If you’re tired of the same old Stratocasters or just want to add something new to your lineup, you might have seen one of the many Jaguar models out there. Introduced by Fender in 1962, there are now many different kinds of Jags on both the new and used market. How are they different from each other? Which one is the best for you?
To start with, how exactly are Jaguars different from other Fender or Fender-style guitars? Aside from the eye-catching offset waist body, Jaguars that stay true to their roots have a shorter 24-inch scale, which makes for lower string tension and easier playing for those who have smaller hands, shorter fingers, or want a little less space between the beginning and the end of the fretboard. The original pickups are a lot like a Strat’s pickup, but they have a metal “claw” or notched frame on the long sides of the pickups. Soundwise, they’re pretty similar to Strat pickups, although newer Jaguars sport anything from dual humbuckers to Gibson-style P-90 soapbar pickups.
You might have also noticed that Jaguars look a lot like Jazzmasters, and they’re easily mistaken for each other. Traditionally, Jaguars are different from Jazzmasters and other Fender-style guitars by their shorter scale and by having three separate metal control plates— one below the high E string, one by the upper cutaway, and one with knobs in the opposite corner. The controls on the first two plates include tone-modifying switches and rollers, while the other has volume and tone controls, plus the input jack.
The most traditional made-in-USA Jaguars out now are the Fender American Original series, which replaced the American Vintage series. Less expensive are the Mexico-made Jaguars falling under the Classic Player, Classic Series, and/or ‘60s headings. Finally, the Squier brand offers the Vintage Modified series, offering fairly traditional looks and features at the lowest price point. Less-traditional Jaguars can be found under the Special Edition, Modern Player, and various artist signature editions.
If you’re wondering how much the newer Jaguars compare to true vintage models from the 1960s, it’s worth pointing out that many of the newer models, especially the imports, use a flatter fretboard radius and larger frets than the vintage ones. Vintage Fender guitars long used a 7.25” radius which favored chord playing over soloing and string bends, but you won’t find that radius on even the American Original series today. For those ready to pick up a Jaguar, now is an excellent time to take advantage of the many varieties of new and used Jaguars, most of which have appeared in the last ten years.