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he UK MI trade perhaps doesn’t know it, but it owes a lot to Johnny Marr. When it comes to influencing and encouraging a new generation of guitarists – and therefore a new generation of customers - few have done more in the last 30 years. History records that Brit pop was all Oasis and Blur, but those haircuts, that attitude, those guitars? Johnny Marr. Noel Gallagher’s transformation from guitar tech to guitar hero? Johnny Marr. The Smiths captured, lyrically and musically, the elusive and much-vaunted ‘Englishness’ of Brit Pop long before Damon Albarn found out he was born within the sound of Bow Bells. Another facet of Marr is that he is


comfortable, indeed, he loves, the role of guitar hero, in his own understated way. Traditionally it has been bluesers and metal-heads that have had the monopoly on guitar obssession, but while you would struggle to find much in the way of soloing or noodling in the Marr canon, he is as much a guitar freak as any from what he would call the more ‘Harley Davidson’ end of the spectrum. And it’s his genuine passion and immersion in certain parts of guitar culture which he has brought to the creation of his new signature Fender Jaguar.

The honesty, graft and integrity which has underpinned much of his work has been applied to the creation of the new model, which has essentially been some six years in the making, ever since his own love affair with the Jag started. “I started playing Jaguars in the summer of 2005 when I joined Modest Mouse,” he says. “That was just some strange quirk of fate or destiny, because the first night I was writing, my guitar wasn’t really cutting through at the time as I wanted it to. “I was using a Telecaster because I just

figured I would bring over a guitar which was pretty much all purpose and I thought I could do pretty much what I do on a Telecaster. I still love ‘em. I noticed that Isaac, Isaac Brock, [Modest Mouse, lead singer] had a beat up old 1963 black Jaguar amongst his rack. “So I pulled that out and at the same time he said to me, very forcefully, ‘have you got any riffs?’. And I had this riff in the back of my mind [plays Dashboard] and it just felt really good on this Jaguar so we wrote the song in about ten minutes.” “And then the rest of the night I just

stuck with that guitar. And I was thinking about it the next day and quite looking forward to playing it. I got it and I fixed it up and gave it some love and I just started playing that guitar almost exclusively and I immediately realised that it kind of sounded like I think I’m supposed to

sound. It steered me in a way that was good for my playing and very exciting for me. And sonically I really loved what it was doing. So that got my interest in Jags going.”

The popular, but false, perception of Marr is as a bit of jangler, sixties haircut on head, Rickenbacker in hand. But Rickenbackers only ever featured for about 18-months on the Smiths’ first tours. The truth is that Marr has never really been reliant on one guitar more than any other (Strats, Les Pauls, 355s, Teles have all figured). Until he became a Jaguar aficionado, that is. “The record we made was really successful, so there was a lot of touring, lots and lots of shows and I was around the culture where I was able to get Jaguars and Jazzmasters quite easily and cheaply for those days and I started to put together out of a few Jags that I had, the idea of the ultimate Jag for me. And getting rid of what I call the unwanted conditions while maintaining all the stuff that I really love about them.” So the Fender signature was being designed before they even asked him to do it, essentially. And as anyone who has ever played a Jaguar will testify, he couldn’t have picked a more…idiosyncratic guitar to get to grips with. “The very first thing I noticed from being a Jag player and all Jag players notice this (and naysayers complain about it), is that the strings pop out, so the first thing every Jag player does is put a Mustang bridge on, with Mustang saddles in there. “The vibration of a Jag, which is one of the things that makes it so great and adds to the sound of it, causes the grooves that keep the bridge in place to move. And the only ones that don’t do that are ones that have been stuck with gunk and dirt and age and rust. So I got a couple of new ones, reissues from Fender, and I ended up trying nail polish… Loctite and Superglue even, won’t keep it from vibrating such are the vibes in this guitar. “And I had this thing where I would do 12-14 shows and I would get to a sound check and go ‘what is that sound? What is that high-end digital clipping? It’s horrible’. And I would go through all my pedals, go through my leads and after about the eighth time I did this over a period of a few months my tech said to me, ‘it’s the bridge, every time’. The last thing I would try. The next time it would happen I would still go through all my pedals, still go through all my leads. And after a while I did go ‘shit man! It’s the bridge every time’. “Believe it or not, the solution that we

arrived at, which is much fatter screws and crucially that sit in these little plastic tips that stop them spinning around, took

Fear not, he’s angry at the Jaguar’s troublesome bridge

about 18-months of trial and error. Seriously, you think that we had a problem and you sit down and brainstorm and then two hours later you come up with this eloquent, simple solution, the only way you come up with those solutions is to come up with three different types of bridges that went right. “So we had ones that had little locking heads that stopped the screws turning round. For the longest time, I was playing one of the prototypes. It had a screw in bottom and then it had a second screw on top keeping that one in. And we thought, bingo! We’ve done it. “And it was only when that solution still was a problem - and this is over a year’s work - it was ‘what the hell are we going to do about this!’” It could have been that the guitar obsessive in Marr had bitten off more than he could chew in endeavouring to improve such a complex machine, but it meant that the end result is not merely some label-slapped model with a nice colour scheme and some custom knobs, there’s a lot of the guitarist in it as well as his signature on the headstock. “The guitar has taken four years. I

didn’t design it in Fender. I designed it with me and the guy who does my guitars over 300-400 gigs with Modest Mouse and The Cribs. It was me playing and then I’d say to my tech ‘OK. On the next one give me the prototype’. “Nothing quite gets you to make a

decision quite as well as when you are stood in Madison Square Garden, 10,000 people, and the neck pickup is wrong or the bridge pickup is wrong. You make a decision very quickly. And I was doing that all the time in Modest Mouse, constantly using different Jags and going ‘the neck on that one is not quite right there’ or ‘that A-line neck right there’, ‘that’s a really good pick-up sound, give me that tomorrow’. All the time working with Bill Puplett who fixes my guitars and an engineer called John Moore all the time building that guitar and saying to Fender, ‘it’s coming’. “They let me just build a guitar and said to me whatever you need from us, we’ll do it. Supplying necks and parts and whatever I needed and they’ve been really, really good. But I didn’t go in with a design team and a drawing on a napkin. “I went through about 15 different Jaguar necks over a period of a year and a half and luckily for me was given a one- off 1965 neck by Jerry Rosen in San Francisco, who said ‘you’re a Jag freak, I’ve been waiting to find a home for this.’ And he gave me this neck and it was bigger than a regular Jag. I put it on the prototype and thought ‘right, Johnny, learn to love this one’ because other guitar players will like it.’ And because there’s

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