If you’re somewhere around my age, which is 64, and you’re a guitar player, you probably wanted either a Jaguar or Jazzmaster when you first started playing guitar in the mid 60’s. They were the top of the Fender line at the time and both of them were priced at nearly $400, a princely sum at the time. This was before the whole “Guitar Hero” thing was happening.
The best teenage guitarist in my hometown at the time was a guy named Steve Carter. He had a Jazzmaster that he played through a Sears Silvertone amp. He played in a band named “Grant and the Blueboys” and they were actually really good, two of them were fabulous singers. For me, however, the real attraction was Mr. Carter. He was very fluid and could improvise solos on the spot. One thing that sticks with me is the time he played with the keyboard player playing piano and his drummer at a high school assembly playing instrumental boogie-woogie style R &B. His tone was something I’ve remembered ever since: clean, round, full and sweet and using the neck pickup. I knew that some of this was due to the fact that he was a really good guitarist, but some of it was due to the sound of that guitar.
As the 60’s moved on, The Jazzmaster and the similar Jaguar came to be associated with surf music and the whole guitar hero thing was happening and suddenly everyone seemed to be lusting for either a Stratocaster or a Les Paul. “Whammy bars” had gone totally out of fashion (this was before Van Halen) and you could find examples of both of these guitars 2nd hand for around $50 to $75 bucks. Hendrix at one time played a Jazzmaster and one wonders what the guitar landscape would be like it he had continued to use one.
In the 70’s, amazingly, The Jazzmaster made a comeback, adopted by folks such as Elvis Costello and Tom Verlaine, and became associated with “New Wave” musical styles, and overnight, pawnshop prices shot up to the point where the guitars were no longer big bargains. Later Lee Reynaldo of Sonic Youth and J Macsis of Dinosaur Jr. developed a cult following and thus assured that a cheap supply of these guitars was nowhere to be found.
Over the years, I’ve probably played a couple dozen Jazzmasters in guitar stores, and always thought it would be nice to have one. But, I was never sure I’d play it much and at best it would be a “stunt guitar”, and so even spending $500 for a used Made in Japan one seemed a little unwise.
A couple of years ago, I borrowed (vintage 60’s) one from the drummer in my band, who also plays and collects guitars. Played through my own guitar rig at the time I found it could make sounds other than surf oriented tunes and found it had a rather cool, if strong, personality. I also found the “Steve Carter” tone was in there, which was a happy discovery. A friend of mine also sat in the band one night and used his vintage Jazzmaster and got all sorts of sounds out of it I didn’t expect.
When I noticed Squier was building one (in Indonesia) that seemed to be accurate in details and selling it for $299, I got quite interested. I noticed a few online reviews, including some with you tube videos, and decided to order one in Sonic Blue.
It looked good when it arrived on my doorstep (once I took it out of the box) and I was astonished to find that it was almost in tune. It was strung with a set of strings that I think were 09 to 38 or something like that and gentle movement of the tremolo arm didn’t seem to throw the Guitar out of tune. The frets seemed quite well done (they DID feel a little rough when bending strings) and the ends were nicely rounded off. There were no rattles or buzzes and the guitar’s intonation wasn’t bad at all. I plugged in to a couple of amps and, yep, it sounded much like the one I’d borrowed, which, obviously, what I was hoping for. Cosmetically, everything was perfect, No flaws in the finish, and looking at the back of the guitar, one can’t find any seems and the paint reflects a fairly mirror like image The tuners work smoothly and hold the guitar in tune.
Out of curiosity, I put a straight edge to it and the neck was straight as an arrow with any relief at all. The action was fairly high, but I was amazed there weren’t more buzzes or rattles. The next day, after giving the frets a nice polishing, I installed set of Ernie Ball Slinkies, 10 through 46, which is what I normally use on a guitar with a 25.5″ scale. I set the action to my liking (a quick look seemed to indicate that the heavier strings gave the neck a touch of relief) and then got out the strobe tuner to set the intonation. Every guitar I’ve bought over the last decade has needed to have the nut slots filed down in order to play properly in tune. Usually the manufacturers do this to avoid warranty complaints about buzzes and rattles. Playing a “E” formation barre chord on the first fret usually results in a few strings being slightly sharp. The Jazzmaster played great down near the nut and I quickly adjusted the intonation. Amazing. It plays in tune everywhere and I can’t find fault with any of the frets, they are uniform in height. For a $300 guitar, this was amazing.
Of course, I had to plug it into the Fender amp you see behind it in the photo and turn up the reverb. As I’d hoped, it pretty much sounds like I expected: it’s a Jazzmaster. The “rhythm circuit” doesn’t roll off the highs as much as it seemed to do on the original one, which means I might actually use it. The guitar stays in tune when the whammy is lightly used, which is how I plan on using it: no dive bombs here.
Plugging it into the amp rig I use on stage and for rehearsals (A Magic Valve 5E3 clone and a Badcat Unleash) I found it to be rather like my 63 Tele in a lot of respects, but one wouldn’t mistake it for a Tele, or a Strat for that matter. In a couple days I’ll take it to rehearsal and see how it sounds with the band and at stage volume.
So far, it looks like a keeper. I’ll do a full update after a month or so and we’ll see how this all holds up.