Fender Mustang Special

September 20, 2011

Fender’s Mustang series was originally touted as an inexpensive option for beginning guitarists. Its shorter 24" scale is ideal for smaller hands, and its shrunken body doesn’t dwarf diminutive players. Mustangs have also been repurposed by professionals like Lee Ranaldo and Kurt Cobain, who modified them to suit their needs and aesthetics.

The Mustang Special speaks to both beginners and big boys. Its short scale and smallish neck made my medium-size hands feel like Jeff Beck’s giant mitts— able to perform stretched chord voicings and bent notes with ease. Players with bigger hands might find the going a little cramped, but for most, the Mustang’s neck could prove a welcome change from a standard Fender or Gibson.

The finish work on my test model was excellent: the maple neck’s gloss surface felt velvety with no stickiness, and the Candy Apple Red paint on the body rich and flawless. The Special employs 22 medium jumbo frets, representing the type of mod a working guitarist might make to a factory Mustang. They are even, well rounded, and high enough to prevent fretting out on the 9.5" radius rosewood fretboard.

This Pawnshop model comes equipped with twin humbuckers, each featuring a three-and-three screw split, similar to the Seth Lover designed version used on ’70s Thinline Telecasters. Appearances aside, these pickups are based on the new Fender Enforcer Wide Range model. Both pickups proved warm and powerful; the bridge pickup was ideal for overdriving pedals and amps, while the neck unit worked well for traditional jazz tones.

The fun increased when I started playing with the controls. The Mustang Special offers a Master Volume, Tone, and a 3-way toggle to select bridge, neck, or both pickups. A pair of 3-position slide switches let me choose the coil setup of each humbucker: the bridge side, the neck side, or both coils on. The neck coil of the neck humbucker offered up more a biting sound than typical, while its bridge-side coil was more Strat-like. The rear coil of the bridge pickup was perfect for skank funk and reggae rhythms, as well as a distorted tone that cut through even with massive amounts of gain. The neck side coil of the bridge pickup delivered a funky, “phased” sound due to its position along the strings, and, when combined with the neck pickup’s bridge-side coil, produced an authentic Strat out-ofphase sound with hum canceling.

That’s only five of the 18 possibilities this system provides, and I couldn’t find one that wouldn’t work well in some situation. If the size suits you, the Mustang Special is an excellent-sounding, great playing, and versatile instrument for a reasonable price.

More from this Roundup:

Fender Pawnshop Series and 60th Anniversary Telecaster
Fender ’72
Fender ’51
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