Hands-On Review:Fender American Vintage Series ’62 Jaguar, Jazzmaster and Custom Telecaster electric guitars
by Eric Kirkland
In 1962, you could hardly tune into your local rock and roll radio station without hearing a Fender guitar played on a popular song. New artists ranging from the Beach Boys to Steve Cropper of Booker T & the MGs were using the company’s axes on a number of hits that defined a new sound in popular music. Forty years later, the guitars of this era are considered to be some of the best ever produced, and command top dollar from collectors, pros and wealthy aficionados.
So it’s no wonder Fender has reissued several of its ’62 models—including these Jaguar, Jazzmaster and Custom Telecaster axes—as part of its American Vintage Series. These brand-new beauties may hail from Corona, California, but their sound is straight out of the early Sixties. As for their price—let’s just say you get all the classic Fender tone and appearance without the expense of a true vintage guitar.
Fender calls the Jaguar its “premier guitar of the 60s,” and it’s easy to see why: with 22 frets on a 24-inch scale, the ’62 Jag is a total departure from Sixties Strats and Teles. Its oddly shaped alder body is impeccably finished, and its asymmetric shape allows total access to upper frets, making the Jaguar a breeze to play. The neck is very comfortable for playing chords and short riffs, and its design is typical of a Sixties-era neck, with a nice round shape and a narrower feel than modern Fender designs. The guitar’s all-chrome hardware includes a vintage-style floating trem with a sliding lock-button, a string mute and vintage-style Fender/Gotoh tuning machines.
The Jaguar’s pickup configuration consists of neck and bridge single-coils that are essentially voiceless. This is because the Jaguar’s character comes from its wiring, which includes a pair of two-position sliders for selecting the pickups and a third slider that provides phase reversal for thinning the tone. Another two-position switch near the top of the body lets you select between rhythm and lead circuits. In lead mode, the guitar operates as normal, with the traditionally placed volume and tone knobs active and all pickup configurations available. In rhythm mode, only the neck pickup is engaged and the pickup selectors are no longer in the circuit. In this mode, the two dials adjacent to the rhythm/ lead switch control volume and tone.
While the lead circuit provides classic early rock sounds that are great for solid backups and Buddy Holly–style leads, the rhythm mode is where the Jaguar comes alive, producing tones as sweet and smooth as buttercream frosting. It’s here that the volume and tone controls display their versatility, allowing for an extreme range of sounds that transcend time and style. All of which goes to prove that the Fender Jaguar is still as vital and intriguing as the day it was conceived, delivering lush chords and crisp lead lines that would be impossible on any other guitar.
The ’62 Jazzmaster features the same vintage-style floating tremolo and rhythm/lead circuit as the hepcat Jaguar, but its 21-fret neck, while essentially the same carve as the Jaguar’s, feels very Strat- like and has the Strat’s 25.5-inch scale length. Although the neck has a 7.25-inch radius, it refused to fret out, even on bends over a full step.
Lurking behind the Jazzmaster’s awkward façade are all the ingredients of a rock machine. Selected by a three-position toggle, the P-90-style pickups push ample output with a broad and expressive midrange that never becomes overbearing or too dynamic. With moderate doses of distortion, their sound is simply gorgeous. With the tone backed off just a bit, most of the single-coil noise disappeared to deliver beautiful balance in the lead and rhythm modes.
Played clean, the Jazzmaster sounds like the guitars heard on classic 45s. Add a little dirt, and you a get raw Texas-tough tone that predates SRV. It’s no wonder that this guitar has made it onto so many pop/rock records during its 40-year career.
’62 Custom Telecaster
In form and function, the Telecaster has changed very little from its initial offering in the Fifties. From its fully bound alder body with three-ply aged pickguard to its C-shaped neck and vintage tuners, the ’62 Custom Telecaster is an exercise in old-school simplicity—no fancy wiring, whammys or battery- powered preamps.
So why buy a ’62 reissue over an American Standard Fender or similar guitar? The sound, for one thing. The stamped bridge, with its vintage saddles and tuners, is key to producing that tasty two- steppin’ tone. And while modern hardware may seem more durable and provide easier adjustment, it mellows a guitar’s tone and dulls its attack. Adding to its versatility, the Custom Telecaster’s rosewood fretboard tames the sometimes overly bright tones associated with the Telecaster, making it suitable for rock and roll and modern crossover styles.
Of course, what we want from a Tele is a controlled bloom and that nearly imperceptible midrange pitch shift known as “twang.” The majority of this southern draw originates at the bridge pickup, and I’m pleased to tell you that the Custom Telecaster doesn’t disappoint. It’s tight and bright, with nearly all the gnarly honky-tonk overtones of the original. The neck pickup’s tone is also very similar to that of the original ’62, and although it’s perhaps a little too dark and relaxed to be employed on its own, it gave the bridge pickup a perfect foundation, with just the right amount of fat. The Custom Telecaster is more fun than a Nashville bar fight, and it could be all the country you need.