Jaguar® style Guitar Kit Review
The Fender Jaguar®, along with combat boots and flannel is probably best remembered for its role during the grunge period of the late '80s, early '90s. Like the music and subculture it spawned, the guitar at first glance looks the perfect fusion of pop and punk, but as we shall soon discover, the Jaguar® is far from a one-trick pony.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at:
- Why the Jaguar holds a special place in music
- Jaguar® guitar kits and their available options
- The history of the Jaguar
- Some of the guitarists who play them
- Assembly and finishing tips
A Grunge Icon
From a commercial sense at least, the grunge period likely began around 1990 with Alice in Chain's (major label) debut "Facelift" before roaring to life the following year with Nirvana's "Nevermind".
Nevermind, a landmark album is credited with changing popular music and symbolically dispensing of 80's icon Michael Jackson on its way to the top spot on the Billboard charts in January 1992. And, the guitar that was his main weapon during this period was, of course, a left-handed Fender Jaguar®.
Jaguar® Guitar Kits
While not affiliated with the Fender® brand, the MU guitar kit is loosely based on the Fender Jaguar® and makes a great project guitar, especially if this is your first build.
Featuring 3 x single-coil pickups, 1x volume, 1x tone and 5-way selector switch, comfortable C shaped neck, choice of timber options including Alder (as per the original) and optional maple veneer the MU guitar kit is a versatile option for anyone looking for a reliable, workhorse, capable of covering a number of genres.
The open pickup route and bolt-on neck (optional) also make assembly a breeze and the flat surface of the top with limited contouring makes sanding and finishing much simpler than an archtop or heavily contoured guitar body, allowing even a first time builder to achieve a beautiful, flat finish with relative ease.
The electronics are greatly simplified, and more loosely based on the Squier Affinity Series Jazzmaster® making the electronics much easier to install compared to the genuine article which features a range of pickup switching options through both a lead and rhythm channel.
History of the Jaguar
The Fender Jaguar® owes much of its design aesthetics to the earlier Fender Jazzmaster® the aptly named 1958 guitar Fender® developed for the jazz market.
The Jaguar® began production 4 years after the Jazzmaster® in 1962 and came with some unusual features including:
- Spring-loaded string mute (A short-lived feature, after receiving negative feedback)
- 22 frets (the Stratocaster in comparison featured 21 frets)
- Electromagnetic shielding to prevent electrical interference with the pickups and controls
- Floating vibrato system
- High output pickups with hum reduction in the form of notched metallic ‘claws’
- Dual circuit rhythm and lead channels with independent controls providing the guitarist the ability to use presets for quick tonal switches.
The Jaguar® was, at the time at least, intended to be one of Fender’s® top-line models and the company’s great hope for tackling their main competitor, Gibson. This is perhaps why the Jaguar also featured a shorter 24” scale length, a departure from Fenders standard 25.5 “ scale length, making it closer to Gibson’s 24.75”.
The electronics, in particular, were a first for Fender® and included the most sophisticated circuitry the company had developed up to that period.
Unfortunately for Fender® the Jaguar® was not as well-received as the company had hoped and after dwindling sales, sharply contrasting the popularity of the Stratocaster® and Telecaster® at the time, production ceased to continue in 1975.
A New Wave
After 1975 older Jaguars® began to find a foothold in the punk rock scene, this may be due to them being considered a ‘cheaper’ option compared to the Stratocaster® which tied in nicely with punk rock’s raw ethos, and also simply because they were less popular at the time and perhaps added to the anti-establishment attitude of punk in general.
This is also the most likely reason Kurt Cobain first started playing Jaguars®, being heavily influenced by the rawness of the punk scene, combined with the melodic songwriting of bands such as the Pixies who he often cited as a major influence.
After the alternative rock scene, dominated by grunge bands coming out of Seattle took over mainstream music for much of the decade, Fender, buoyed by the number of prominent alternative artists using the guitar re-issued the Mustang® in 1999 as part of its American Vintage Reissue (AVRI) Series, manufactured in Japan.
Variations have since been released including a Kurt Cobain signature series® released in 2011 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Nevermind, the release that is arguably the most responsible for the popularity of the Jaguar to this day.
The Fender Jaguar®, much like the Jazzmaster® and Mustang® are considered part of a category of guitar known as ‘offset’. This means, as the name implies, that the two halves of the body are offset from the other e.g. the guitar appears to be leaning forward. This design was first developed to improve comfort and playability for the guitarist while playing seated.
Some of the inspiring guitarists who have used the Jaguar® almost extensively.
- Kurt Cobain - Nirvana
- Billy Corgan - Smashing Pumpkins
- J. Mascis - Dinosaur Jr
- P.J Harvey
- John Squire - Stone Roses
- Tom Verlaine - Television
- John Frusciante - Red Hot Chilli Peppers
- Johnny Marr - The Smiths
- Thurston Moore - Sonic Youth
- Brian Molko - Placebo
- Gavin Rossdale - Bush
Assembly and Finishing Tips
As mentioned, the Jaguar® guitar kit, (MU Guitar Kit) is a great guitar to assemble if this is your first build. With this in mind, the usual recommendations for good assembly apply, including:
- Ensure all parts are included
- Ensure your workspace is well lit, clean, free of dust, and well ventilated
- Don’t put the guitar on a surface that will scratch the guitar when working on the opposite side
- Dry fit the neck before screwing or gluing in place
- Drill pilot holes before using larger drill bits to prevent cracks developing
- If you are working in a particularly dry environment, consider using a humidifier when storing the guitar as the environment of the country of origin is quite humid
- If drilling your own bridge position, take great care measuring scale length
- Research and have a good understanding of the wiring aspect of the assembly. This doesn’t need to be complicated by any means, but don't go in without any idea of the job.
The best advice for finishing any electric guitar is to have a final plan for the type of finish you plan on giving the guitar and following that up with research into the products and methods required prior to the day.
There’s a number of resources on the site, that you can find here along with many additional tutorials on Youtube, covering a variety of finishing styles.
As the Jaguar does come with optional maple veneer, you may prefer staining the top of the guitar. If this is your preference be careful not to overly saturate the surface which in some instances can lead to warping and buckling of the veneer layer.
Otherwise, prepping before applying the finish should be reasonably straightforward. The lack of hard edges reduces your risk of sand throughs and the flat surface of the top of the guitar will allow you to develop a perfectly flat surface, especially if you utilize a hardwood sanding block, instead of a flexible sanding pad.
All things considered, the Jaguar® is a guitar that has played more than a minor role in the direction music that is made with guitars has taken since the late ’80s, while somehow still managing to remain in that alternative, ultra-cool space just left of mainstream music.
And while the MU guitar kit may not an exact replica of this famous guitar, the simplified version allows even the least experienced guitar builder to assemble their own Jaguar® inspired guitar kit and start authentically banging out that familiar four-chord riff that signals the beginning of ‘smells like teen spirit’.