Jazzmaster - 21-fret, 25.5" scale. Full thickness body. 'Floating' tremolo that works very well if set up correctly (which is something that a lot of techs have difficulty with, for some reason). It feels looser than a Strat, and doesn't have the same range, but it does stay in tune very well. Large single-coil pickups that sound bigger and deeper than normal Fender single-coils. Quite a full-sounding guitar that works well for most 'alt' styles - especially semi-clean to fuzzy/distorted, but also works reasonably well for some more traditional blues-based overdrive tones, although singing sustain is not its strong point. 10s are about the minimum practical string gauge.
Jaguar - 22-fret, 24" scale. Full thickness body. Same tremolo as the Jazzmaster. Narrow, more traditional Fender single-coil pickups, that sound more focused and percussive. They're not identical to Strat pickups though - they have metal 'claw' brackets that widen the magnetic field and actually make the electric sound darker, although this is offset by the brighter, thinner sound of the bridge and short scale. Less apparent sustain than the Jazzmaster, although actually it's about the same overall, but with a very sharp, snappy attack that makes the decay after it seem quicker. Works very well either totally clean or with very heavy fuzz/distortion, but poorly with mild overdrive - the notes seem to 'die'. More of an alt/grunge guitar. 11s are the minimum gauge that works well (original ones often have too powerful a trem spring for anything lighter).
Mustang - 22-fret, 24" scale. Thin body. Different trem - awkward to set up and not very stable, a lot of people lock them down - but sustains a bit better than the Jaguar. The bridge has different, non-height adjustable saddles that some people prefer, and will fit on the Jaguar/Jazzmaster bridge. Strat-type pickups (nearly identical, but with hidden polepieces). Has phase switching too, so it can do some really funky, 'chinky' tones. Slightly cleaner and brighter-sounding than the Jaguar overall. They work OK with 10s - the string length behind the bridge is much shorter than the Jaguar - but 11s are better.
(There are rare early Mustangs with the 21-fret 22.5"-scale neck - usually the narrow A-width, but they don't work very well... best avoided unless you have tiny hands.)
The US RIs (Jazzmaster and Jaguar only) are good - they don't IMO have quite the character of the old ones, but close. Later 60s (and particularly early-70s) models are good guitars and not too expensive, if you don't mind the block-marker bound necks and bigger headstocks. IMO the Japanese ones aren't too bad, but need major electrics upgrades. The woodwork and fretting is good, and the metal hardware not bad. But you can get originals for not a lot more - an original Jag in particular is possibly less expensive than a US RI, unless you must have a pre-CBS one in a cool color. Original Mustangs aren't expensive (or rare) at all, I really don't see the point in the Japanese reissue, especially as it's IMO the least good of the three.
I've played all of these a fair bit BTW - the Jaguar was actually my favorite, although I liked the Mustang too, for it's own different sound. The Jazzmaster seems the most popular generally - I think most people find the longer scale easier to get on with. I liked the short-scale ones... but I do have small hands. I think at one point I had most of the short-scale Fenders in my part of the world - I've owned a '65 Jag, '65 & '77 Mustangs, '64 Duo-Sonic (same as the Mustang but with no trem - an excellent and under-rated guitar), '65 and '78 Musicmasters (same as the Duo-Sonic but with just a neck pickup) and a '78 Bronco (same as the Musicmaster but with the pickup at the bridge, and yet another style of trem), and... two Swingers! An oddity made of left-over short-scale Mustang and Musicmaster parts, on cut-down Bass V bodies...
Geez thanks John for the in depth detail on the guitars.
I'd love to get a US Jazzmaster, or a vintage one, but don't have the funds, probably better off getting a Japan made one.
I was thinking of getting a vintage mustang, but i don't know if that's what i'm looking for. i want something cool/different, good sounding and that has a good whammy bar. You don't know where to find any do you??
Keep looking for a used US RI Jazzmaster or a beat-up 70s one - they went right up to the end of the 70s, and the later ones aren't worth all that much... they also didn't seem to suffer quality-wise anywhere near as much as Strats. Either of these is a far better guitar than a MIJ one, IMO - if you get a MIJ, budget for replacing both pickups and all the pots and wiring to even get close the same league... makes them look like less of a bargain. The hardware (especially the trem) is still inferior too.
Old Jaguars are proportionately cheaper than Jazzmasters, but they stopped in 1974 so there's a bit more of a 'vintage' premium there.
You'll get either one a lot easier and probably a bit cheaper over there than I can too!
If you want a really good trem, you don't want a Mustang, unfortunately.
I'ev got a '95 MIJ Jazzmaster that I bought new, and I've never played an original one. With that as background, here's my comments:
1) The trem stays in tune quite well, but you have to be careful with the pivoting bridge. If it ends up leaning with the trem at rest then your intonation goes all to hell. Some players fix this by wrapping insulating tape around the bridge posts so that they can't move inside their post holes.
2) The eternal Jazzmaster design fault is that the string angle over the bridge it so low that there's very little downwards force on the bridge saddles. This leads to all sorts of problems, buzzes, rattles and strins poppnig right off of saddles. It's especially painful with lower gauge strings (9's or 10's). Now then, bear in mind that this guitar was designed in '57 for Jazz players using heavy strings. Put a set of 13-62 flat-wounds on one and they work in this context. To get one to work with lighter strings there are two options:
- Increase the break angle over the bridge by shimming the neck.
- Install a buzz-stop, which is a cunning device tht attaches to the two trem-plate screws closest to the bridge. It has a roller bearing close to the body top that the strings pass under before going over the bridge. I have one fitted to mine and I now have no problem with 9's.
3) The body finish on mine is very delicate. As I said, it's a Fotoflame. I had it drop off a strap while I was kneeling to adjust an effects pedal once. The but end of teh guitar fell maybe three inches onto a hardwood floor and the finish cracked up like cake icing! Soft wood & thin finish = fragile!
4) The pickups are apparantly nothing like Jazzmaster originals. I wouldn't know but they sound fine to me. I've not had a problem with the pots & switches either.
JK - a lot of folks don’t care for the position, claiming it chokes the tone as it is darker and mellower. It’s up to you if that tone is useable and for what.
With that said, there are lots of opportunities with that second circuit. If you can dial in a rhythm tone you like, then switch over to the main circuit for leads; or dial the volume all the way down and you have a kill switch for keeping your guitar quiet between songs or doing a rapid fire staccato stutter between on and off.
beyond that you can do all kinds of mods, especially if you get pickups with four conductors.
on my JM style Zaftig for instance i have it wired to put both pickups in series, which makes them act like a humbucker and drives the amp harder and smoother which is a nice contrast to the bright, clear, sharp sound of the main circuit
Really good for jazz, or even just for a thicker, almost humbuckery sound that can work for a lot of things - a pseudo "woman tone" or just a nice fat rhythm sound. On my Jag when the rhythm circuit is on it somehow gets louder and drives my OD pedals harder.