Fender Jazzmaster and Fender Jaguar: What’s The Difference?

Bob Leggitt | Wednesday, 25 May 2016 |



Introduced in the early years of ‘modern music’, Fender’s Jazzmaster (b. 1958) and Jaguar (b. 1962) guitars have a similar look. They share the same body shape, and have trodden a similar path through musical styles over the years. Back in their early days, before the Stratocaster established lasting dominance at the head of the Fender listings, the Jazzmaster and Jaguar were range-toppers, and were priced accordingly. But what are the key differences between these two rather esoteric instruments?…

SCALE

One very fundamental difference between Fender’s Jazzmaster and Jaguar guitars is the scale length. The Jazzmaster adheres to Fender’s standard scale of 25.5 inches. But the Jaguar is a shorter instrument, with a straight 24 inch distance between nut and bridge. Stand the two guitars up, one behind the other, and there’s an obvious difference in height. But if you’re a guitarist, you’ll also feel the difference when playing the instruments.

With string gauge like for like, the Jaguar feels ‘looser’, with slacker strings, and wide-stretch chords are noticeably more comfortable to fret. The shorter length means you can fit thicker strings to a Jaguar, whilst still retaining tolerable scope for string bends. But some guitarists enjoy the Jazzmaster’s longer and tighter feel – especially if they’re used to other Fender guitars (like the Strat or Tele) and don’t want to have to adjust when switching instruments.



BASIC SOUND

The next big difference lurks in the basic sound. The Jazzmaster has physically much wider pickups than the Jaguar, and the pickup coils have a different shape. The Jazzmaster’s fatter, higher-resistance coils, literally make for a fatter sound. The Jaguar, with pickups shaped similarly to a Stratocaster’s, has a typical, bright Fender twang. But the Jazzmaster is beefier, with an upper midrange kick. The Jazzmaster, with its higher output, will overdrive an amp more easily. But it doesn’t have a Gibson sound. It’s raunchy, but it's still bright and articulate.

CIRCUITRY

Both the Jazzmaster and the Jaguar have twin tone/volume circuits, selectable via a black mini-toggle switch at the upper horn. The idea is that the player sets each group of tone and volume controls to a certain sonic/volume ‘ballpark’, then uses the mini-toggle to flip between the two. Because you're using two separate circuits, you can instantly flip between very diverse sounds - almost like being able to toggle between two separate guitars.

The secondary circuits are basically alike for both guitars. They always isolate the neck pickup for what in the old days would have been considered a “rhythm” sound, and then tailor the tone and volume with vertically-mounted pots. The rhythm sounds available via these secondary circuits are additionally filtered in the high frequency spectrum, so the tones are fuller and deeper.

But the primary tone/volume circuits are different. The Jazzmaster’s primary circuit is pretty conventional, with a Gibson-style 3-way pickup selector switch, plus one overall tone knob, and another for overall volume. The main volume and tone knobs on both guitars are mounted in the standard manner – horizontally. The Jaguar’s primary circuit, however, uses three mini-toggle switches in place of the Jazzmaster’s standard 3-way selector. The first of these turns the neck pickup on or off. The second turns the bridge pickup on or off. And the third filters low frequencies out of the sound for a lighter twang.

The Jaguar’s circuit is more convoluted than the Jazzmaster's, and it has the built-in danger of allowing both pickups to be switched off. But it does allow that lighter twangy sound that just isn’t available from a Jazzmaster.



MUTE

Original Fender Jaguars came with a string mute at the bridge, which could jack up to touch the underside of the strings and dampen them. Some guitarists did take advantage of the mute, but over time, styles outgrew it. By the time the Jaguar was ushered into indie music as one of the ultimate expressions of visual cool, palm damping had long since rendered the mute redundant. Most original Jaguar string mutes have been completely removed, and those that haven't are easy to take off and refit.

VIBRATO

The vibrato systems on both guitars are pretty grim. But they lock solid with the flick of a single, easy-access button. Engage the lock, whip out the vibrato arm, and you essentially have a ‘hard-tail’ instrument in ten seconds flat.

WHICH IS BEST?

So which is best? Jazzmaster or Jaguar? It’s really down to personal taste. If you play other Fender guitars, the Jazzmaster is probably a better bet. It’ll feel less alien alongside a Strat or a Tele, and its sound will be different enough make switching worthwhile. Plus, of course, the circuitry is more manageable and logical than that of a Jaguar.

But if you want to be more dedicated to a classic offset contour guitar and you only want one Fender, you might find a Jaguar more suitable. It has a more traditional Fender sound than the Jazzmaster, and therefore covers the classic Fender tonal territory better. If your other guitars are Gibson types, you’ll also probably find the Jaguar’s length more comfy than a regular Fender.



Beyond all that, though, whichever you choose, you can be damn sure you're gonna look double-cool.

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