Jaguars and Jazzmasters

Marc Morfei

Friend of Leo's
Silver Supporter
Joined
Feb 6, 2018
Posts
3,637
Age
57
Location
Wilmington, DE
What's the story with Jags and Jazzmasters? They are hardy ever mentioned here. Even searching through past threads there is not much real info. Someone want to give a brief summary? Or point out a good prior thread? I see the scale difference - Jags are short. What's with the Jazzmaster pickups that look like P90s but apparently are not? Basically, what do these guitars sound like, and why would someone want one? Oh, and what's with all the many, many extra switches?
 
Last edited:

SixStringSlinger

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
May 21, 2006
Posts
5,548
Location
Space
Speaking on JM’s since that’s what I know. Probably at least some overlap with Jags.

Traditional JM pickups are not P90’s. They’re more like squished Strat pickups; shorter and wider. They have a very wide frequency response; bass gets really low and treble gets really high. They can hang with Strats and Teles but also have their own thing. The J. Mascis Squier JM has pickups that are more P90-ish (if not quite P90’s), as did the Classic Players, and of course there slate all kinds of aftermarket options.

Switching: So the “normal” controls (closer to the floor when playing) do what you think. 3-way toggle and volume and tone controls. The pots are traditionally 1meg (as opposed to the Fender-typical 250k) which also contributes a lot to the brightness. The “normal” controls are referred to as the lead circuit.

The black switch at the top horn engages the rhythm circuit. The wheel knobs are volume and tone controls with much lower pot values (I forget what, but that’s easy to look up), making for a much warmer tone. Engaging the rhythm circuit also puts you on the neck pickup regardless of the position of the pickup selector.

The idea (if it’s not obvious from the name) is that the JM was supposed to be the Fender jazz guitar. (Traditonally, stereotypically) jazzy in its archtop-like string geometry and warm, bassy tones. Fender in its solid body, brightness, single-coil pickups, scale length and trem. It didn’t quite catch on as a jazz guitar, though it can work very well as one, and anyway nothing Leo designed ever caught on in the exact way he figured it would (Stratocasters we’re supposed to be the ultimate, deluxe country-and-western guitar. Enter rock n’ roll…).

This video shows a lot of what a JM can do:

This is a popular guide to setting up Fender offset guitars that explains some of their quirks: https://www.premierguitar.com/amp/jazzmaster-setup-2651066793
 

SixStringSlinger

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
May 21, 2006
Posts
5,548
Location
Space
I like them for the pickups (wide and fat sounding without being as “dense” as humbuckers), the switching (I like guitars with unique options/features) and the comfort (JM’s are wonderfully balanced and comfy).

On mine I replaced the 1meg pots with 250k’s (still bright but more manageable for me) and modded the wiring so that the rhythm circuit doesn’t cancel out the pickup toggle.

9F6C3AEE-FDFF-4278-A583-3000FB5CEF93.jpeg


CCAC986E-6F67-4A7A-BC4C-3AD5A2AB5643.jpeg
 

chris m.

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Mar 25, 2003
Posts
10,416
Location
Santa Barbara, California
This guy "puisheen" on YouTube has lots of excellent videos where he talks about JMs and Jags and gives great DIY tips on setup, etc. He's also a good player and he plays in the typical styles that you see JM and Jag aficionados using.





There are plenty of JM and Jag threads on TDPRI-- just use the search engine a little more carefully and you'll find plenty.

I'll take my own stab at your questions-- just my humble opinion:

JM pickups do not sound like P90s and are not built like P90s unless you buy a Classic Player or Squier J Mascis JM. Those pickups are built like P90s with a bar magnet on the bottom. Actual JM pickups are have alnico pole-pieces like a Strat pickup, but the coil windings are flatter and wider, creating a different tone. I think of it a bit like a Strat pickup on steroids. Just a little beefier.

What do they sound like? JM-- kind of like a Tele, but beefier. Or like a Strat, but beefier, without the quack tones.

Jag-- outfitted properly with 11 gauge strings, you get a plinkier, more trebly tone, with less sustain. Great for surf and fuzz.

Extra switches:

On the JM you have typical switching and pots below the strings. On the upper bout you have what is called the rhythm circuit. You flip the little switch up there and it engages the rhythm circuit instead of the lower controls. It gives you the neck pickup with a low-pass filter on it so it sounds a bit darker than when you use the neck pickup via the lower controls. You have two little wheels up there that are separate volume and tone controls. One advantage of the rhythm circuit is you can set it to a dark rhythm tone that you like, at whatever volume level you like. Then with the quick flip of a switch you can get that tone and volume level immediately from whatever tone you were using via the lower control panel. If you want you can zero out that upper volume wheel and then use the switch as a kill switch.

A lot of guys really have no use for the rhythm circuit and remove it. Some Jazzmasters come without them.

On the Jaguar you have master volume and master tone, and three switches. The first two switches turn on the neck and bridge pickups, respectively. The third pickup is a "strangle switch", or a high pass filter, that cuts out lower frequencies and makes the guitar sound even thinner. You also have the same rhythm circuit up on top.

Both guitars were popular during the surf music era. The Jazzmaster was supposedly for jazz, but the jazzbos stuck to their hollow body jazz boxes. (Although Joe Pass used one for a while.) They experienced a bit of a renaissance during the punk and grunge eras because you could buy used, pre-CBS Jazzmasters and Jaguars in used guitar shops for much cheaper than used Strats and Teles. Remember, in the 70s and into the 80s everyone hated on CBS Fender guitars and wanted the vintage, pre-CBS ones. And you couldn't buy great reissue guitars like you can today.

So some famous players like Kurt Cobain, J Mascis, and Kurt Vile used them, making them desirable to folks that wanted to emulate them. Another fantastic and fantastically famous Jaguar player is Johnny Marr, who created amazing, unique sounds and has played with lots of very famous bands, including his first big band, The Smiths.

One thing you didn't ask about is the vibrato bridge. It doesn't work for dive bombing, but it works really, really well for nice shimmering vibrato, maintaining great tuning stability.
 

LOSTVENTURE

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Feb 13, 2007
Posts
2,352
Location
Charlotte, NC
Among my collection are both the Jaguar (AV65) and the Jazzmaster (CIJ 2006). Both have their own tones, and I even find the rythem circuit very usefull. Since their sounds are subject to individual tastes, you really need to sit down with each one and see what you think.
I should note that I've installed the "Buzz Stop" on both of mine so that I can play ligher strings (10's) on them.
 

ahiddentableau

Tele-Holic
Joined
Jul 8, 2018
Posts
746
Location
Middle of Nowhere
I agree with the earlier post about the pickups, but Jazzmaster pickups are markedly different from Jaguar pickups. Jazzmaster pickups are more wide-range to begin with, then the 1Meg pots supercharge the effect. They can go really bright with the tone knob up. But in general they are likeable and most people seem to like them. Then Jaguar pickups are like less wide-range than strat pickups--the bass is not prominent at all. So they tend to be a more compressed and brighter sounding. IME they are more of an acquired taste. A lot of people find them too bright and too compressed and run for aftermarket options. Also remember that the Jaguar is a short scale guitar (24" scale) while the Jazzmaster is full scale (25.5"); that has a pretty major impact on the overall sound as well, and pretty much in the same vein as the pickups. Jazzmasters more full ranged with more bass and treble, Jaguar with tight bass.

But to me the big thing that defines the design is the vibrato. It's wildly different from the standard strat model. I think of it like a continuum that goes like this:


Strat <---> Floyd Rose <---> Bigsby <---> Jag/Jazzmaster
[Tighter/more responsive <-----------> looser, more subtle]


Kevin Shields is a great example of what you can do with it--he uses it with full chords to great effect. The throw of the arm is much less sensitive than other units so you can go very subtle. It's a very cool vibrato, by far my favourite.

The only other thing to mention is the bridge. Two major related issues here. One, the bridge itself is not attractively designed or comfortable. It's like big grub screws in a line. It's not a great look or feel, and it makes fine-tuning the string position tough because you have to use the spaces between the threads to seat your strings. Two, the break angle at the bridge is shallow, so there's not much downforce at the saddle to keep the strings seated. Back in the late 50s when Leo designed it everybody was using big flatwound strings and it wasn't an issue. But now everyone uses comparatively thin roundwound strings, so you can run into problems. This can be addressed in a few ways. 1) Increasing the break angle at the neck joint (shimming) to increase the break angle. 2) Installing a bar behind the bridge to act like a string tree behind the bridge (a "buzz stop"). 3) Replacing the bridge with an aftermarket design. The Mastery bridge and Staytrem are the most common ones you'll see. Some people use a mustang bridge. Cobain used a tune-o-matic (but NB he didnt use the vibrato). All of those methods work and both have their strengths and weaknesses.

OK, wow, that was a book. Sorry. But they're great guitars and lots of fun and you should check them out.
 

rockinstephen

Tele-Meister
Joined
Apr 21, 2011
Posts
360
Location
Maine/Florida
Sorry, I'll have to describe my Jazzmaster as my technical limitations don't allow me to post photos...A few years ago I bought a Squier J Mascis Jazzmaster. I selected this model for several reasons. 1.) low price. 2.) tunamatic style bridge - easily adjustable and less problematic than the original design. 3.) tailpiece located closer to the bridge to help increase sustain. Then I made a few of my own changes. The first was to swap out the pickguard for a green tortoise shell one. I like the way it goes with the off-white finish. I then added an upgraded tail piece with the Fender "F" stamped in. The biggest change was a neck swap. I like those with block inlays and binding. I found one on Ebay for a great price. That really dressed up the guitar. I also added roller string trees and a neckplate with the Fender "F". To finish, I had a professional set up done with a bone nut. I really like the offset body and the rhythm circuit. I think this guitar is a winner...I almost forgot - I added a buzzstop behind the bridge, a "must have".
 
Last edited:

Marc Morfei

Friend of Leo's
Silver Supporter
Joined
Feb 6, 2018
Posts
3,637
Age
57
Location
Wilmington, DE
Awesome responses everyone! Thanks!!!

Only one question: are the wonky bridge issues just with the JM, or are they common to both guitars?
 

Fendereedo

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Jan 1, 2014
Posts
10,114
Age
56
Location
Suffolk UK
Awesome responses everyone! Thanks!!!

Only one question: are the wonky bridge issues just with the JM, or are they common to both guitars?
Yes, but easily remedied with a good set up. You can find links to many sites dealing with set ups, through Google search.
 

ahiddentableau

Tele-Holic
Joined
Jul 8, 2018
Posts
746
Location
Middle of Nowhere
Awesome responses everyone! Thanks!!!

Only one question: are the wonky bridge issues just with the JM, or are they common to both guitars?

Common to both designs. It's because of the vibrato design and the vibrato is identical on both models.

At the same time, don't let the doom talk about the bridge scare you too much, either. The problems are significant but not insurmountable.
 

chris m.

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Mar 25, 2003
Posts
10,416
Location
Santa Barbara, California
Common to both designs. It's because of the vibrato design and the vibrato is identical on both models.

At the same time, don't let the doom talk about the bridge scare you too much, either. The problems are significant but not insurmountable.
The YouTube videos by Puisheen show exactly how to solve bridge issues.
 

PixMix

Tele-Holic
Joined
Aug 30, 2008
Posts
952
Location
MI
Here's a good example of a Jazzmaster tone - a long Nels Cline solo at about 2:40 mark. I think it captures well the essence of a Jazzmaster tone: great clarity, somewhat rounder tone than a tele, softer attack than both tele and strat, subtile but very complex harmonics.

I love both designs (Jm and Jag) but if I were forced to pick only two guitars to play for the rest of my life, I could have been very happy with a Jazzmaster and an SG.

 
Last edited:

RocknRollShakeUp

Tele-Meister
Joined
Dec 17, 2017
Posts
283
Location
USA
JMs are my favorite instruments.
They excel at most things for me: clean, chimey growl, twang, overdriven and higher gain tones , fuzz, everything.
Just gotta set em up right and roll off the volume and tone as appropriate to tame the 1meg pots.

But I could seriously record a whole album with a JM, even pseudo bass parts with the Jazz circuit tone rolled all the way off.

Here is my dynamic duo: the iPhone camera colors are exaggerating the yellows and pinks, but that’s a vintage white closet classic, and the other a Shell pink Wildwood 10. The closest classic has 11g flat wounds on it and the shell pink has 10g round wounds. The Shell pink one is my No. 1 guitar for most things.
9A4140D9-D1A2-4C06-A674-3BDC14F9DFE2.jpeg
 

bendercaster

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Sep 20, 2011
Posts
1,616
Location
Sacramento
I've had both. They have my favorite trem. Properly set up, it is a very stable, useful trem.

My Jazzmaater.sounded great, but was very hi-fidelity and didn't work great for me in a band setting. It was very full sounding.. The neck also felt really long. I traded it for a Duo Jet a few years ago. I love the Duo Jet, so I have no regrets. But it was one of the nicest guitars I've ever played.

I now have a Jag. I love it. It has that sound I've always wanted. I do think some of the issues folks have with the bridge are exaserbated by the shorter scale, but again, properly set up it works just fine. That extra string length behind the bridge definitely gives the guitar a unique sound, but I'm a huge fan of the bright strat like pickups but with less of that punchy, plucky sound that you get from the typical fender scale.
 




Top