Fender American Pro Jazzmaster & Jaguar: First Impressions and In-Depth Review

Earlier this year, message boards and forums lit up with rumors of Fender’s 2017 American Pro series guitars, especially the Jazzmaster and Jaguar models in the range. Appearing to be a more affordable and streamlined alternative to the AVRI line, speculation ran wild as to what the series might offer. Me, I couldn’t wait.

img_4324Fender began sending them out to musicians and social media stars late in the year (where’s the love?!) but kept quiet about specs. Much of what was known about the models was deduced by blowing up blurry Instagram photos and leaked catalogue pages. Excitement soared, and soon I was buried under requests for The Jazzmaster Guy’s take on the new models.

I’m happy to say I finally had the chance to take both guitars for a spin yesterday while Hollywood Guitar Center with my best friend Vanessa Wheeler of Leo Leo. With her help, I’d like to walk you through some of our thoughts and impressions of these new guitars. Are they any good? Worth the money? Fun to play? Read on and find out.

 

Mystic Seafoam is a win for both of us

Mystic Seafoam is a win for both of us

Visuals

Fit and finish on these guitars is superb. In typical Fender Corona fashion, there wasn’t a cosmetic flaw to be found.

Let it be known far and wide that Mystic Seafoam may be the best color Fender have produced in years. No photo––not even mine––will do it justice. It demands attention, which is how we spotted it from across the room the moment we walked on the sales floor. So visually arresting is this color that we paid zero attention to any other instrument on the wall. I think I heard Vanessa mutter “Oh, wow!” under her breath.

I wish I could say the same for Sonic Grey. I was excited to see it in person ever since Jimmy Vivino posted his own grey Jazzmaster on Instagram, but it just didn’t do it for me. Vanessa pointed out that my reaction to the color might come down to the plastics: Mystic Seafoam is paired with parchment while Sonic Grey is clad in stark white, which lends a sort of harshness to the guitar’s visual palette. Of course, this is just me.

Also new for this series: glossy maple fretboards! While this isn’t a first for Fender, this uncommon feature hasn’t previously been offered as standard on offsets. The necks seemed pale in photos, but the wood has a much warmer hue in reality.

Feel

Sonic Grey. Eh, I keep going back and forth on this one.

Sonic Grey. See, I’m looking at it now and I sort of like it??? Argh.

These guitars felt super solid from the first moment we took them off the wall. Vanessa found them a bit heavy, but that seems to be the norm with new guitars. Strummed acoustically, all models exhibited loud and pleasant tonalities, which usually translates to a good plugged-in sound.

Fender introduced the new “Deep C” neck profile with this series, which you’ll notice immediately when you pick one up. Vanessa, whose chord vocabulary is from another planet altogether, didn’t seem as encumbered by the extra girth as I was at first, but I got used to it quickly. It’s substantial but never crosses over into “boat neck” territory, starting out slightly chunky at the first fret and gradually fattening toward the 12th. Compared with AVRI62 necks of either model, this profile will definitely give you something more to hold on to.

While I firmly believed they would not be my thing, the extra height of the 22 “narrow-tall” frets made for easy bends and meant I rarely felt the fretboard under my fingertips. This is good, because I always seem to get stuck on gloss maple. While rosewood is an option for the range, currently Seafoam and Grey are only available with maple fretboards. In contrast, the lone white Jaguar on the wall was equipped with a rosewood fretboard.

The addition of the Micro-Tilt adjustment to the neck pocket is absolutely genius. Having an adjustable mechanical shim on an offset guitar will make setups a breeze. I never would have considered this!

Playability

No matter the brand, factory setups are often anything but; action high enough to mitigate buzz yet low enough to be playable. I have to say, the setups on these guitars were pretty decent! The Mystic Seafoam model wowed both of us with its easy action and tunefulness, while the Sonic Grey guitar left something to be desired but was passable. Fretwork seemed clean across all models.

Now for the heavy criticism: both E strings are unthinkably close to the fretboard edges on all three of the guitars we demoed, so close that it was nearly impossible to fret the high E string without slipping off the fretboard. This seems like something that should have been corrected during the R&D phase. Quite literally the first comment Vanessa made when she sat down with the guitar was how hard it was to play the Es, a sentiment I echoed.

img_4357

The extra width also means strings don’t line up with bridge pickup pole pieces.

Mustang-style bridges typically have wider string spacing, but this is extreme. Even with nylon bushings that improve bridge stability, I honestly think that changing the bridge is going to be an incredibly common if not required mod on these guitars. (NOTE: I wasn’t able to pull the bridge, so I’m not sure which thimble set they’ve installed on these guitars, which could be an added bridge-swapping headache like the Classic ’60s models.)

My only other major complaint is that the Jazzmaster’s pickup selector switch has been moved to an exceptionally inconvenient place, a place where many players already complain about a switch being there. How often do you see players tape off the rhythm circuit so it’s not accidentally engaged, after all. This move is truly perplexing.

Depending on play style, this could be a huge issue for certain players. If you do a lot of tapping, slapping, popping, and plucking like Vanessa, this switch is totally in the way.

Compare the toggle switch positions. L: Fender AM-PRO R: Squier VM

Compare the toggle switch positions. L: 2017 Fender AM-PRO R: 2011 Squier VM

After adjusting her right hand technique, it still seemed uncomfortable. She opined, “If I owned this, I’d have to move the switch.”

Switch clearance may not be as crucial for power chord junkies like myself, but if I’m even a little more animated it becomes an issue for me too. Vigorous strummers, be forewarned.

This seems like a bit of a misstep when even the older Squier Vintage Modified hard tail models had the selector switch higher on the upper horn. Should you wish to move the switch back to the traditional placement, you’ll need to do some extra routing.

Sound

Describing the sound of the new V-Mod Jazzmaster pickups, Vanessa coined the term “magnety.” I can’t say I can come up with a better word for it. They’re hotter, fuller, and snappier than Fender’s more recent designs, and they have a special sort of attack to them that’s really nice.

They are also very bright. Brighter than I expected, and this from a Jazzmaster fanatic. Vanessa favors chimey tones yet found herself rolling off the tone control drastically before she was comfortable. In fact, when she finally handed it off to me I thought, “Oh wow, these are pretty dark pickups!” No, I just hadn’t noticed the tone knob was at 5.

We ran these guitars through a Fender Bassbreaker combo. While Vanessa compensated for the brightness by cranking up the bass on the first channel, I switched over to the second and turned the tone knob to 0. Once I did that, I’d have to say I rather liked them, but bright guitars into dark amps is kind of my thing.

What about the Jaguar? Honestly, neither of us cared for these pickups. They lacked any of the wiry treble or round bass of good Jag pickups, sounding quite honky and almost notched in the midrange. Granted there was only one at GC; I wish there were another to contrast and compare.

The factory-installed treble bleed was subtle yet functional on both models. As for the noise floor, these are single coils so some noise is expected. While the 60 cycle hum was definitely there, I wouldn’t say it was necessarily worse than any other Jazzmaster or Jaguar pickup on the market.

The American Pro Jaguar in Olympic White

The American Pro Jaguar in Olympic White

The stripped-down simplicity of the control schemes ensure these Pro-series guitars will be immediately useful to players unfamiliar with the various rollers and switches. Both guitars have volume, tone, and pickup selector controls, which couldn’t be more straightforward. I was especially happy to see the 4-way Johnny Marr switching included on the Jaguar, which adds the versatility of a series position.

I definitely miss the “Strangle” switch on the Jaguar. Fender replaced the vintage-correct low-cut filter with an out-of-phase setting for the selector’s 2 and 4 positions. Not that I have anything against out-of-phase sounds, I just find a switch that works on all positions more useful than one that works on two. Both may only be situationally useful for most players (it got a shrug from Vanessa) so let’s call this a minor quibble.

Of course, as an avid Rhythm Circuit user, I’m sad at its omission but I’m also enough of a realist to know that not everybody uses the thing. The American Pro series isn’t meant to be a vintage reissue, so some play with the design is to be expected.

Assorted Minutiae For Which I Could Not Devise a Snappy Subheading

Both Jazzmasters had their knobs situated with 6 where 10 should have been, making sorting out preferred settings a bit of a hassle. Strangely, this also matches the Fender promotional photos. In my best Seinfeld I cry out, “What’s the deal?”

None of the three guitars we sampled had their vibrato arms installed, which is a shame because I wanted to find out how the new screw-in collet compared with the push-in variety. I’ve read that there’s play in the arm unless it’s screwed in all the way so that it doesn’t pivot at all, but I wasn’t able to confirm or deny such things here. As far as I could tell, the rest of the trem is the same as those found on AVRI reissues, so it should be stable and smooth enough.

I did strum a chord and pushed down on the vibrato with my index finger, and it seemed to hold tune just fine on both Jazzmasters. The Jag had tuning problems due to a poorly-cut nut, popping and pinging with every turn of the machines.

The Verdict

When I first heard rumblings of these fresh takes on my Fender favorites, I was really looking forward to trying them out. I like that Fender have something in their catalog that bridges the gap between the affordable import lines and the more expensive US vintage reissues, trading some traditional features to hit the $1499 price point. Simplifying the control scheme also helps these guitars appeal to the no-nonsense crowd.

Vanessa and I both agree that the Fender American Pro Jazzmaster and Jaguar are fundamentally good guitars, especially for the price. They felt and sounded great once dialed in, and most importantly, we had fun trying them out. We had some very minor complaints overall, but very little that would stop us from recommending them. The only possible deal breaker is the string spacing issue, but that could be easily corrected by swapping the bridge for a Mastery or Staytrem, which so many of us do already. Just like the impending new year, everything’s different but nothing is different at all.

Overall, these guitars are worth your time to check out, so grab one and see what you think. My critique notwithstanding, I still want to bag one for myself!

A big thank-you to Vanessa for offering some impressions on these new instruments. Follow her on Instagram, buy her music, see her live. She’s so good. Guitar shopping with friends, is there anything better?

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20 thoughts on “Fender American Pro Jazzmaster & Jaguar: First Impressions and In-Depth Review

  1. stoph says:

    interesting comments. I found the Low E on my Johnny Marr Jag too close to the edge
    of the neck and found the mastery bridge to be a simple if not expensive solution.

    • If only one of your E strings is too close to the edge of the fretboard, you’re likely dealing with a neck that’s shifted in its neck pocket. This is a common issue with any blot-on neck, and all you need to do is pull the neck in the opposite direction a bit so it’s centered properly, then tighten the neck bolts.

  2. Great review. Much more in depth and helpful that most people’s posts. There is oddly not a lot of actual reviews on these yet. Just promotional videos.

    As I am currently Jazzmaster shopping I’ve been looking mostly at used AVRI – but also considering these. If you were to purchase one of these what would you consider must have upgrades to them? Just the Mastery?

    Thanks. Love the blog and the posts
    Tyler

    • Hey Tyler, thanks so much for reading and for the support. Sorry I missed this! Just popped up. I’ve noticed the same thing about all of the reviews: nobody’s being critical at all with these guitars. Everything’s great and perfect, and the potential issues are glossed over. That’s why I chose to be a bit more… I’ll put it mildly at “outspoken.”

      Anyway, I have one now and I’m working on a full post about features I like and things that players may want to change. The bridge is definitely high on the list because that E string issue is bonkers. I’ve had my Pro for a week and I’m still not used to it. I’m a huge fan of the Mastery, my favorite offset bridge option out there. The Staytrem is also a fantastic option and it’ll fix the spacing issue just as well.

      I’d also counsel replacing the pickups, as I found out two days ago that they aren’t actually Jazzmaster pickups at all. You can read more about that here in a post I put up today.

      • fanchercomesalive says:

        Thanks for this great review. I found it because I’ve been having the problem with the low E string on my Jaguar. If I’m not extremely careful, I’ll end up sliding it off the neck. I’m going to take it in for professional intervention and have them read this. What is the best way to buy a Staytrem or Mastery? I only see them offered from Japan on eBay.

      • Hey, no problem. I have the same issue on my own AMPRO. Both Mastery and Staytrem will fit and have the same string spacing, it really just depends on what you’re looking for: the Staytrem has a lot of the same features as the stock bridge, while a Mastery is designed to address complaints that arise from those features so you don’t have to think about them. A much more modern bridge, but both are good choices.

        Mastery has a Japanese dealer listed on their website, but I’m not sure about Staytrem.

  3. Robert MacKay says:

    I just rcvd the pro Jazzmaster. What I did was take the old bridge from my avri 65 jag and it fit on the pro jazzmaster. It is a vintage style with smaller posts that fit just fine into the plastic bushing that the pro series Jazz/Jag have. At least you can move the strings into whatever slots and get the spacing “much” better. The older Vintage bridge would not fit. I had these bridges sitting around since I swapped then out for a couple of Staytrem Bridges. The Issue is now for those that have purchased a New Jazzmaster pro is the Staytrem “may” not fit in these new Fenders. Hopefully Staytrem will come up with something. I am sure glad the other jag bridge fit. The strings do not pop out on this bridge 🙂 which is awesome. The individual height adjustment allowed me to match the 9.5 radius. Once I am sure where I want the action I will get the nail polish out 🙂 Once Staytrem comes up with a solution or replacement bridge for these then I will get one for sure. Then I may also get the pro jag. Just have to wait for now. My pro Jazzmaster actually plays much better now. Once Staytrem can come up with something then it will play even much better. Rob MacKay (Yukonrob)

    • Hey! You might be missing the fact that those nylon bushings Fender has installed in the body thimbles are fully removable, all you need is a flat-head screwdriver to pry them out. Every bridge from vintage to Mastery will fit just fine. No need to hope for something from any other manufacturer.

      • Robert MacKay says:

        Thanks Michael, I was wondering how easy it would be to remove those bushings. Awesome that the Mastery and Staytrem etc will still fit. Thanks again. I didn’t want to mess around too much in case I wasn’t happy with the sound and would have to return it. I ordered mine from Vancouver. I live in the Yukon so it is the only way I can try new Guitars out. I pay for them and if I don’t like them they give me a full refund if I return them in “new “condition within 30 days. So I was a little nervous about trying to remove the bushings in case I damaged something in the process. All will be fine now. Thanks again Michael for your quick response 🙂

  4. I hear you! Lucky for you they just pop right back in if you do decide to send it back. Let us know what you end up doing!

  5. Robert MacKay says:

    I’ll keep the Jazzmaster and will decide at a later date what I will do for the bridge. The other spare one I had is working fine. The spacing is at 52mm. I just finished using nail polish to stop the height adjustment screws from moving since i have them adjusted at a sweet spot for the neck radius. This pro Jazzmaster has light gauge strings on it which I will leave on for now for the different sounds I am enjoying at the moment. I will also be lowering the pickups a bit. My other 62RI Jazzmaster is strung with 11-49 Flat-wounds. I use that one for all the old school Ventures tunes etc that I first learned to play as a kid. I had a pro jag sent to me but I am sending it back. It’s not for me. My tele looks after those kind of tones.

    • Hey Robert! I’ve already done away with those tiny 9s in favor of a GHS 11-50 set, and if this one stays in my stead I’ll step back to my usual, the ELGTSCO 11-50s. I really love that you called out the sound of the Tele in your reply – that’s exactly what it sounds like. Thanks for sharing! (The Ventures rule)

  6. Robert MacKay says:

    To my ears the new pro Jazzmaster with the 9’s the different windings or whatever they have done with the pickups “sort of” make me think I am playing a 2 pickup “Strat” (Sound wise) with a real nice neck with a nice Jazz/Jag trem. I say “sort of” because if the strings were through the body it would probably sound even more like a strat… I think 🙂 I am still keeping it and will change the bridge probably to a Staytrem. I like the sound of it but it does not have the same sound as my American 62 Jazzmaster RI strung with flatwounds that’s for sure. It’s not even fair to try and compare the two.
    So basically I have 2 Jazzmasters, old school sound and new school sound. For now I’ll leave it that way. In the future if I get tired of the sound of the Pro then I will change the strings and the pickups and probably stay with the Staytrem bridge when I get it. I personally have never had a Strat with a neck I liked. I always end up selling them. One Strat I changed the wiring so I could have the Neck and Bridge Pickup on together so that is why I am comparing the sound “in my head” with the new pro and that previously owned Strat I changed up. I will see if I can find it since I sold it locally and maybe I can compare them through an amp since they both are strung with 9’s. It still will be a “little” tough since the Strat has the strings going through the body, the Jazzmaster on top etc. So maybe Fender is using Strat like style and Tele like style wiring for all their single coil pickups. there is no way they are using all the vintage Jazzmaster and Vintage Jaguar specs on the pickups on the new pro series. The new pro Jazzmaster still sounds nice. It has its own sound. I like it. My 62RI Jazzmaster has its own sound, totally different than the new pro. I like it 🙂 I will post again when I get the Staytrem bridge installed. Hey! I have old ears 🙂

  7. Robert MacKay says:

    Has anyone on here actually done the change to a Staytrem on their pro Jazz/Jag?

  8. Robert MacKay says:

    I have a Staytrem bridge on its way 🙂

  9. Robert MacKay says:

    Staytrem bridge is on. Only went up to 10’s for strings. Action 5/64ish and 4/64ish 12th fret. I like this Jazzmaster. It is “not” like a vintage and they never said it was so I do not compare this to the old school Jazzmaster. It is different. When I play it, it takes on a life of its own. Lately it is the only Fender in my collection that I pick up. The String spacing on the Staytrem bridge made a huge difference. I also did a test with my previously owned Strat that had the Switch rewired so I could have the Neck and Bridge pickup combination. Compared it with my Tele my 62 Jazzmaster and my new pro Jazzmaster. The 62 has flatwounds (Sounds awesome for the old school stuff) For the old school sound I’ll stick to my 62 Jazzmaster with Flatwounds. The rewired Strat did not cut it for what I was looking for. It did not really sound close enough to the Tele or my new Jazzmaster pro. (re neck and bridge pickup combination) My favorite Guitar with the Neck and Bridge combination with regular nickel wound strings is the new pro Jazzmaster with the tone rolled back between 5 and 7.

  10. Robert MacKay says:

    Still happy with mine with the staytrem bridge and 10 – 46. Of course it’s not the same as my 62. But still I use it. Modern, Vintage depends what kind of day I am having. Hope all is well Michael 🙂

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