Updated: Oct 3, 2019
Welcome to the third blog entry on the brand spanking new Cowan Guitars Website! Today I'll be talking all about the latest Squier Classic Vibe Jaguar based on my recent experience of it.
As always with reviews, this one is solely based on my own experience with this guitar, and this is the only one I have played, so given the wide variance in quality control your experience could well be different. If you can, always try to give guitars like this a play in the shop before you buy!
So where to start?!
I saw Squier were coming out with these in January, as soon as I saw the blocks and binding on the neck I knew this would be an absolute cop! (I pretty much blacked out and preordered the thing immediately). Aside from that I love black guitars with a red tort guard, don't know why, I just do! So the stars aligned for me with this model!
Fast forward a few months filled with anticipation and my local music store rings me to tell me my guitar is ready to go!
I practically fly to the store where they present it to me boxed up, assuring me that it's all amazing and has been gone over by their tech with absolutely no problems, so I grab the box and fly back home.
A few minutes later, I rip all the packaging off like a 6 year old expecting the latest Nintendo at Christmas and run the guitar to my Mesa Boogie which is already fired up and waiting. I strum an obligatory E chord. Well, I try to. I get a whole lot of buzz...
This doesn't bode well...
Immediately the filter of excitement and anticipation is removed from my eyes, and the tech side of me takes over while I attempt to analyse everything going wrong like RoboCop.
There is a lot I like about the guitar, but here comes what I didn't like (didn't is a specifically chosen word here);
1. Fret's weren't all seated correctly, and even after reseating required a fret level and dress to be where they needed to be. To mask this, the guitar had been given a much higher action than I'm used to for guitars with a 9.5" radius fingerboard, and even still there was excessive buzz even on open strings. In my opinion, a guitar which comes from the factory requiring fret levelling should not pass it's QC inspection (it also should not slip through inspection at shops and get sold to customers in this kind of state if they wan't their customers to be satisfied).
2. While the nut was cut to a correct string spacing, its action was too high, and it's finish too rough. This is a more common error and not as big of an issue as the aforementioned problem, but something that needs correction to get optimal playability nonetheless.
3. This one is a pretty poor way to do things whether it came like this from the factory or was done in the shop, but the neck was horribly shimmed. I noticed poor neck coupling on the neck pocket and popped off the neck to see that someone had attempted to shim the guitar with 2 pieces of sandpaper and masking tape, positioned a third of the way up the neck pocket! What!? This is not how to do things people and I'll tell you why: to get the most sustain/resonance out of your guitar (and a Jag/Jazz often needs all the help it can get), you need to have a good firm coupling between the neck and neck pocket. This means a very snug fit with as much contact between the neck and neck pocket (which means no gap between them, which is exactly what this piece of sandpaper caused) is necessary to get the most vibration energy transferred from the neck to the body as possible. the other reason this is a bad way to shim your neck is because over time the neck will compress into the pocket as it is a bolt on, and the rough sandpaper will cause depressions in the neck and/or pocket due to said compression. This is bad because it will defeat the purpose of the shim in forcing greater neck angle with the bridge of the guitar because the sandpaper will depress into the finish/wood, and lessen its shimming angle as it compresses into the guitar. The easiest and best way to shim your bolt on neck guitar is to use a Stewmac pre-made neck shim between the neck and neck pocket, unless you're handy enough to fashion one yourself out of maple or similar material.
4. This one is relatively minor compared to the above because it is a very easy fix, but two of the screws on the vibrato plate actually contact the E strings, which is potentially bad for tuning stability, particularly if you're a heavy trem user.
Ok, so you'll probably be thinking that given my critique so far, this guitar is not worth your time, but stick with me, I promise it gets better from here!
Starting with the good points:
1. Nut is made from bone! This is a big deal especially considering this is on a Squier. This is probably the number one upgrade made from the former Vintage Modified Jaguar range that Squier made, in my opinion! A bone nut is one of the most effective upgrades you can do on your plastic nut equipped guitar. The heavier density of bone over plastic will improve your sustain and resonance through better vibration transfer straight off the bat over the common stock plastic nut. The added bonus of bone nuts having some self lubricating abilities (more so for unbleached bone) make for a good upgrade if you're suffering tuning instability at the nut. Therefore the use of a bone nut on the guitar stock is a classy touch, and a massive win for the guitar!
2. Pickups sound great! (11.35K bridge, 5.96K neck). While the Vintage Modified Jaguars came with Duncan Designed Jaguar pickups, the Classic Vibe comes equipped with Fender designed alnico pickups. While the Duncan Designed were not bad, these definitely are a cut above, and provide all the jangle you could want for a Jaguar. The bridge is highly overwound too, which I respect may not appeal to those seeking an authentic sound, will definitely appear to the players wanting a more modern aggressive bridge pickup sound that reacts well with higher amounts of gain. I was wondering whether these pickups would suit my style, but I'm very happy to report that they fit the bill and sound great.
3. Bridge is solid! While with proper understanding of it's functioning and purpose the infamous and misunderstood spiral saddle bridge of the Vintage Modified Jaguar has now been replaced on the Classic Vibe with a Mustang style barrel-saddle bridge. It was common for people to swap the stock bridge on their VM Jaguars with a Mustang bridge unknowingly causing themselves more problems owing to the radius mismatch between the bridge (7.25" radius) and the fingerboard (9.5" radius) of the guitar. Squier kills two birds with one stone by providing the common bridge swap of a mustang bridge for us, but at the correct 9.5" bridge radius. Whether you find a mustang style to be an upgrade depends on what school of though you subscribe to as the best method of operation for the jag/jazz tremolo. For instance, many believe the only way to use this system is with the spiral saddle bridge which in theory 'bites' into the string and travels with it forward and back with vibrato unit, keeping the guitar constantly intonated even mid wiggle! Others subscribe more to the mastery bridge principle, where the bridge is fixed for superior sustain and strings easily slide over the saddles back and forth, maintaining tuning stability. In my experience there is no 'best' method, it's entirely subjective and depends on how you prefer to use the guitar. These are the two bridge extremes, whereas a mustang bridge lies somewhere in the middle, as it can rock back and forth with the vibrato action of the guitar, but have saddles with deeper, wider and smoother grooves which allow strings to travel on them if they have to. Personally, the mustang style works better for me over the spiral saddle, only because my ham fisted approach to playing guitar had me constantly knocking strings out of saddles on the spiral saddle style, no matter how much downward tension i had on them. the height adjustment screws on the spiral saddles are also an added source of frustration for many, so with the mustang bridge at least I don't have to break out the loctite every time I make a bridge adjustment!
4. Electronics are good! The guitar is wired in the standard Jaguar scheme, so two circuits (rhythm/lead) with a volume and tone for each circuit. The rhythm circuit is engaged by switching the slide switch on the upper horn away from the neck, and makes use of the neck pickup with darker volume and tone pots operated by rollers on the upper horn control plate. Lead is used by sliding the switch on the upper horn towards the neck, and makes use of three slider switches on the lower horn to operate the neck (top) and bridge (middle) pickups, with the lowest switch operating a bass cut for the lead circuit. The lowest control plate offers the usual 1meg volume and tone pots as well as the output jack.
All of these electronics are of decent quality, utilising Alpha pots, and unknown sliders and jack which have to date not failed me or malfunctioned in any way. There were no cold solder joins and the wiring was neat enough, so long story short the electronics are pretty good. Of course they can be improved with higher quality components and wiring but overall it's pretty good
5. Tuners do their job. You get the standard vintage kluson style tuners, my favourite non-locking tuner! Nothing to complain about here, they're what you'd expect if you've played or owned any of the previous vintage modified series of guitars.
6. Vibrato unit is solid! The vibrato is more or less the same as those that were found on the Vintage modified series. Which is a good thing. It's made well and it works, if the rest of your setup is good this vibrato will do the job fine. The only flaw with this particular vibrato unit was that the two domed screws underneath the E strings were touching the strings, which is bad for tuning stability. Luckily as I will go into later this is an easy fix.
7. Neck feels nice. It's a very comfortable C-shape with a more modern, slightly flatter 9.5" fingerboard radius as you'd come to expect from a contemporary instrument. If you were comparing the feel of this neck to the previous Vintage Modified Squier series of Jaguar, you would notice they feel very similar apart from a couple of differences. The profile at the back of the neck is slightly more 'chunky', very similar to a CIJ Jaguar I own which has a leans towards having a bit of a 'D' profile going on (C shape, but slightly flatter at the bottom of the neck, almost oval like). It's always a matter of personal preference when it comes to neck profiles, but personally, I enjoy playing this neck and it has always felt comfortable.
The other notable playability difference between the CV Jaguar and the VM Jaguar is the fret size. The Classic Vibe Jaguar is now equipped with a more narrow and tall size fret rather than a medium jumbo. Again, whether this is good or bad depends on your own personal preference but for myself the narrow tall variety isn't bad, they are still comfortable and combined with the flatter fretboard radius make for easy bends. In my opinion, the size of the frets still feel close to a medium jumbo size than a vintage spec narrow fret, so the difference may not feel as different as you might think when comparing the fret specs between CV and VM Jaguars.
The finish feels similar to the VM Jaguar, both feature a poly finish on the neck, the difference here on the CV Jag is that the finish has a vintage amber tint to it. The finish is applied well, and while reasonably thick is not excessively sticky, although it still may be a bit sticky to some (these days I'm used to satin necks so the thick gloss poly certainly has a noticeable difference in feel when I swap guitars).
The decal has been changed for these Classic Vibe Jaguars, which feature inversed colours to the usual Squier logo from the VM range. Instead of the Squier lettering being gold with a black outline, the logo is now black with a gold outline. As the gold outline on the lettering is easy to lose on the similar amber colour of the headstock finish, the result is that it is easy to think that the Squier logo is just black, which certainly gives it a cheaper look than the (imo) classier VM Jaguar decal. Not a deal breaker, but just something to think about.
The only other thing to discuss about the neck and its playability is the fretboard material. As we all may(or may not) know, a recent CITES restriction on rosewood (which has now been lifted) had companies like Fender searching for an alternative wood to use for fretboards which resulted in many guitars adopting Indian Laurel as their fretboard material. The Classic Vibe Jaguar makes use of Indian Laurel. In my experience, people seem to be either indifferent about its use, or they hate it. In terms of feel, it's pretty close to rosewood. The biggest difference between rosewood and pau ferro fingerboards is aesthetics. The guitars I own and that have come through my shop with Indian Laurel fingerboards are characterised with a much lighter yellow hue with lines of darker reds and browns following the tight grain patterns that 'pop' much more than rosewood. You get colours which range from golden brown teak, through to dark browns even through to ebony tones. This is of course compared to the rosewood fingerboards we are used to seeing on these guitars, which usually range in hues from dark brown to red browns. I sound like a broken record here, but whether Indian Laurel is better or worse is entirely subjective and comes down to your own preference. I guess I'm trying to explain why Indian Laurel has been used in lieu of the more traditional rosewood on these guitars, which is due to the previous CITES ban and the need to quickly switch to using an alternative wood with similar enough characteristics to rosewood.
So while I waffled on a bit about the neck, overall I'm very happy with it's choice of construction materials and finish.
8. Binding and blocks look great! As someone who is an absolute sucker for necks with binding and block inlays on the fingerboard, I can report that this guitar lives up to expectations. The binding is very tidy, with no file chatter or rough edges (which is not something I can say of the exponentially more expensive Gibson Les Pauls I have seen lately!). The pearl block inlay work is similarly tidy, and well fitted, with no visible flaws. Nothing to complain about here!
9. Guitar looks and feels amazing! Overall, the black finish, red tort pickguard (which I prefer to brown tort), chrome hardware, and binding and block neck make for one very classy looking guitar! It's a very simple but effective colour scheme which is immediately striking to look at. I've already talked about the feel and finish of the neck, so I guess I should talk about the body.
The body is offset, so is very comfortable against the body either when playing seated or standing. Contours for the belly and forearm add extra comfort and playability. The body of the CV Jaguar is finished in gloss poly, and in the case of mine is black. It's pretty stock standard as far as finishes go, which is a good thing because it is well done with no flaws.
The chrome control plate hardware is nice and fits well with the pickguard with no gaps or poor fits.
One thing to note for those of you with bad backs is that the Classic vibe Jaguar, like any other Squier or Fender solid body Jaguar, is a fairly hefty guitar. While it by no means is as heavy as some Les Paul's, it is certainly more weighty than it's closest cousin, the Jazzmaster. This is partly due to to the both the routing of the body and the chrome plates among a couple of other things. While the chromed plates being heavier than the standard plastic pickguard of the Jazzmaster is pretty self explanatory, the routing of a Jaguar is not. Jazzmaster's have a lot more wood routed from the body of the guitar due to its' bigger pickups, and swimming pool rout control cavity. Jaguar's have more precise cavities for the smaller pickups and narrow cavities for the wiring and controls, joined together via drilled holes rather than having a single, large cavity. This simply means that a Jaguar keeps more of the wood in its body than a Jazzmaster, and obviously will be heavier for having more body material alone. The weight is certainly not that big of an issue, as someone who suffers from chronic back problems I have no issue with the added weight of the guitar most of the time.
10. All of the things that I didn’t like about the guitar were fixable! This is a BIG positive. The frets, nut, shimming, and the screws on the vibrato were all very fixable problems, and therefore would certainly not render the guitar useless. If instead there were problems with the finish on either the neck body, with the hardware or the construction of the guitar this would be a very different story. As it stands, the flaws that I noticed on my guitar are very fixable by either yourself or by your local luthier or tech, and also won't cost an arm and a leg to do so! So assuming you get a Classic Vibe Jaguar, and you are extremely unlucky enough to have all the exact issues with your Jaguar as the one I have and am reviewing (which let's face it, you probably won't), you will still be able to get the guitar to it's optimal playing condition and have the guitar giving you a lot of bang for your buck with servicing costs included.
So, the guitar I received was probably on the more unlucky end of the scale in terms of having flaws from factory. But it's entirely possible that you're Jaguar suffers none of the flaws mine has too! If you happen upon such a Classic Vibe Jaguar and buy it for retail (usually under $600aud. Prices vary wildly at some retailers in Australia so I suggest you shop around), you'll be getting one hell of a bargain. I'll go into all of the things I did to fix the existing issues and modifications in the next part of my review, but if you were to get one of these guitars without the issues then you would have yourself a guitar very close to a Japanese Fender Jaguar in terms of build quality, performance and sound, while paying around half the price of a used Fender! So, assuming you have one with all these issues that mine suffered from, and you paid to get them fixed, you would still come out with a guitar punching well above its' weight, and would save your wallet at least $300aud-$400aud on the next best thing, which would most likely be a used Fender instrument.
It's very hard to argue against this guitar in terms of value for money, even if you get one needing work straight off the bat like mine! A lot of people will argue the extra money is worth it for the name on the headstock, but I say you'd be doing yourself a disservice at least not considering the Classic Vibe Jaguar in the mix when you are on the hunt for a Jaguar. Even if you were to buy a Japanese Fender Jaguar used, you'd actually have to spend money to get it to the same specs as the Classic Vibe! Think about that.
Of course this is subject to my opinions, which are that bone nuts generally perform and sound better than plastic nuts, and that the standard pickups you'd find in the MIJ/CIJ Fender Jaguars floating around the market are generally nothing special, and are at least for my customers a very common replacement. So if you wanted a bone nut, you'll have to drop money on that Fender Jaguar to replace the stock plastic ones they are usually equipped with, and you'd also have to drop money on a replacement set of pickups if you either wanted a more contemporary option, or a more vintage correct sounding option. Those two upgrades are already taken care of for you with the Classic Vibe with it's bone nut and nicely voiced pickups.
That's not to say that the Classic Vibe is better than a Fender Jaguar (especially if you do upgrade those two things on a used Fender or even a new one), after all Squier is the budget brand for Fender. But, the Classic Vibe certainly comes loaded with enough features and an attractive enough price tag to make it a worthy consideration if money is an important factor in the decision making process in your hunt for a Jaguar. The flaws that the Classic Vibe Jaguar I've been reviewing for you are certainly either insignificant, nor are they necessarily deal breaking. I just think it's important as both a guitar enthusiast and a professional guitar tech that I point them out. In a world where far too many people offer biased reviews that are paid for by the manufacturers of products (or special relationships between companies and reviewers get in the way of the entire truth), it is important that there are some honest reviews to let consumers make an actual informed decision on where to spend their hard earned cash. To me this means pointing out both the good and perhaps more importantly the bad, regardless whether flaws I come across are significant or insignificant.
So on the whole I think it is very worthwhile checking out the Squier Classic Vibe Jaguar if you are after a Jaguar packed with features that won't be as harsh on your hip pocket as a Fender. Just be prepared to maybe shell out a bit extra on top for maintenance if the guitar isn't at 100% playability from the factory (something that really applies to most guitars at this price point anyway).
To see how I go about fixing the issues I've identified with my guitar, plus look into some upgrades I make to the stock guitar, check out part 2 of this blog!