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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 of 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.