3 Things to Know: The Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom, Balancing Playability & Tone
The Fender Jaguar Baritone Custom made a splash during its short two-year production run from 2005 to 2007. During that period, the manufactured-in-Japan Jaguar Baritone was billed as a shorter-scale alternative to other baritone-bass hybrids, mixing standard guitar playability with traditional fender tone and earth shattering low end.
The Jaguar Baritone originally listed for $699. Today, you can expect to pay between $800 and $1000 on the used market. Is the Jaguar Baritone worth that kind of coin? Should you consider a more affordable in-production model? Does it live up to its original billing as the playable baritone-bass hybrid? We’ve got three things you need to know before you plunk down the nearly one grand required to add the Jaguar Baritone to your arsenal.
But first, let’s talk about the specs and features.
Before we get into the pros and cons of the Jaguar Baritone Custom, we need to highlight the following features and specs. The Jaguar Baritone comes appointed as follows:
At this point, we should make one thing clear. The Jaguar Baritone Custom is not a true baritone. Instead, it is what I like to call a baritone/bass hybrid.
Like its cousins the Bass VI (check out our review here) and the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI, the Jaguar Baritone occupies a sonic estuary between the baritone and the bass guitar by extending the range of a standard bass upward. The two highest strings on the Jaguar Baritone are the same as the two lowest strings on a B standard (AKA, perfect fourth) tuned baritone.
In feel and set up, the Jaguar Baritone seeks to emulate a standard guitar. The result is an instrument that looks and feels like a standard guitar but plays and sounds like a mix between a baritone and a bass.
Now that we covered what the Jaguar Baritone Custom is (and what it is not), let’s look at the three things you need to know before you pick up this unique instrument.
First: Truly Unique Tone
The Jaguar Baritone's unique place in the sonic landscape of fretted instruments offers a nearly immediate opportunity to stand out. The guitar's hybrid nature will allow you to solo and play through chord progressions using techniques adapted from standard guitar while delivering earth-shattering lowness and girth.
The modified Jaguar pickups are well suited for the task of maximizing the Jaguar Baritone's tonal offerings. The guitar's voice feels like a cross between a Stratocaster and a Les Paul, delivering some of the single coil edge and brightness of a Strat while offering some of the warmth of a Paul.
Artists from Joe Perry of Aerosmith to Robert Smith of the cure have used Fender baritone-bass hybrids, often to lay down distorted hooks and low melody lines. While the Jaguar Baritone is great distorted, I believe this hybrid sounds best clean. The Jag Bari delivers a clean, balanced response with just the right amount of shimmer.
Try it with a bit of compression and a subtle delay - you’ll find yourself with a captivating tonal experience that can stand on its own.
Second: Shorter Scale Increases Playability while Reducing Usability.
The Jaguar Baritone Custom has a scale length (the distance between bridge and nut) of 28.5 inches and comes strung with .25 to .95 gauge strings. Most of Fender's other baritone-bass hybrids have featured a 30-inch scale length while being setup to hold the same gauge of strings as the Jag Bari.
That inch and a half difference may not seem like much, but it comes with two distinct consequences.
First, the Jaguar Baritone Custom feels a bit more like a standard guitar when compared with other baritone-bass hybrids. The shorter scale length means that your chord and melody techniques will crossover with greater ease. For most standard and baritone guitar players, the Jaguar Baritone will feel more playable.
However, that familiar feeling comes at a price. The instrument's reduced 28.5 inch scale length does not seem to be long enough to sustain sufficient string tension on the Jaguar Baritone's hefty low E string. The result is a noticeable increase in string buzz.
To mitigate this issue, you can tune the instrument up a step or a step and a half. You can also change up your playing style, focusing on strumming gently, finger picking, and traditional bass techniques. However, there is a bit of cruel irony involved in adjusting your technique to avoid string noise on an instrument promoted as offering an easier crossover for traditional guitar players.
Three: Price Versus Performance Issues
With Jaguar Baritones fetching $1,000 on the used market, this hybrid instrument is an investment, especially for a working musician or an average-income hobbyist. However, I doubt that most players will get $1,000 worth of use out of the Jaguar Baritone Custom for the following reasons:
If you have money and like spending it on guitars, by all means, pick up a Jaguar Baritone Custom on the used market. You'll add a fine, unique, and well-built hybrid to your arsenal.
However, for the rest of us, I recommend checking out the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI. The Vintage Modified Bass VI features an longer scale length than the Jaguar Baritone Custom, which resolves the playability/string noise concerns associated with the Jag Baritone. It's one of the best built Squires you'll ever get your hands on and its $449 price tag is an easier cost to absorb - especially for a baritone-bass hybrid that will most likely never become your primary instrument but instead remain a secret sonic weapon in your arsenal of tones.
Thanks for taking some time to read this article. You can also check out our electric baritone and acoustic baritone reviews. Or, if you are new to baritone guitar, check out our "start here" page for everything you need to know about playing and purchasing a baritone guitar.
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10/28/2017 02:31:03 pm
I have a Fender Baritone custom. I didn’t care for the floppy low E string, so I ended up putting different gauges on it and have it tuned to A standard. It’s great that way. I wouldn’t ever go back to the original spec’d gauges.
11/16/2017 04:59:54 pm
I recently acquired a Jaguar Baritone Custom, and set it up with B-B tuning with 14-68 baritone strings. It sounds fantastic--
2/10/2022 09:04:42 pm
From sn engeneer point of view, i dont understand why companies frequently suggest super heavy string gauge. The longer the scale is, the smaller the gauge needs to be to obtain proper tension on a same tuning. My jaguar baritone custom is tuned in B to B. My string gauge is 12-16-22-32-44-56 and it is the exact equivalent tension as a 25.5 scale guitar tuned in E standard with a 10-46 gauge. Anyway, for those who are curious, i encourage you to try a smaller string gauge. I makes the guitar more playable, more "jag" sounding ;)
2/22/2019 06:53:11 pm
I love my two custom baritones. Downside for me is the no longer availability of strings. Biggest draw back of all! I purchased the last few sets I think in the world. But your review was good to read.
8/24/2019 01:20:08 pm
LaBella Deep Talkin ' Flatwounds!
11/23/2017 06:12:58 pm
Thanks for your comment Chris. I think the Jaguar Baritone is a great sounding guitar, but it the playability suffers as a hybrid. Setting it up with B to B tuning is a great way to go. I have heard from so many readers who love the Jag Baritone Custom as a baritone - not a baritone bass hybrid.
12/21/2017 07:28:45 pm
I bought one of these new because I couldn't spend the $$ for a vintage Bass VI. It found it's way to the back of my studio until I dug it out a few days ago. Used it on a couple of acoustic tracks and really liked the way it fit in the mix. Using a pick with a light touch and palm muting, really tamed that low E issue for me. With the lower string tension you can raise the strings and still fret easily. All the weird switches and controls reminds me of the cheap Japanese guitars of the 60's. I know it is just like a fender jaguar, I would not buy one of those for the same reason. Ten years after, I'm happy I bought it!
3/1/2018 06:37:41 am
So, then, let me ask this. If one was to go for the Squier Vintage Modified Bass VI, and uses Labella deep talkin' flatwound strings, could the instrument be tuned in "fourths" like a proper bass...meaning EADGCF instead of EADGBE...without breaking those higher two strings. I don't want to snap two strings on a $50 set of strings. What would I have to do to avoid that? Lower the bridge a bit at the bottom?? Please advise.
3/6/2018 09:46:16 am
The higher c and f shouldn't be of an issue, if you were raising it to d or g, that would be an issue. However, I have used a dadgce tuning and I have no problem with the high f
1/26/2019 04:40:44 am
I’ve recently acquired a early 90s Japanese Fender Jaguar guitar, which I’ve taken to my trusty guitar tech to set up in D standard tuning.
5/17/2020 09:18:24 am
Anyone know about a case for this Jaguar Baritone Custom?? Thanks!
5/17/2020 09:18:44 am
Anyone know about a case for this Jaguar Baritone Cusrtom
12/25/2020 06:04:07 pm
The case fitting was an issue for me. I saw a picture online of someone who had theirs in a Gator Cases bass flight case. So I went to a guitar center and they had one of those cases out on the floor. I put the Jag in it and the fit was literally just enough so that the headstock sits where it should. So they went and got me a brand new one from the stock room, but when I opened it the interior was a different color than the floor model. We then realized it was a slightly different design, same brand and model but when I did a test fit it wouldn’t even sit fully in the case. The one I went with has a deep magenta interior and the one that didn’t fit had a yellow orangish inside. Hope that helps.
6/26/2020 01:09:46 pm
Fast forward to 2020. Recently bought this mysterious guitar - the Fender Baritone Custom. Was very excited to finally get a bass VI. I bought a Labella 24-95 set, but the damn low E string cannot fit into the peghole. What to do, I can’t get my head around this. Very little info on the net. What to do? Not interested in a bari as I already have a jazzmaster guitar tuned to B. :/
10/18/2021 08:57:53 pm
A little dab of Vaseline will make that LaBella low E string slide thru the bridge hole. The bridge needs raising on the bass side due to buzzing on the low E string at the 1st and 2th frets.
OK folks, this reply is totally delayed so I am sorry! Now, concerning strings, there are a few options for the Jag Baritone Custom: La Bella makes (maybe used to make) 015 - .080 strings. I think (stress "think") the guitar original came with this gauge. Looking for something close should help - particularly on that lowest string.
11/8/2021 12:55:36 am
I have had one of these since I bought it new when it first came out. It still had the original strings up till 2021 which still worked fine.
11/18/2021 12:20:26 pm
7/20/2022 05:49:41 am
I have the Jag Baritone and use it as a straight bass with flats tuned E to E. I managed to get a few sets of flats from PICATO but they no longer make them. Getting flats for this guitar with gauges 25-40-55-65-80-95 or as close as possible, is impossible! The problem is the critical scale length of ball end to taper for the low E and A. Do you know of a supplier who can plug the supply gap for this unique instrument before I sell it on? Many thanks for any help you can give me.
10/15/2022 12:23:51 pm
Really like the D’Addario EXL156 strings. (24 34 44 56 72 84) The 84 E string is smaller than the spec’s 95. Works well for me.
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