When you think of Fender electrics, there are plenty of heavy hitters that you simply can’t ignore. On the bass front, we have the Fender Jazz and the Precision Bass that both offer unique tones and features that have won over plenty of back beat brothers throughout the history of rock – we actually compared the two last week in order to help those stuck between the two so make sure you check that out for some interesting facts. When it comes to electric guitars – hands down – it starts and ends with the Telecaster and Stratocaster but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t several more outstanding six-strings brought to us by Fender over the years. The long gone Fender Bronco for example is now a highly collectible – if still entry ‘student’ level – guitar that has plenty of diehard fans such as Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner or the very similar Mustang (such as this particularly beautiful Fender 65 Mustang Daphne Blue Rosewood Electric Guitar) that is still to this day running strong.
Today, we’re going to take a look at another one of Fender’s overshadowed electrics that definitely deserves some attention. I’m talking of course about the Fender Jaguar. More specifically, today we’ll be taking a look at the very capable – and better yet, very affordable – Fender Blacktop Jaguar HH Electric Guitar. But before we get into the specifics of that particular model, let’s take a look and the history behind the Fender Jaguar.
The History of the Fender Jaguar
The history of the Jaguar electric begins way back in 1962 when it was introduced as Fender’s answer to the growing popularity of Gibson electric guitars. Although it was intended as a feature-heavy top-of-the-line guitar, it never really caught on beyond that of the surf music scene – probably because Fender purposefully featured plenty of beach-centric Jaguar ads with classic beach babes and the like – and didn’t even compare to the success seen with the Telecaster or Stratocaster. Fender tried desperately to change the tied on the Jaguar’s fate by introducing several upgrades throughout the ‘60s. Custom finishes, a bound neck, pearloid block inlays and even a maple fingerboard with black binding were not enough to keep the Jaguar from being discontinued in December of 1975 after only a thirteen-year production run.
In comes punk rock with their contrarian attitude towards the norms of the rock scene – including the gear they chose. Much like the trend-bucking, social-norm hating hipsters of today, if it was mainstream, it wasn’t punk, and if it wasn’t punk, you weren’t punk; good news for the Jaguar was that by the mid-seventies, it was very much not in – making it very punk. But better yet, they were now much cheaper than a Stratocaster or Telecaster (originally, the Jaguar was priced much higher than both). Fueled by the likes of New Wave guitarist Tom Verlaine of Television (great band by the way that doesn’t get enough credit for punk rock, most likely because they were a part of the original seventies-based wave of the genre and not the more known ‘80s variant) as well as several others, the Jaguar quickly became just as much an anti-style statement as it was a great economic choice over guitars of similar quality – pretty much a win-win for the forgotten guitar.
By the ‘90s – with major help from several well-known guitarists such as Kurt Cobain, Black Francis, and John Frusciante who employed them at the time – the Jaguar pretty much exploded in popularity, leading Fender to reintroduce the ‘62 model as part of their Vintage American brand back in 1990. Another reason why the Jaguar became so popular in the independent music scene was all of the sound possibilities offered specifically by its unique bridge construction. The bridge and tremolo of the Jaguar can create sympathetic resonance due to the fact that there is a considerable length of string between the bridge and the tailpiece. Also, when the strings are strummed behind the bridge, a characteristic chiming sound is created which was exploited heavily by artists such as Sonic Youth.
Definitely Not the Same Beast
Alright, so now that you know about the history of the Jaguar, you can throw that all out the window as this Blacktop HH model is definitely its own guitar. Gone are the intricate knobs and settings and in comes a stripped down version that I’m sure all of the usual Jaguar greats – such as Cobain or Johnny Marr – would not even recognize. That floating vibrato system with the long arm is gone too. But hey, don’t take that as a strictly bad thing. Even the most ardent classic Jaguar fan will admit that the original version was notoriously confusing with all those switches and rollers and had to be set up just right in order to avoid the guitar’s penchant for some very annoying – and well documented – humming and buzzing noises. And unlike the three single-coil configuration of the original Jaguar, the new Blacktop HH model comes with two over-wound (hot) Alnico humbucking pickups exactly like those employed by the HH version of the Strat and Tele.
Although it’s true that a lot of the unique charm of the original Jaguar is missing from the Blacktop edition, the streamlined controls and tune-o-matic bridge and tail piece arrangement makes plenty of sense for contemporary rock players which Fender is clearly aiming for. Classic Jaguar fans should be happy to hear that the original’s 24 inch fretboard is still found on the Blacktop but added are 22 medium jumbo frets and a 241mm fingerboard radius, essentially making this Jaguar the most playable one yet – as opposed to the 184mm fingerboard radius and thin frets of the vintage model.
The first thing you’ll notice once you plug this guitar in is that it has a darker tone than that of a Stratocaster or Telecaster. It sounds good clean on all three different pickup settings but the guitar doesn’t really start kicking some teeth until you give it a bit of overdrive. The sustain on the thing is actually fantastic, even way above the 12th fret which can’t be said about the original. Although it seemed at first like this Blacktop Jaguar HH was a mistake waiting to happen, it actually comes in as a very solid guitar. Manufactured in Ensenada, Mexico, this Blacktop actually boasts great build quality, playability and tone – all at a fantastic price!
Although fans of the original Jaguar looking for more of the same should look elsewhere, those of you out there in the market for a solid dependable guitar with plenty of tonal variations at a great price should definitely check this out.
... And just in case you do want something a lot more like the original, check out this FENDER 50th Anniversary Jaguar Guitar in Burgundy Mist Metallic.
The Specs of the Fender Blacktop Jaguar HH Electric
Overview: Sleek and supercharged, the Blacktop Jaguar HH has dual over-wound alnico humbucking pickups, with other distinctive touches including skirted black amp knobs, a slinky 24” scale, Adjusto-Matic™ bridge with stop tailpiece and a lean control layout featuring a tonally convenient single three-way toggle switch. Other features include an alder body, maple neck with 9.5”-radius rosewood fretboard, 22 medium jumbo frets, gloss polyester finish and chrome hardware.
Body shape: Jaguar
Body material: alder
Neck finish: gloss urethane
Position inlays: white dots
String nut: synthetic bone
Bridge pickup: Hot Vintage alnico humbucking pickup with nickel cover
Neck pickup: Hot Vintage alnico humbucking pickup with nickel cover
Pickup switching: 3-Position toggle:
- Position 1. Full bridge pickup
- Position 2. Full neck & bridge pickups
- Position 3. Full neck pickup
Controls: Volume, tone 1 (neck pickup), tone 2 (bridge)
Tuning keys: standard cast/sealed tuning machines
Bridge: Adjusto-Matic with Anchored Tail Piece
Strap buttons: vintage style
Control knobs: skirted amp knobs
Pickguard: 3-ply black Strings: Super 250L's, NPS (.009-.042 gauges)
Included accessories: truss rod adjustment wrench