Pawn Shop Mustang Special review by Fender

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  • Features: 8
  • Sound: 7
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 9
  • Reliability & Durability: 9
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8.2 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.4 (36 votes)
Fender: Pawn Shop Mustang Special
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Purchased from: GuitarGuys

Features — 8
Short scale, rosewood board on a maple neck, I believe 22 frets, "vintage style" tuners, body is probably Alder, lake placid blue finish with mint green pickguard. Coil splitting humbuckers, volume and tone knob, 3 way pickup select switch, two 3 position sliders for coil splitting. Made in Japan. Truss rod in heel of neck (@ body to neck joint).

Let's get started on the big stuff: 

I've once ever in 17 years had to adjust a solid body electrics trussrod on a guitar that's not been sitting in several pieces. Once. But, I like to know its an option. If I ever need this adjusted, its going to a shop. MiJ Fenders have this, MiM (which I like way better) have the rod adjustment at the nut, which is better. Find an old Mustang, and it may very well have the pickguard broken or cut out between the end of the fretboard and a few inches above the neck pickup. Why? Truss rod access. Easier to not unbolt the whole neck. The humbuckers make it impossible/impractical here, though. you'd need to use a bench grinder on the allen wrench to even almost have the room. 

Mint green is terrible. There, I said it. Looks like crap, it's not white and barely green, you can find strat knobs that match but nothing else for cosmetics (i.e. racing stripe, topper for 3-way switch, etc) and its an oddball shape, so you need to not use humbuckers or cut your own to replace it with something better (black and toroise shell would look 138% better on all colors this is offered in). 

I got blue, because I could physically touch and play it in a shop. Should have bought red and sold it if it sucked. Nothing against the guitar; blue isnt as "me" as other colors on a fender color chart. BUT, blue with mint means I feel obligates to modify it cosmetically (internally too, more later) and of course, most gear if you mod it you keep it. New knobs and pickguard modifying should hold me over.

Pickups suck. But, Fender humbuckers are terrible anyway, so I was prepared. More on coil tapping and how it compares to a "real" mustang in the sound section. Pickups LOOK appealing, which is neat. Logo on covers sells it. F on neckplate is neat too (I haven't bought a Guitar in awhile before this). Tuners are great. Never had issue with that style on other (albeit Mim) guitars. Prefer them to other stuff most days. 

Actions great. I've always loved the scale, feel, and even body ratio of mustangs, and this wins at those. Impressive, since I love heavy guitars more, but still enjoy this, eve if it feels like a toy next to my "tree with pickups and a neck" guitars I use. Solid fit, playable and enjoyable despite gripes.

Sound — 7
Borrowed a '75 mustang from my grandpa (who paid dirt for it at a yardsale in the 80s). I did this after being dissappointed by the sound of the Pawn Shop Specials "wide range" humbuckers, even with coil tapping. They are weak, offer less tonal coolness than the in/out of phase original mustang stuff (had to be careful, and not analyze the tone based on old wood and less "meh" pickup making. This is soley on diversity of tonal options offered) and also, its weak humbuckers on a tiny guitar, so tone is really lacking all around. Splitting them to singles or singe/humbucker setup makea it ok, but unimpressive. 

HOWEVER:

Fender humbuckers are junk. I put Gibsons in my Toronado. Fender charges you for non-weak/boring/blah pickups in single coils too (my first guitar was a strat, still has lace sensors to remedy "Fender pickup Syndrome") but they suck less at making them. I've found bad and amazing tele pickups, weak and accidentally flavorful strat pickups, all on MiM Standards. Humbuckers I've never found on a Fender that just stock sounded like they cared. I'm a fender fan, but this is in my top 3 gripes with them. 

I bought this and planned/still plan on upgrading the pickups, as money and time allow. (The less good due to feel and make "modern player" model, ran when this was made, has more interesting pickups on a junk guitar. they've considered doing good, but I'm unimpressed). Bottom line is they try to charge $800+ msrp for a student model (ummm, blame Cobain?) And skimp on pickups. Double ouch.

Action, Fit & Finish — 9
Put together fine. Actions great, scales what it should be. Bad for huge hands and banana fingers, I'd assume. Plays really easily, but I played non-setup ones, and wouldn't rely on factory setup on these. Its tuners I've seen bend and not break under impractical stage incident level-duress, so I'm sure they're good too. Again, bad design for truss rod access drives me nuts, even if I wont use it. And knowing old models have enough elbow room to get to the truss rod nut, Fender could have made the Japanese models go up top like the Mexis of this series, or given 7mm more space and came up with a good access idea. Sustain issues of the old mustangs I can't compare this to, so the hardtail bridge holds up to its early flaw I suppose.

Reliability & Durability — 9
Solid, for sure. MIM/MIJ stuffs reliably built. I've had bad things happen with minimal damage, historically. I don't gig without a backup, but given that this thing is solid and enjoyable to play, I'd use it AS A BACKUP in the event that a striking breaks or tone doesn't matter for a song and my main guitar has a noisy or dirty pot. Mustangs being small, the strap button doesn't sit all the way down on the upper horn, but screws are long enough for the lock button to stay perfectly steady. The 3 switches and 2 pots seem fine, plastic knobs are easy to replace pull off kind, tuners are the solid kind. It's good enough to take to the show, and with better pickups, could be a main guitar for someone, just not enough oomph and mass for my primary.

Overall Impression — 8
Not great sonically, but I play blues, rock, punk, alternative, psychobilly... Pickups can do whatever, just less good than better pickups. Neck and feel wise, I wouldn't use it for boring math-metal, but most evolutions of punk or rock its perfect. For good blues tone, Use something heavier (physically) for a humbucker solid-body. Or, if this is too nice to play to do that, better pickups would be decent. It's an almost great guitar, with issues cosmetically, electronic lacking, technical inconveniences with truss rod access, and I still bought it. Why? 

Other Mustangs offered currently are junk or more expensive. I don't recall if the Cobain oneha Mustang switching or not, but its the prettier and more expensive of the two good mustangs Fender had out as of spring 2014. Modern player ones would've been good, but all of them I tried were just crappy feeling, and didn't sound like they could. I'm not a fan of non Mexican/Japanese guitars in this price range for this reason. Plenty of HH or Blacktop models flood Fenders catalogue, geared toward people who don't care about anything but humbuckers and a body shape. At least this model offers interesting switching (I haven't opened it up, but I'm sure if you convert it to singles, the in/out of phase wiring is easier to do than the coil tapping, but its all cool optional stuff). I'd probably take an older reissue over this if I found one I liked, and certainly the pickups and wood of a 70s or earlier mustang make it 500X better than what Fender has to offer currently (Fenders curse is old fender just being better).  

I own many solid bodies, have sold several too. This is more enjoyable to play than my strat or tele. It's almost as good of a feel as my Tornado. The Tornado has Gibson 57 Classic Series pickups, and its heavy as hell, so its a tone monster that this mustang can't touch. The Tele has a good stock bridge pickup, and a weak neck one. The mass+ash of the tele can't make the neck pickup matter much, so neck only, this mustang in a single single or single double setup is better. The bridge pickup on said tele smokes this thing though, and I chalk it up to wood, the fender humbucker curse, and luck in my teles pickup. My strat has more sonic plate than this, but arguably the mustang can get better tones than some of what the strat can dial in, albeit weaker and needing more compensation via amp. These pickups are ok on the level of old stock B.C. Rich ones or the DD stick ESP LTD ones. can't compare it to my Ovation Breadwinner Limited because that things too damn weird to be in the same ballpark. The playing of this guitar is what makes it appealing, and why I bought it. I haven't ran it through anything but my 1980 Fender 75, but based upon what it sounded like through "instore" tube stuff, the hot rod deluxe would make it sound as good as any midline Ibanez or Fat Strat, then have single coil options. Of course, most $600+ Epiphones sound better with stock humbuckers, so there's ways that. I haven't ran it through my 67 Bassman 50, but I'm sure it would sound decent (most stuff sounds great on those circuit AB156 BF circuits, you dial in 2 knobs and find what you want pretty quick)

Basically, you plug in this and its ok, ou plug in a squire and this is better, then you plug in an Epiphone or something with good pickups and by comparison, this is quieter, less tonally rich, and sounds like it has less a-s to it (but it weighs alot less, for those folks not wanting to hang 15lbs of LP or whatever from themselves).

I grew up loving punk, Nirvana, Garage rock(inspired by surf rock) and Alternative stuff. I have small hands, and always wanted a mustang. This gives me one, but one I have to work at to perfect, which was more ok when I was 22 years old with more money. Doing it again, if the 90s reissue mustangs that are on ebay Now (October of 2014) were there in the spring, I could have bought 2 for what it'll take to make this what I want.

I'm saddedned by Fenders lack of original switching stuff in mustangs, jaguars, and jazzmasters. But this has something like it. They tried, at least, and I'm so far keeping a guitar that sounds inferior, looks less than good to me, and is hard to modify. So, I like the feel and shape enough to deal with a 50% not ideal guitar. I've been playing for somewhere around 16 years and some change, I know good guitars and amps by this point, and a solid Fender is never a bad thing to have, even if its pickups are lacking. Overall not perfect, but ok.

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