Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mustang or Jaguar?

The answer to this question is of course “both,” but for those of you who are thinking about acquiring one of these less-common Fender guitars, here are some thoughts on the differences between the Jaguar and Mustang.

I currently own both a Jaguar and a Mustang. The Jaguar is a CIJ q-series (circa 2002-2004) which I bought used. I have made major modifications to the guitar, upgrading everything except the tuners and the wood to AVRI parts. This includes a Mustang bridge which, in my opinion, offers better tuning stability and playability. I also made modifications to the wiring to allow both phase and series-parallel switching. This wiring mod is outlined here. The rhythm circuit is stock.

The Mustang is a more recent CIJ s-series (circa 2006-2007) which I bought new. The guitar is essentially stock except for modifications to the wiring to allow series-parallel switching in addition to phase switching. This wiring mod is outlined here.


The Jaguar was introduced as Fender’s top-of-the-line model when production began in 1962. It was priced at $379.50 compared to the Jazzmaster at $349.50, the Stratocaster at $259.50, and the Telecaster at $209.50. The Mustang was intended as a student guitar when production began in 1964. It was priced at $189.50 compared to the Telecaster at $209.50, the Esquire at $169.50, and the Duo Sonic II at $159.50. With inflation the Jaguar would cost $2704.93 in 2010 dollars and the Mustang would cost $1350.68 in 2010 dollars. The Jaguar was designed for professionals and the Mustang for students who, Fender imagined, would eventually upgrade to a professional guitar. The student range of Fender guitars included the single-pickup Musicmaster II, dual-pickup Duo-Sonic II and the Mustang which was essentially a Duo-Sonic with a tremolo. Of course Fender’s marketing, especially for the Jaguar, was wishful thinking. Except for surf music in the early 1960s, the Jaguar and the Jazzmaster were largely ignored in favor of the more popular, and arguably more playable, Telecaster and Stratocaster. The Mustang was hugely successful as a student guitar, but as such was not generally regarded as a professional guitar. By the 1970s the Jaguar and Mustang (and Jazzmaster) had fallen out of favor and were neglected by Fender as corporate-minded CBS focused on the better-selling Stratocaster and Telecaster. By the late 1970s guitarists intent on subverting mainstream rock used Jaguars, Jazzmasters and Mustangs both because used models were less expensive than Stratocasters and Telecasters and because they were offbeat, quirky guitars that fit the aesthetics of alternative music. By the 1980s the Jazzmaster, Jaguar, and Mustang were taken out of production. In the late 1990s Fender USA reissued the Jaguar and Jazzmaster. All three guitars are currently available, being produced in the U.S., Mexico, and Japan, as well as other Asian factories under the Squier brand.


The Jaguar and Mustang have almost identical necks: 24” scale, 7.25” fingerboard radius, 22 frets, thin vintage-style fret wire, and a vintage “C” shape, vintage-style tuners, and in the case of Japanese-produced guitars, poly finishes. The ’65 reissue Mustang has a slab-style rosewood fingerboard while the Jaguar has a veneer cap fingerboard. There is very little difference between the two necks and I doubt I would be able to tell the difference if I swapped them.


Both the Jaguar and the Mustang bodies have offset waists, although the offset is more pronounced on the Jaguar. The offset waists make the guitar more balanced when playing the guitar seated. Both guitars tend to tip neck up when seated, unlike a Stratocaster. The Mustang body is thin, measuring 1-1/2” while the Jaguar is 1-5/8”, like the Jazzmaster, Stratocaster and Telecaster. The difference is notable. The Mustang feels lighter and smaller in all dimensions. The Jaguar body is made of alder, the Mustang poplar. I don’t know if this makes much difference with regard to tone. The Mustang is much lighter. Both bodies are finished in poly, although the finish on the Mustang seems thinner than the Jaguar. An important difference between the guitars is that the Jaguar has contours for the forearm and body like the Stratocaster, while the ’65 Mustang has a slab body like the Telecaster. Fender added contours to the Mustang by the late 1960s. As a result of the body contours the Jaguar is more comfortable to play. While the necks are the same length, the Jaguar seems well balanced while the Mustang seems smaller and a bit cramped, although it is certainly not uncomfortable. Because both guitars are designed around a tailpiece/tremolo that is separate from the bridge, there is a significant amount of body behind the bridge compared to a Stratocaster or Telecaster. As a result the Mustang and Jaguar bodies seem large in comparison.


The Mustang has a master volume and master tone in addition to two DP3T switches for each pickup (on-off-on). The switches are located above the low E string which takes some getting used to. Another quirk is that the sliders operate parallel to the body. If both switches are in the on position in the same direction they are wired in-phase, if they are on in opposite directions they are wired out-of-phase. This produces a thinner sound compared to in-phase wiring. This is the only Fender guitar to have this as a stock wiring option.

The Jaguar has two separate circuits, lead and rhythm. The lead circuit consists of a master volume and master tone, a DPDT switch (on-off) for each pickup and the so-called “strangle-switch,” which adds a capacitor that functions as a high-pass filter. All three lead circuit switches are located on the lower bout. The rhythm circuit, activated via a DPDT switch on the upper bout, selects the neck pickup wired to a master volume and master tone which produces a darker tone and which allows the player to have a preset for the neck pickup. It seems complicated, but it really isn’t.


The Jaguar (and Jazzmaster which used the same design) and Mustang trems and bridges have gotten a bad rap mostly because they are less common and little more difficult to set up than a standard Stratocaster trem. It also seems that there are few shops that can do this correctly. Players unfamiliar with either trem also have unrealistic expectations about what they can do. These are not the equivalent of a Stratocaster trem much less a Floyd Rose. If you want to dive bomb you are going to be disappointed. I have a primer on setting up the Mustang trem here. There are similar sites for the Jaguar trem. Both operate on the principle of a bridge that floats in thimbles and a trem arm connected to a tailpiece which, balanced by a spring, lowers or raises tension on the strings. Either system set up well will not go out of tune. While many forums suggest the contrary, these trems do not require heavy gauge strings to function properly. All my guitars are set up with .010s.

The Jaguar trem is best for light vibrato (think surf music or rockabilly). However, the Mustang trem can be setup with heavy spring resistance to drop the strings a full major fourth and return to pitch in tune. In fact, I’ve heard the Mustang trem described as the Floyd Rose of the 1960s which is not much of an exaggeration.

The Jaguar trem has a longer string distance between the bridge and the tailpiece and a shallower break angle which some players argue creates less downward string tension on the bridge and thus results in strings jumping out of the saddle grooves more easily. The Mustang saddle pieces have only one deeper groove rather than the threaded steel and multiple grooves of the Jaguar saddle pieces. I think the Mustang bridge is an improvement over the Jaguar bridge and have installed a Mustang bridge on my Jaguar. Certainly Leo Fender conceived of his guitars as a continual progression in terms of design and the Mustang bridge was likely a response to problems with the Jazzmaster/Jaguar bridge. Some players opt to install a buzz stop to increase the break angle on the Jaguar bridge or a Mastery bridge to improve tuning stability and sustain.

One other advantage of the Jaguar tailpiece is that the strings are fed in from the rear of the tailpiece straight over the bridge while Mustang tailpiece/stop bar the strings are fed from the bridge side and loop under the tailpiece/stop bar before being fed over the bridge. The Jaguar tailpiece is simpler and quicker for restringing, and it allows you to use heavier string gauges without needing a 180 degree loop. On the Jaguar I have used a .050 and .060 as the lower two strings and tuned them a full octave below standard guitar tuning. The strings did not have to be bent and could be removed and reused easily.

Finally, adjusting the Jaguar trem is much easier than the Mustang trem. The adjustments for the Jaguar trem are a screw for spring tension and the sliding button for the string lock, both easily accessible from the face of the trem plate. The Mustang trem requires and Allen key to adjust the height of the stop bar and you need to remove the trem plate completely to adjust the spring tension to fit your playing style. Of course once you have it setup you don’t need to do this often, but it is more work to make adjustments.


I have heard stock Jaguar pickups described as being very similar to Stratocaster pickups. This seems like a fair comparison, especially of the neck pickup. However the bridge pickup is noticeably weaker than a comparable Stratocaster pickup. I believe that this has a lot to do with the fact that the Jaguar bridge pickup is not angled whereas the Mustang (and Stratocaster and Telecaster) bridge pickup is angled. I think this results in less bottom end when using the bridge pickup alone on the Jaguar. Jaguar pickups also have the a metal “claw” that surrounds the pickup and, depending on who you believe, either concentrates the magnetic field under the strings or further reduces hum. I think the former is more likely. The stock wiring on the Jaguar includes 1meg pots which produces a more treble. I have experimented with 250k and 500k pots which produce a mellower tone, but have gone back to the stock 1meg pots.

(If only all Jaguars had angled bridge pickups!)

The pickups on the ’65 Mustang are lower output compared to the Jaguar and vintage Stratocaster pickups, but they sound great. There is a lot of snap and clarity with both the neck and bridge pickups. For a while I replaced the stock Mustang pickups with Fender Lace sensors but I realized how sterile they sounded and reinstalled the stock pickups. The volume and tone pots are both 250k. Both the neck and bridge pickups are angled in the Mustang and the pickup covers are solid, thus hiding the pole pieces.

Both Jaguar and Mustang pickups are reverse polarity/reverse wound so that when they are used together they act as a humbucker. This is true if they are wired in parallel or series.


In my opinion the Jaguar is a much more comfortable guitar to play than the Mustang. With body contours and better overall balance it is comfortable both sitting and standing. On the other hand, with its thinner poplar body the Mustang is much lighter than the Jaguar. With regard to playability, I find that the Mustang feels more cramped than the Jaguar. The Mustang tailpiece/stop bar is higher than the bridge and does not allow you to rest your palm on the body of the guitar. The switches are also located awkwardly above the strings. The trem arm can be too high if set up the trem with high spring tension. The Jaguar feels more thought out and comfortable. The switches are well located. Despite its 24” scale length, it feels like a big guitar and there is plenty of room for different hand positions.


Again this is subjective. I would describe the Jaguar’s tone as smooth and the Mustang’s tone as raw. I prefer the sound of the Mustang pickups. I think that because the Jaguar has been used primarily by alternative players since the 1970s, people have the impression that it produces a tone appropriate to alternative music, but I don’t think this is the case. Leo Fender designed the guitar as the flagship of the Fender line in 1962. Think maybe jazz or surf music. The Jaguar is a Cadillac, both in style and in tone. The Mustang on the other hand was a student guitar. It is simpler, cheaper and raw. It has significantly more twang than the Jaguar. Mustang pickups, while lower output, sound more alive than the Jaguar's.


The modifications I have made to my Jaguar and Mustang are mostly limited to wiring and pickups, but here are a few observations. The Mustang pickup cavities (and pickups) are shaped like Stratocaster pickups. This allows you to put in just about any single coil pickup without additional body routing. The Jaguar, by contrast, has pickup cavities that are approximately the size of the pickup covers and thus you cannot use Stratocaster pickups without modding either the pickups or the body. Lace sensors would fit, although I haven't tried this. The Jaguar controls includes four pots and four DPDT switches which allows for almost endless wiring mods, including putting in a powered preamp or even an effect in the various body cavities. That said the DP3T switches in the Mustang can be rewired to allow both phase switching and series/parallel switching without adding and additional switch.


After playing both guitars regularly for a few years I would say that I prefer the feel of the Jaguar and the tone of the Mustang.


  1. Nice and very informative reading, did some studiowork with a jag recently, never played one before, quite an experience - might buy one someday, thank you for your in-depth review;-)

  2. This includes a Mustang bridge which, in my opinion, offers better tuning stability ...

  3. Very interesting, thanks ! I prefer also the sound of the mustang, more alive !