Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 58

COLUMN The (Way) Back Beat

many players wanted as much distortion as
possible! The Jazzmaster and Jaguar, specifically
designed to stay clean up to 10, were supplanted
by their ancestors - Leo's earlier designs. The
real problem, though, was the vibrato/bridge,
which was simply unsuited to the much lighter
strings coming into vogue. The rocking bridge
requires considerable downward string tension
to hold proper position, and without it, a good
smack from the strumming hand could send
the bridge tipping backward, knocking the
guitar out of tune. If this wasn't enough, lowtension strings tended to pop out of the serrated
grooves in each saddle if strummed hard or
bent aggressively. The Jaguar's scale, with lower
comparative string tension, exacerbated the
problem and gave the guitar a reputation for
tuning instability.
Without meaning to do so, Fender itself
helped sow the seeds of decline. The company's
very light-gauge Rock & Roll string set (.010 to
.038) introduced in mid '67 - in response to
Ernie Ball's Slinkys - was simply non-functional
on the company's own high-end guitars. At the
time, Fender was shipping guitars fitted with the
#1500 "smooth round wound" set gauged .012
to .052. If a player fitted the hot new #150 set
the setup changed dramatically for the worse.
This stringing helped Hendrix make magic on
the Strat but crippled the Jazzmaster and Jaguar,
causing serious intonation and tuning issues.
It's perhaps no accident that the vibrato
introduced on the Mustang in '64 has different
architecture. While also top-mounted, its strings
pass under the vibrato bar, resulting in a sharper
break angle over the bridge. This imparts stiffer
tension over the saddles, themselves solid barrels
with a single string groove resting directly on the
bridge tray, not prone to slipping. Though the
Mustang shared the Jaguar's 24" scale, it was more

adaptable to lighter strings. Of course, the fact
it was much less expensive was a big factor, too!
The Mustang prospered as a student guitar good
enough for professional use, while the Jaguar and
Jazzmaster became the pro instruments shunned

Elvis heralds the Jazzmaster's return.

by professionals. Sales fell dramatically after '67;
the Jaguar was rarely made after the late '60s
and discontinued in '75, but the Jazzmaster was
cataloged until 1980, with miniscule numbers
assembled in that decade.
By the late '70s, the Jaguar and Jazzmaster
were outdated relics, available at bargain prices
compared to Strats and Teles. This abetted a
revival as instruments written off by the decade's
rock gods returned to cult status. The punk
and new-wave aesthetic embraced things cast
aside by late-'60s blues and heavy rock players
as symbolic rejections of that very aesthetic.
This included Mosrites (Ramones, B-52's) the
chiming Rickenbacker 330/360 (the Jam, and

VINTAGE GUITAR

58

January 2018

The all-girl Powder Puffs with an all-Fender
lineup (left), and te Jag goes psychedelic(?)
with The Corduroy Tangerine.

subsequently R.E.M.) and the hollowbody
Gretsch (starting with the Stray Cats).
The Jazzmaster's revival began with an
unlikely champion in Elvis Costello; the nowiconic image of him mashing the whammy bar
into the face of his Jazzmaster on the cover of
his first LP, My Aim Is True, sparked the interest
of a new generation. While Costello was feted
primarily as a songwriter, not a guitarist, the
Jazzmaster took on a new symbolism. When
Television's Tom Verlaine used a Jazzmaster
for that band's influential guitar-centric music,
he became the instrument's first post-modern
champion and a player's revival began in earnest.
From the '80s into the '90s, Sonic Youth, J.
Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr.) and the influential Nels
Cline have contributed to a swell of popularity
for the Jazzmaster. Though it lagged, the Jaguar
followed, blessed by Curt Cobain and, more
recently, ex-Smiths jangle master Johnny Marr.
Over the years, add-on hardware has emerged
to make them more suitable to modern requirements; the Whizzo Buzz Stop provides greater
tension over the bridge, and more recently, the
Mastery Bridge has re-engineered Leo's floater
with locking posts and heavy saddle blocks in
the tray, offering a huge increase in stability.
With or without these modern add-ons,
Fender's offset guitars are more popular than
at any time since the early '60s. When set up
properly, they are as functional as any electric,
and to many offer the era's greatest aesthetic - in
all, not a bad return for instruments written off
in decades past!
Special thanks to Maddie Patch.


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open

Contents
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - Cover
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - IFC
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 3
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 4
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 5
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 6
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 7
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 8
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - 9
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - Contents
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Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - IBC
Vintage Guitar - January 2018 - open - BC
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