Headstock featured on the original '72 Fender Mustang
Hope everyone out there is enjoying this autumn season cool down – I know we are! As part of our goal in giving our customers the best possible information needed in order to make the most informed choice for the gear they truly need, we like to take a closer look time and time again at several of our most popular products. Earlier last week, we took a look at the differences between a Mexican made Fender and the American made variety. Although the American version is pretty much superior to the Mexican made one in terms of features and build quality, we found out that the Mexican variation is no slouch that more than makes a healthy alternative at about half the price of its homespun counterpart. Yesterday, we here at ProAudioLand took a moment to take a closer look at the Fender Jaguar – a very capable guitar indeed that although failed to make a splash during its initial 1962-1975 run, made a huge resurgence when it became the guitar of choice during the mid-seventies and mid-eighties boom of the punk rock and alternative new wave scenes.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at another one of Fender’s other guitars (i.e.: not a Stratocaster or Telecaster). No, I’m not talking the Fender Jazzmaster here (such as this very nice FENDER American Vintage 62 Jazzmaster Electric Guitar) I’m talking about the equally ethereal – as far as mainstream popularity goes – Fender Mustang Electric! Yes, a very nice guitar model that shares a lot of history with the aforementioned Jaguar such as its initial popularity as a surf rock guitar and its rebirth through the alternative music scenes. It’s a pretty interesting history actually, so let’s take a quick look before plunging into the specifics of the modern iteration of this bad boy.
The History of the Fender Mustang
The Mustang electric guitar first hit the market in 1964 when it was originally meant as an advanced student guitar and the direct upgrade to both the entry level Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic student model guitars. Although it featured better specs, an original Leo Fender-designed tremolo arm and a slight offset waist a la the Jazzmaster guitar, it still took most of its overall design and style queues from the two student models (interestingly enough, when the redesigned versions of the two original models came out – the Musicmaster II and the Duo-Sonic II – they both adopted the slightly different body style of the Mustang). When first released, the Mustang came in two flavors; a 21 fret 22.5-inch (or 3/4 scale) neck model and a 22 fret 24-inch neck model but the 24-inch version was overwhelmingly more popular and 3/4 scale variety is now ever rarely seen. For comparison, even in its longer 24-inch variation the Mustang was (and still is) a full inch and a half shorter than the Stratocaster, three-quarters of an inch shorter than the Gibson Les Paul and the exact same as the Jaguar. This shorter scale neck made it much easier for small handed players such as students and along with the tremolo arm, made it much easier for them to pull of bends and slides.
Although it was originally marketed as a student level guitar, the Mustang owed its original success to its very economical price and the ease at which it could be modified and upgraded – most notably pickup changes and amateur finishes. Its wiring with the original pickups also led itself to custom mods. Unfortunately, by 1982, Fender decided to cease production of its student guitars altogether and with it, the Fender Mustang. To fill the void, they introduced new “entry-level” models dubbed the Fender Bullet line of guitars and basses but that too was canned. Nowadays, Fender simply lets their Squier division handle the student and entry level guitars. Anyways, although the mustang was discontinued in 1982, it made a big comeback in the late ‘80s as a cult classic with alternative and indie guitarists who not only liked its rare appeal and short scale length, but also its extremely direct tremolo arm as well – not to mention it’s comparatively cheaper price but similar build quality to that of a vintage Stratocaster or Telecaster. This led Fender to reissue the brand in 1990 in order to cash in on the vintage appeal of the guitar, much like they did with several other of their discontinued models that experienced the same cult appeal (such as the Duo-Sonic, Jazzmaster and Jaguar).
Today, the Mustang Electric lives on through not only its vintage American reissue but with two Japanese models (reissues of the ’65, '72 and ’77 models), a version within Fender’s Pawn Shop Series known as the Mustang Special and most recently, a Kurt Cobain signature model released in 2012. Alright, now let’s take a closer look at these alternative axes.
A Closer Look at the Fender Mustang
Small and fast—like a sports car! Fender is proud to reissue the ’65 Mustang guitar (1965 was the first full year of Mustang production). Originally designed as a “student model,” the Mustang was nonetheless destined for greatness, and has been seen slung over the shoulders of great players such as David Byrne, John Frusciante, Kurt Cobain, Todd Rundgren, Graham Coxon and Adrian Belew, to name but a few.
This reissue comes in great vintage colors (Daphne Blue, Olympic White and Dakota Red) with highly period-correct detailing. Features include a poplar body, C-shaped maple neck with 22-fret rosewood fingerboard, four-ply pickguard with classic control plate and pickguard gap, chrome hardware, Fender/Gotoh® vintage-style tuning machines with white buttons, floating bridge with “Dynamic” vibrato tailpiece, two Mustang single-coil pickups with on/off slider switch and in/out phase switch for each pickup, “F”-stamped neck plate and vintage correct headstock and bridge plate logos. A classic revived, and a real beauty at that!
The new Pawn Shop Series guitars draw inspiration from the eccentric and sometimes wildly innovative Fender creations of the mid-'60s and mid-’70s era that sometimes found their way to the outside world and into the more esoteric pages of Fender history. With this adventurous spirit in mind, Pawn Shop Series instruments emerge as all-new Fender guitars with a boldly creative alchemy of diverse Fender components. And while they are brand-new members of the Fender family crafted with thoroughly modern sound and quality, Pawn Shop Series instruments now take the stage with a remarkable new identity as "guitars that never were but should have been."
The Pawn Shop Mustang Special has a modified offset Mustang® body, ’60s “C”-shaped 24” short-scale maple neck, and dual Fender Enforcer™ humbucking pickups with ’70s-style covers and unique switching. Other features include a rosewood fretboard with modern 9.5” radius and medium jumbo frets, pickup toggle switch, three-way coil selector slide switch for each humbucking pickup (enabling 18 different tonal options), mint green pickguard, ’70s-style hard-tail Stratocaster® bridge, vintage-style tuners and strap buttons, and deluxe gig bag.
Kurt Cobain liked Mustangs a lot. For one, he preferred offbeat guitars that didn’t cost zillions of dollars, and the Mustang certainly fit those two criteria. Also, being somewhat physically diminutive himself, he liked to perform live with slightly more diminutive guitars, like Fender Mustangs and Jaguars, which better fit his hands and his reach.
See for yourself-go back and watch the famous 1991 video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and there he is and there it is slung over his shoulder. Or think back to when you saw them on the ’93-’94 In Utero tour, when he seldom went onstage with anything but a Mustang. Quite often and especially later on, Mustangs were a big part of what Kurt Cobain was all about, musically.
Inspired by his arsenal of modded guitars, the new Fender Kurt Cobain Mustang takes you back there, with highly distinctive features including an angled single-coil Mustang neck pickup and ferocious Seymour Duncan JB humbucking bridge pickup mounted directly to the body, dual on-off/phase in-out switches for each pickup, a polyester-finished alder body and an Adjusto-Matic bridge with dynamic vibrato tailpiece.
Other features include the classic 24” Mustang scale length, C-shaped maple neck with urethane finish, 7.25”-radius rosewood fingerboard with 22 vintage-style frets and vintage-style ivory dot inlays, four-ply pickguard (Aged White Pearl on Fiesta Red and Dark Lake Placid Blue with stripe models; Tortoiseshell on Sonic Blue model), master volume and tone controls, vintage-style tuners, and chrome hardware. Finish options include Fiesta red, Sonic Blue and Dark Lake Placid Blue with stripe. Available in right- and left-handed models.