Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar$399 street, squierguitars.com
As has been my experience with the whole of Squier’s Vintage Modified line, the Jaguar offers serious bang for the buck. I really can’t say enough about the consistency of this series. I’ve owned and worked on several, and overall I’ve been really impressed with the fundamental aspects—the neck shapes, the average weight, and the fit and finish—of each.
The one thing I’ll concede often isn’t great on floor (or online-purchased) models of Leo Fender’s unique Jaguar design (as well as the similarly equipped Jazzmaster) is the setup. This holds true for the Squier VM we’ve got here. Straight out of the box, all the familiar complaints you hear about “offset” guitars (a nickname for instruments with asymmetrical inner body curves like those on the Jag and Jazzmaster) were realized, from loose, rattling bridge saddles to poor tuning stability. This is because Jazzmaster/Jaguar hardware and construction peculiarities are often misunderstood by the average player and shop setup person. Optimizing Jaguar and Jazzmaster performance requires specialized knowledge that can seem foreign to players used to Stratocaster-, Telecaster-, or Les Paul-style instruments. Thankfully, the retailer’s setup oversights and shortcomings can be corrected by following the Jazzmaster/Jaguar setup techniques I outlined in PG’s May 2017 issue.
I’ll be focusing on two major areas in our Jag mods: electronics and hardware. We’ll be upgrading the bridge, vibrato, pickups, and lead-circuit electronics, but we’ll leave the less-used rhythm circuit (the panel on the upper, bass-side bout of the guitar) alone. There’s no reason to change out the tuners, as they’re sturdy and reliable as-is.
If you’re enough of a Jaguar or Jazzmaster nerd to have tried installing a U.S.-made Jag/JM vibrato on Fender’s Japanese-made versions of either model, you very likely had to do some extra routing to make it fit. Luckily that’s not the case with these Indonesian-made Squiers. I suspect they’re using U.S. templates, because the American Vintage reissue vibrato fits perfectly without any extra finagling. Even Fender American Vintage pickguards line up, just in case you feel like adding a more minty or parchment-y vibe to your Jag. I’m just in awe of how right they got all this!
Photo 8 — Squier’s Vintage Modified Jaguar is a modder’s dream—the factory routes and screw holes allow easy, drop-in replacement of the most common components that offset fans like to upgrade.
Another bit of good news: The Jag’s control-cavity routes were more than ample to fit full-size U.S.-made potentiometers. That said, the pot holes in the lead-circuit body plate (the control section nearest to the vibrato) did need to be drilled out in order to go from mini pots to the larger shafts in full-size ones. As for the switches, I often recommend upgrading them, but these ones felt solid enough.
Photo 9 — The Jag’s lead-circuit control panel after widening the pot holes and installing U.S.-made 1M potentiometers and a Mallory .01 μF capacitor on the tone pot.
Instead of completely rewiring the guitar, I built a harness for the lead circuit (the two treble-side panels, one of which houses three sliders, and the other of which has standard-sized volume and tone knobs) using solid-core, vintage-style cloth wire, Emerson 1M pots, a Mallory .01 µF capacitor, and a 56k carbon-comp resistor for the “strangle” function (a bass-reduction function engaged by the treble-side slider closest to the bridge pickup). I paired the wired-up harness (Photo 9) with Fender’s fantastic Pure Vintage ’65 Jaguar pickups, which are nice and deep on the low end, and bright but not tinny on the highs.
As I mentioned before, we’ve tossed the VM’s original vibrato in favor of a Fender American Vintage unit, which offers a serious upgrade in performance, thanks to more consistent manufacturing. While I have a personal preference for the playing response of actual vintage Fender Jag/JM vibratos, as well as Mastery Bridge’s JM-style vibratos, I’ve happily installed these American Vintage units for many a budget-minded musician without reservation.
Photo 10 — With the new U.K.-made Staytrem bridge and Fender American Vintage vibrato installed, the Squier is starting to look more and more like an offset obsessive’s dream.
To remedy the Jaguar’s usual loose/buzzy/unstable saddle situation, I’ve installed a Staytrem—a popular upgrade for offset obsessives (Photo 10). Made in the U.K. out of solid stainless steel, the Staytrem is a more robust Mustang-style bridge that aims to retain the feel and sound of Leo Fender’s original Jag/JM design while also featuring deep grooves in its fixed-radius saddles to prevent strings from slipping out of place under aggressive attack—a common Jag/JM problem.
Once the new hardware was in place, I restrung the Jag with .011–.048 strings, since many enthusiasts find heavier strings to be a better option for the guitar’s shorter 24" scale. I also took some time to appropriately shim the neck to assure adequate clearance and comfortable playing action with the new bridge (see the aforementioned Jazzmaster/Jaguar setup piece for more detail on this).
Photo 11 — Because we’ve increased the Jag’s string gauge from the stock .009 set to an .011 set, filing the nut slots to match the new set’s gauge is imperative for both comfortable action and tuning stability.
Because Jaguars come from the factory with .009-gauge strings, it’s imperative that the nut slots be dressed to match the thicker gauge. Nut slots that are too small or poorly cut will grip the string, causing tuning problems—especially on a vibrato-equipped instrument. You can easily widen nut slots yourself, provided you have access to a decent set of files. I’ve been using the same Stew Mac files for years, but any gauged file with a rounded bottom will do just fine (Photo 11). After opening up the nut, the strings glide smoothly and stay in tune perfectly.
Note: When filing nut slots, remember to keep the file angled slightly down toward the headstock, so the highest point of the slot remains on the edge of the nut that’s closest to the fretboard. To avoid “sitar buzz,” the slot must guide the string down toward the string post.
When all was said and done, I was blown away by how the Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar came alive. Besides having all the usual offset kinks worked out, it’s got newfound brightness and depth on tap, as well as a wiry, tough, taut feel availed by heavier strings that are more reliably channeled and anchored by the Staytrem bridge and smoother-performing vibrato. I’d gladly take it onstage with me—that I can say for sure.