Pawn Shop Mustang Special
Billed for much of its life as a student
model, the 24"-scale Mustang—which
debuted in 1964 as an evolution of the
Musicmaster and Duo Sonic—never got a
whole lot of respect from Strat and Tele devotees.
But, over the years, it’s found its own
league of admirers: Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain
and Mudhoney’s Steve Turner used ’Stangs
to thrash out the garagier side of the Seattle
sound, Adrian Belew probed the outer limits
with a radically modified version, and Sonic
Youth’s Lee Ranaldo used a Mustang stuffed
with a humbucker to generate some of the
howling sounds and classic cuts from the
band’s late-’80s and early-’90s catalog.
Of those legendary ’Stangs, the Pawn Shop
Series Mustang Special is probably most akin
to Ranaldo’s modded ’69 model. Perhaps not
coincidentally, it’s packed with two Thinline
Tele-style humbuckers that, to date, have only
appeared in Ranaldo’s signature Jazzmaster.
The two handsomely gleaming, chromecovered
pickups are the most overt deviation
from traditional Mustang design. And, in
Candy Apple Red or Lake Placid Blue, the
guitars are a perfect study in Fender’s knack
for balancing flash with design simplicity.
What really sets the Mustang Special
apart are the myriad pickup-switching
options available via what look like standard
Mustang slider switches above each
pickup. The switches split each pickup to
either the bass or treble side, depending
on which side of center you set the switch.
In the center position, it’s all humbucker.
Unlike standard Mustangs, there’s a 3-position
pickup selector on the lower horn that
enables you to switch between pickups or
select both. All this adds up to a ton
tone-shaping capabilities before you ever
touch a pedal or adjust your amp. And
that’s a treat when you have pickups as nice
as these to begin with.
In humbucking mode, the neck pickup
is beautifully round and rich—responsive to
tweaks of the Volume and Tone knobs, and
exceptionally detailed and sensitive to overtones
in open tunings. The split-coil voices
are equally rich, but a little more focused and
with slightly decreased output. The bridge
pickup is more of the same—highly sensitive
to harmonic detail—but with a killer, biting
range of tones that can range from spiky to
spacious or funky, depending on how you set
the Volume and Tone knobs.
While not all players will be cut out for
the Mustang Special’s short 24" scale, there
can be no argument about how good this
guitar feels: The neck is slightly wider and
flatter than a ’60s C profile, but it’s still
quite slick and fast. And the combination
of the short scale and medium-jumbo frets
makes bends positively effortless.
The Pawn Shop Series is a fun and enormously
capable set of guitars. It’s hard to
imagine classic rockers not finding a sound
to love every time they plug in a ’51 or ’72,
and the far-ranging, jack-of-all-trades versatility
and sonic richness of the Mustang Special
will stun those who have never taken this
little Fender seriously. With street prices of
$799, they’re a good value, too. Though players
who are addicted to Tone-knob adjustments
may not be inclined toward the ’51
or ’72, those who like their tone wide open
would be hard pressed to find better axes for
sharp, bluesy hard rock and Southern rock.
Meanwhile, the Mustang Special has such an
expansive tone range and plays so smoothly
that it’s easy to imagine it in the hands of
sonic texturalists, roots- and stoner-rock
players, and blues specialists alike.
It’s always to cool to be reminded
what beautiful blank slates Fender’s classic
designs are. And with the Pawn Shop
Series, Fender has used those platforms for
guitars that are full of twists, surprises, personality,
and possibilities. Given what we’ve
heard here, it’s a concept we hope Fender
continues to explore.
switching pickup voices is your key to tone variation.
you can’t abide short-scale guitars.