This versatile mutant Jaguar can go from purring to vicious at the flick of a switch
MSRP $1,079.99, $799.99 "Street"
By Phil O'Keefe
The Fender Pawn Shop series takes a decidedly irreverent approach to some of their iconic designs; adding and combining various features to make quirky and interesting models that in some cases are based on previous guitars, but with modifications that takes then in new directions -- almost as if they were quirky unreleased experimental prototypes or one-off owner-modified guitars that you might find hidden away and forgotten in the corner of a dusty pawn shop. As the Fender ads put it - "guitars that never were - but should have been," these are guitars designed for players who can appreciate something a little different.
The Jaguarillo (Fig 1) is one of Fender's latest Pawn Shop series creations. Based on the Jaguar platform, it incorporates various departures from the original vintage design in keeping with the Pawn Shop series ethos.
Figure 1: The Fender Pawn Shop Jaguarillo
As the Spanish sounding name suggests, the Jaguarillo (pronounced Jag-war-EE-oh) hails from south of the border; it is built in Fender's Ensenada B.C. Mexico factory, which is located roughly 150 miles south of Fender's Corona California USA facility. This proximity allows for a fairly close working relationship between the two factories, and it's not uncommon for parts and materials to be shipped back and forth between the two locations. Fender Mexico is well acquainted with building Jaguars and Jaguar inspired guitars, being the source for such other Jags as the Classic Player and Blacktop series models.
TAKING A CLOSER LOOK AT THE BEAST
The Jaguarillo is visually very similar to other Jaguars. The alder body's size, thickness, and shape are the same, and it sports the traditional forearm and "tummy" contours. It also features the 24" scale length that Jaguars are known for. The neck has the expected 22 frets, but they're the larger sized "medium jumbo" models, and the fretboard features a slightly flatter 9.5" radius. The combination of the two makes string bending quite a bit easier than on a vintage style 7.25" radius neck with the smaller vintage style frets. Finger vibrato is also noticeably easier with the larger fret wire. It's definitely a different "feel", and one that I really like.
The neck profile is also worth mentioning. With their slightly shorter scale length, Jaguars have long been popular with players who have smaller hands. An overly chunky or thick neck can kind of defeat this advantage, or make the guitar more interesting to players with larger hands, so either way, some readers are bound to be curious about the shape and "feel" of the neck. Measuring 0.840" deep at the first fret and 0.910" deep at the 12th fret, it isn't a particularly thin or thick neck from front to back, nor is the 1.650" width at the nut particularly unusual. In fact, for many players with normal sized hands, it's going to feel like a "typical Fender neck." You'll just be able to "reach" a bit further than you could with a Strat or other 25.5" scale guitar. However, the neck still works well for those with smaller hands due to the shorter scale and the slightly narrow shoulders of the very comfortably shaped and well rounded C profile neck.
The body of the review unit is finished with polyester in a flawless and not too thick gold-undercoated Candy Apple Red. If you want to check thickness finish, here's a hint - look at the finish near the edges of the control plate or vibrato plate screw holes. I was pleasantly surprised by how relatively thin the finish is. The Jaguarillo is also available in three color sunburst and faded Sonic Blue, and all three feature three-ply mint / black / mint pickguards. Tried as I might, I couldn't find any blemishes in the finish. An equally flawless glossy urethane finish is used on the neck. There is a bit of a yellow tint to the neck finish, but it is not over-done, and while preferences vary on shading, I personally think it looks much better with some tint, and prefer it to the more bleached look of some un-tinted maple necks. The headstock features unbranded vintage style "split shaft" tuning machines which worked smoothly and held tune well, and a single "butterfly" style string tree. It uses the 50s era "spaghetti logo" and understated small type for the Jaguar label, instead of the larger block logos that are more commonly found on Jaguars. In another break from tradition, the truss rod adjustment hole is located at the headstock as opposed to the neck heel. While some may prefer the older method from a visual standpoint, this location makes it much easier to adjust the truss rod since you don't have to remove the neck or pickguard to access it. Also somewhat interestingly, the neck has a "skunk stripe" on the back. This is somewhat uncommon on rosewood fretboard equipped necks since the truss rod can be installed beneath the fingerboard instead of from the back of the neck.
Figure 2: The Jaguarillo's headstock features a "spaghetti" logo; also note the truss rod adjustment location
The general setup of the Jaguarillo was quite good. The synthetic bone nut was expertly cut, the truss rod adjusted perfectly, the medium jumbo frets are smooth and free of sharp edges (Fig 3), the action set nice and low, but without buzzes and fret noise. The 9.5" fingerboard radius is a bit flatter than vintage specs, which makes it easier to bend notes with low action without fretting out, but isn't so flat as to make chording difficult.
Figure 3: The Jaguarillo's medium jumbo frets are well polished and free from sharp edges
The repositioned vibrato plate means increased down pressure across the Adjusto-matic bridge, which helps increase sustain. You still get some of the overtones from the length of string "behind" the bridge, but because the floating vibrato is mounted closer to the bridge than on vintage Jaguars, not as much as with earlier Jags. The vibrato also feels a bit different with the fixed Adjusto-matic bridge as opposed to the "floating" bridge of vintage type Jaguars, but it generally works well and stays in tune. The vibrato also features a trem lock button.
Figure 4: The Jaguarillo's floating vibrato unit and Adjusto-matic bridge
The Jaguarillo comes with .09 - .42 gauge strings installed, which will probably feel a bit light to many players. Even if you play 9s on your Tele, on a Jaguar, the shorter scale length means that strings take less tension to reach their normal pitch, so they'll feel a little looser and more flexible on the Jaguar. The conventional wisdom is to run one gauge heavier than you normally would, so if you are used to using 9s on your Strat, 10s will give you a similar feel on a Jaguar. Use 10s on your Tele? Then try 11s on your Jag. In light of this, I'm a bit surprised that Fender ships this model with the thinner gauged strings. It sounds noticeably better with heavier strings, and there is no compromise in playability with them installed.
The one area in which the Jaguarillo most obviously departs from the traditional Jaguar design is in the electronics. The master volume and tone control are still there, but the upper chrome control plate and "rhythm circuit" controls are completely absent, and in place of the three switches on a standard Jag, the Jaguarillo uses a five-way blade style pickup selector switch mounted on the pickguard. The master volume and tone controls use 500K audio taper pots, which seems to be a good choice for use with these particular pickups. Instead of the typical twin Jaguar styled single coil pickups, the Jaguarillo uses a "HSS" configuration, with two standard Strat single coil pickups and an Atomic Humbucker pickup in the bridge position. All three pickups are slightly angled, in a manner similar to Fender's discontinued Cyclone II. The single coil units use dual bar ceramic magnets and have fairly hot output. (Fig 5)
Figure 5: The underside of the Jaguarillo's control plate and pickguard
The pickup selector works as you might expect:
In positions 3 and 5, there is some hum, as you would expect from single coil units. However, the middle pickup is RWRP, so there is also no noise when running in position 4, and reduced noise when using position 2. The humbucker is noise and hum free, so position 1 is also nice and quiet.
The sound is very similar to a Strat in positions there, four, and five, and even somewhat in position two. The lead position is a completely different beast. It has more midrange, and more than holds its own in terms of output and attitude. This is my first chance to use an Atomic Humbucker in-depth, and I am quite impressed. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that, while they sound nothing alike, this is one of the best sounding humbuckers I've heard in a Fender since the original Seth Lover designed Wide Range humbuckers from the 1970s. It wants to rock, but cleans up nicely with the volume knob. It's got lots of girth and fatness - especially for a bridge pickup - but it has some nice sparkle to it, and it is not overly dark or muddy sounding either. Output is healthy, but more modest than the Atomic moniker might suggest. I measured the DC resistance at 15.34K for the bridge pickup, 7.01K for the middle and 7.06K for the neck - a bit hotter than you'd find in a "vintage" Strat, but a excellent match for the bridge humbucker.
The Jaguarillo includes a basic accessory package. This includes a nice gig bag, and a packet that includes info on the limited lifetime warranty, warranty registration card, user manual, truss rod adjustment wrench, a Fender sticker, and a threaded vibrato arm. While not vintage correct, I kind of like the threaded bar, since it generally is easier to keep in position than an unthreaded bar. If it loosens, just wrap a piece of plumber's tape around the thread ends and it will stay where you put it.
Figure 6: While nothing overly fancy, the Jaguarillo does include a few basic accessories
GREAT OUT OF THE BOX, OR FOR MODDING
The Jaguarillo is a cool guitar right out of the box, but there are bound to be players who want to make a few modifications here and there. At this price point, doing so is a lot more reasonable than carving up a American Vintage Reissue Jaguar. In fact, the whole Pawn Shop series ethos seems to encourage customer installed modifications, although doing so may risk invalidating your limited lifetime warranty. While a "swimming pool" route beneath the pickguard allows for considerable options in terms of different pickup installations, Installing a new pickguard, upper chrome control plate and "rhythm circuit" would require extensive modifications to the guitar, including routing for the additional controls. (Fig 6)
The Atomic Humbucker is a four-conductor pickup, so it could be re-wired for coil splitting. Because of the shape and size of the route under the pickguard, putting in a trio of traditional Jaguar pickups - again, like in the old Cyclone II - wouldn't be a difficult modification, although it would probably require either a replacement pickguard or modifications to the stock unit to slightly increase the single coil pickup holes to fit the somewhat larger Jaguar pickup housings and metal "claws."
Figure 7: The Jaguarillo has a "swimming pool" route for pickups, but no routing for a "rhythm circuit." Note the black shielding paint
However, while I can see where some people will want to do some mods, I don't feel like this guitar "needs" to be modded in order to be a worthy musical companion. Far from it. While it's stripped down, it's still very versatile. I would describe this guitar as being a hot rod. It is the guitar world's version of a t-bucket roadster; stripped of un-needed parts that might weigh it down, and built for speed and performance. It manages to be a very sonically versatile guitar while leaving behind some of the switching complexities of the original Jaguars. It really is a nice balance of old and new, and a worthy new addition to the Jaguar legacy. I had a blast playing it, and I'm really tempted to purchase the review unit. Every so often Fender does something different that really works. This is one of those times. Muy Bueno Fender!
|Body: Offset and contoured alder body, polyester finish
Color Options: Candy Apple Red (pictured), Faded Sonic Blue, Three-tone sunburst
Neck Gloss urethane finished maple neck with rosewood fingerboard and rear "skunk stripe"
Frets: 22, medium jumbo
Nut Width: 1.650" (42mm)
Fretboard Radius: 9.5"
Scale Length: 24"
Tuning Machines: Vintage style with "split tops."
Tailpiece: Vintage style Floating Tremolo with lock button.
Pickups: Two single coil Standard Stratocaster pickups with ceramic magnets, Atomic Humbucker with AlNiCo magnets.
Controls: Master volume and tone using 500k audio taper potentiometers, 5-position blade style pickup selector switch.
Nut: Synthetic Bone
Since I know they are popular with some readers, here are a few additional pictures.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.