Jaguar vs Mustang – Which Fender Guitar Should You Pick?

Author: Santiago Motto | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Fender guitars are the best-selling in the world.

Yes, the US-based brand sells almost twice the number of guitars (30% of the market share) its closest competitor, Gibson (18%), does.

But once we leave the old and familiar shapes of the Stratocaster and Telecaster, things start to get a little blurry. Yes, the company has put out so many different models in the past decades that it’s hard to know what Fender guitar is good for your hands, tone, and needs.

If you’re here, chances are you’re trying to buy an offset guitar to engage those indie, grunge, and alternative rock vibes. Well, you’re in the right spot because I’ve played both models extensively and am going to make the difference between Jaguar and Mustang guitars so clear; you’ll make a choice in no time.

Jump in; this is a one-way ticket to the offset world.

The Fender Catalog, A Little History

Understanding Fender’s catalog and timeline is paramount to choosing the right guitar for you. How so? Well, simply because Fender guitars are the sound and the look of an era. But let’s rewind to the beginning.

The Fender Jaguar was released in 1962 as a way to Fenderize the Jazzmaster, Fender’s most luxurious instrument at the time. So, the process of adding the Fender trademark sound to a guitar as the Jazzmaster was to use the same body but single coils instead of P-90s (which are closer to Gibson’s sound).

But that’s not all the company did to enter the colorful, crazy ‘60s decade. Leo Fender wasn’t a guitar aficionado but an engineer with a particular weakness for American muscle cars. So, to increase sales, the brand adopted car colors.

This new and revolutionary color palette, the tremolo system, and the cool looks made the Jaguar a favorite in the surf music scene. Yet, it didn’t sell up to expectations and was discontinued in 1975 after 13 years of production.

The Fender Mustang shares a similar history to the Jaguar but with the big difference that the Mustang is the natural successor of Fender’s student models the Musicmaster and the Duo-Sonic (released in 1956).

The Mustang was released almost ten years later and meant a big overhaul of the original guitars with an upgraded tremolo system, electronics, and dual-slanted pickups. Originally, the three colors available for Mustangs in 1964 were Olympic White, Dakota Red, and Sonic Blue.

Perhaps, a very recognizable and cool version you remember is the competition Mustang released in 1969 with dual stripes and a matching headstock.

That’s the guitar Kurt Cobain rocks in the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. I’m sure you remember that one.

Even with the cool colors, ease of use, and great electronics, the Mustang was discontinued in 1982.

Speaking of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, though, the ‘90s alternative scene embraced these odd guitars and saved them from oblivion. Bands like Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, The Smiths, Television, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and many others bought these vintage gems for a fraction of the price of a Stratocaster or Telecaster and modified them heavily.

Nowadays, these guitars enjoy a great moment and vintage and collector-grade ones can be found for almost as much money as a vintage Strat or Tele.

Let’s Talk about Bodies & Necks

The bodies of these guitars are very different, but their necks are almost identical.

Let me begin talking about the body. Both of them are offset guitars, meaning that they have an upper horn and a matching bottom curve in the exact opposite direction with a pronounced waist.

On the Jaguar side, the body is as big as the Jazzmaster body, making it, at least, 50% bigger than the Mustang. Depending on the line, it is usually made of alder with a maple neck featuring a rosewood fretboard.

On the Mustang side, the body is quite smaller, as I said, mainly because the Jaguar is a top-of-the-line model and the Mustang is a student-oriented one. This means it is made for younger players or players with smaller hands. The tonewood is usually the same, alder.

When it comes to necks, both guitars feature a shorter scale than regular Fenders. Yes, while Stratocasters and Telecasters feature a 25 ½” scale, these guitars feature a 24” scale. The scale, as you might know, is the distance between the bridge and the nut.

This shorter scale brings these guitars closer in feel to a Gibson than a Fender. Thus, if you love the high tension of a Strat to hit the strings hard, you’ll feel very strange playing one of these guitars.

That being said, if you love bending strings these guitars feel just like butter and make every bend an experience.

What About Electronics?

In the electronics department, things are very different between these guitars.

The Jaguar has the same dual-circuit approach as the Jazzmaster. This means one circuit is dedicated to the rhythm players and the other is for the lead players. These circuits are commuted via a switch located on the top horn. 

When the rhythm circuit is engaged, the neck pickup is the only one available. On the other hand, when you’re playing with the lead circuit, you can turn on and off both pickups and also activate a high-pass filter with sliding switches located over a metal plate on the lower part of the body.

Finally, controls are complete with a volume and a tone knob also mounted over a metal plate.

The Mustang features a much simpler circuit with the same volume and tone knobs over a metal plate. The dual-slanted pickups can be turned on and off, and put in and out of phase with the sliding switches located above them. The Mustang is one of the few guitars that allow you to turn each pickup on and off.

Newer models of Mustang guitars in the Fender and Squier lines feature simplified controls with pickup toggle switches.

Jaguars also got simplified with time. A great example is Johnny Marr’s signature Jaguar. The guitarist opted for a four-position switchblade instead of the interrupters.

Let’s Talk About Sounds

Sound-wise, the difference between these guitars becomes more apparent.

Yes, these differences that I talked about above materialize in the sound coming out of the speaker.

On the Jaguar side, the small, thin, bright-sounding single coils and the big offset body turn this guitar into the perfect combination of warmth, attack, and presence. Indeed, a Jaguar can cut through the mix but also add lows to the sound. Furthermore, the tremolo system is soft and usually used with continuous movements in the shoegaze and alternative rock scenes.

In the case you have a vintage-specs Jaguar, you’ll find that the combination of the spring-operated muting system and the rhythm circuit takes you straight to an uncanny sound universe that’s only possible with a Jaguar, making it a unique instrument in the Fender series.

The Mustang, on the other hand, features a smaller body and even quieter pickups which gives it sweet, small, round, and appealing sounds bands like Warpaint have used very well.

Also, the ability to play the pickups in and out of phase, on avintage-spec Mustang, opens up another new sonic universe that makes chords, arpeggios, and single-note melodies sing differently.

In a nutshell, the big difference between these guitars sound-wise is that one sounds warm but with a ton of attack while the other is better for sweet, smaller interventions.

Finally, both are capable of unique sounds due to the out-of-phase single coils and the muted rhythm circuit.

Jaguar or Mustang, What Guitar Should You Get?

Answering this question is not my job, but yours. Mine is to give you enough tools to find the answer, but only you know what resonated with you from all you’ve read above.

Nevertheless, let me clear out a couple of items you need to bear in mind to make that decision:

  • Are you a small-hands or young player? If the answer to this question is yes, then you’ll find Mustangs to be more comfortable to play because of the ergonomics and size.
  • Do you love distortion? Distortion sounds “better” (rounder, fuller, with a great balance of bite and body) in a Jaguar because of the single-coil-meets-the-huge-offset-body approach.
  • Do you play arpeggios and single-note melodies a lot? If that describes the kind of music you make, I would say try both with your favorite piece of music. To my ears (I own a ’66 Mustang that I love) Mustangs beat Jaguars in that category.
  • Are you a wild live player? If you love jumping around the stage and doing the good old run across, then the lighter weight and extreme maneuverability of the Mustang might be a game-changer for you.

You Don’t Have to Choose! Meet the Odd Offspring, the Jag-Stang

Haven’t made up your mind yet? Well, Kurt Cobain couldn’t either, so when Fender approached him to design a guitar, he made one that’s half and half and called it the Jag-Stang.

Just beware of the mighty custom-made Jag-Stang humbucker in the bridge; it will take you straight into the grunge zone.

The Bottom End

Mustangs and Jaguars are unique guitars that are capable of creating tones you won’t find anywhere else. Yet, they are only musical instruments and will not define your playing style. Knowing this information, dare to pour your own unique playing style and inspiration into them and enjoy the results.

Happy (offset) playing!

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About Santiago Motto

Santiago is a guitar player with over 25 years of experience. A self-confessed guitar nerd, he currently tours with his band 'San Juan'. Called 'Sandel' by his friends, he has a pop palate for melodies, ballads, and world music. San especially has an immense love for telecasters and all-mahogany Martins.

1 thought on “Jaguar vs Mustang – Which Fender Guitar Should You Pick?”

  1. Standard Jazzmasters do not have P90s. They are Jazzmaster pickups, which are single coils like Strat pickups, but the construction is shorter and wider.

    Jaguar pickups are similar to Strat pickups, but they are surrounded by metal claws that alter the tone. As far as I know, Mustang pickups are similar or identical to Strat pickups.


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