Johnny Marr’s career has led him to places in bands like The Smiths, The Pretenders, Modest Mouse, The The, and The Cribs. Over the course of his four-decade career, he’s been called one of the greatest guitar players alive. Now, that has led to a signature guitar: the Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar.
His melodic, riff-filled playing style has also helped redefine the boundaries of the guitar as an instrument. His work with The Smiths during the 1980s pushed back against the prevailing hair metal and hard rock guitarists of the time, and showcased how one guitar could create an entire ensemble’s worth of chords, riffs, and melodies.
Of course, producing all of those tones requires an extremely versatile guitar! At different points throughout his career, Johnny Marr has played nearly every type of guitar imaginable. With the Smiths, he favored Telecasters, Rickenbackers, Gibson ES-335s, and Gibson Les Paul guitars. In more recent years, he’s embraced offset guitars like Fender Jaguars.
His preference for the Jaguar has led Fender to issue a signature model for him: the Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar. Marr worked with the team at Fender to design every specific feature of the instrument, over the course of a few years.
While this might look like a fairly normal Jaguar, a more detailed investigation reveals a number of differences between this model and most of the other Jaguars on the market. It’s certainly not a great beginners guitar or a cheap guitar, but if you look for a more advanced model it delivers everything you need.
This Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar review breaks down everything about the guitar, from the biggest features to the tiniest details like the switching, jacks, and tuners.
As someone who’s played a Johnny Marr Jaguar almost exclusively for over a year, I can truly say that it’s one of the most thoughtful signature guitars on the market today. This Jaguar offers a lot of different tones, and it’s pretty comfortable to play. While the offset body style and neck shape might not suit everyone, if you get to know this guitar it’s a truly rewarding instrument.
With that analysis in mind, let’s break it all down! This review will start with the body and neck of the guitar. Then, we’ll cover electronics like the pickups and switching system. Finally, we’ll finish up with hardware, other extra features, and random thoughts and observations. I’ll give you my final opinion on the guitar, as well as its biggest strengths and weaknesses.
The Johnny Marr Jaguar features an offset body and chrome plating, just like the photo.
Like nearly all Fender guitars made today, the Johnny Marr Jaguar features a solid alder body. Alder is a great tonewood for solid body guitars, because it’s clear and precise. It doesn’t add a lot of boost to any one part of the tonal spectrum. It’s also hefty, without being too heavy. This guitar certainly doesn’t feel cheap, but it’s not too difficult to wear for long jam sessions or gigs.
One big feature is the offset body shape. Jaguars, like Jazzmasters, Mustangs, and Duo-Sonic guitars, are part of Fender’s offset guitar family. Unlike standard guitars, where both inward curves of the waist are directly across from each other, an offset guitar has one side of the waist offset from the other.
In the case of the Johnny Marr Jaguar, this difference is only a few inches. However, it makes the guitar a lot easier to play sitting down. The instrument stays almost perfectly balanced on your knees, and the neck won’t fall to the floor if you take your hands off of it.
However, there is a noticeable difference from other guitars when you play with the Johnny Marr Jaguar standing up. Fender offset guitars contain a lot of extra wood behind the bridge of the guitar.
A lot of this has to do with the vibrato system, which we’ll discuss a bit later in the review. That extra wood makes this guitar significantly heavier than American Stratocasters, Telecasters, and other smaller axes.
The extra weight is not a dealbreaker — it’s still a fairly comfortable guitar to play standing up. However, if you’re looking for the lightest guitars you can find, the Johnny Marr Jaguar might not fit the bill.
Overall, the offset Jaguar style is a very popular guitar shape. It’s been used for over 50 years by Fender, and it’s become popular in a wide variety of genres since its creation. No matter which style you like to play, the Jaguar is one of the best guitars for every genre. It’s even been turned into a bass, in the form of the Jaguar Bass.
Surf rock guitarists loved to use offset guitars, but other players in indie rock, alternative, and experimental music have taken to Jazzmasters and Jaguars as well. Players from Kurt Cobain to Thom Yorke love offsets!
Colors and Finishes
This specific guitar comes in a few different finishes. You can currently get the Johnny Marr Jaguar in “Knockout Orange” or “Olympic White.” Personally, I prefer the Olympic White color, but the KO orange offers a nice metallic sheen as well. It’s certainly a special shade among Fender’s product lineup — if you want to buy the more unique color, the orange is the shade to go for.
Fender has also released the Johnny Marr Jaguar in a few different colors since it was first introduced a few years ago. It was offered in Metallic Lake Placid Blue for a long time, along with the orange and Olympic White.
Fender has also produced limited runs in black and in Sherwood Green, which both look fantastic. If you have the opportunity to buy one of these, go for it!
No matter which color you pick, the guitar is finished in a gloss nitrocellulose lacquer. Nitrocellulose (often simply called “nitro”) is a premium finish, found on vintage and high-end guitars.
It’s prized because it lets the wood of the guitar “breathe” better than many modern finishes. Over time, instruments finished in nitro acquire lovely patina and finish checking. Their sound only improves.
The neck is the most important piece of a guitar for feel and playability.
The neck is one of the major unique features of the Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar. In some respects, it’s similar to classic Jaguars. On the other hand, it also includes a couple of specific aspects that might influence you to purchase this model, rather than any other similar guitars available on the market.
Like every other Jaguar model, the Johnny Marr Jaguar features a 24 inch long neck. This is technically a “short scale” guitar, although it’s still longer than ¾-scale guitars and real short-scale models.
The 24 inch scale length is a full inch and a half shorter than the standard Fender scale length of 25.5 inches, and it’s 0.75 inches shorter than a traditional Gibson 24.75 inch scale.
The shorter scale leads to a few differences in the sound and feel of Jaguars in general, compared to other models. The first main distinction is the playability of the Johnny Marr Jaguar. Because the strings are extended over a shorter distance, they have lower tension than other guitars. This gives them a smooth, “slinky” feel that a lot of players find desirable.
The lower string tension also makes it easier to perform bends on the Johnny Marr Jaguar than on other guitars. Players who like to bend a lot, whether in their chords or in their improvisation, might want to check this Johnny Marr Jaguar out.
The shorter scale also changes the harmonic response of the guitar. It tends to emphasize the fundamental frequency of each note that you play, rather than the harmonics in the overtone series. This leads to a tone that many players describe as “rounder,” or “smoother.”
If you do love getting lots of harmonics, don’t worry. The unique Jaguar bridge and vibrato system help restore a lot of harmonics. Playing the Johnny Marr Jaguar produces a lot of clean, lovely harmonics that “bloom” as you hold onto a note.
As we’ll discuss more in a little bit, the vibrato also creates a lot of string length behind the nut and bridge. These strings often ring out a bit when you play a standard note, which increases how many harmonics you perceive in the final sound. You can even pluck them specifically in order to get cool, spacey high notes and metallic frequencies.
Once we’ve discussed the short scale of the guitar and how that affects the sound, we can move on to discuss the feel of the neck and fretboard themselves. The neck of this guitar is made from hard maple, without any “skunk stripe” or ornamentation on the back of the neck.
In traditional vintage style, the truss rod is only accessible from the base of the neck. That means that you’ll need to take the neck off of the body in order to adjust the truss rod.
It’s finished with a bit of gloss lacquer, although it’s a much thinner coat than on the body. In terms of feel, it falls somewhere between a “raw wood” satin finish, and a heavy slick gloss. You’ll notice the finish if you’re used to playing satin necks. It doesn’t let you feel the grain of the wood, and there’s just a touch of noticeable lacquer.
However, it’s not a shiny high gloss finish like the ones that you find on many guitars today. Your hand won’t “slide” away from your playing position thanks to the gloss. If your hands sweat when you play, this neck will also be a lot more comfortable than extra glossy necks. It won’t get greasy or slippery, and lets you maintain your grip pretty easily.
The neck itself uses a custom “D” shape. This neck profile is patterned off of the neck of a specific 1965 Jaguar Johnny Marr used on tour. You won’t find it on any other Fender guitars, or in any other manufacturer catalogues, either. It’s thicker, chunkier, and a bit wider than most other Jaguar necks around.
The extra heft provides a number of advantages. The additional wood provides a nice base to bend and slide into notes. You won’t find your hand grasping for traction at all, thanks to the wider frame of the neck. Some players also claim that heavier wood necks add a bit of tone and sustain to the guitar, although if you’re playing through an amp you probably won’t notice the effect.
The neck is also relatively flat on the back. Although it’s not shallow, it reaches the back of the “D” shape very quickly and doesn’t curve much across the middle of the neck. This makes it different from many Gibson-style necks, which players often refer to as “baseball bats.” Compared to those, this neck feels a bit boxier, and less curvy or “U” shaped.
That flatter profile provides a few advantages for thumb placement. If you want to play with traditional technique, there’s a nice, flat space for you to put your thumb firmly on the very center of the neck.
You can also play with a ¾-style technique, with your thumb at the edge of the neck. Even if you want to play like Hendrix, with the thumb over the neck, this guitar should still be comfortable.
If there is one downside to this neck shape, it’s the depth. On some other necks, you can notice the shape getting thicker as you move up the frets. On the Johnny Marr Jaguar, however, the neck gains most of its depth very quickly, then feels “flat” for a lot of the higher frets. You won’t notice a lot of difference in the neck profile between the fifth and fifteenth frets, for example.
Finally, the neck features a rosewood fretboard at the top. This is shaped with a vintage 7.25 inch radius. It’s a thicker slab of rosewood than you see on many boards, and it’s finished with an open-grain satin finish.
In terms of feel, this fretboard is great. It’s smooth and warm, and allows you to slide up and down frets easily. It doesn’t feel “slow” or sludgy, and it adds a nice dose of vintage warmth to your sound. This is a great way to balance out the brightness of the tonewoods from the alder body and maple neck.
The 7.25 inch radius makes bending a bit more difficult than on flatter guitars, but it helps you nail barre chords more easily. This is because the strings in the middle of the guitar don’t require as much force to press onto the fretboard properly. If you have difficulty with getting all the notes to ring out in a barre chord, this guitar might help.
Thankfully, the short scale compensates for the added difficulty of a 7.25 inch radius for bends. While offset guitars in general often “feel” a bit averse to bends, I’ve never had any more trouble bending on the Johnny Marr Jaguar than on Stratocasters. If you play a style of guitar with a lot of bends — especially high bends or large, swooping ones — this guitar won’t set you back.
Overall, the fretboard is exactly what you’d expect from a guitar of this price. It’s smooth, comfortable, and uses premium tonewoods for the best experience possible. It’s not the greatest guitar for small hands, but it’s fine for players of all sizes.
As we’ll discuss more in the hardware section, the fretwork is smooth and the fit and finish is outstanding across the neck. There are no frets poking out, or bumpy areas along the fretboard. Everything is smooth and stable.
Just like on any electric guitar, the electronics on the Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar are some of the most essential components. If you want your guitar to sound great, it needs to have outstanding pickups and wiring! Thankfully, the Johnny Marr Jaguar delivers on all fronts. Let’s break down each aspect of the electronics system specifically, to get a more detailed view!
The Johnny Marr Jaguar has two single-coil pickups, just like most other Jaguar models. At first glance, these might look just like standard Jaguar single-coil pickups. However, they’re actually a set of custom-wound Bareknuckle models, made specifically for the Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar.
These pickups were designed with Johnny Marr’s direction, in order to give you the widest range of sounds possible out of one guitar.
They’re made to mimic the bright, chimney single-coil sounds of Rickenbackers and Fender Telecasters, the smoother style of Fender Stratocasters, and the throatier, heavier humbuckers of Gibson guitars like the Les Paul and the ES-335.
Obviously, that list of goals is a lot for just one guitar to live up to! Of course, the pickups in the Johnny Marr Jaguar don’t provide an exact copy of all of these different sounds. If you want to get 100% of every single tone that Johnny Marr ever uses, you’ll still need to buy all of the different guitars he’s ever played.
However, these pickups can nail some of those sounds on the spot. They also provide great imitations of many of the other tones. If you want to find a guitar that can do a lot of different things, without sounding “just okay” at all of them, then this is a great guitar to look into.
The two pickups are hand-wound by Bareknuckle Pickups in the UK. While many players debate about the concrete effect of winding pickups by hand, a lot of guitarists feel that hand-wound pickups offer a different, more lush tone when compared to standard pickups.
Your guitar’s wiring will interact a lot with the sound of your amp, so it’s important to pick a good amp to pair with your Jaguar.
One of the other unique features of the Johnny Marr Jaguar is the wiring system. Since the Johnny Marr Signature model was released, Fender has decided to copy some aspects of the switching system for their American Professional Jaguars. However, a few aspects of the Johnny Marr model still remain unique.
Before this model, almost every Jaguar included three switches on the chrome plate beneath the strings. The first two switches controlled the neck and bridge pickup, respectively. You could turn these on and off to select which pickup you wanted, and combine them together. The third switch operated the infamous rhythm circuit. This darkened your tone for playing rhythm guitar.
The Jaguar changes this complicated switching system into a much simpler blade switch. This switch is almost identical to the ones found on Stratocasters and Telecasters — it will be instantly comfortable to pretty much any guitarist who’s played other Fender models before. However, it does pack another twist.
The first three switch positions give you standard Jaguar sounds. They activate each pickup individually, and combine them in parallel (as normal). In the fourth position (with the switch all the way forward), though, that all changes.
This position runs the two pickups together in series, rather than in parallel. This in series alignment pairs the pickups together like one giant humbucker. It cancels some of the hum from the single-coil pickups, and gives you a darker, throatier sound reminiscent of a humbucker.
It’s not a perfect imitation of a P.A.F. humbucker, for example. The tone is almost “quacky” when played completely clean, and it doesn’t mimic all of the throaty low end response perfectly. However, running the pickups in series still gives you a perfectly serviceable “humbucker” tone. It’s one small feature that opens up a lot of tonal opportunities.
Switches and Circuits
With the rhythm circuit booted out of its traditional place with the pickup selectors, it moves up top to the chrome plate on the guitar’s upper bout. The two switches here are both high-pass filters, which cut out the low end of your signal and make it a bit brighter when engaged.
The first switch works in all pickup positions, while the second switch is specifically voiced for the fourth position (humbucker style, with both pickups in series). If you’re not playing with the in series setting, the second switch has no effect. While this might seem redundant, it does shape your tone a bit more accurately. The specific switch is tailored well for the exact sound of the fourth position.
Finally, you get master tone and volume controls in the chrome plate by the back of the bridge. These are extremely responsive, almost like the knobs that you’d find on a Telecaster.
One complaint is that these knobs are actually too sensitive. Turning down the volume by 20% on the neck pickup, for example, can make your tone sound rather muffled. The tone knob interacts with the volume knob, which means that it can also raise or lower your volume a bit as you turn it up or down.
A treble bleed circuit would have been a nice touch in this guitar. That circuit preserves your guitar’s full tonal range even as you turn the volume down. In other words, it allows the treble frequencies to “bleed” through the signal, instead of being rolled off.
Of course, you can modify the Jaguar yourself to install a treble bleed circuit. But at this price, it would’ve been good to include off the shelf.
The Johnny Marr Jaguar features mostly standard Jaguar hardware, although there are a few unique touches. Some of these fall under the “essential guitar accessories” category, but most don’t.
The bridge is a stock Fender Mustang bridge, rather than a Jaguar bridge. This is based on a modification many players make with their Jaguars. The string saddles on a Jaguar are lightly grooved, and prone to popping out — the Mustang bridge keeps each string more secure in its slot, even if you like to strum hard and fast near the bridge.
One downside is that it removes the ability to adjust the height of each individual string. To change up the action, you’ll need to adjust the bridge height as a whole, tweak the truss rod, or refile the nut.
There are specially designed bushings to keep the bridge in place better, but it’s still a bit prone to movement — intonation can be spotty at times up the neck. If you want perfect intonation, you should take the guitar to a professional technician.
The bridge also controls the string spacing, which is a bit unique. Unlike most guitars, where the first and sixth strings rest about 3/32 inches away from the edge of the fretboard, on this guitar they’re about 1/32 inches away. That makes it much easier to accidentally bend notes off of the neck, or fret out notes by pulling them off of the frets at the edges.
It’s not a massive issue in the long run, but it is something to get used to — you’ll need to play the guitar in order to understand how it feels and get around this limitation.
The vibrato and tailpiece system is mostly standard, although there is an extra bushing inserted at the base of the tremolo arm design. This keeps the arm from swinging around wildly when you’re on stage.
At the other end of the headstock, you’ll find six Fender vintage-style tuners. These make tuning much easier, because the end of the string slots into the tuning post rather than around it. For a video on how to tune a guitar with vintage-style tuners, check out this video at the link provided.
Having already discussed all of the technical specs of the Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar, we can finally recap its sound in more detail. This guitar can sound like a Jaguar if you want it to, but it also offers so many more tones.
As we mentioned, Johnny Marr often used guitars like Rickenbackers, Fender Telecasters, and Gibson Les Pauls. The switch to the Jaguar meant that he had to compress all of those sounds into one instrument — and thankfully this Jag delivers.
The two Bareknuckle pickups provide a great combination of different sounds, particularly with the unique pickup selector switch and rhythm circuit. To get the full idea of these sounds, it’s a good idea to break down how each pickup works individually.
The neck pickup is smooth and glassy, without being too soft. It’s great for clear, articulate playing, whether you prefer to use clean or overdriven sounds. I like to use this pickup to play a lot of different styles. It’s great for alternative and indie, and it has enough bite for rock music when you crank the amp up.
It’s also outstanding for fingerpicking, where the extra clarity and articulation keeps the sound warm and smooth, but doesn’t let it get too weak to be heard. You can even use it to play jazz, if you like. This is one of the few genres where turning down the volume and tone knobs will sound good — you can use this trick to achieve thick, syrupy tones like the sounds of Jim Hall, for example.
That pickup can have a lot of bass response if you turn down the tone knob, though. To remedy this, it’s important to keep your tone knob and volume up high, and adjust the EQ settings on your amp to dial in the perfect measurements for your playing style.
Boosting the treble frequencies will give the neck pickup a bit of extra bite, and adding some extra mid frequencies will give your amp more British-style tube saturation. You can also cut out some bass frequencies, which will lead to a “tighter” and more focused overall sound. This is a great way to fix any muddiness or “flabby” sound that you hear when you play the neck pickup.
Bridge Pickup & Combinations
The bridge pickup sounds almost like a Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster pickup at times — it’s sharp, spanky, and has plenty of sizzle to cut through almost any mix! With some high-powered amps, the treble can be a bit overpowering, but thankfully most of the time it sounds great. There’s no need to worry about piercing or cutting noises with this pickup.
The bridge works great as a pickup for clean solos, but it shines when overdriven with a bit of bass and mid boost. These frequencies round out the tonal palette, and make it easier to cut through a mix without getting too sharp or edgy with your tone.
The pickup combinations are also very usable, and give you a major increase in the guitar’s total sounds. The humbucker-style “in series” combination is the unique feature, and while it’s not versatile enough to replace a guitar with humbuckers completely, it still offers a unique, cutting sound.
There’s a bit more “quack” to the tone of this pickup than you’ll find in Gibson P.A.F. style humbuckers — it almost sounds like a cross between a Gibson humbucker and a Stratocaster “out of phase” position. That’s a very unique sound, and it works great in a wide variety of applications (particularly with a drive pedal).
The standard middle position sounds a lot like a middle position on an American Special Telecaster — if you’re used to playing Fender guitars, this shouldn’t be any surprise. You can use it to get tones ranging across the spectrum, from clean and smooth-ish to overdriven and biting.
The Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar isn’t a perfect guitar, but it’s still one of the most thoughtful options on the market today. It takes a fun but temperamental design, and elevates it to an everyday status. Unlike some other Jaguar models, the Johnny Marr Jaguar could easily suffice as a player’s only guitar.
Some details in the wiring could use some extra attention. Some players might not find the neck shape very comfortable. But overall, this is an exceptional guitar, and it’s worth checking out if you’re in the market for a Fender offset design. After playing it exclusively for over a year, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar.