The signature guitar for Johnny Marr (The Smiths) is a highly modded Jaguar with parts based on a variety of others from different eras and some unique additions dreamed up by Johnny and his engineers.
Johnny Marr Jaguar
AuraFX, on july 26, 2013 3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Price paid: £ 1440
Purchased from: GuitarGuitar
Features: This is a 2012 US made Fender Jaguar - the signature guitar for Johnny Marr (The Smiths amongst loads of others including his solo career). It's a highly modded Jaguar with parts based on a variety of others from different eras and some unique additions dreamed up by Johnny and his engineers.
I have the Metallic KO which is a sort of faded Orange red metallic and is based on one of Johnny's old Jags which was a naturally faded red. It's a really unusual colour and really eye-catching and gives it a hard to define mix of modern and Vintage at a distance.
This is an alder body with a maple neck and a rosewood fretboard. It's a totally unique neck made to Marr's specs and is based mostly on his own '65 Jag I think, though with some changes. It's got 22 Vintage frets, is a Vintage lacquer and is a lot thicker than you'd expect. It's a 7.25" radius with a 1.65" nut width.
The body is also a custom shape with a different rear curve that is a lot more pronounced than my regular Jag and the top curve is based on an old '50s Strat which its clear to feel when you play it, especially sitting down, as it seems to hug the body and have less in the way of your arm compared to a stock Jag. It's extremely light, not that Jags tend to be weighty, but this is a featherweight guitar. Along with the custom shape it's probably the most comfortable guitar I've ever owned.
The bridge is the standard Vintage Jaguar trem unit but with a modified Mustang set of saddles which hold the strings a bit better than the regular Jag saddles. I've done this mod on my other Jag as I do tend to strum a bit too hard for the original Jag to hold the strings. This Marr version has some modified seating set-up to keep it at the correct height. Despite it looking quite high compared to some set-ups the action feels quite low. I'm not sure how that works but it does.
The pickups are custom Marr pickups by Bare Knuckle pickups. They're both passive single coils, a totally Vintage winding but a much different sound to any other Jag coils I've heard. There's less brittle edge but they aren't warmer like some that sound more like Jazzmaster pickups. They are immensely clear and ringing but without the "harsh" treble you can dial in on Jaguars. The pickups magnets are apparently in the same direction like a Telecaster rather than reversed like a normal Jag - this gives the option of some Tele like twang in there but they stay quiet as they are better shielded.
The whole electronics are custom made as well and designed by Johnny Marr and his tech to keep some of the Jaguar options but offer a few new ones. Personally I never had a problem with the Jaguar controls although I know some people really hate all the dual circuit stuff. I tend to prefer more options rather than less and I quite like having a lot of switches. Still the Marr Jag being so different gives me some massively different options along with my basic Jag. The chrome plates are the same as Johnny, like me, loves the look of the Jag with all it's '60s sci-fi design but the controls are different. The master tone and volume are the same, but the bottom plate chrome switches are swapped out for a giant chrome Telecaster 4 way horizontal control. This has neck, neck and bridge parallel, bridge and then a new neck and bridge series - to make a dark humbucking pickup which gives a very different sound and a level boost. On the top horn plate, the dual circuit system has been removed, but Johnny wanted the 'strangle' circuit in it's place. This adds a choked treble effect to the sound. There's also a second switch which adds a second filter onto the humbucking position 4 circuit. This takes a bit of getting used to compared to the normal Jag but it means you have even more sound options - which is pretty versatile.
The tuners are Vintage style but the whole thing stays totally in tune. Seriously, I've had to retune it twice. It's better than a Tele - which is just weird on a Jag. The trem arm is different than a stock Jag too - it moves very easily but stays exactly where you put it, high or low. There's also a much more pronounced vibrato effect which I think people will recognise from a lot of Marr's playing with his tendency to do "flourishes" on Chord changes and the last notes on an arpeggio.
This comes with a grey Vintage style US Fender case, strap, tools, all the case candy and some.11 gauge flatwound strings as a lot of people like flats on Jaguars. I don't know if Marr ever uses those but I've tried them on my other Jag - it's an acquired taste but useful for more than just Jazz. Basically it's the most specced-up Jag you can buy straight from Fender and the changes are all for a reason and IMO all improvements. // 10
Sound: I play in an alternative rock/electronic band. I have tended to play a lot of Strats, Teles and Les Paul type guitars but in the last year grabbed a Jaguar and a J Mascis Signature Jazzmaster as I fell for the offset look and feel. Having discovered that these guitars are a lot more versatile than most reviews ever seem to say, I saved up for this Johnny Marr signature model. Admittedly I just thought it looked like guitar porn which is probably a stupid reason to want a guitar but hey, I'm human. Having played one though I just felt like it was going to be MY guitar. I don't really play like Johnny Marr in particular though I do find myself trying more chiming, melodic patterns now I have this guitar. It just brings that side out of you.
I'm using a lot of fx and different amps. I've gone on about them in other reviews so I won't keep listing them all, let's just say I'm big into fx and I don't really suit the plugged straight into an amp sound (maybe I'm just not good enough, but I like gadgets what can I say?)
This guitar won't do technical metal, which I think is fairly obvious, but pretty much anything else goes. The pickups, especially with the position 4 humbucker and the two filter circuits give you around 10 sounds immediately before you even mess with the tone and volume masters. It can do the Traditional Jaguar surf tones but it can also sound big, bold and musical in a wide variety of styles. On the single pickup selections it can have a tiny bit of noise but nothing like a standard Jag or Jazzmaster. Other than a modelling guitar it's easily the most versatile guitar I can think of.
The neck is so easy to play, the shorter scale and Vintage frets mean you can just keep playing all day without fatigue. It's just a beautiful sound that you can tailor a lot. I get the feeling Johnny designed this to replace a huge amount of his other guitars and he seems to exclusively play these signature models now on tour so that probably suggests it can do a pretty wide range as he's famously used everything from Rick's to Semis to Teles in the past. I feel stupid giving 10s all the time but this is subjective so for me and my sound and variety this is easily a 10. // 10
Action, Fit & Finish: The Fender USA finish has picked up again. I've bought some signature USA models that had serious flaws out of the box in recent years. There were none here, maybe I was just lucky, but can't complain. The action is low but every fret is smoothed with Vintage action. The Vintage frets won't suit everyone - I have larger hands and I really like them, but some people used to modern jumbo frets might dislike it. You certainly don't get fatigue from hours of chording though as it's very easy to play. If you were just starting out (and were well off enough to risk buying an expensive guitar as your first) you'd buy this and have fun since there's just no pain in playing.
There is a slightly odd feel with the bottom E string, as the radius is small and the Mustang saddles are a different radius I think it causes the high frets to pop the E string off quite easily. It sits right on the very top of the fret edges above the 15th fret. It's not a problem if you're aware of it, but I guess anyone trying to do a lot of downtuning bottom string riffing might find they were pushing off the fretboard all the time. It's not really something I'd be doing with this particular guitar but I would be aware that it is a peculiar thing (just try one before you buy to see if it annoys you). There wasn't a plate out of alignment or a saddle misplaced.
Overall it has a Vintage look and feel but there's a modern edge to everything, like it's been just improved a bit. I'm usually pretty attentive to flaws on expensive guitars (I tend to let my budget ones have a little more leeway, but when you drop this much cash on something I want to make sure it was worth it - this was). I should probably find a fault and say there was a smudge of paint on the nut. There, that ruined it's 10 rating. // 9
Reliability & Durability: Jags are solid machines. They look like they should be a bit fiddly and easy to mess up but in my experience they last and are strong as anything. This is no exception. It's definitely a working guitarists axe though. The comfort and stability and lightweight finish just make it easy to play for long gigs. I don't tend to ever play any gig without backups as I often have some pretty varied tunings and have a few guitars anyway - that's not because I fear this would break at all, but the usual sensible precaution applies.
It's got Vintage lacquer on everything which makes it feel very tough and hardwearing. I've not really had it long enough to say if it's going to withstand years of abuse, but it looks so good I'd probably baby it and keep it in the case most of the time, so it's not really going to get abused.
Strap buttons are as solid as any US fender, but I always swap out for Schaller strap locks anyway as I'm paranoid about dropping guitars and I like to switch out the straps when I'm packing up fast. I've not opened it up yet, but bare knuckle make great pickups and most other reviews I've seen of this say they're impeccable inside. The wiring is usually pretty good on US Fenders. I won't score it 10 though as I haven't really inspected the guts yet. // 8
Overall Impression: The last guitar I reviewed was the J Mascis Jazzmaster and I said it didn't matter if you knew who he was, you could get a great guitar from his signature. This obviously annoyed a lot of people who thought I was unaware who J Mascis was - which wasn't my point. My point was that signature guitars can sometimes be too exact to one sound and you don't get a lot from them, just a signature on the headstock and no real variety.
This is very definitely a guitar for Johnny Marr, so in that way maybe it is more of a signature-specific design, but I'd say again, even if you don't play in his style, this is a great guitar for a variety of styles and sounds. Yes, it has some serious idiosyncrasies and is one of the most modified guitars Fender put out but every change makes sense and you egt the impression Johnny and his tech worked for a long time in trying stuff out to make a guitar that people love or hate into something that it's really, really hard to hate.
It's comfortable to wear, stood up or sat down, it's comfortable to play for hours on end. It's got rid of the dual circuit that annoys so many players who might otherwise like the Jag and replaced it with options that give even more variety, whilst retaining the unique chromed look that makes the Jaguar so cool. The body contouring keeps the famous Jag shape but is just so much better against your body.
If it were lost or stolen I'd have to save up and buy another. To mod a stock Jag would just cost too much and there appears to be some unique items on here. Unlike some I still like the original Jag design, so this is less a "better" version and more an "alternative" - though if you loved the idea of a Jag but didn't like that whole kill switch, accidentally hitting the muffled rhythm circuit switch when playing, you might have found the one Jag that changes your mind.
As of now this is my favourite guitar and I find myself having to not just use it on everything. It's hard to put down though, most guitars seem like a chore to use after this. Apologies to those who hate glowing reviews, but you know when you find a guitar that just seems to make you want to play all day and night and wake up the next morning with it next to the bed so you can start all over again - yeah, this is that one for me.