Jaguar 50th Anniversary
The Fender Jaguar electric guitar is 50 years old. Wow.
Unveiled in 1962, it was the last and arguably, most criticized of the guitar maker’s four signature electric guitars to be introduced, and, as it turned out, the last major “six-stringer” by Leo Fender whose name is still adorned on the headstock. No doubt about it: The Jaguar was runt of the Fender litter. Overpowered by its iconic big-brother electric guitars of the 1950s, the Telecaster and the Stratocaster, and its first cousin, 1958’s Jazzmaster guitar, the “Jag” is a survivor with a dynamic history.
Alone among Fender’s four main electric guitars, the Jaguar was a child of the 1960s rather than the 1950s. When it was introduced in 1962, the Jaguar was intended by its creator to stand as the company’s top-of-the-line model. But things were never easy for Leo Fender’s youngest kid.
Extinction has threatened the Jaguar on several occasions over the past five decades. In the end, the first landing of punk rock and new wave scenes saved it from the scrap heap. Very much a product of “Uncle Leo,” the Fender Jaguar in fact takes its name from the undisputed apotheosis of European automotive design. The Jaguar E-Type automobile was introduced in 1961 and immediately praised as “the most beautiful car ever made” by none other than Enzo Ferrari.
Fender’s Jaguar made its debut the very next year. It is one of the last instruments that Leo designed for Fender before selling the company to CBS in the mid ’60s.
For the most part, though, the Jaguar remained something of a cult guitar in the ’60s and ’70s, as the Gretsches and Rickenbackers of the British Invasion gave way to the Stratocaster, Telecaster, and Les Paul guitars of psychedelia, blues rock, glam, and metal. Consequently, Fender dropped the Jaguar from its line in 1975.
Fortunately, the Jag would soon obtain a dramatic revival. The U.K.’s punk revolution of 1976 – ’77 brought a radical new aesthetic to electric guitar playing. Counter-culture punk guitarists looked for instruments that were cheap and free of the taint of old-school rock. Used Jaguar and Jazzmaster guitars that you could find in the Tradin’ Times (and IE) fit the bill perfectly. Leo’s two uptown girls became the “new queens of the downtown scene.”
The Jaguar returned to Fender’s product- line by the mid 1980s and has been going strong ever since. Jag users Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and Johnny Marr have been honored with their own signature model Jaguar guitars, and guitarists can now choose from a full line of Jaguar models with a wide range of features (and prices). Meanwhile, the market for vintage Jaguar guitars continues to thrive in local vintage music stores.
“One of the reasons I really like Jaguars is they’re a little restrictive for me to play, and that’s a good thing,” says Marr, noted guitarist for the Smiths, Modest Mouse, The The, and the Pretenders. “I have to work within the limitations of the guitar. So it gives me a really strong direction. I can’t get too ‘blues rock’ on it, as it’s too feminine to play power chords on it.” He continues: “I think they’re absolutely beautiful. I love all the chrome. I love the shape of it; this kind of early ’60s idea of ‘space age’ paired with a classic sort of ‘Fender’ thing.”
So raise a martini glass (or a bottle of beer) to the Jaguar and its 50-year sojourn through changes in technology and taste. It’s still a guitar with an odd-yet-loveable style, a D.I.Y. pedigree and a riches-to rags-to- riches history.
— David Gedge