images of Fender guitars. There was Beyond the Jazzmaster and Parts I and II of our Brief History of the Stratocaster. Last week, we launched our coolest giveaway yet for an original 1965 Jaguar, so we're not going to pass up the excuse to give the stately Jaguar the timeline treatment.

The Original Jaguars

1962 Jaguar

1962 Jaguar

The Jaguar was launched in 1962 as another top-of-the-line guitar in the same vein as the Jazzmaster. Both guitars shared the modern offset body shape and distinct floating tremolo system. The Jaguar differed in its use of a shorter 24-inch scale length and stronger single-coil pickups, which were encased in notched covers to shield the electronics from external radio noise (a typical annoyance with the Jazzmaster's soapbars).

Both guitars integrated a unique dual rhythm/lead circuit design, yet on the Jaguar the lead circuit includes three switches: on-off for the front pickup, on-off for the back pickup, and a bass-cut switch that adds an extra capacitor to the signal. As a high-end member of the Fender line-up, the Jaguar sported deluxe upgrades such as chrome coverings on the hardware and a newfangled string-mute system, which never really caught on with players.

1964 Jaguar

1964 Jaguar

The end of 1964 brought the handover of Fender management to the CBS corporation and the beginning of what's known as the transition era for the company. Changes seen on the Jaguar in this period include a switch from clay to pearloid fingerboard inlays in 1965, as well as the use of a three-layered plastic pickguard and Kluson F-style tuners which were both fully integrated by the end of 1966.

A note on finishes: Like all Fenders from the '60s, custom and rare finish options increase the value of a vintage Jaguar substantially. Sunburst was standard. Any other original finish is considered more sought-after. Fender's palette of colors used in the '60s closely aligned with those used on General Motors cars, with most of the paint coming from the same place. For the Jaguar, a guitar targeted towards surf guitar players, this connection is all the more obvious. Think, for example, of classic images of the Beach Boys cruising through Southern California with Jaguars in hand.

1966 Jaguar

1966 Jaguar

Perhaps the most striking change brought to the Jaguar (as well as the Jazzmaster) through the transition era of 1964 to 1966 was on the neck. The Jaguar neck evolved from using an unbound fingerboard with dot inlays for its first several years to a bound neck with dot inlays in mid-1965, and eventually to a bound neck with trapezoid inlays by the end of 1966. While typically collectors think earlier the better when it comes to this era of Fender guitars, lots of players do have a certain affinity for the trapezoid-binding combo.

1969 Jaguar

1969 Jaguar

With the renewed popularity of the Stratocaster (thanks to Mr. Hendrix), Fender emphasized the top-of-the-line status of the Jazzmaster and Jaguar less and less by the end of the '60s. While the design of the Jaguar stayed largely the same through this era, the switch from nitrocellulose to polyester finishes on most Fenders in 1968 reflects the continuing decline in quality seen throughout the CBS era. This is part of what renders these instruments of less value to collectors than the early models.

1973 Jaguar

1973 Jaguar

The Jaguar was discontinued entirely in early 1975 and production numbers remained low through the last several years. Like the Jazzmaster, which failed to gain ground with jazz players, the Jaguar was not the commercial smash Fender hoped it would be. For years, the Jaguar remained an almost forgotten stepchild in the Fender family, which allowed players to grab them on the cheap. In the '80s and '90s, more and more alternative and indie rock guitarists looked to the offbeat appeal of the Jazzmaster and Jaguar. Included in their ranks was a young man from Washington named Kurt Cobain.

Reissue Jaguars

MIJ '62 Reissue

MIJ Jaguar Reissues

The very first Jaguar to be produced by Fender since the original line was discontinued in 1975 was the Made In Japan (MIJ or CIJ) '62 reissue model. Japanese players seemed to dig the surf rock style of the Jazzmaster and Jaguar which accounts for their relative popularity in Japan compared to the States and Europe. Eventually, the Fender Japan factory also produced a reissue of the '66 Jaguar with the bound fingerboard and trapezoid inlays.

AVRI 62 Reissue Jaguar

American Vintage '62 and '65 Jaguar

The Japanese-made '62 reissue did well enough that a similar model was introduced to the American Vintage Reissue series. This guitar was introduced in 1999 and lasted until 2012 when Fender rebooted the AVRI series with a set new reissues and replaced the '62 with a '65 Reissue Jaguar. Both guitars replicate the specs of the Jags from their respective years, with the newer '65 model featuring a rounder, C-shaped neck profile. (The pictured guitar is a '62 model in Surf Green.)

Signature Jaguars

Kurt Cobain Signature Jaguar 2012

Kurt Cobain Signature Jaguar

There have been two main signature Jaguar models produce in recent years, both of which replicate the guitars of an alternative rock icon. Not to be confused with the unique MIJ Jag-stang experiment of the '90s, the Kurt Cobain Signature Jaguar was launched in 2011 as a recreation of Kurt's modded double humbucker Jag with an added volume pot and three way pickup selector. The original run of these came pre-relic'd, though this year a version was released without the dings and dents.

Johnny Marr Signature Jaguar

Johnny Marr Signature Jaguar

Fender gave Smiths (and sometimes Modest Mouse) guitarist Johnny Marr a signature Jag which has been produced in a classic Olympic White, a snazzy Metallic Copper, and a sophisticated Sherwood Green finish. This is player-friendly Fender with such useful features as an insert in the trem arm socket for improved stability, a Mustang style bridge, and a four position pickup switch including positions for series and parallel output on both pickups. Even if you're not a Smiths fan, this is great Jag option as it comes stock with many of the mods that players often perform on standard Jag models.

Other Noteworthy Jaguars

2005 Jaguar HH Special

MIJ HH Special

Another MIJ take on the Jaguar is the black on black Special HH Jaguar. With two humbuckers instead of single-coils, this model offers a quality, versatile approach the Jaguar concept and has become a mainstay of the Fender Japanese lineup. Some players, however, lament the absence of the floating tremolo system on this Jag.

Jaguar Hot Rod Deluxe Bass

Deluxe Jaguar Bass

There have been a few variations on the Jaguar Bass over the years, many of which have been produced in Japan. These models combine familiar Jazz Bass pickups with the control layout of a Jaguar guitar. In recent years, the Squier Vintage Modified line of Jaguar basses have earned a sleeper reputation as tremendous budget-friendly instruments, and Fender added the Jaguar Bass to the American Standard series earlier this year. Jaguar Bass players include Radiohead's Colin Greenwood, noted gearhead Justin Meldal-Johnsen, and Mastodon bassist Troy Sanders, who has a signature Silverburst model.

Classic Player Jaguar

Classic Player Jaguar

Introduced in 2008, the Classic Player Jaguar offers the familiar specs of classic '60s Jaguars but with a Made in Mexico (MIM) price tag. This Jag is produced in both single-coil and humbucker configurations and, like its Jazzmaster counterpart, has become a popular option with players. The Jaguar has always been a target for parts swapping and mods, and the Classic Player model is a quality Jag you can feel comfortable toying and tinkering with.

2012 FSR Thinline Jaguar

FSR Thinline Jaguar from 2012

While only produced as a limited factory run, the Thinline Jaguar uses a concept first seen on the Thinline Telecaster of 1968, with a hollow cavity and F-hole on the upper portion of the body for a lighter-weight guitar with a more open sound. The added double binding on the body does not contribute to the tonal qualities, but does look pretty darn cool.

Fender has built many other Jaguar models over the years that are not listed above but are certainly worthy of some mention. There's the 50th Anniversary Jaguar which came out in 2012 in a number of flashy finishes, the rock-ready MIM Blacktop Jaguar, as well as the elusive Baritone Jaguar. On the most affordable end of the Jaguar spectrum, there's the Chinese-made Modern Player series Jaguar along with various Squier models including the impressive Vintage Modified Jaguar, which is probably the best bet for someone looking for a Jaguar on a budget.

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