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No love for the Fender Mustang

Fender Classic Series Mustang

I do champion Fender design, but I don't like all their guitars. One guitar I simply can't stand is the Mustang.

The above guitar is a Fender Classic Series Mustang.

I love the look of the Mustang. Heck, I even love the look of it in Squier flavor:

The above is the Vintage White version of the Squier Mustang. Pictures do it no justice, as it looks amazing in person.

Do I have a problem with the way the guitar plays? Not at all. It's a very comfortable player. Small, light and easy to thrash around.

What I can't stand about the Mustang are the pickup slider switches.

pickup switches

It is the pickup switching that absolutely infuriates me when playing a Mustang be it by Fender or Squier.

For those not in the know, the technical name for a Mustang switch is a phase slider. How they work is like this:

One slider works for one pickup, the other slider for the other. Easy enough to understand.

Each slider has 3 positions. Back position (towards the bridge), center position which is OFF, and front position (towards the neck).

In-phase and out-of-phase pickup combinations only occur when both pickups are on. That means when a single pickup is on, it doesn't matter if the slider is set to front or rear because it will sound the same in either position. But when you engage both pickups, that's when you can get the in-phase and out-of-phase combos.

What is an out-of-phase sound?

On the Mustang, the out-of-phase sound is best described as "honky" or a "nasal" type tone. Almost no bass to it. Good for country picking or some surf tones with a lot of washy spring reverb. Absolutely awful when distorted in any way.

How do Mustang pickup selections work?

Here is a quick cheat sheet. B means back (switch towards the bridge), C means center position OFF, F means front (switch towards the neck).

CC - Both pickups OFF
BC - Rear pickup only
FC - Rear pickup only
CB - Front pickup only
CF - Front pickup only
BB - Both pickups, in-phase
FF - Both pickups, in-phase
BF - Both pickups, out-of-phase
FB - Both pickups, out-of-phase

In plain English, here are the pickup slider switch positions you will use most often, as the Mustang in reality only has 4 pickup combinations:

BC (slider 1 back, slider 2 center-position off): Bridge-only.
CF (slider 1 center-position off, slider 2 back): Neck-only.
BB (slider 1 back, slider 2 back): Both pickups.
BF (slider 1 back, slider 2 front): Both pickups, out-of-phase sound.

"Okay, cool. I get it now. But why do you not like this?"

It's the positioning of the switches and how you switch that drives me nuts.

I do dig the fact the Mustang has 2-pickup combinations that can be either in-phase or out-of-phase, which is arguably the best part of the guitar's electronics; no other Fender nor Squier does this.

Quick pickup switching however is simply not possible.

If for example, if you wanted to quickly switch from the rear to the front pickup during a song, you literally have to carefully push the rear slider to the center, then jump to the front slider and push it in either direction to get the front pickup turned on.

In other words, there's no way to do it quick.

Is there a better way to wire a Mustang?

I wouldn't wire it differently because that takes away from the guitar's tonal character.

I would however ditch the sliders and use two 3-way toggle switches instead.

Imagine for a moment the Mustang had no slider switches above the pickups, and instead had two 3-way toggle switches side-by-side on the bottom horn. That to me makes a whole lot more sense. You get all the same functionality, plus the ability to quick-change one-handed pickup selections.

"I don't care about the out-of-phase thing because I never use it anyway. Couldn't I just wire it with a single simple 3-way toggle always-in-phase?"

You don't have to. Fender already makes one:

Fender American Special Mustang - 3-Color Sunburst

The above, a Fender American Special Mustang, is as simple as it gets for Mustang pickup switching, as it dumps the slider switches completely and offers a nice, easy 3-way toggle on the bottom horn.

"But I don't get single-coil sounds!"

Wrong. You do. Fender was smart enough to make the volume control a push/pull coil selector. Pulled out, on the bridge it selects rear-side (bridge) coil and on the neck it selects front-side (neck) coil. Think of it as Telecaster-style, because that's basically what you get when the volume push/pull is pulled out. And no, that's not a bad thing because it's a cool sound.

True, it's not a traditional Mustang at all as there's no vibrato system and you don't get the out-of-phase combinations. But it is the absolute easiest Mustang to operate, no question about that.

Personally, I'd rather see a Mustang with two single-coil pickups, two 3-way toggles instead of the phase sliders and the vibrato on it. But that's just me. And I'd most likely hack up a Squier Mustang to do it. I'd love to have the out-of-phase option, just with different switchgear.

Even though I don't like the sliders on the Mustang, a Squier version of it may find its way into my guitar lineup someday. I'd simply have to deal with the fact that quick-changing a pickup selection isn't an option.

Two final notes:

First, if you're the type of player that does not switch pickups often when playing, you can use a Mustang as-is once you play around with the switchgear and understand how it works (which takes all of about 5 minutes to learn it).

Second, for those wondering if you smack the switches often when playing, the answer is no, you don't. Or at least not for most people. From my experience playing a Mustang, I didn't find myself hitting the switches when picking. Your experience may be different however. The only way to know if you do or not is to try one.

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