I’VE ALWAYS FEARED JAGUARS. They look cool, but seem pretty wonky, and I’d heard all the stories about wrestling sounds from the recalcitrant buggers. So although I totally dig Johnny Marr’s guitar playing—and the fact his new Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar has a spectacular metallic-rust ﬁnish—I was pretty nervous about reviewing the beast. Well, shame on me. I feel like the subject of a song that could have been written by Marr’s former band, the Smiths: “Don’t You Feel Stupid When You Fear Things You Know Nothing About.” After playing the guitar at recording sessions, rehearsals, and gigs, the reality is that Marr’s turbo-charged Jaguar is a thing of beauty— cosmetically, ergonomically, and sonically.
Marr picked up an ailing Fender Jaguar during a 2005 songwriting session with Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, and fell in love with it. But even as he appreciated that the Jag forced him to avoid bluesy bits, pentatonic constructions, and heavy rock gestures, he dreamed of a more evolved iteration of the model. Working with Fender’s team, bouncing ideas off his former band mates in the Cribs, and conferring with his long-time guitar tech Bill Puplett, Marr re-imagined the Jag’s neck, body, bridge, pickups, switching system, and tremolo. A whole boatload of good came from the collaborations.
While the Marr may look like a twee, arty guitar, you could toss it into the hands of the macho action heroes starring in The Expendables 2 and see damage done—not to the Jag, but to the bad guys. It’s tough. The refreshed body contours (copied from a 1954 Strat) hug your torso nicely whether you are sitting, standing, or leaping across stages. I loved the Marr’s wider neck (based on a ’65 Jag), which felt amazing, and didn’t induce any playing fatigue. Although the tremolo looks delicate, it exhibited no slack, was responsive in a Bigsby-like way, and returned to pitch accurately. The Marr’s ﬁt-and-ﬁnish is awesome, with just a slightly off-kilter pickup selector plate thwarting absolute perfection. While classic Jags were either loved or loathed for their quirky switches, the Marr’s 4-position pickup selector (which includes a neck-and-bridge-in-series position that delivers a humbucker-like response and a boost in output level) and two high- pass switches are easy to use, and produce a wealth of timbres, from chunky lows to sweet mids and airy highs.
Now, the Marr Jaguar does mess with you if crave high-gain saturation. In fact, it kind of dares you to get beyond any- thing but gritty. I dug the challenge, and, like Marr himself, I was grateful the guitar nudged me out of my comfort zones. It forced me to craft cleaner, stranger, and more precise parts that worked best with the guitar’s dry, low-output articulation. I must salute the brilliance of a model that plays so well, but simultaneously challenges you to evolve, adapt, and get more inventive. As such, it’s a near mirror image of its creator.