FENDER JAG-STANGKurt Cobain's not-Signature "Signature" model
Overview - The Fender Jag-Stang is a 24" Scale, 3/4 Mustang, 1/4 Jaguar guitar designed by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana with the help of Custom Shop builder Larry Brooks. The guitar was designed using polaroids and a fax machine, and the first, Sonic Blue, prototype taken on tour in 1993-early 1994 in support of the In Utero Album. The second prototype was to ship right as the new of Kurt's tragic death. The Jag-Stang is one of those interesting guitars in history that never really caught on, got a lot of malignment and jokes about it, but was actually a really good instrument. I'd put it iin the same class as the Hondo Paul Dean II - it does not get the respect or admiration it deserves. In all basic essence, the Jag-Stang is like a "Mustang GT" - it's got a sportier body shape ala Jaguar, with a Humbucker at the bridge, but really at it's core, is a thick-bodied Mustang.

Famous Players - Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Peter Buck (REM), Joan Jett's Guitarist Circa 1997, Billy Joe Armstrong (Green Day), there's honestly not a lot of famous players who play these. I could probably count myself as a "famous player" because I'm that crazy guy posting videos of me putting the whammy system through the ringer on YouTube. I think it's much the same reason there's not many super famous guitarists playing aHondo Paul Dean or a Steve Vai EVO Ibanez, because it's already associated with another artist, which is kind of silly, because Lester Poulfus - aka Les Paul, has had his signature guitar used by everyone including Kurt Cobain, Peter Buck, Joan Jett's guitarists, and even Billy Joe Armstong as well, and nobody has reservation or preconcieved notions about THAT guitar series.
Fender Jag-Stang History
To understand the Jag-Stang, we need to look at Kurt Cobain's preferences in guitars as a player. Kurt's first major used Eelectric guitar, Pre-Nirvana, was a Univox Hi-Flier, a copy of the Mosrite guitars, which ere a common replacement for Jaguars and Jazzmasters in surf bands in the early sixties. He also had a Mosrite Gosphel in Nirvana's early days. Between 1988 and 1991 he started using Fenders more, mostly Japanese Stratocasters because they were cheap and easily availible left handed, as well as Mustangs which were probably cheaper than the Strats at that time. Kurt's 3rd or 4th Mustang was a competition blue 1969 Fender Mustang which later had a Hot Rails pickup put in it. This guitar was used in the Smells LIke Teen SPirit video shoot, and smashed to pieces over a mixer at the infamous Trees Show in Texas, and then was glued back together by Ernie Bailey where it managed to out-survive Cobain. Kurt's other favorite guitar was his 1965/1966 (Acocunts vary) Fender Jaguar which he supposedly bought from Martin Jenner via the L.A. Recycler in 1991 somewhere bettween recording Nevermind and going on tour in support of that record. After those two guitars, by 1993, Kurt started using Japanese Fender Mustangs - 3 blue ones called SkyStang I-III, and then the famous Fiesta Red one that got rebuilt after the Roseland show where it had a tort pickguard and a hot rail in it.

So what we establish here is Kurt really liked his Jaguar, but itt probably was so modified a stock one could never cut it for him live. On the other hand, he loved Mustangs, a lot! All of the major guitars in his collecton had ties to California Surf, so there was some of that late 70's/early 80's irony-based retro-Americana Kitsch to his taste - ala new wave bands like The CArs, The Go Gos, or The Clash.

Anyway, in 1993, Fender approached Kurt about designing his own custom guitar. Kurt already had an idea apparently, as his journals suggested being full of sketches of Jag-Stang like guitars of his own design going back as far as 1991 or 1992. To get the ball rolling, Kurt took polaroids of his two main guitars - the 65' Jaguar and 69' Competition Mustang, and then cut the electronics and 1/4th of the body of the Mustang out of the picture, and put that on the Jaguar's body. Later it was colored in in the color he wanted ("Aqua Blue, Like old Mustangs"). This early incarnation looks more balanced aesthetically, but apparently there were needs for refinement for the rest of his time on earth.

Nirvana, Live in Tallahassee Florida 1993

How Fender did this was they would ship out the prototype to Kurt, who at the time was touring with Nirvana in support of In Utero. When the guitar arrived, ideally - Kurt would let them know of changes to the guitar required, and ship it baack for Fender to make the changes, I think they did this, according to what I read, 3 times. But the actuality was a little different. I think how it was done was, the guitar was shipped in, Ernie would switch the bridge for a Tune-O-Matic, and the bridge pickup from the DiMarzio unit Fender used (as they had a business partnership with DiMarzio at the time), with a Seymour Duncan JB in white - I have read this somewhere as well. Then the guitar was converted back when it was sent back to Fender. This original guitar used in the prototype process was a Sonic Blue one, with an alder body, Fender Texas Special in the Neck, SD JB in the bridge (swapped from a DiMarzio H8 or so I'm told), and a 7 screw whiite pickguard (versus the normal Mustang-derived 9 screw version we see on production Jag-Stangs). The Jag-Stang was used on the southeastern United States leg, appearing at Georga and possibly Alabama shows in 1993, before going over to Europe for the final part of the 1994 tour before coming back for Unplugged.

On April 4th 1994, Kurt was found dead in his Seattle home in the green room with a self inflicted gunshot wound. At the same time, Fender was just about to send Kurt the second prototype, a Fiesta red one with a pearloid pickguard. That guitar was kept at Fender until it was accidentialy lost/sold/stolen, and replaced with another Jag-Stang sometime later (probably Japanese) or so it's rumored. Kurt Cobain's original blue Jag-Stang was given, by his widow, Courtney Love, to Michael Stipe of REM, who Kurt was about to work with at the time,

R.E.M. - Let Me in (Live)

Unfortunatley, due to it's tight connections with Kurt Cobain, the Jag-Stang had a hard time, despite Kurt saying he wanted to release a guitar with "no preconcieved notions attached to it", getting anywhere further than mostly Nirvana fans who wanted to be like Kurt, and the occasional use in someone's band. Also, it seems Fender's execution was not "up to par" to most people. That said, there were a few artists early on who picked up the Jag-Stang, such as Anett Mook of the band Cay. Billy Joe Armstrong is rumored to have used one as well. But overall, the instrument always had this pall cast over it of being a somewhat crass cash-grab. Outside of myself, I have never heard of anyone using a Jag-Stang as their "main guitar".

The critiques from buyers on the early internet included "the bridge is wrong/stupid/does not stay in tune" "the bridge pickup is weak/enemic" "the body wood is wrong" "the color is too "green" "the body shape looks stupid". And this spread like wildfire over the guitar community giving the Jag-Stang it's bizzarely sought after but crappy reputation.

It did not do too bad though, Fender sold a lot of them, enough to keep making the original Japanese runs of the Jag-Stang from 1995-2001, and then bringing it back for a second run from 2001-2005. The changes in the second run were an alder body and they re-branded or redesigned the bridge pickup to be a "Fender Santa Ana Humbucker" - probably just the old DiMarzio design built in-house and renamed.

Anette Mook from the punk/grunge group Cay played a Jag-Stang for awhile when the Nature Creates Freaks CD came out. There was also another guy on YouTube who played a Jag-Stang on a song called "Break Free" which for some reason I can't find at the moment (will need to dig into my back catalog of videos for that one). Joan Jett's guitarist used one for awhile, as did Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day. But mostly, you just never really saw Jag-Stangs get a lot of appreciation or use outside the Nirvana tribute band or some 13 year old at a big-city Guitar Center banging away the opening chords to Smells Like Teen Spirit ad nauseum.....

The Video that Started it All for Me - Jag-Stang Whammy Madness I (May 2006)

After that, the Jag-Stang was thought done and over forever. Honestly, to give you perspective about the Jag-Stang, I'm a nothing, a nobody, I'm a LOCAL musician, and I could probably almost rate in the top 5 of Jag-Stang players because there are so few. I got on YouTube in 2006 initially to start a computer channel and ended up instead making a guitar channel that inadvertantly stirred up some shit so I kind of went on a low-grade-crusade to point out these guitars indeed CAN handle heavy rock and actually do amazingly well at it, stock or modified. Honestly, most of what I heard about the Jag-Stang in that period, was myself. The rest of the time it was "I wanna put a JB in mine to be like "teh kurdtz"" - usually raising as many groans as me talking about playing "Eruption" by Van-Halen on that guitar would on guitar forums back then. Yeah, this period is so boring and low-activity, except maybe Ryan Jarman doing his own variation on the Jag-Stang, that it's almost not even worth mntioning.

In the 2010's Fender opened up thier Hollywood offices and started showing us pictures of the guitars there. One of them was, you guessed it, a Jag-Stang. Which kicked off a bunch of speculation a reissue or even a Squier version was going on the market, sinice the guitar question looked like a VM production test run instrument from China. However, we would have to wait even longer, till 2021, before we would see the Jag-Stang come back.

In 2021, Fender Re-Released the Jag-Stang as a part of commemoration of the release of Nirvana's Nevermind Album. The guitar released was a new Mexican version with some very minor alterations to it, and it has done about as well as previous releases, so if not already discontinued, I expect it probably will in 5-7 more years at the most. And when the next Anniversary of something "Nirvana" we will see it again.
The Jag-Stang In a Hard Rock Context
On the technical side, the Jag-Stang is probably one of the most "naturally aspirated" to the job of playing heavy rock of any on this site. It's got a bridge humbucker, it's short scale, it's got a good bit of wood, it's well balanced, it's rock solid reliable, and it won't take much to get it there. The biggest problem you'll have is the social issue of people having "preconcieved notions" about the instrument because it's a Jag-Stang. How is a Jag-Stang any different than a Les Paul, for those of you who did not know, the Les Paul was a model named after none other than Les Paul, the father of modern recording! So maybe we should drop the whole "Kurt Cobain designed this thing" for a bit and look at it in a more general light.

In it's stock form, all iterations of the Jag-Stang have a roughly 7.5K Ceramic humbucker in the bridge - marketed as a DiMarzio, Santa Ana, or "Custom Design" pickup, and the neck pickup is either a Fender 62' Reissue strat pickup at 6.4K ohms, or a Fender special design single coil around 5.something K, likely out of one of the newer Mustang designs. The pickups are wired into each switch 2 wire style with phase change. Some people have claimed coil-split was availible on the original releases, but I'm not 100% sure. 1 Volume, 1 Tone, output jack, that's it for electronics.

These electronics are often maligned. We all know Kurt Cobain used DiMarzio Super Distortions, Hot Rails, and Seymour Duncan J.B. (Jeff Beck) pickups in either full sized or hot rail form. In Kurt's original designs, he called for a "double coil hot rail" meaning it originally was supposed to have a hot rail pickup. All of these pickups are in the high-output range of 12K-16K ohms. He also used the pickups in the Univox Hi Fliers as well in his mustangs and those are rumored to also be quite hot in wiring. So the original electronics aare not quite "accurate" to what Kurt was using. I suppose what happened was this, when planning the guitar for production, some scientific eggheads at Fender thought a few things....first that they needed to properly "balance" the pickups, with little thought about how people since the 70's were using 6.4K Strat pickups against 14K ohm humbuckers, let alone Kurt jamming the same kind of high powered pickups in his own guitars. So, to "match", they put 6.4K strat pickup in the neck, and then put a 7.4K humbucker in the back and said "that's properly balanced". Then the next thing they did was maybe "warm it up" with 250K Ohm pots possibly. What results is an underwhelmpingly under-powered guitar for what is expected. This is why - besides the Cobain association - most people with Jag-Stangs put a hotter pickup in the bridge.

Carried over from the Mustang was the Dynamic Vibrato unit which nobody ever uses because "Cobain locked his down". HOwever, this vibrato unit was kind of falsely given a bad name via the Mandella effect - Kurt never said specifically the Mustang vibrato was bad, he just said - at the end of the same interview where he addresses the mustang in response to a question of "do you ever use the whammy bar" he said "Everyone knows only Jimi Hendridx could keep those things in tune". See, Kurt Cobain never mentioned in ANY interview that the Fender Dynamic was terrible as a vibrato bar, he said the MUSTANG guitar as whole was terrible at stying in tune because he did not know that you could adjust the action with a tiny hex wrench. And we can give him a pass on that, this was, in fact, the early 1990s, which a guy who had been using Mustangs since the 80's, and it was not like every bloody toolkit came with a 2mm hex wrench to adjust the bridge, - heck, I remember finding it a big deal to even SEE A hex wrench somewhere mainstream like Lowes or Home Depot - and for sure none of the $50 Mustangs he was playing had a hex wrench with it when he bought it. Kids today have no idea what it was like in the pre-Nirvana days with offsets, I only ust barely can speculate myself. But the anti-poodle-haired-shredder brigade of "this guitar jock who plays 10,000,000 notes a minute reminds me of that guy from the football team that stuffed me in a toilet for a swilrlie and dated the chick that got me hot - so I'm going to attack any music anywhere remotely like his regardless if it's Reb Beach, Eddie Van-Halen, Kirk Hammett, or Dimebag Darrell". And so they went around talking total s*** about the vibrato system because "that's what Kurt would have done". No, Kurt just said "only Jimi Hendrix can keep one of those in tune". I've had so many stupid and pointless celebrity worship arguements about offsets it's bloody embarassing. It's one of the main reasons I'm very salty and a bit triggered by this subject at this point.

The truth of the matter, is what we have here is a a 24" scale angular Fender Mustang with a underpowered humbucker, a decent enough single coil, wiring that holds more potential than is being utilized, and a pretty awsome and underrated vibrato system....not to mention a VERY fast and comfortable neck. Cobain's choice of neck is an A+, and it's a trade off from the Paul Dean guitars, it's just as skinny, but STAYS that skinny all the way up to the 22nd fret - but the speed is agumented by the 7.16" fretboard radius requiring a higher action to not choke out on bends - but that augmentation is made up for by the skinny "C" profile and .75" shorter scale.

So let's talk about how to improve the Jag-Stang in general.

Improvements One Can Make (and they're VERY simple)
The first problem is that bridge humbucker which is underpowered to a point not even Kurt Cobain would use it. He had a JB in his Jag-Stang - remember, and a Tune-O-Matic. But that's besides the point. That said, I'm not at all bashing the pickup, I'm just saying, most people will want to put something hotter in there. Of course, the pickup was likely chosen to balance with the neck position pickup properly (a regular 5-6K Stratocaster pickup).

Most people opt for a Seymour Duncan JB, though a DiMarzio Super Distortion would also be a great pickup to put in there. I myself use an EMG 81 humbucker in mine, which really gives the Jag-Stang one hell of an attitude adjustment. The output voltage is around 1.6VDC peak during heavy low-E chugging stuff, and that's a lot coming from a guitar to amp. It comes out with a nice, milky, almost unexpectedly bluesy overdrive on the clean channel, but on crunch it becomes a monster, and lead really sears. The tone and output here is very Judas Priest or Pantera - very high gain, harmonics and notes jump off the fretboard without a lot of effort. Putting a nice treble bypass on the volume pot really helps, and on mine I used a slightly higher value cap so it sounds more like a Telecaster when I roll off the volume, giving me a nice, Elliot-Easton-esque Twang - think "The Dangerous Type" off of Candy-O.

For the neck position on these guitars, almost any single coil sounds nice. With the 81 I have an SA up there, and it balances nicely with the 81. The result is really interesting - the middle position, when in phase, sounds more Les-Paul-Like toward the neck and more Fender-Strat position 4-like near the bridge, this is nice because I esentially have 2 guitars in one position, and of course, I can roll off the volume and mimic a Tele with both pickups on, though there's a little STratty-sparkle coming through with it.

The neck alone can be very acoustic-like, almost like a piezo system, but with a bit of tin-can-ness to it. Out of phase with the bridge using a Pi2 Phase Inverter gives almost a tone similar to James "JY" Young's Yoshinerator strat tone - think "Blue Collar Man" - it can do the whole clonky Peter Greene thing (kind of fitting since Kirk Hammett plays Greenie these days), but it really shines that that grindy, weird, 70's overdrive thing.

On Jag-Stangs, you might want to also raise the potentiometer values a bit. I think one reason, especially with higher output humbuckers, these guitars get so wooly is the combination of a lightweght vibrato/tailpiece made of brass, a very thick chunk of alder or basswood where a Les Paul has a lot of wood - hence my Les Paul comments earlier, and a short scale, combined iwth an overall springiness like a Mustang. THis absorbtion of treble frequencies means