Fender Jaguar Guitar Survives &
Thrives; Celebrates 50th Anniversary -
Jaguar electric guitar is 50 years old now. Unveiled
in 1962, it was the last of the guitar maker's four most famous
electric guitars to be introduced, and, as it turned out, the last
major six-string creation of the enigmatic genius whose name
adorned it. And while it might not be as omnipresent as its
big-brother electric guitars of the 1950s, the Telecaster and the
Stratocaster, and its closest ancestor, 1958's Jazzmaster guitar,
make no mistake: The Jaguar is a survivor with a great history, and
you have heard it.
From the Beach Boys and Jimi
Hendrix in the '60s all the way to
Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili
Peppers and the Smashing Pumpkins in the
modern era, the sleekly chromed-out Jaguar has blazed its own
unexpectedly successful trail through the history of rock music.
Like some kind of "little guitar that could," it has surprised
nearly everyone by continually finding its own distinctive place
with each successive generation of guitarists, from harmlessly
sparkling old-school pop to subversive alt-indie cool and
"One of the reasons I really like Jaguars is they're a
little restrictive for me to play, and that's a good thing,"
said Johnny Marr, noted guitarist for the Smiths, Modest
Mouse and the Pretenders to name only a few. "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."
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, Leo Fender, as his
company's top-of-the-line model. But things haven't always been
easy for Leo Fender's cool cat. Extinction has threatened the
Jaguar on several occasions over the past half century. In the end,
though, there's just no keeping a great guitar down.
Here in its 50th anniversary year, the Fender Jaguar is back in
style and looking way hotter than any 50-year-old has a right to.
The Jag's rock 'n' roll cred is equaled only by its irresistible
retro-chic allure. This distinctive instrument's anniversary comes
at a time when popular culture has fallen in love with the Mad Men
era-the early-'60s glory days of crisply tailored suits, extra-dry
martinis and sleek European sports cars.
Very much a product of that same zeitgeist, the Fender Jaguar in
fact takes its name from the undisputed apotheosis of Euro
automotive design. The Jaguar E-Type was introduced in 1961 and was
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.
Introduced at a retail price of $375.50-about 25 bucks more than
the Jazzmaster, which was Fender's next-most-expensive guitar-the
Jaguar was featured in an ad that hailed it as "the ultimate in
design and precision." A stylish black-and-white photo paired
Fender's new top-of-the-line beauty with its automotive namesake.
The ad was the handiwork of real life "Mad Man" Robert Perine, who
created Fender's youthfully eye-catching late-'50s/early-'60s ad
Fender's big plans for the Jaguar may have paid off right from
the start had it not been for a momentous event that changed the
course of musical history. The 1963-'64 ascendancy of the Beatles
and the advent of the British Invasion touched off a mad clamor for
guitars made by Gretsch® and Rickenbacker®, the two main brands
played by the Beatles and their Brit brethren.
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
But it was soon to be revived in a dramatic way. The punk rock
revolution of 1976-'77 brought a radical new aesthetic
to electric guitar playing. Nascent punk guitarists looked for
instruments that were cheap and free of the taint of old-school
rock. Pawnshop Jaguar and Jazzmaster guitars fit the bill
perfectly. Leo's two uptown girls became the new queens of the
Favoured by guitarists in punk and post-punk acts including
Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine
and assorted others, the Jaguar rode a new wave of popularity. And
that wave crested when the Jaguar was adopted by the most famous
figure in recent rock, Nirvana's Kurt
Cobain, whose emotionally charged shifts from crystalline
introspection to full-distortion mayhem propelled the trio to the
forefront and put grunge on the map. What Jimi Hendrix was to the
Stratocaster, Kurt Cobain was to the Jaguar. He inspired legions of
players to pick up a
The honour roll of modern rock guitarists who have played Jaguar
guitars also includes Frank Black
(Pixies), Wayne Coyne (Flaming
Lips), Graham Coxon (Blur) and a
great many others.
The Jaguar returned to Fender's product line by the mid 1980s
and has been going strong ever since. Cobain and Marr have been
honored with their own signature model Jaguar guitars, and
guitarists can now choose from a full line of beautifully appointed
Jaguar guitars with a wide range of features and prices. Meanwhile,
the market for vintage Jaguar guitars continues to thrive.
"I think they're absolutely beautiful," said Marr. "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'
So raise a martini glass to the Jaguar and its 50-year sojourn
in our midst-a guitar with style, an impeccable pedigree and a