Well-made body and neck. Cool shimmery tones. Expanded tonal range via coil-tap humbucker.
Strings can pop out of saddles. Rough fret ends.
Fender recently nixed its long-running Standard Series of Mexican-made guitars. Replacing it is the new Player Series, also made in Mexico. This updated Jaguar is the first Player Series model we’ve reviewed. It maintains many vintage features, including the much-loved/much-hated vibrato design and the quirky metal cage surrounding the neck pickup. Perhaps most significantly, it maintains the original model’s 24" fretboard scale.
The key deviations from vintage are a bridge-position humbucker, redesigned bridge saddles, a flatter neck radius (9.5", not 7.25"), and hotter-than-vintage pickups. The original Jaguar’s complex wiring scheme is replaced by a single set of volume and tone controls and a Telecaster-style 3-way selector switch. Also, an upper-bout switch, situated where the original Jaguar’s “rhythm circuit” once lived, taps one humbucker coil for single-coil bridge tones.
¡Viva los Fenders Mexicanos!
I’m a longtime fan of made-in-Mexico Fenders—especially their necks and bodies. This Jag’s alder body has a classy two-color ’burst finish that looks sharp against the chrome tailpiece assembly and control cavity cover, and a 3-ply black pickguard that, in a deviation from the original design, extends over the upper horn, Jazzmaster style.
The neck has a super-smooth matte urethane finish. It’s been redesigned for modern tastes, with that flatter radius, a thinner C shape, and fatter medium-jumbo frets. As on all Player Series models, the fretboard is eco-friendly pau ferro. The neck/body joint is nice and tight—more so than on many higher-priced guitars.
The guitar arrived well intonated. However, the initial action was far too high for most players. That was easily fixable. Less easily fixable are the rough fret ends. Running a digit along either edge of the fretboard is not a pleasant experience. (Though the frets’ playing surfaces feel fine.) You shouldn’t expect the immaculately smooth fret ends of a high-end guitar in this price range. Still, this Jag would have benefitted from a bit more workbench love before shipping.
Bridge of Size
The trem touch is true to the original. It’s not built for dive bombs—it’s closer to a Bigsby’s response. But it’s lovely for understated tremolo and woozy, shoegazer pitch wobbling.
The redesigned bridge saddles help maintain tuning while working the trem. The originals had threaded surfaces, like large screws laid on their sides. Now there’s a single smooth slot per saddle, so strings are less likely to go sharp after being snagged. However, the new saddles don’t solve the perennial Jazzmaster/Jag problem of strings popping out of the saddles. Under my hands, at least, strings often slipped out of position. Well, at least it’s vintage-correct behavior.
When Fender revisited the Jag a few years ago for the pricier Classic Player model, they moved the tailpiece closer to the bridge, providing a sharper break angle against the saddles for less string-slippage. But to some extent, that compromised one of the Jag’s most beloved features: the ability to pluck the substantial length of string behind the bridge for bell-like tones. Here, the distance is restored, and this Jag excels at those cool clinks and clanks.
Obviously, the Jag’s short scale is great for shorter/smaller guitarists. (Like, say, Kurt Cobain.) To some extent, that means scaled-down sounds as well. Not bad sounds—some of my favorite bands ever were Jag-intensive. But there’s less authoritative snap than on a long-scale Fender, and the note fundamentals aren’t as prominent. (This isn’t criticism. It’s … Jaguar, man.)
Jags sometimes sound a bit rinky-dink to me. That is, until I record one and realize how cool its voice is. While recording the demo clips, I was thinking, “I get it, but not for me.” But when I listened back, I heard sounds from some of my favorite surf and ’90s indie tracks. These tones are lean in the low end, but graced with complex, shimmery overtones. I expected to dislike the hotter-than-vintage pickups, but I never even thought about them after plugging in. I even dug the humbucker, which basically sounds like a fatter, louder version of the single-coil bridge tone. Both combined-pickup settings (with neck in humbucker or split mode) are attractive.
Fender’s latest Jaguar is a savvy blend of vintage and modern. The tones have vintage Jag flavor, but they’re louder and brighter. (I bet many guitarists would choose this Jag over an original in a blind listening test.) The build is solid, but the factory setup and unsmoothed fret ends are literal rough spots. The Player Series Jaguar’s reasonable price makes it a good choice for guitarists who want budget-conscious offset tones. It could also be a good fit for players of smaller stature stepping up to their first quality instrument.
Watch the First Look: