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What’s the Difference?
Both the Jaguar and Jazzmaster have many similarities, so when it comes to which one you’d choose, it can be quite tricky to decide. So let’s point out what sets them apart:
|Number of Frets
||Bright Sounding Metal Shielded Narrow Single-Coils
||Warm Sounding Wide Jazzmaster Single-Coils
||Rhythm/Lead Circuit & Individual Toggle Switches for Pickups and Bass-Cut “Strangle” Switch
Rhythm/Lead Circuit & 3-Way Switch
The Jazzmaster has the typical Fender scale length of 25.5”, the same as the Strat and Tele. This scale length will feel instantly familiar to anyone who has played a Fender guitar. There is fast attack and a certain snap you get from this scale length that is absent in shorter scale length guitars such as PRS and Gibson.
In contrast, the Jaguar’s 24” scale length is much shorter than most guitars, giving the strings a “slinkier” feel, making bends and vibrato much easier. Tonally you may hear a beefier, rounder sound compared to the snappy 25.5” scale. The shorter scale lends itself well to riff rock sounds, with that chunky sound. In 1962, Fender marketed the Jaguar as “faster and more comfortable” for its shorter scale length. It’s also a great option if something like a Strat or Tele feels a bit too big for your hands.
Number of Frets
Typically, the Jazzmaster has 21 frets, while the Jaguar has 22 – which accentuated the feel of the shorter scale length as the distance between the frets is condensed to fit in one more fret.
The 21 fret Jazzmaster will feel just like a traditional Strat or Tele which also typically has 21 frets.
Perhaps the starkest difference between the Jaguar and Jazzmaster is the construction of the pickups.
Fender Vintera Series Jazzmaster with vintage Jazzmaster pickups
A common misconception is that Jazzmasters have P90 pickups. Although they look like P90s, traditional Jazzmaster pickups are unique. Whilst technically single-coils, they don’t sound like a Strat or Tele. When he designed them, Leo Fender was looking for a darker tone than the Strat and Tele – something that Jazzers would appreciate. Whilst retaining all the top end sparkle of a great strat pickup, the Jazzmaster pickup has shorter poles and a wider magnet wind. This gives a slightly mellower tone with a more present midrange and fuller bass. Their low output means that they are quite clean, perfect for shimmery chords, but with a fuller and rounder tone.
Jaguar pickups are more similar to that of a strat, with a brighter tone. But in response to the emergence of higher volume levels in the early ‘60s, Jag pickups utilise a metal shielding claw around the pickups to reduce 60-cycle hum (or 50-cycle hum in the UK and Europe). This additional metal component has a similar effect to the brass baseplate on a Tele bridge pickup which gives it a brasher top-end resulting in a more aggressive sound than a Strat or Jazzmaster.
Fender Limited Edition Player Series Jaguar with H/S pickup configuration
Jaguar pickups are also mounted directly to the body of the guitar, which adds a little bit of extra “oomph” and attack. This is great for playing with distortion for a really gnarly and cutting sound.
Both the Jaguar and Jazzmaster are available in other pickup configurations, if you’re looking for a particular sound. The Fender player series Jazzmaster is fitted with a pair of humbuckers and the Jaguar has a Humbucker in the bridge and single-coil in the neck. Humbuckers are great for classic rock and higher gain sounds. If you’re looking for those traditional Jag or Jazzmaster sounds, the Squier Classic Vibe and Fender Vintera series’ offer the original pickup configurations.
Many modern Jaguars and Jazzmaster opt not to use the additional switching circuits of the traditional guitars, but some still utilise the Lead/Rhythm circuits.
Although slightly different, the Jaguar and Jazzmaster function quite similarly. In the “Lead” mode the guitar functions as you’d expect, with tone volume and pickup selector.
The Jazzmaster utilised a conventional 3-way switch, while the Jag has 3 individual switches. The first 2 switches control the neck and bridge pickup respectively, while the 3rd switch, known as the “strangle switch” is a bass-cut control, to achieve paint-peeling levels of aggressive brightness!
The rhythm circuit functions the same on both guitars. The rhythm circuit has a much darker tone, and selects the neck pickup only, bypassing the regular switches and controls. Volume and tone are controlled by the 2 thumbwheels.
Which one should I choose?
Now that we know the differences, it’s time to answer the real question – which one to pick. For a familiar feel and rich clean to slightly driven tones, the Jazzmaster is perfect. It has a unique sound but is balanced enough that you can find an entire palette of tones.
If you’re looking for something that feels and sounds just a bit different, the Jaguar might be the guitar for you. With its shorter scale length and hotter, brighter sound you can pile on the gain and get some unique and dynamic sounds that will stand out in any mix.
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Why not also check out our Ultimate Guide to Offset Guitars