Jazzmaster vs Jaguar: What’s the difference?

I get asked a lot of questions while I’m in the shop: “Can you restring this, please?”, “Can I have a go of this?”, “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” You know, the usual everyday guitar store questions. However, one thing I get asked at least once a week is as follows: “What is the difference between a Jazzmaster and a Jaguar?” Well today ladles and jellyspoons, we shall answer that question! But before we get into the main differences, let’s first give a little background to these obscure offset oddities.

First to hit the scene was the Jazzmaster. Originally unveiled at the ’58 NAMM show (find out about another guitar that made its debut that year here), this new top-of-the-line instrument was set to knock Fenders previous heavy hitter, the Stratocaster, off it’s top spot.

It featured never before seen body contours and an offset waist to help provide unparalleled balance. This resulted in a guitar that was very comfortable to play while seated, which was something deemed important to the demographic this guitar was aimed at – the jazz..masters (I bet everyone got an early finish after that brainstorm meeting…). The Jazzmaster never really found its way into the Jazz clubs of the late ‘50s that it was intended for, but it was picked up by the surf guitar and rock n roll bands of the early ‘60s, where it’s unique sound was more welcome.

So that brings us to 1962, the swinging ‘60s in full flow. Fender had a new kid on the block: the Jaguar. This guitar wasn’t too different to it’s older brother, but now donning eye-catching chrome panels, as well as more switches then anyone knew what to do with. The Jaguar became the company’s top of the line model, as well as earning a place in Leo Fender’s heart as one of his favourite creations. As this guitar had been designed with the surf musicians in mind, it fit right in becoming an instant hit!

Ok, I’ve rambled on enough. Let’s actually talk about the differences between the two.

Scale Length
One of the most notable distinctions between these two wonky guitars is the scale length (the distance between the nut and bridge). The Jazzmaster sticks to the original 25.5 inches found on Tele and Strat models, whereas the Jaguar opts for the shorter 24 inch scale. This gives the Jaguar a more slinky, compact feel.

One of the most obvious distinctions between these two surf classics is the pick-ups. The Jaguar uses a pick-up not too dissimilar to the Stratocaster, although it does look very different! This pick-up is encased in a metal claw, which is there to aid in the shielding of the guitar and therefore reduces the 60 cycle hum – this was a common complaint among vintage Jazzmaster owners.

The Jazzmaster uses a much flatter, wider pick-up, resulting in a warmer and more rounded sound. This is not a P90 pick-up, although that is a very common misconception.

You can’t talk about offset guitars and not mention the countless switches found on these twang machines! Let’s start with the Jaguar. The three switches found near the bottom horn are pretty simple, these are – Neck Pick-Up On/Off, Bridge Pick-Up On/Off and Bass Roll-Off (you know… in case you thought your Jag wasn’t bright enough and you wanted your guitar’s tone to peel paint off of walls).

The single switch at the top activates the “Rhythm” circuit. In the most simple terms, this circuit bypasses all other controls, singles out the neck pick-up and activates a 50 kilo-ohm tone pot paired with a .02µf capacitor, resulting in a much darker sound. The thumbwheels at the top of the guitar are independent volume and tone controls for the rhythm circuit.

The Jazzmaster works in a very similar way, although we drop the pick-up on/off switches in favour of a more traditional 3-way selector switch.

So those are the main differences between these iconic guitars. I highly recommend popping to your local store and testing them out against each other. Whether you want the classic surf sounds of the ’60s or the screaming aggressive tones of ’90s grunge, these surprisingly versatile guitars will get you there!

Anyway, if anyone needs me I’ll be playing Dinosaur Jr riffs on my Jazzmaster for the next few hours…

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