Why I may get a Squier Jazzmaster
Last Saturday I went over to Sam Ash in Tampa, Florida and they had just received a new crop of Squier guitars. Included in this crop was a Squier Jazzmaster in Candy Apple Red. I picked it up and strummed it a bit.
This was actually my first experience with a "traditional" Jazzmaster. As in the the kind of Jazzmaster with all the wonky stuff on it, meaning the bridge with saddles that have strings pop out constantly, the traditional top-load for strings, and of course the top horn electronics.
I almost bought the guitar. Almost. What kept me from buying it was that the store was trying to short-change me big time on a guitar trade and wouldn't even get anywhere near what I would have considered acceptable. But that's another story I may tell at another time.
What are the differences between a Jazzmaster and a Jaguar?
Players who look at the Jazz and the Jag think they're the same guitar. They're not. They may look similar, but they're two totally different instruments.
Neck: The Jazz has a 25.5-inch scale (same as Stratocaster or Telecaster) while the Jag has a super-short 24.0-inch scale.
Pickups: The Jazz has large overwound single-coil pickups while the Jag has skinny ones. What this basically means is that the Jag sounds Strat-like and the Jazz doesn't have as much treble and a lot more "honk" to it.
Electronics: The Jazz has a pickup toggle switch while the Jag has on/off toggles on the lower horn with the addition of a filter toggle.
Which would most players prefer?
Easy answer: Jazzmaster. The electronics on the Jazz are easier to deal with, and because of the 25.5-inch scale neck, the strings are more taut (as in "tighter").
On the 24.0-inch Jaguar neck, a common complaint is that the strings are "too bendy" because there's not enough tension. It's also common that most Jag players will switch over to a .010 to .046 string set or even .011 to .050 just to the strings don't bend or "flop" as much.
Is it true the Jazzmaster string saddles cause strings to pop out of place all the time?
Yes. When you play a Jazzmaster, you have to adjust your playing style. And while true there are aftermarket Jazzmaster bridges with saddles that prevent the pop-out issue, I personally believe you're better off just adjusting your playing style instead.
What makes the Jazzmaster so cool?
The sound, the "slow" vibrato system and the fact it's a very comfortable player.
Comfort-wise, the offset body of the Jazz is just amazingly comfortable whether playing sitting or standing. It's a shape that just molds right to you.
Sound-wise, the big single-coils have less treble compared to Strat/Tele singles, which in this case is a good thing because it gives the guitar more tonal character. To describe that character isn't easy, but it's best described as more "honky" and "surfy".
Concerning the vibrato system, it's called slow because you can't "dive" with it. Think of it as Fender's version of a Bigsby. You can only bend a few semitones at best, but you'd be amazed at how often you can use it.
Because the vibrato arm (which you know as "whammy bar") is longer and the vibrato system "slower", it does stay in tune much better than the Strat tremolo system. The Jazzmaster vibrato is one of those things that takes getting used to, but it's arguably the only Fender-designed vibrato that's any good and usable.
Why is the Jazzmaster not for everyone?
The Jazzmaster is not a guitar you can wail on because you'll keep knocking the strings out of their saddle grooves constantly. While it does have an amazingly good sound (and it truly does) along with an amazingly comfortable shape, it's those darned saddles that everyone hates about it.
In other words, playing aggressively on a Jazz simply doesn't work. If you try playing hard on the Jazz, the guitar will go out of tune constantly and that floating vibrato system (which by the way is non-locking and can't be "decked" like a Strat's can) may really annoy you.
However, if you play with a light touch (or can train yourself to) and don't mind using a pick with some flex to it (to prevent string pop-out), then yeah, the Jazz is great. You just have to know what you're getting into when you buy a Jazzmaster.
Why may I get a Jazzmaster?
For the reasons I said above. Very comfortable shape, good tonal character and that slow-style vibrato system is just amazing to play around with, and very usable in many playing styles.