Fender’s ‘surf’ guitars, with their distinctive offset contour body shape, were only quite briefly dominant in the popularity stakes. The Jazzmaster, and the later Jaguar, were billed as state-of-the-art instruments upon their respective introductions in 1958 and 1962, and in terms of innovation they were pretty spectacular. The offset body contouring undeniably made the guitars ‘fit’ the player very comfortably in a seated position, and the broadening of the tone circuitry to allow easier, more dramatic and more rapid tonal changes than ever before would surely have been a hit in an era devoid of electronic guitar effects and pre-amp gain facilities. The Jazzmaster and Jaguar also had vibrato units – another exciting way for guitarists to produce special effects in a largely effect-free age.
The Fender Jaguar took innovation and richness of features to their most advanced level within the Fender range, but this came at a price. Not only was the Jaguar Fender’s most expensive guitar – it was also a compromise on the perfection of the significantly cheaper Stratocaster. The Jaguar had a more cumbersome vibrato system with inferior sustain, a mildly confusing switching arrangement littered with the danger of cutting the sound completely during a performance, a shorter scale length which exacerbated the loose, flappy feel of the strings, and a slight ‘ugly duckling’ appearance compared with the Strat’s aesthetic beauty.
The Jaguar may have justified its ‘top of the range’ status on paper, but in practice it was never going to quell the superiority of the Stratocaster with musicians over the longer term. Guitarists want guitars which integrate seamlessly into their music and are easy to use. The Jaguar never properly satisfied either of those criteria across multiple genres. Once the dated sounds of the ‘surf’ era fell from grace, so did the Jaguar. The Fender Jag found it almost impossible to compete in the late ‘60s environment of blues rock, where the property of sustain had become the overriding focus of guitarists’ whims.
Sure enough, by the late 1960s, Strats and Teles were very much back in the driving seat at Fender, and by the early ‘70s, associations between high profile guitarists and the Fender Jaguar were bordering on non-existent. The manufacture of Jaguars in the early ‘70s appears to have been very limited as a result, and by the middle of the decade, production had been completely abandoned.
But a decade later in the mid 1980s, Fender were able to make a case for reissuing the original incarnation of the Jaguar, as it was in its year of birth – 1962. After the original Jag was deleted from the Fender range in the mid '70s, guitarists could barely give them away on the secondand market. The playing styles of the day demanded more powerful, or at least more bold instruments. But the explosion of a new approach to music, sparked by punk rock, gave the Jaguar a lifeline. The new, DIY ethos in which technically imperfect sounds were positively encouraged, brought attention back to the many old, scruffy and unwanted Jags lying around in shops with giveaway price tags. The rather ugly, individual look of the Fender Jaguar was something different at a time when everyone wanted to be different. Slowly, the Jaguar began a niche recovery.
Through the early 1980s, the Jaguar’s association with influential guitarists was steadily revitalised as the ‘rules’ regarding the way popular music had to sound were increasingly dismantled, and in particular, image became more dominant than ever before. This was the age of video, and a rather wacky-looking six-stringed contraption slung around a guitarist’s waist could prove an eyecatching prop. Recording techniques and sound processing had advanced to the point where the natural voice of the guitar was less critical than it had been in the ‘70s. So the sonic flaws inherent in the Jaguar could now be more easily disguised. Indeed, because contrived video was to an extent taking over from live performance as a means to promote a song on TV, guitarists could even use a customised Strat for the actual recording in the studio, but mime with the Jag for optimum visual impact in the vid.
So conditions and culture were now able to accomodate a guitar whose appeal was, realistically, nine parts out of ten image-based, and very little to do with practicality. Revival trends, coupled with a general consensus that pre-CBS Fender guitars had to be great purely because they were pre-CBS Fenders, also helped push up the prices of real 1962 Jaguars to the point where a brand new, pristine reissue could prove itself commercially viable. To compete with the originals on price, the reissue would still have to be manufactured outside the USA, but that was fine. Fender now had a booming production facility in Japan, churning out exceptionally well-made, accurate vintage replica guitars, which could be sold at very attractive prices on the international market. The Fender MIJ (Made in Japan) 1962 Jaguar Reissue was born.
The subject of this retrospective is a visually striking Fender MIJ ’62 Jag in metallic Candy Apple Red, with a matching headstock. Matching headstocks were synonymous with early ‘60s custom colour Jaguars, but as far as I know, Candy Apple Red did not appear as a custom colour option until 1963, in which case the finish wouldn’t correspond with the designated year. However, there's confusion over what the designated year of these MIJ Jags actually was. On the UK market, dealers who specified a year would quote 1962. However, the model code in the Fender catalogue was JG'66-75, which suggested a 1966 replication. The 'JG' stood for Jaguar, the '66' denoted the year, and the '75' was the launch price in thousands of Yen. But the salient features didn't tie in with a '66 Jag, and in fact the Jazzmaster, also given a '66 model code, even had a spaghetti logo, which was long gone by 1966. The '50s Tele of the early '90s was another guitar whose TL'52-55 model number clearly didn't match with the features. No way was that instrument a 1952 Tele reissue.
So what, in terms of features, caused this MIJ Jaguar reissue to be categorised by dealers as, and generally considered to be, a 1962 replica? Well, the unbound, dot-marker fingerboard and Kluson-style machine heads placed the replica in the first half of the 1960s. My real '66 Jag has a bound fingerboard and block markers, and the fingerboard binding had been a feature since 1965. Also, the twelfth fret fingerboard dot spacing on the MIJ reissue follows the old, pre-1964 pattern, and not the narrower mid-60s variant. But most specifically characterising the MIJ reissue as a '62 would be the flush pole-pieces on the pickups. By 1963, Jaguar pickups had staggered poles. The very earliest real 1962 Jaguarshad ‘slab’ rosewood fingerboards. This original type of thick rosewood board was replaced with a 'veneer'-type rosewood fretboard in the summer of ’62. The MIJ reissue featured the 'veneer' type of fingerboard, but that could still tie in with a 1962 designation. 1962 made a lot more sense than 1966 as regards the JG'66-75.
Unlike a good Stratocaster or Telecaster, a Jaguar typically represents a battle for the guitarist. If you need a good level of versatility which will accommodate intricate rock solos and the like, you’re going to need relatively light strings and a low action. The problem is, if you set up a Jaguar with light strings and a low action there’s just no substance to the guitar’s output. There’s barely any resonance. Plus, the break angle of the strings across the bridge is so shallow that they’re in constant danger of being dislodged from their grooves in the saddles. All the more so given the short scale length, which gives light gauge strings a very slack feel indeed. It’s not quite fair to say the result is akin to playing elastic bands stretched across a dinner plate, but I can easily see why analogies of that nature came about.
So if you want a Jag to give you something back, you really need to use heavier strings, and raise the action to inject a bit of resonance. On my original ’66 Jag I actually even tune the strings UP a semitone to give the guitar sufficient substance! But once you tighten up the feel of the guitar to that extent, you can start getting issues with rattling components, and you say goodbye to the light-touch feel suitable for more demanding styles. At root, the Jaguar was designed so specifically to cater for early ‘60s styles, that it boxed itself into that era, and mechanically, has never managed to escape.
I bought the red MIJ ’62 Jaguar Reissue brand new, for £399, at the beginning of 1991. In addition to all of the above, I found the sound chillingly cold and brittle. It was the coldest-sounding Jaguar I ever played, and I’m including two other (1980s) MIJ reissues in that too. I was predominantly focused on the image of the guitar when I bought it. It was the first Candy Apple Jag with matching headstock I’d had the chance to buy, and I was convinced that fitting a set of Seymour Duncan Vintage Jaguar pickups would nicely thicken up the tone.
Unfortunately, the replacement pickups barely made any difference, and in the end I decided to fit a resistor across the tone control to reduce the maximum treble level and make the guitar seem fuller in tone. This helped a lot more than changing the pickups, and I did use the Jaguar quite a bit for a while. However, once I found a really nice 1960s original Jag in the mid 1990s, I sold the red MIJ. I now wish I’d kept it. The reissues weren’t that common a sight in the English shops. They certainly weren’t found on the racks of every Fender ‘Rock n Roll Centre’ as the Strat and Tele reissues were. In fact, there were times when no one at all seemed to be importing them, and no matter how hard you looked, you wouldn’t find an MIJ Jaguar at all. The number of these sold in total would be almost inconsequential compared with the vast quantity of MIJ ’62 Strat reissues. Accordingly, a 1990 Fender Japan Jaguar in Candy Apple Red would be a pretty cool guitar to own today I think.
You can read more about my MIJ ’62 Reissue Jag, with an anecdote about how I later gave it some rather unusual ‘aged parts’ (along with a photo of the instrument in modified form), in the article below…
There's also more about the switching system of the Jaguar in my 1966 Original Fender Jaguar article.
And you'll find much, much more on the Fender MIJ range of the mid '80s to the mid '90s on this site. The Fender MIJ page would be a good starting point. It gives an overview of the models which were available and provides links to more detailed info on individual guitars.
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