Tested By Art Thompson
Seeking to expand its Vintage Modified series of guitars, Fender's Squier division has introduced two new models: the Jagmaster II and the Squier '51. Both guitars are geared toward younger players, but would make great alternatives for anyone seeking an affordable, vibey guitar that looks like something Fender might have come up with if the Custom Shop had existed in the 1960s.
The most significant aspect of this revamped and upgraded version of the original Jagmaster is that its neck has been shortened to 24" (the scale length of the original Fender Jaguar) in order to obtain better balance with the large body and provide a slightly looser playing feel and dynamic response than you get with a 25 1/2 "-scale neck.
The Chinese-made Jagmaster II has a new six-screw trem bridge in place of the earlier two-point fulcrum unit, as well as Duncan Design humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions. The expansive, three-layer pickguard fits well around the neck, pickups, and bridge-though a close inspection of its perimeter reveals a bit of wobbliness in a few spots. The pots are anchored to the pickguard and suspended in an unshielded rout in the body (a small piece of foil on the back side of the pickguard provides the only shielding). A slightly odd thing is that the ground wire is routed through one of the springs' eyelets in the trem compartment, necessitating that the wire be unsoldered if you were to remove the spring.
Thanks to its very thin finish, the Jag's neck almost feels like raw wood, and the vintage finish toner imparts an aged appearance to the solid hunk of maple. The frets are well polished and crowned, though their ends feel quite prickly. (Apparently, this guitar was air shipped from a tropical climate straight to Fender HQ in hot, dry Arizona, causing its fret ends to "sprout" excessively.) The pearl dot markers on the fretboard are cleanly installed, the nut fits very precisely, and dual trees route the E, B, D, and G strings to the smooth working die-cast tuners. The six-screw trem works smoothly and pulls the strings back in tune reliably, once the strings are fully stretched out. In stock setup, the unit delivers a half-step of upward pitch bend. The only thing I don't like is that the saddle adjustment screws protrude far enough to gouge into the palm of your hand. Also, due to the location of the output jack, using a cord with a straight plug prevents the screw-in arm from being swung completely out of the way of the controls.
The Jagmaster II tunes up easily and sounds in-tune, despite having a few 12th-fret intonation discrepancies. The low action feels great (it also elicits a fair amount of low-string fret buzz), and the shorter-than-standard scale make for super easy string bending.
The Jag has a lively acoustic sound, with a clear, defined character that carries through to the amplified realm. With no ability to tap its pickup coils, the Jagmaster II's tonal palette is somewhat limited, however, this ballsy sounding guitar delivers happening clean and distorted sounds with a crisp Fender accent. Played though a '68 Twin Reverb, a mid-'70s Marshall 50-watt, and a Bad Cat Trem Cat, the Jagmaster II was equally at home in sparkling clean or heavily overdriven settings. It has a burly midrange, a bright top end, and a deep, growling bottom that does the job for chunk rhythms, explosive surf-style bass runs, and fat country pickin'. The tones remain bright when the Volume knob is turned down, and the Tone control provides useful treble roll off until about the last quarter of rotation.
Featuring a Strat-shaped body, a Telecaster neck, and a 1951 Precision Bass-style pickguard, the Squier '51 is a hot-rod in the truest sense of the word. The '51's clean, stripped-down lines are further enhanced by the lack of an obvious pickup switch, although a rotary 3-postion pickup selector takes the place of a Tone knob on the Tele-style control panel.
The Korean-made guitar (Fender tells us the '51 is now being made in Indonesia) features a slim maple neck with a dark wood stripe covering the trussrod rout, and its nicely finished frets have smoother ends than those found on the Jagmaster II. The tight-fitting nut is almost invisible to the touch as you run your fingers along the edge of the fretboard, and the black position dots contrast well with the light maple wood. The neck fits precisely into the pocket of the contoured body, which is beautifully finished and shows no seam lines in its surfaces. A single-layer pickguard tightly surrounds the white cover of the neck pickup, and it only reveals a bit of waviness where it presses against the bass side of the fretboard. The adjusting screws of the '51's fixed bridge are set below the tops of the saddles-an attribute you'll appreciate if you do a lot of palm muting.
As with the Jagmaster II, the '51 didn't intonate perfectly on all strings, however, these discrepancies (which can be corrected by adjusting the bridge saddles) did not overly affect the guitar's ability to sound sweet. Played through the Bad Cat, Fender, and Marshall amps, the '51 delivered a broad spectrum of tones-from twangy bridge pickup sounds in single-coil mode (Volume knob pulled) to throaty humbucker roar (Volume knob pushed in) to crisp dual-pickup textures with the pickup knob in the middle position and the bridge pickup in single-coil mode. The '51's neck pickup sounds great for Strat-style blues wailing, and combining it with the full bridge humbucker yields a great rhythm tone with a clanky top-end and plenty of bottom. The absence of a Tone knob means you have to make your EQ tweaks at the amp, but, overall, the simple, flexible controls make this guitar perfect for a lot of different styles. This is a fun guitar to play, and with its custom look, hip tones, and downright amazing price, the Squier '51 easily nabs an Editors' Pick Award.