Hello Jag, goodbye Jag
Where to begin with this one...
I had a Squier Vintage Modified Jaguar, but not anymore. It's gone. In fewer than 2 days of ownership, I returned the guitar. Why? Because I found a rather large finish crack at the neck pocket. This was something I didn't notice it at first because it was a crack that was painted over at the factory, and against the red finish disguised itself as a dark line that was easy to miss. But in a well lit room, oh yeah, I saw it. So I took it back.
However, even if the Jag had been 100% good, I'm certain I would have have grown to hate it, and that's the main topic of discussion I'll be making here.
I do understand that there are dedicated Jag players who really, really like the Jaguar guitar and consider it very good if not Best Guitar Ever. I've no problem with anyone who believes that. What I'm about to describe is simply my experience with the guitar.
The pickups in the Squier Jag are voiced absolutely correct. I've almost no complaint about them (I'll describe the complaint in a moment). These are not cheap Strat pickups with Jag "teeth" on either side. The Duncan Designed JG-101 pickups are true Jag pickups, and I was easily able to get proper surf tone out of the guitar.
My only complaint about the pickups is that while they are voiced right with proper output, I found myself missing the greater output of the bigger pickups in the Jazzmaster.
And yes, the Squier Jag does in fact sound distinctively different than the Squier Jazz. The Jag has less output and more treble response while the Jazz has more output and more midrange response. But make no mistake, both guitars are ridiculously bright due to the 1meg pots used in both guitars on the lead circuit (Strats and Teles use 250K pots).
What I can say is that with the Jazz, it takes a little (but not much) effort to get the surf rock sound out of it. With the Jag, no effort is required. Getting it to surf is ridiculously easy.
Sound (shoegazer and grunge)
For those of you out there who don't play surf at all, you're probably wondering how the Jag performs for shoegazer or grunge.
Here's how the Jag fares concerning those two styles.
The Jazzmaster is actually better for this over the Jaguar, for the reason the pickups are better suited for it. When you apply chorus, flanger, delay and other effects typical to the shoegazer sound, the longer note decay (as in "more sustain") of the Jazz is much more desirable.
Can the Jag do the shoegazer sound? Yes, of course it can. But for those long, droning tones shoegazer is known for, especially for the "fat-but-not-distorted" sound, that's where the Jag falls short and puts the Jazz in front.
If using a Jag for shoegazer, a compressor is absolutely required to "fatten up" the thinner Jag sound and bring out longer note decays. What position should the compressor be in the effect chain? First.
A stock Squier Jag is a terrible guitar for grunge. You absolutely do not want those bright single-coils for the grunge tone. Maybe with some EQ "massaging" you could make it work, but in the end, highly overdriven Jag pickups just sound bad. Believe me, this is why Kurt Cobain's Jag had a pair of humbuckers in it.
Would the Jazzmaster be any better? Only slightly. The tone will be easier to manage because you won't have to use as much overdrive, but it will still be an unmanageable mess in the end.
The best guitar for grunge is not the Jag or the Jazz. It's the Fender Duo-Sonic HS. That's the little short scale you can absolutely wail on, throw as much overdrive/distortion as you want at it, and it will work. Purposely seek out the HS (humbucker/single) model. Remember, the humbucker does split to single-coil for when you play the cleaner stuff. There is seriously no better grunge guitar than the Duo-Sonic.
The only reason not to get the Duo-Sonic for grunge duty is if you can't afford it. Fortunately, there is another short scale that will work for grunge. The Squier Bullet Mustang. It is insanely cheap and believe me, you can afford it. In fact, it's so cheap that you could buy 2 easily. One for regular play and one to smash on stage if you wanted to (not that I recommend that).
On the majority of electric guitars, you're dealing with knobs for volume and tone control and a 5-way blade or 3-way toggle for pickup selection...
...except on the Jag. On the lead circuit, pickups are selected via on/off switches and they're just annoying to use. But not so annoying as to make you totally frustrated.
The lead switches are just part of the Jag's character. While true there are several ways to improve the switching with something else (such as what Fender did with the American Professional Jaguar), visual character is lost whenever anything is changed down there.
I may not like the lead circuit switches, but it is part of the whole Jaguar look and I wouldn't change it.
The single biggest difference between the Jazzmaster and the Jaguar is that the Jazz has a Fender standard 25.5" scale length while the Jag has a 24.0" short scale.
Things change significantly from 25.5 to 24.0. Frets are spaced closer, the headstock is closer and the tension of the strings is looser.
I did find myself fighting with the guitar. I can rip out The Wedge by Dick Dale on the Jazzmaster without a problem, but could not on the Jaguar. I kept pushing the 6-string low E off its saddle and the looser tension of the strings made it difficult to butterfly-pick. I even used a thicker string, but that didn't help.
Eventually, yes I would have become accustomed to the short scale, but it would have taken a while.
Will I ever get another Jag?
Probably not, because I don't think I would ever truly get used to the 24.0" short scale length. At best, the Jag would always be a secondary guitar. Since I don't collect/hoard instruments, I don't like a guitar that sits in a case and only gets used once every few months. I buy guitars to use them and not be case queens.
Back in November 2013 when I bought my first Jazzmaster, I had the choice of whether to go with that or the Jaguar. Even back then, the Jazz just felt so much better. My playing style has changed a lot since '13, but what hasn't changed is that I still greatly prefer the 25.5" scale length.
It was a blessing in disguise that my Jag had a crack at the neck pocket that prompted me to return it, because ultimately I'm just not a Jaguar guy.
Again, I've no issues with anyone who loves the Jag. And yeah, I know some who read this will be disappointed that I didn't fall in love with the guitar. The guitar just wasn't for me, and I prefer the Jazzmaster.