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Hands On: The Fender Johnny Marr Limited Edition Jaguar Purrs and Roars

When it comes to guitars, we’ve always preferred those that sit a little left of centre. While we have nothing but love for the Strats, Teles and Les Pauls of the world, the guitars that really catch our eye are those that you don’t see on stage every time you head out to a gig. The Fender Jaguar is just such an instrument and even more so when it’s been tweaked to meet the exacting standards of one Mr Johnny Marr.

RELATED: Fender Brings Back its Icons with the American Vintage II Series Guitars.

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Image: Man of Many

Who is Johnny Marr?

For those unfamiliar, Marr is – to put it simply – one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all time. While he may not be as immediately recognisable as some others who occupy that category, he’s made some of the world’s greatest guitar music ever since he first appeared with his band The Smiths in 1982, alongside singer Morrissey, bassist Andy Rourke, and drummer Mike Joyce.

Following that era-defining group’s split, Marr joined outfits like The Pretenders, The The, Modest Mouse, and The Cribs, and collaborated with the likes of Noel Gallagher (both before and after Oasis’ demise), Neil Finn, and the inventor of the ‘braaam’ sound so present in many contemporary film scores, Hans Zimmer. Quite a resume.

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Image: Man of Many

What Makes Johnny Marr’s Signature Jaguar Different?

So, aside from the signature adorning the headstock, what makes the Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar so special? Well, quite a bit actually. It’s the culmination of Marr collecting Jags as he travelled around the USA, which he would then pull apart and putting them back together again in search of the perfect guitar. He’d take a pickup from one and a bridge from another, reporting back to Fender on his exploits as he went until he figured out exactly what his guitar should look, sound, and feel like. And what a guitar it is.

First of all, just look at the thing. The Jaguar’s a striking-looking instrument any day of the week, but you add that Fever Dream Yellow finish and it takes it somewhere else entirely. Next, the custom maple neck is shaped to precisely match the profile of Marr’s very own 1965 Jaguar. While the short scale of the neck might take some getting used to for those more familiar with standard Fender necks, we found it an easy adjustment. In fact, this guitar offers playability and feel that most new instruments only start to offer after they’ve been played for years.

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The four-way pickup switch | Image: Man of Many

What really sets this guitar apart from standard Jaguars is the way the player can manage the tones they extract from it. The introduction of a four-way pickup selector – more commonly found on a Telecaster – enabled the guitar’s pickups to be set up differently from your typical Jag.

Without getting overly guitar jargon-y about it, what Marr and his team have achieved is to enable the guitar to generate a darker sound than you’d typically associate with Jaguars. Cleverly, they’ve also enabled the player to counter this on a whim, by changing out the traditional slide switches that sit at the top of the guitar for brightness filters, enabling you to brighten your sound at the flick of your thumb. The first switch does this no matter where your pickup selector is positioned and the second only does so when the selector is in the fourth position, which places the pickups in series – this means the guitar’s signal flows from the first pickup into the second, creating a fuller (and louder) sound.

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Slide switches provide added sonic brightness | Image: Man of Many

Should You Buy the Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar?

If you’re looking for a guitar that lets you explore a range of sounds, this could well be the one for you. The tones we were able to achieve with Marr’s Jag were as versatile as the man himself. Playing it through a Vox AC30 and a Marshall Origin 50C – an amp that provides a great platform for trying out a range of pedals – the JM Jag served up a flexibility that really impressed us. From the most jangly of jangles to more aggressive overdriven tones, this guitar accommodates the many modes Johnny Marr has played in throughout his career, but doesn’t restrict you to them, either. There’s plenty of space within this sonic offering for you to find a range of sounds entirely your own.

With an RRP of AUD$3,899 this is not a guitar for a beginner, but we’d argue that as an object of beauty it’s as worthy of that price tag as any other piece of decorative art you might adorn your home with. Saying that, this is definitely an instrument that cries out to be played. Saying that, if you are looking for a more affordable Jag alternative, the Squire Classic ‘70s Vibe Jaguar (AUD$799) is more than worthy of investigation.

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Image: Man of Many

According to Marr, his response when he first picked up a ‘63 Jaguar during a recording session with Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock was to think, “Where have you been all my life?” We had a similar reaction to this Marr-customised instrument and we were more than a little sad to put it back in its case for the final time. In the words of The Smiths, “Heaven knows I’m miserable now.”

Check it out

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The man himself | Image: Fender