From Surf to Grunge: The Fender Jaguar's Life in Pop and Rock Culture

Bob Leggitt | Saturday 24 September 2022

1966 Fender Jaguars in Sunburst and Burgundy Mist

I'll warn you now, this is a long one. But if you're sick to the back teeth of those Jag history articles that cite Fender's most awkward six-string as being used by "Cobain, Marr, MBV and various assorted artists whose identities no one could be bothered to find", you've come to the right place. For this is where names will be named, trivia will be firehosed at full-strength, and the Fender Jaguar will finally be recognised as the temperamental but deeply lustworthy sod it actually is. And all without someone trying to flog you a brand new signature model at the end.

"Cobain's famous Jag was one guitar. A '66 neck on its original body. Let the arguments commence."

When the original Jaguar was struck off Fender's product listings at the close of 1975, it seemed like the guitar's life had come to an early conclusion. An ignominious end to a story that had kicked off with an explosive bang. It was, however, only the start of something much more interesting. A new life, with a new personality. But why did the Fender Jaguar crash out of the picture, and how did it claw its way back to become a hallmark of kickass cred? Who used the Fender Jaguar pre-Cobain? All will be revealed, including more than twenty associated artists...


The Jag launched as Fender's range-topping and most expensive model in mid 1962. Hooked up to the obligatory Fender spring reverb unit or a Vibroverb amp, it had been a popular choice in the surf era, comfortably outselling the mighty Stratocaster. During its early to mid 'sixties heyday, the Jaguar found loyal favour with The Surfaris, The Trashmen, The Astronauts, and Carl Wilson from The Beach Boys...

But the crowded artist list was not tied to purveyors of beach-bum radio fodder. Gene Davis of The Gene Davis Band / Star Routers played country on a Jag.

Pops Staples, meanwhile, dished out his inspirational gospel-blues on both the Jaguar and the Jazzmaster - preferring them to a late '50s Les Paul Standard(!!), which had been his first electric guitar, and which he'd sold because the Fenders "had a clearer sound". He did, much later, regret selling the Les Paul, after Ry Cooder told him how much they were worth on the vintage market.

Ace jazzer Joe Pass also played a Fender Jaguar in the early 1960s. Playing jazz on a Jaguar might seem like a headscratch to some, but the Jag incorporates the same secondary 'jazz' tone circuit as its close relative the Jazzmaster, and it will output a perfectly usable mellow, jazzy roundness with the settings tailored appropriately.

Still not enough celeb factor? Okay, so maybe I can change that by adding the fact that Jimi Hendrix played a Jaguar. Pick that one out of the net, Jag-haters!

Needless to say, despite the high original price of $379 in 1962 (and about $400 in a custom colour), amateur musicians hotly sought the Jaguar too.

Sling on a Jag and you know it's gonna be gritty. Not the easiest ride, but full of ragged attitude, personality and character. Alongside the Rickenbacker 330 and the Gretsch 6120, the Fender Jaguar is surely one of the most distinctive specialist rhythm machines in electric guitar history.

Fender Jaguar in Surf Green

You're not allowed to look at this unless you're holding an actual surf board. A Surf Green Fender Jaguar is cooler than a fridge in the North Pole, but this one would easily be outed as a refinish, since the Surf Green custom colour was discontinued forward from 1965, and the block marker fingerboard was not introduced until well into 1966. The switch from dot markers to blocks was wholesale, and dots were unavailable on Jaguars between 1967 and 1975. Fingerboard binding accompanied the block markers, and for a short, transitional period through from early 1966 to summer 1966, the fingerboards were bound, but still inlaid with dots rather than blocks. Even though the period of transition was short, production volume was very high at the time, so there are quite a lot of edgebound dot fingerboard Jags around.


The Jaguar saw VERY rapidly declining sales after 1966, when forward-thinking guitarists' attentions turned to the one thing the Jag totally sucked at - sustain.

Yes, if you're looking for sustain, an unmodded Jaguar is very definitely not the guitar for you. There are a few main reasons why the Jaguar's note-decay was noticeably short. Firstly, the bridge was not screwed to the body, but dropped into its cavity completely loose, resting on two adjustable points, to rock back and forth with the vibrato unit.

In fact, the only thing that holds the traditional Jaguar's bridge in place, is the strings. Take them off and upturn the instrument, and the bridge will fall straight out. If you keep the original string-mute fitted, that's screwed down, but the bridge is just a drop-in.

Secondly, the strings terminated not in a heavy block or through the body, but in a thin, chromed, movable tailpiece. As well as the lack of mass in the tailpiece, this arrangement meant the strings had barely any break angle across the bridge, and thus were not really "tight" across the saddles. Since those rather slack strings are the only thing holding down the bridge, the sustain suffers further.

Thirdly, the vibrato unit was a descendant of the original Stratocaster vibrato - the one Leo Fender kicked into the trash and replaced with the classic backloader before the Strat's launch. In the words of the man himself, the shelved original...

"wouldn't sustain a tone."

By the time it appeared on the Jazzmaster a few years later, the original Strat vibrato had been fished back out of the bin and refined. The sustain had improved, but would still be poor by the standards of a 'seventies rock guitarist. When the Jazzmaster first hit the scene, however, there was no such thing as a rock solo. No such thing as a Marshall stack. The focus of electric guitarists in the late 1950s was on clarity, purity of tone and articulation. It didn't matter that a Jazzmaster couldn't wail out a note for 25 seconds. No one was trying to do that.

The Jazzmaster's vibrato was, in Leo Fender's technical mind, an upgrade on the backloading release version of the Strat trem. For a start, it was easier to implement in production terms. Tuning was theoretically more stable, the action was lighter and smoother, the Trem-Lok feature enabled impromptu use in "hard-tail" mode, changing the strings was a lot less hassle, and strings would not break as easily as those on a Strat.

Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar tech Rene Martinez always had to put plastic shielding around the strings on the run up to each Strat bridge saddle, because Stevie would otherwise break his strings. The backloading Strat trem, with its sharp and indeed double break angle, was never mechanically perfect. It was a last-minute make-do. And the Jazzmaster vibrato does feel nicer. It's just got grim sustain. As an update on the Jazzmaster, the Jaguar subsequently inherited that mechanically-sound but sustain-strapped vibrato system. You can find the exact differences between the Jaguar and Jazzmaster here.


Coupled with its low-output single-coil pickups and awkward pickup-switching system, the Jaguar's limited sustain saw it fall right off the wagon in the late 'sixties. And given musical trends in the early to mid 'seventies, the route back onto the wagon was heavily restricted. As Queen topped the UK pop charts with Bohemian Rhapsody (the very last thing anyone would try to use a Jaguar to play), Fender quietly 'sunset' the model.

Actually, noted guitarists had continued to play the Jaguar through the early to mid 1970s. African guitar legend Franco Luambo, for example. And the Jags were used by some session players of the day.

One of the reasons Jaguars served well with studio session players as a second guitar to something like a Les Paul, was their antithetical repertoire. The string-mute, for instance, gave the Jaguar the polar opposite of sustain - a staccato voice. True, the player could feasibly palm-damp instead, but the mute gave a more even and reliable pluck, and trained guitarists would be unlikely to palm-damp. Let's remember that electric guitars, including the Jaguar, still came with bridge covers in the early 'seventies. With the cover in place, you couldn't even get your palm onto the saddles.

But most guitarists of the early to mid 'seventies were looking for more sustain, not less, and new Jaguars just would not sell. Indeed, for a sense of just how bad sales were, consider the fact that you almost never see an original series Jaguar with a maple neck. In their early to mid 'sixties heyday, Jags were rosewood fingerboard only. But in the early 'seventies, they came in a choice of either rosewood board or maple neck. The fact that it's so rare to see one of the maple jobs, illustrates the very low production totals during the period when that feature was offered.

Going into 1976, Jaguar owners struggled even to give their guitars away.


The electrical anatomy of the Fender Jaguar

Above you can see a guide to what the Jaguar's controls do. Although the system is awkward, it's quite clever, since the switch near the top horn can be used to toggle between two fully separate circuits with separate settings. The volume and tone settings can be different for each.

The "Supertwang" switch is tone-filtered for mega-surf twang when in the Up position. With the switch pushed Down, you get the normal tone of the pickups. With the main circuit selected, pickups are On when their switches are Down. Off when their switches are Up. It's possible to have both pickups switched off, which could be a disaster if the switches are knocked inadvertently whilst strumming. This would almost inevitably be why Kurt Cobain put tape over the switches. When the guitar was designed, having a total "Off" setting was probably given the nod because there were no noise gate pedals back then, and it allowed the guitarist to kill the pickup buzz between songs, without disturbing their volume settings.

It's hard to tell from distance, but the two slot-shaped apertures on the upper horn chromed plate, access vertically-mounted pots, with wheels that have knurled edges. You slide your finger along them to change the circuit's tone and volume. You can see behind the plate in the shot below...

Fender Jaguar under the upper control plate

In this view beneath the upper horn plate, you see the two vertically-mounted pots which control volume and tone on the 'jazzy' circuit. Note the multi-coloured cloth wiring typical of 1966. Other classic features of the time include the bound fingerboard with lips extending up onto the fret ends, and staggered-pole alnico pickups with crenelated outer metal shields. Original Jaguars are lovely exemplars of high-end 'sixties guitar manufacture. Their giveaway prices of the 'seventies and 'eighties could never have lasted.


But in 1977, after UK punk had established an environment in which any teenager who'd been playing electric guitar for more than a week could theoretically become famous, secondhand sales slowly restarted. The very factor driving those sales was the incredibly low prices caused by the Jag's dearth of current celebrity users. The Jaguar was a genuine Fender guitar, but a beaten up sunburst example from the 1960s could be picked up in London for less than a hundred quid in '77.

Surely the punk movement's best known Jaguar user at that time was Tom Verlaine of Television. Verlaine was also a Jazzmaster user, commonly playing an early 'sixties sunburst, which he'd bought pre-1975, because it was cheap. Although I haven't seen him name the specific price he paid, he did tell Guitarist magazine:

"In '73, '74 you could buy a Jazzmaster for $150 easily. So that's why I started playing it."

$150 would exchange to about sixty-five to seventy quid in 1974. And at that time the Jaguar was considerably less popular than the Jazzmaster. I've found much evidence of secondhand Jaguars going for well under $100 in the mid 1970s. That's under fifty quid.

Elvis Costello also emerged from the punk aftermath as a faithful Jazzmaster player in 1977. In June that year he was very briefly seen with a Lake Placid Blue Jaguar which had three pickups in it. But the association appeared to be a one-off in what was otherwise a long run of Jazzmaster use. I don't know if Costello owned or just borrowed the Jag. Although with prices as low as they were at the time, I dare say ownership was often extremely transient.

Robert Smith of The Cure adopted Jazzmasters in the late 'seventies too. So plenty of new kudos for the JM, but was our friend the Jag gonna get the cold shoulder again?

No. Interestingly, there was also a surf revival in the late 1970s, complementing other revivals of the time, such as mod and rockabilly. 'Seventies surf revivalists Jon & the Nightriders championed the Jaguar, with frontman John Blair faithfully playing an early 'sixties model.

Perhaps the most surprising appearance for the Jaguar in the late 1970s came in 1978, when Mick Jaguar... Sorry, Mick Jagger - clearly aiming for a punk attitude - played a Lake Placid Blue Jag in The Rolling Stones' Respectable video. The guitar in that promo was not a genuine Fender, but that didn't stop Fender claiming the association - although it is of course Fender's design, so they're more than entitled to the kudos.

As local pub stages began to buzz (literally) with the punk vibe of cheap, secondhand Jaguars, was this back-from-the-dead relic now ready to transcend into the belly of indie power rock?


Fender Jaguar with early 1960s unbound dot neck and humbucking pickups

We're now very familiar with humbucker-clad Jaguars, but who started this ass-kickin' theme?...

Well, as the 'seventies passed into history, the UK got a very high-profile sighting of a customised, twin-humbucker Jag. All of the original-series Jaguars had come with weak, Stratty, single coil pickups - notably unslanted at the bridge, which makes the sound even more trebly. But a modded HB-clad Jag popped its face into the limelight during 1980. Not on some Siouxsie and the Banshees goth-out, as one might expect, but on a concert tour with... Cliff Richard?...

Wait... Cliff Richard's guitarist with a twin-humbucker Jaguar?... That can't be right, can it? It sure can. The guitarist, UK session A-lister Martin 'Mart' Jenner, had the same eminence in the six-string world that Herbie Flowers had in the world of bass. Through an association with producer Gus Dudgeon, Jenner had worked with more or less everyone who was anyone. But he'd also jobbed in the backwaters of punk, and his extremely broad brief as a session player made it essential that he could cover any style.

Serendipitously (as we'll soon see), Jenner was left-handed, and he had extremely specific requirements regarding the necks of his guitars. As a player with small hands, he insisted on a slim neck profile. It was difficult for him to get a suitable instrument, and typically, the only solution was customisation. However, Jaguar necks were great for smaller-handed players, since they had a Gibson (as opposed to Fender) scale length, and they came in a range of four different widths, including a special, narrow variant. I've got a Jazzmaster with the narrow neck, and it really is slim. Plus, the Jags had 22 frets, which neither Strats nor Teles did in the 'seventies.

So whilst a Fender Jaguar might seem an odd choice for a Cliff Richard tour per se, when you consider Martin Jenner's overall brief in those post-punk days, alongside his individual neck requirements, the Jaguar was completely logical. And the customised, humbucking offset contour thing was not even new in 1980. Brinsley Schwartz had used a Jazzmaster with a humbucker in the neck position and an added middle position single coil, whilst with Graham Parker and the Rumour. It appears in the 1977 Sight and Sound in Concert performance.

With Jaguars in the late 'seventies, you could cheaply buy more than one, and 'Frankenstein' a neck and body. You could replace the bridge for something more substantial, whack in a couple of DiMarzios - THE replacement humbucker of the 1970s - and cater to unusual, ultra-specific requirements. It was cheaper than buying a new Gibson or Yammy SG, and it was tailored. Made to measure. The advantages of very low secondhand prices.

All interesting stuff in itself. But it would be the subsequent life of Mart Jenner's customised Jaguar that would cement his highly distinctive instrument into rock folklore as a priceless piece of history, and the template for a very much more famous left-handed Jag-player's signature model. Let's save that for the grand climax...

Next time you get drenched with soda water for playing a ten-minute guitar solo in a local bar, just remember who was saying "NEVER, EVER DO THAT!" all along. The Fender Jaguar. That's who.


The early 1980s brought the Jaguar an entirely new role, which emerged in the wake of the video boom. Once it became essential for artists to accompany a record with a video, the Jaguar's striking looks marked it out as a cool visual prop. A small hire market opened up for one or two enterprising Jag owners with aesthetically-spectacular examples, fuelling the video boom with uber-cool, six-stringed decorations. I do stress small, and this did nothing for the Jag musically, but did help reassert it back into buyers' consciousness.

That consciousness was returning with a vengeance, as Jaguars resumed appearing on records. Indeed, by 1984 it's fair to say that the now 22-year-old twin-pickup slogger had finally re-located the wagon and was just about to clamber back on. The 'eighties userbase included Will Sergeant of Scouse indie heroes Echo and the Bunnymen. Don Fleming of Velvet Monkeys had been using a late '60s Jag from at least as early as 1981. Rowland Howard of The Birthday Party settled on another late '60s job. Dave Gregory of XTC used a '65 Jaguar. Dave Brewis of The Kane Gang had a blonde '66... Brewis had also borrowed a Jazzmaster to use on The Kane Gang's first album. Another notably persistent user during the period was Malcolm Ross, who used a sunburst '66 Jag (dot neck with fingerboard binding) with both Josef K and Orange Juice. The guitar was used to perform the 1983 Orange Juice hit Rip It Up on Top of the Pops, and has been owned by former Auteurs frontman Luke Haines since 1996.


And as the six-stringed oldie rebuilt its cultural foundations, Fender geared up to launch a vintage Jaguar reissue as produced by the widely-applauded FujiGen Gakki factory in Japan. The first production of the Fender Jaguar for nearly ten years. The Jazzmaster resurfaced as a vintage reissue at the same time, appearing in UK shops from 1985.

Curiously, whilst most of the Jaguar reissue's features were in keeping with its '62 designation, it featured a much later gold-lined black Fender logo. It may have been that Fender originally planned to make a 1970s model and mapped out the logo design accordingly, then ruled out the 'seventies block markers and neck binding as too expensive and went with the early 'sixties unbound dot neck instead - but neglected to revise the logo to match.

Fender guitars including Mustang and Jaguar vintage reissue

The new Jags came in sunburst, black, Vintage White or Candy Apple Red - red being the only finish accompanied with a white scratchplate and matching headstock. The CAR job is seen second from the right in the above lineup, with replacement aged plastic parts. As shipped, the plastic was pure white, and aged parts were never available on MIJ Jags or Jazzmasters from new - even in the 'nineties after the Strats started to feature them. There's a picture of the model with original white parts in the MIJ Jaguar Reissue post.

The other finishes had a shell guard and clear lacquered headstock. Sadly, the healthy range of old 'sixties finishes such as Burgundy Mist, Sonic Blue, Surf Green, Foam Green, Shoreline Gold, Lake Placid Blue and Sherwood Green were completely neglected. As was the string mute - although the number of guitarists who would want a string mute by 1985 could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

One old problem the new Jags did correct was the lack of a fully left-handed spec. In the original series, left-handed Jaguars came with right-handed vibrato systems. Fender Japan made the first entirely left-handed Jaguars.


The main wave of alternative 1980s culture driving the rise of the offset contour Fenders continued to focus on the Jazzmaster. Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo's use of Jazzmasters was highly individual, portaying the guitars as a completely different type of soundscaping tool. Ten years ago I described Sonic Youth's audio cassette Sister as a stepping stone between punk and grunge, and I still think of Sonic Youth in that light.

J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. also favoured the Jazzmaster over the Jaguar.

The most likely reason why Jazzmasters tended to prevail in quirky, rough-edged post-punk music was not the more typical Fender scale length, or the more conventional switching, but simply their pickups, which had a lot more balls than those in the Jag. But with late 1980s technology an electric guitar's output level mattered a lot less than it had just a few years earlier. Even with its standard, low-output pickups, a Jaguar could easily be pushed into overdrive, with good noise gating attending to any excess buzz.

The Jag also had some technical advantages like better noise shielding on the pickups. If you think a Jaguar buzzes on stage, try a Jazzmaster. The buzz from their big, unshielded pickups is shocking. Even Fender acknowledged that the Jazzmaster's hum was embarrassing. Their addition of metal shielding crenelations each side of the Jaguar's outer pickup covers was a direct result of that.

Vintage Jaguar headstock

Vintage 1960s Jaguar headstock. Note the array of patent numbers beneath the logo. It may also be apparent that the logo is fitted on top of the cellulose lacquer finish. This renders the logos highly prone to scratching and erasing.


From 1988, My Bloody Valentine adopted both Jaguars and Jazzmasters as their primary tools. Kevin Shields' attention turned to these distinctive instruments when he borrowed a Jazzmaster and discovered that the vibrato system could facilitate what he described back in the day as "chord bending", generally helping the band deliver a unique sound. Forward from that point, in particular because it dismissed direct comparisons to the Jesus and Mary Chain (source: The Guitar Magazine, June 1992), Shields and his bandmate Bilinda Butcher maintained faith in the Jaguars and Jazzmasters. Although the band acquired genuine vintage models, Kevin Shields also notably used a new Japanese (MIJ) Fender Jaguar reissue. It was white, but had a black 3-ply scratchplate rather than the standard tortoiseshell 4-ply.

[Kurt] owned at least four Mustangs, and at least two Jaguars, plus an Electric XII.

Once again, the guitars were being played in a highly innovative way - a direct result of their design, with a long vibrato arm that could effectively be "carried" throughout a sequence. This was probably the point at which the Jaguar found its voice. The point at which a Strat or a Tele could no longer deputise. You could use a Jazzmaster, but if you wanted the really biting top end from those narrow-focus pickups, it had to be a Jag.

Prices of the vintage Jaguars now began to escalate. In shops, at least. In private sale columns, you could still get the pre-CBS Jags for under £400 in 1989. It would be more like £550 to £700 via a dealer, depending on condition, whether the finish was original, and whether it was a sunburst or a custom colour.

INTO THE 1990s

Although we might imagine today that the early 1990s were littered with Jaguar users, in the UK that was not the case. Indeed, both the Jaguar and Jazzmaster reissues from Fender Japan had been withdrawn from the British market by Fender's distributor Arbiter, due to poor sales.

The Made in Japan reissues had faced almost impossibly tough commercial conditions, due to the low prices of vintage originals in the 'eighties. If you could get an actual 1962 Jaguar for £395, for most people it just didn't make sense to pay £375 for a Japanese '62 reissue, which most people at the time considered to be a copy rather than a "real Fender". Due to the maturity of their wood, the originals invariably sounded more toneful than the new reissues, which was an incredibly important factor with such a trebly guitar. I had a couple of the reissues at different times, and didn't hang onto either for long - such was their coldness compared with the actual 'sixties jobs.

But there were advantages to the reissue - like it wouldn't need a re-fret before the end of the year, or be sold in need of the mother of all setups and a pickup rewind.

By the early '90s, though, the prices of vintage originals had escalated enough for the reissue to be much more viable commercially. Arbiter were asleep on the job, and the stock was still unavailable, so The Guitar Magazine launched a wake-up call, saying...

"Arbiter don't plan to import these guitars unless there's sufficient demand. Our advice if you want one of these classics at new guitar prices, get on the phone to Arbiter on [phone number] and let them know what you think!"

The rallying cry worked, and imports resumed.

Some of the guitarists who made it big in the mid 1990s had been heavily exposed to, and influenced by Fender's offset contour guitars. Graham Coxon, for example, had a lower profile when his band Blur joined My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. on 1992's Rollercoaster tour. But the influence stayed with him, and he occasionally used a Jaguar with Blur during their glory days.

Before Britpop, however, there was the small matter of one Mr K. Cobain - surely today the most influential Jaguar player of them all.


Kurt Cobain used a large number of guitars with grunge legends Nirvana, and since he was prone to histrionically destroying his instruments, the bulk of them were far from premium stock. Most were archetypal "pawn shop specials". Cobain didn't play all of his guitars either. Some lay redundant, out of public view.

He did, however, display loyalty towards Fender Jaguars and Mustangs. He owned at least four Mustangs, and at least two Jaguars, plus an Electric XII, which also has the offset body shape.

One of Cobain's Jags - an L-series '64 - was rarely seen. But the other - a heavily customised sunburst with two DiMarzio humbuckers - could fairly be described as his favourite guitar between 1991 and 1993. And if that guitar looked familiar to any Cliff Richard fans, that's because it was the aforementioned twin-humbucker Jag played by Mart Jenner on Cliff's 1980 tour. At least, some of it...

In the hands of Kurt Cobain the guitar definitely had a different neck. A bound '66 dot neck with a reshaped and refinished headstock. The Cobain headstock was roughly pre-CBS Strat-sized. Jenner, however, had used the instrument with a later, block-marker neck that appeared unmodified.

There's been much speculation on the issue of the guitar's necks, and because of the small headstock, which was never offered on the Jaguar, the Cobain neck is not even considered to have been a Jaguar neck by some. But it was a Jaguar neck. It was a classic, spring '66 Jaguar neck with the correct, characteristic binding and correctly-spaced, correctly-sized dot markers. The only thing about it that wasn't correct was the headstock size, but the headstock was clearly modified because it had a Mickey-Mouse Fender logo on it. It's also assumed by most that the neck of the Cobain era was at least the third fitted to the guitar.

I ask, in all seriousness: why can't the Cobain neck have been the original?

The instrument's serial number - 95747 - technically denotes 1965, but the serial numbers were on the neckplates at that time, and a plate could easily go way out of sequence - especially with left-handed production, where factory output was vastly lower and volume was harder to anticipate. Even with right-handed guitars you'd get significant anomalies in serial numbers. To illustrate, Dave Brewis's blonde Jaguar had an early '66 neck date and a 180xxx serial number. My sunburst has a late '66 neck date, but a lower, 168xxx serial number. You can't really use the neckplate serials as an accurate dating tool. The plates were not fitted in order.

So what of the neck? Well, if, like me, you've ever wanted to replace the neck on a guitar in the pre-internet age, you'll know that there was a mathematical inevitability that came with that...

You needed a second guitar. There was no such thing as a guitar neck shop. You didn't walk into your local muso haunt and find a selection of left-handed vintage Jaguar necks. Necks came with a guitar, and they went with a guitar. So if Martin Jenner was gonna put a replacement neck on a Jaguar, he'd need two Jaguars. And he'd be left with two Jaguars. Not two bodies and three necks, or two bodies and four necks. Two bodies, and two necks.

Neither in Jenner's time nor in Cobain's time could you wave a magic wand and materialise a left-handed Jaguar neck out of thin air. So the neck on Kurt's Jag had to come from somewhere tangible. Given that left-handed Jaguar necks don't randomly wander around in the ether, and that Cobain wasn't really a customiser but Jenner definitely was, the overwhelming likelihood is that Kurt Cobain's modified '66 Jaguar neck is the one Mart Jenner sold it with, and, indeed, bought it with.

There are many ways to explain why Martin might have swapped the necks, or been in possession of two Jags in the first place. I'm not psychic, so I'm not going down that road. What we do know, is that in the late 1970s and 1980, Jaguars were extremely cheap - almost to the point of being part of the copy market price-wise. And that Martin Jenner was used to having to customise guitars to accommodate his unusual playing requirements. If you can accept that he had two left-handed Jaguars (and if you can't, where did the other left-handed neck come from?), then the most logical, route-one surmise is that sooner or later after the Cliff tour, Jenner simply swapped the two necks round, and sold the guitars. The serial number on the Cobain Jag suggests that of the two necks, the modded dot-marker piece was the original, and the block-marker neck went with the other Jag. That would mean, in all probability, that Cobain's famous Jag was one guitar. A 1966 neck on its original body. Let the arguments commence.

Fender advert for Cult Supremos - Jaguar and Jazzmaster - 1994

Finally, by the mid 1990s, it was time for Fender to cash in. With UK retail prices of over £800 each, these Japanese-made beauties had gold-plated parts and came with tolex hard cases. After decades of struggle, the 'Cult Supremos' had made it back to the forefront of public attention, and were riding high on a burgeoning wave of indie cool. The Jaguar and Jazzmaster advert dates to 1994.


Post-Cobain, the Fender Jaguar has been considered a fire-breathing voice of rebellion. And that's exactly what it is. Sling on a Jag and you know it's gonna be gritty. Not the easiest ride, but full of ragged attitude, personality and character. Alongside the Rickenbacker 330 and the Gretsch 6120, the Fender Jaguar is surely one of the most distinctive specialist rhythm machines in electric guitar history.

I've had a number of them, and the relationships have always been turbulent. But nothing with real value ever comes easy. The most exciting artists can be excruciatingly bloody-minded, awkward and argumentative to work with. The Fender Jaguar epitomises that in an electric guitar. It tells you what to do. And it will argue until it gets its way. But as we've seen again and again through history, most of the time, it's been right. Next time you get drenched with soda water for playing a ten-minute guitar solo in a local bar, just remember who was saying "NEVER, EVER DO THAT!" all along. The Fender Jaguar. That's who.